Shelf Media hosts the annual Shelf Unbound Indie Best Book Competition for best self-published or independently published book. You can find the winner, finalists, long-listed, and more than 100 notable books from the competition in the December/January 2023 issue of Shelf Unbound.
Midnight in Syria is a Pentagon-approved, real-world story that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
The next Book in the Special Forces Connection series takes you to the far deserts of the Middle East. Dakota is an intrepid journalist set on making a name for herself, and while she hoped to sneak into Syria to write a story of a lifetime, she never expected to get trapped there. With no one to turn to, and the Civil War unfolding in front of her very eyes, the only chance of escape is with a mysterious Special Operator who is full of intrigue and guile – but it might already be too little too late.
Dive into this real-world riveting tale of courage, sacrifice, and resilience, that takes you on the ultimate journey, while following the delicate love story of two people pushed to their limits. Contrasted by the painful realities of war, politics, and lives in between, this book is guaranteed to strike at the heart and mind of every reader, and will immerse them into the complexities of the decade long Syrian civil war that has already claimed more than half a million lives.
About The Author: Jacek Waliszewski
Jacek committed his first crime when he was three months old – smuggling Solidarity propaganda paperwork to Polish resistance leaders in prison. His father was the cofounder to the 1980s anti-Communist Solidarity movement, and his family had a choice, get traded to the Soviet’s or become political refugees. Two pieces of luggage later, they made it to America. His Dad, Leszek Waliszewski, was the first Solidarity Member to brief Congress, and his parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Jacek is now a Dad, a writer, and a Special Forces Green Beret. He’s traveled the world, run with the Bulls in Pamplona, and while deployed, earned his bachelor’s degree in International Relations from AMU. He then went on to earn a Graduate Diploma in Strategy and Innovation from the University of Oxford.
Interview with Jacek Waliszewski
Tell us a little about your book.
JW: Midnight in Syria is a Real-world Tale of Adventure, Romance, and Resilience. Travel to the far deserts of the Middle East to meet Dakota, who is an intrepid journalist set on making a name for herself, and while she hoped to sneak into Syria to write a story of a lifetime, she never expected to get trapped there. With no one to turn to and the Civil War unfolding in front of her very eyes, the only chance of escape is with Owen, a mysterious Special Operator who is full of intrigue and guile. They must learn to trust each other despite their tensions, because when they run for their lives, they will have no one else to trust but each other. Contrasted by the painful realities of war, politics, and lives in between, this book is guaranteed to strike at the heart and mind of every reader by immersing them into the complexities of the decade long Syrian civil war that has already claimed more than half a million lives.
What was your inspiration for the idea?
JW: The world is full of frustrations and nameless victims, and I really wanted to highlight the forgotten or unknown struggles of people who are trying to make a difference—especially those caught in the middle east and a place as torn apart as Syria. When we look at what’s happening now, for example the generational tensions between Israel and Gaza, it’s hard, if not impossible, for the average person to truly understand how painful the region’s history is or how many people have had their hopes dashed and lives lost. Midnight in Syria therefore is an attempt to humanize the people who were not allowed to tell their truth—people like Fatima, Mahdi, and their kids—who are only four of the victims in a region of the world under constant stress.
What was the experience of writing this book like for you?
JW: There’s a factual element in every one of my books, and degrees of reality are strung throughout Midnight in Syria—this may range from the specific conversations or revelations Owen and Dakota have, to the unique quirks or dispositions of an individual person I’ve known. So, writing this book was in some ways wonderful because I could laugh and recollect, but it was also painful because I felt the same frustrations and injustice the characters experienced. I tried to convey this in a way that allowed the reader to understand the situation, but without beleaguering the point.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this?
JW: This is a great question. When I finished the book, I hadn’t summarized the ending to quantify that “if each word in this book were a person, it would take eight books to account for everyone who has died in the 10-year Syrian Revolution, so far.” This was a stunning and humbling moment that really put the scale of the conflict into perspective.
What is the one thing you hope readers take away reading this book?
JW: I want to challenge every reader to take a moment to imagine that you were them. By ‘them’ I mean those people you hear about in the news but scroll past and forget about by the next commercial or TikTok video. I say this because on the other side of that TV or news article is not just one person, but their families as well, and many other unknown people suffering from an equally terrible fate. I remember coming back home from Afghanistan right when the country had imploded in 2021 – I was on the last Special Forces Team in Helmand Afghanistan. I was perhaps only a few days back, and still had Helmandi sand in my rucksack. I was in Colorado and thoroughly jetlagged when I stopped at a local coffee shop. I checked my phone and had nearly a thousand text and voice messages from my Afghan friends and partners begging me to help them get out, and they were sending me pictures and videos of the chaos occurring not only at the airport, but the rest of the country. In some threads, I was learning that the Taliban had started executing the people I had just shared chai with the other week… and then it was my turn to order. I stepped up to the counter and the Barista asked “how my day was going”—apparently, I still looked rough—and while my phone dinged another ten times in my pocket, I told the Barista that I had just come back from Afghanistan and needed a quadruple espresso. The Barista then looked at me quizzically and asked a very telling question, “We’re still in Afghanistan?” My phone dinged another few times in my pocket, and I nodded, knowing that each message was someone seven thousand miles away experiencing something terrible that I could do nothing about.
“Yeah, well… we were,” is all I could say.
I then paid, drank my espresso, and planned an evacuation mission while sitting on the coffee shop couches. I got a few Afghan friends out… but only a few.
My point in sharing this is when there’s a disaster and civilians are rushing out, it’s amazing to me when I meet the people who are trying to get into the country to discover the truth to report it back to anyone who is willing to listen. This is the embodiment of Dakota, a real life reporter who I knew. It is also the embodiment of Owen, who is a reflection of real life Special Operators I’ve personally known and admired. Perhaps then, all I want is for one more person out there, perhaps it’s you, to take one more minute to learn about what’s going on in the rest of the world instead of scrolling to the next cat meme.
What are you working on next?
JW: My next book is unfathomable—I’ve secured the rights to a one-of-a-kind OSS WW2 Memoir originally written in 1946 in the style of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ with the modern day political and historic potential to be the WW2 version of ‘The Ugly American.’
I spent years fact checking it, and it is a true autobiographic memoir written by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Agent who was on the ground, behind enemy lines, documenting every conversation, experience, and intimate observation he had with the Resistance, Command, and even the British SOE. He wrote his notes down in his journal and took real-time photos, all while fighting Germans and Bulgarians, then having to run for his life when the Soviets moved through and pushed the Nazis out of his area, and he was getting targeted for being “Pro West.” The manuscript then ends by intimately capturing the start of the Cold War in Europe, a full year before WW2 ended.
For context to those who aren’t familiar with the Covert world of the OSS, the OSS turned into the CIA in 1947, and the CIA classified all OSS missions and photos—but because the memoir had been written a year before the CIA came into existence, it fell between the cracks (maybe the author intentionally hid it?) and the Memoir was neither classified nor destroyed. But it’s been 80-years, everyone in the Memoir has died, and the Eastern countries have been renamed, dissolved, or balkanized, so I’m going through the steps of publishing it right.
It took me years to get to this point, but I secured the rights from the families to bring the manuscript into the modern era and the book is in its final stages of completion. I’ve just got a few National Archives files to go through to enrich the last bits of the story. I’m waiting for a response from a 1000-year old Eastern European Monastery to check behind their altar and let me know if the secret room that housed downed Allied Airmen is still there, and if they could check the cemetery for a Partisan General who died after getting strafed by a Bulgarian plane. Other than those bits, I’m shopping around for a publisher who can take the book and put it where it belongs—as a historic one-of-a-kind OSS WW2 Memoir, originally written in the style of For Whom the Bell Tolls with the political and historic potential to be the WW2 version of The Ugly American. I’ve adapted it into a modern-day novel for today’s generation to read, (and I hope,) learn about the brave men and women who fought in the shadows and sacrificed so much to defeat Nazi Germany, only to be eliminated by a sinister Soviet Cold War agenda. It’s equal parts fascinating, heroic, and tragic. And it’s all true—which blows my mind. As such, I’ve taken immense steps to preserve the manuscript, the Author’s original intent, and am managing its transition into the 21st century with significant thoughtfulness and foresight.
After I pick a name for the title, it’ll be 99% complete.
Article originally Published in the December/January 2023 Issue “2023 Indie Best Award Winners”