2017-01-19 / Community

‘The Existence of Pity’

local author’s tale of struggle inside a missionary family
BY LISA NEWELL
Gulf Breeze News © 2017

A young girl, an outsider in a foreign land, begins to drift away from the ideals her parents espouse. This is the story told in “The Existence of Pity” by local author Jeannie Zokan.

Josie, 16, feels the differences between the white, protestant American girl and her Colombian Catholic schoolmates which kept her on the outside looking in. She feels most comfortable during an annual conference of missionaries and their children, playing and testing their limits and that is where many of the plot points surface.

Her brother is also forging a path to his own identity, and their parents, busy with their church activities and ministering to the local citizens, turn a blind eye to the dangerous choices he is making. The live-in housekeeper, a young woman, is a role model for Josie, who often serves as a sounding board for Josie’s burgeoning ideas.


Author Jeannie Zokan Author Jeannie Zokan Immersed in Colombian culture, the influences the missionaries hoped to bring to the foreigners begin to be outweighed by the influences the foreigners are making on them.

Zokan draws on her own experiences as a child of Baptist missionaries living in Cali, Colombia, South America. She says her growing up years were “beautiful, special and idyllic,” and she describes in “The Existence of Pity” the daily life centering around church, school, the stirrings of love and the realization that parents are humans, too.

Of growing up in Colombia, she says, “It was an amazing experience. Even as a child, I knew it was amazing.”

When people would ask Zokan what it was like to grow up in South America, she said, “There is no way to describe it. So, I am going to write a book!”

She was always interested in literature and earned a degree in library science from Baylor University. She also got a publications specialist certificate from The George Washington University but writing was a skill she wanted to learn. To begin, she enrolled in a class at Pensacola State College, where she found a supportive and close knit group. “I had a personal relationship with all those teachers and on the last day, we went out for coffee together.”

She also joined the West Florida Literary Federation on their recommendation.

“I couldn’t make the leap to writing a novel,” Zokan said, until she participated in the National Novel Writing Month challenge to write 50,000 words in one month.

The website, www.NaNoWriMo.org, encourages potential authors to begin the journey and sets a deadline so there is a sense of urgency. Zokan, who was a stay-at-home mom at the time, said she wrote an average of 1,667 words per day. She participated in the program for eight years in a row and “The Existence of Pity” was her third venture, in 2010.

“Just because you write that novel doesn’t mean it’s ready to go,” Zokan chuckled. She had three separate critique groups help her hone it into a novel ready to shop to publishers.

After sending out waves of query letters and getting waves of rejection letters, she finally decided to let it go. “It’s funny how it works,” Zokan said, because that is when she got the attention of a publisher.

When she got a letter from Red Adept Publishing, stating, “Congratulations. Our acquisition team is interested in your book,” she nearly dismissed it. The next day, she got a phone call from an unfamiliar North Carolina number. She answered it only because she has relatives in the state, but it turned out to be the publishers, wanting to discuss publishing her novel.

The process of refining the book included another two editors. “I am very grateful to Red Adept Publishing,” Zokan said, because after six years, her effort is a published reality, and is available in Nook and eReader formats on Amazon.com and BN.com. Print copies are available as well, on Amazon.com.

Zokan lives in Gulf Breeze with her husband, Chris, and daughters Olivia, 19 and Natalie, 16.

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