Portland Police Department Detective Andjelko Napijalo recently published his first novel, a fantasy called "Soul Shifter." (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
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On his 42nd birthday last week, the day after celebrating Eastern Orthodox Christmas, Portland Police Department Detective Andjelko Napijalo was ready to talk about one thing: a world he had created in his head.

Napijalo’s creation was something most of his colleagues in the Portland Police Department didn’t know about: He is a writer and had created an entirely new world in his debut novel, “Soul Shifter.”

“I’ve been a writer for a long time,” Napijalo said. “Since I was a teenager when I started writing for myself. I was, and still am, a daydreamer. I think about stuff and put it on paper for myself.”

Napijalo’s novel is a young adult fantasy novel, which he said tells the story of a young girl named Sofia who wakes up to find out the world she thought she knew had only been a dream. She struggles to understand what’s happening and is thrown into a new world where she finds more and more people depending on her. Along the way, she must solve puzzles to unlock secrets, discover magic, and free this new world from a monstrous ruler.  

Napijalo said part of the idea behind this book is the volatile time in a person’s life as a teenager, where trauma can create a more serious impact. He said with this genre, it is helpful to personify tragedy with a monster or a villain that characters can either rise to challenge and defeat, or fall to as a victim.

“As a police officer I witnessed a lot of agony people go through as they lose loved ones,” Napijalo said. “To me, it was eye-opening. And especially when you see those that prevail and defeat that monster, usually they are surrounded by family to help them prevail.”

Born in Croatia to Serbian parents, Napijalo came to Maine in 1999 after fleeing civil war in his home country. Although he studied mechanical engineering, he knew he wanted to get into law enforcement at some point, which didn’t seem feasible until he came to the United States. 

“I really wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.

Napijalo said this kind of story can hopefully give younger people the tools they need to fight their own monsters.

“Soul Shifter” is his first novel, is self-published and intended to be part of a series. If people end up liking these books, he said he might try to go through a traditional publisher if he writes a new series. The book is available in print and as an eBook from retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books A Million.

“I think this is definitely an easier way, and I think self-publishing has changed quite a bit in the past 10 to 15 years,” Napijalo said.

The 16-year veteran of the PPD said that while he has come up with plenty of stories over the years, written comics, and developed board games, this story came together quickly. He said he was on a trip to Boston, and as he was riding in the back, came up with a few lines on the spot and texted them to his wife. He said she thought it was amazing, and wanted to read more.

“I didn’t even have the idea at the time, I had to go build the idea around these sentences, and then I had to work on it,” he said.

He said the writing process, once he got going, only took about three months. Editing took another three months.

“I think due to COVID, I had more time to stay indoors, and that’s another reason I succeeded in writing,” he said.