From my own family history, I knew this much: when I was a child still living in my birthplace of Lima, Peru, my grandfather was kidnapped for ransom. I knew my father was the one tasked with waiting by the phone for the kidnappers to call, in hopes of negotiating with them. I knew my grandfather was released only after sixty long, unimaginable days.
What I didn’t know growing up is what this experience did to him. What his days and nights were like. How all that never knowing—both for my grandfather, who waited for his rescue, and my family, who waited for his safe return—changes a person. How such an invasive act can tear a family apart and hopefully bring them back together.
I knew nothing of this, but I often wondered. And it’s not that my family refused to talk about it; I just got the feeling it was better left in the past. Maybe it was too painful, too pointless. What good would it do to try and make sense of the inexplicable?
But when I started writing fiction in college, I realized that stories are a way to explore truths, especially when life can’t give us all the facts. My senior year, I decided to write about a family affected by a kidnapping: first, there was a child, learning about her mother’s capture. Then, there was a woman, caught in the dark in fear. Finally, I got to the husband, and I discovered my characters had been keeping a secret from me: they were having serious marital problems. The question of how far Andres would go to save Marabela became far more complex than I’d imagined.
I wrote and wrote and turned those linked short stories into a novella, and then I abandoned it for nearly five years. I told myself I wasn’t ready to tell the story yet. I was convinced I hadn’t lived enough, didn’t know enough about the complexities of marriage and parenthood and trauma.
It wasn’t until 2011 that I came back to this story. This time, I started with intense research on kidnappings for ransom, and the years of terror that swept through Peru in the late 80s and early 90s. I flipped through old family pictures in hopes of rekindling my memories, and wrote parts of the new draft completely blindfolded. I asked my family about the kidnapping, and learned about the moment my father found out his dad had been taken, about the day he was finally rescued several weeks later, about the way my mother remembered seeing my grandfather upon his return, thinner than she’d ever seen him in her life.
As I neared the end of the new draft, I had a chance to go back to Peru and experience my birthplace from a completely new perspective. I got to hear my grandfather describe his side of the story and how he’d finally made peace with it.
What I’ve realized only as I write this is that I abandoned the story because I was afraid to ask more questions. And eventually, that sense of safety I got from not knowing the answers grew into a void I couldn’t ignore. People say write what you know, but there are times when we have to leap into what we don’t know to tell a story.
That gap, that space between the known and the unknown where we often search for answers, is what inspired Chasing the Sun.
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