I will forever remember this week as one of the happiest, craziest, intensely gratifying and exciting weeks of my life. To every single one of you reading and commenting and sharing your positive energy with me—I’m eternally grateful.
As a thank you, I’m sending a signed copy to one commenter—details at the end of this post!
So…before I get too mushy (too late? I can’t seem to help it this week) onward with the Deb interview! I asked each of the Debs to send me a question for this week’s “guest” post.
Lori asked: Which part of publishing your first book is exactly how you pictured it would be? Which part has surprised you?
So many moments have completely lived up to and surpassed the dream. One that comes to mind now: I always imagined that the moment I saw the book cover, I would just know that that was THE one, even though I hadn’t had a concrete image in my mind at any part of the process. And the day my publisher sent me a second round of cover concepts, that’s exactly what happened.
Things that surprised me: that the long road to publication is not a series of constant highlights. There might be days, weeks in between having submitted edits or drafts of the book, that it would be out of my hands and I wouldn’t hear from my publisher or agent because they were doing their thing now, and my job, for that moment, was to be patient and let them.
Another surprise: launch week! Though I’d hoped there would a lot of excitement and support for the book I’ve been blown away all who’ve celebrated with me. What perhaps seems like a small gesture to a reader—leaving a review, tweeting a picture of the book in their hands, or showing up at a book launch to get a copy signed—is HUGE to me, and I’ll never forget it.
Lisa’s Q: CHASING THE SUN includes fascinating details about hostage negotiation strategies and using negotiators. Did you get these details from your family or did you have to do extra research? If so, how did you research these details?
It was a mixture. From my family I got details that helped me see the emotional tension of waiting for the kidnappers’ calls.
For the factual part of it, I read a lot about negotiation strategies in books and articles, and eventually reached out to the author of one of the most helpful books on the topic I’d found. I told him about my book and asked if I could interview him. What’s interesting is that he didn’t agree right away. He asked (very nicely) to see some proof that I really was who I claimed to be, and not a part of the cartel or some other criminal organization (he said this jokingly, but I realized there’s truth in his reasons for caution.) So I sent him the email with my deal announcement in Publisher’s Weekly and links to my website, articles, etc. and he agreed to a phone call.
It was a relief to learn there were many details I’d gotten right—the way a ransom drop might work, or how a consultant like him would set up a secure base in a home that he’s working at. He also provided concrete details I hadn’t been able to find elsewhere: everything from what a service like his might cost to what are the emotional bonds (if any) that can form between him and the families.
And he cleared up a misperception I had in my first drafts; I thought someone like him would play the role of both a bodyguard and consultant, and he said that these are two separate jobs for two different kinds of specialists. I was torn by this; I really wanted Guillermo, the mediator in Chasing the Sun, to play the role of bodyguard because it would eventually become crucial to the ending. I asked friends of mine—historical fiction writers, specifically—how they walk that line between 100% accuracy and serving the story, and they said: It’s not that you CAN’T have a character in your story go against his usual role, but if you do, he should have a good reason for it. And that created a new opportunity for me to develop Guillermo’s character even further: why would he, a security consultant, make an exception for this one family to do something that’s really beyond his job description?
Susan wanted to know: How much research did you have to do and how did you go about it?
Before I started rewriting the book I set about six weeks to do nothing else but research. I tackled it like it was my job, working several hours on it every day. I looked online and checked out books and films from the library on every topic I could think of: Peru’s history, Lima’s streets and architecture, kidnappings and the psychological affects of it on not just victims, but families. A documentary on the rise and fall of Fujimori had invaluable footage of the terrorist attacks on the city, and I also watched fictional films that had been filmed in Lima, just to refresh my memory.
I spoke with my family and actually interviewed them, and I pored through old family pictures to see the parts of life that don’t always show up on touristy pictures. And finally, I had a chance to visit Lima twice in between the time I was writing the book and had to submit final edits, and it was like seeing it with new eyes. I remember being hyperaware, trying my best to use all my senses and observe how the city smelled, how the sun hid during the summer months, making buildings and cars lose their shadows.
Heather’s Q: What have you learned as a debut author in terms of your writing process that you will apply to book two?
First, that I have to trust in the process. Every single time I got stuck and thought I wasn’t going to be able to finish the story, I always found the answer through writing.
Also, I learned a lot about subplot, and the importance of characters’ motivations, as I wrote Chasing the Sun. When Marabela’s kidnapped, Andres’s life is basically put on hold; all he can really do is wait for the calls and hope that he does what he can to bring her home—but waiting and hoping don’t make for the best plot points. Besides, life goes on even in moments when we feel time stands still. That’s helping me in my new WIP because the main plot revolves around a specific event that happens only once a year, but these characters’ lives (and therefore the plot) are much more complex than one storyline.
GIVEAWAY! Comment on this post by noon EST on Friday, June 13th, to enter to win a signed copy of CHASING THE SUN—US addresses only, please. Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!
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