Researching Ransoms, Publishing Lessons Learned + CHASING THE SUN book giveaway! Natalia Sylvester Gets Cozy in the Guest Author Chair

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This little guy, AJ, came to say hello right before the launch. I love bookstores with store pups.

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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Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at nataliasylvester.com

This article has 21 Comments

  1. What a great picture of you, Natalia!! You are so photogenic.

    The details about the hostage negotiations were so interesting. They felt very realistic, but natural. You integrated your research wonderfully!

    1. Thanks so much, Lisa! I’m always all smiles when there’s a pup involved 😉

      I’m glad you found the hostage negotiations realistic. I found it a challenge to handle such a dramatic situation without feeling like I was overdramatizing it…but some of these things, we really can’t make up.

  2. What an excellent idea to set a specific time limit for research. I tend to research as I go, which means hours lost down the Google rabbit hole when I should be moving the story along.

    I love store pups, too!

    1. Yeah, I was definitely afraid I wouldn’t know when to stop researching, so I set a deadline for myself. I figured if I found I needed more research after the fact, I could always do that in revision.

  3. My thought about historical accuracy (and bear in mind that everything I write takes place in a setting that I created, so what do I know) is that the story ultimately has to come first. That worked pretty well for Shakespeare. 🙂

  4. I have just found this Web site (via Tuesdays With Story, Susan Gloss’s blog). I can see there is a lot more to explore. I look forward to that.

    Here is my question to you: are you in a writing group? If so, how has that influenced your process and your work? How did you find it?

    I am coming back to my novel draft this summer and am organizing a group. It’s been hard to find folks who will commit. I started with friends I feel sure will be a good fit, but now I’m wondering how much “fit” matters. I am also unsure how formal to be…. And if I should set the rules or have that be a group process.

    Any thoughts you might have here would be much appreciated.

    Congratulations on your book! I should have said that first, I am realizing. It is thrilling to read about someone’s writing success. Inspiring, too.

    I’m going to send this link to my local librarian. I am thinking how cool it would be to have a “debut novels” section in our library.

    Thank you!

    Terry

    1. Thanks so much, Terry! I’m so glad you found us. I think a “debut novelists” section in your local library sounds absolutely fabulous and I would love to be a part of it. What a great idea!

      Re: writing groups. Yes, I definitely have one, and I can’t imagine writing a book without them. We are a group of 5 women and we meet monthly; we’ve been doing so for 4 years, to go over each other’s work. We met at a writer’s conference, which I think is one of the best places to look because you want to find people who are equally committed to writing as you are. “Fit” is hugely important! Before committing to anything, I’d suggest just trying to critique the first chapter or so of each other’s work, to see if you enjoy/understand each other’s writing styles and critique styles. And if you do decide to form a group, don’t be afraid to set rules/guidelines. Something as simple as: we’ll meet once a month (or however often) and take turns reading each other’s work (or perhaps reading everyone’s 50 pages at a time…whatever works for you). It’s important that you all know what you’re hoping to get out of the group from the beginning, and what you’re each willing to put into it. (Also, we blogged about writing groups a few weeks back; if you search the archives for “writing groups” you’ll find some interesting advice from each of us Debs on this topic.) Best of luck!

      1. Thanks so much for your detailed response — I really appreciate it. And I apologize, I thought I had found everything in the Archive, but did not use the Search feature. There is lots of great stuff there, and in your post.

        Thanks again,
        Terry

  5. What a fascinating post. Learning about your book and your talent and creativity is interesting. best wishes and much happiness and success.

  6. The dog in the photo, The Maltese, looks just like my dog, Guido, a Maltese. So adorable. Your novel would be captivating and memorable. Interviewing family is so important and wonderful. I wish that I had the insight to speak to my parents and learn more about their lives and background.

    1. It was scary to interview them at first, but I was blown away by the strength they showed in wanting to tell their side of the story.

      Your dog sounds adorable, Ellie! Thanks for stopping by the Ball!

  7. Chasing The Sun is a story that would be memorable and captivating. What a profound and beautiful post that resonates with me greatly.

  8. I’m glad to hear thatthe subjects of this book were researched. Although I like fiction, I want it to be real. I prefer nonfiction that reads like a novel and fiction that reads like a true story.

    Thanks for the contest for this book. I hope to win. I always review books I read.

  9. Ah! I think I was traveling during this post and never commented! Natalia, you really rocked the launch thing. It’s been a pleasure being part of your journey.

    Bah. I really didn’t want to use the word journey, but there it is.

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