Jun 4 2014

Four Years of Seeing: Book Giveaway

Melissa Crytzer Fry

It’s hard to believe I started my blog 168 posts ago — four years ago today. It’s even more difficult, still, to think that back then, I didn’t even know the woman whose guest post and debut novel appear below.

Natalia Sylvester was among the first people I met on Twitter. As freelancer writers and aspiring authors, we hit it off immediately. Shortly thereafter, I interviewed her for a piece about freelance writing in the Writer’s Digest Writer’s Market. I’m proud, four years later, to call her a friend and am so happy to have cheered her on as she traveled the difficult path to publication. I’m so thrilled for her that I am giving away three copies of her novel Chasing the Sun (which released yesterday!) to three lucky commenters (details below).

I asked Natalia, in the spirit of my blog, What I Saw, to share a sight-based sensory writing exercise she employed while writing her novel.

This photo, taken at the start of a new year under the harsh rays of the desert sun seemed a perfect illustration of darkness and light, together.

Darkness and Light

For the past (nearly) four years, I’ve been following Melissa’s blog, fascinated by the sights she captures all around her. The desert sky aflame at sunset, the majestic cacti and how they seem to tower over—I’ve always imagined they’d make me feel small, and yet part of something wonderful, like the ocean does.

Seeing her pictures reaffirms my belief that nature is the ultimate muse.

But I’ve also learned, like Melissa has, that inspiration can come from the most unexpected places.

From emptiness. From darkness. From…nothing.

Close your eyes and you’ll see what I saw the first time I had a major breakthrough with a character in Chasing the Sun. I was struggling getting into Marabela’s head because what happens to her is something none of us would ever want to imagine—she’s kidnapped. One day as she’s running an errand for her husband, Andres, she’s attacked by a group of men who put a bag over her head and take her from one terrifying dark place to another, where she’s held for days that feel like years.

She cries, shakes, falls apart, tries to stay strong, loses hope, lives, and nearly dies in the dark. Her life, as she awaits its fate, is blackness.

She’s so overcome by fear that I was overcome by fear. I wasn’t sure if I could go there to write her story. Even though a large part of my novel isn’t told from Marabela’s perspective, but rather her husband’s, I needed to know exactly what she’d been through to write about her: who she was, before and after the kidnapping. How she’d cope, if at all.

So…this might sound silly, especially when you picture me at my laptop, writing with a pillowcase over my head. The first time I did it, it felt rather silly, too.

But an interesting thing happens in the darkness: you’re alone, finally, with your thoughts and your imagination. Because you can see nothing of what’s all around you, suddenly everything within you becomes clearer—and that can be either a liberating thing (like it was for me as a writer) or a terrifying thing (like it was for Marabela, who was alone with her deepest fears).

What struck me the most, each time I’d take off the blindfold (I eventually moved on to a blindfold), was how blinding the light could be once you’d been too long in the dark. And the more I thought of light and darkness, the more I remembered my days as a photographer in high school, how much I used to love my hours in the darkroom because they were so quiet, so still, and yet so full of potential as I waited for my pictures to develop.

And I thought of how sad it would be, to love that kind of darkness and then have it taken away from you by a traumatic experience like a kidnapping. How can the human spirit go so quickly from love to terror?

In the darkness, it hit me: Marabela is a photographer. She even has her own darkroom in her home. Darkness is her sanctuary and then suddenly, it’s not. The contrast between light and dark is where she loses herself. It’s also the place where I started writing to find her.

Learn more about the talented Natalia Sylvester on her website and read the description of Chasing the Sun on Goodreads. Don’t miss my review, either!

To Win One of Three Copies of Chasing the Sun: Between June 4 and June 15 (midnight EST), just answer one (or more, if you’re so inclined) of the following questions. The winner will be selected using random.org and announced June 16 (include your email if you don’t include it in the link response).

  • Have you ever had an experience in the darkness or the light – terrifying or illuminating? Please explain.
  • Natalia’s description of stolen sanctuary is haunting (and so is the book). Has your place of sanctuary ever been taken from you? Did you regain it or find a new sanctuary? How?
  • Why do you want to read Chasing the Sun?

27 Responses to “Four Years of Seeing: Book Giveaway”

  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Wow, Natalia! I never made the correlation between the dark room being her sanctuary and then the darkness making her feel trapped. Well done! I absolutely loved your description of the dark room and how Andres is afraid to enter the room, as if it is a shrine to her.

    (This is not an entrance; I’ve had the delight of reading CTS.)

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    Thank you so much, Jolina! I’m so glad you liked that scene (especially since I just chose it to read at my launch, so that must be a good sign 😉

    Big hugs to you!

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    Wonderful to see Natalia here! This made me want to read Chasing the Sun even more. The part about the dark room sounds exquisite.

    So in answer to #3, to cheat a little… I’ve known Natalia for a long time too, and simply reading her blogs over the years is enough to tell me she’s a talented writer, and that her prose will be beautiful. Not to mention following her journey and her process; this is the natural culmination! I can’t wait to read it. 🙂

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    I love that we’ve all known each other so long through our blogs, and throughout each of our journeys, Annie. It seems fitting that we’re talking about darkness and we’ve all shared our love for “dark” books in the past!

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  • avatar mary myers Says:

    My spiritual practice is shamanism. Much of the inspiration–for writing, and for life– I receive is through an active meditation process called journeying. I blindfold myself, relax, and using the steady beat of a drum I move from the darkness of my mental void into a bright world of non-ordinary reality. Propelled by my intention, I let go of the any preconceived outcomes and “travel.”
    One day I set an intention to merge with the light. Instantly I was moving out through my third eye. Much like stepping into a cathedral from a sunny day outside, the light became encircled, tangible. Flecks of dust swirled in the shafts, pure lollipop colors bisected rays. It was like stepping from the black pupil of an eye into a rainbow iris. The light was thick enough to float in, love filled my being.

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    That sounds mesmerizing, Mary. Wow. I can so relate to that merging of the light within darkness.

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  • avatar Jessica McCann (@JMcCannWriter) Says:

    What a great post. It’s always fun to learn about a writer’s process and what they learn from the experience.

    For me, camping has always presented a strange dichotomy of the dark. I love to get away from the city lights and enjoy the quiet, dark of night sky. And yet, being out there with all the things that go bump in the night is also a little frightening sometimes. Lying awake in the dark tent, hearing a twig snap just outside, hearing the rustle of… something, in the brush. Being a writer, my imagination tends to run away with me!

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    Thanks so much, Jessica! I need to do more camping! The last time I went on a camping trip was in 2000, and it was overnight on the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu; never in my life have I seen so many stars.

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    The darkroom connection is brilliant. That’s the kind of gift of symbolism that can show up and take a writer’s breath away during drafts. Perfect.
    I’ve been following Natalia since the early days of both our blogs. I know her writing is excellent, so I’d love to win a copy to read and review!

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    Thank you, Cynthia. It’s so interesting you mention the symbolism coming up in the drafting process—so true. I can honestly say that the story didn’t feel entirely real to me until I realized that Marabela is a photographer and has this deep connection to the darkroom. That seemed to piece it all together for me.

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  • avatar Beth Hoffman Says:

    What a great interview! I can’t wait to read Natalia’s book, and I loved what she said about your photography, Melissa: “Seeing her pictures reaffirms my belief that nature is the ultimate muse.”

    No need to enter me in the giveaway as I just ordered the book yesterday!

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    Beautiful Beth! Thank you! It’s such an honor to be a guest after following Melissa’s blog and being inspired by it for so long. I hope you enjoy the book—thank you so much for reading! xoxo

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  • avatar Jessica Vealitzek Says:

    I’m going to order the book, too, so no need to enter me. Just wanted to add my congratulations! Lovely post.

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    So very sweet of you. Thank you, Jessica!

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  • avatar Diann Says:

    Congratulations on your blog-o-versary, Melissa, and what a lovely interview. It’s so great to see two examples of wonderful perseverance in the same spot.

    As others have mentioned, judging from Natalia’s blog I have no doubt this book will have depth, beautiful writing, and insight. Put me in the mix, and can’t wait to read regardless.

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    Thanks so much, Diann, for your comment and for sharing and for your support! xoxo

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Melissa and Natalia–who to congratulate first, lovely ladies!!?? Okay, how about both of you at the same time! Melissa, how can it really be four years. I am grateful for every one of those 168 posts, let me tell you, my friend…
    Natalia, I am so excited for your book being out in the world, my dear–I already have my copy and will be diving in soon. Hoping it has been everything, and more!, for you, lady! You deserve all the happiness in this journey for all the support you’ve given all writers. Hugs to you BOTH!

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    Thank you so much, Erika! I’m so grateful for this journey because it’s allowed me to meet writers like you and Melissa, who have huge hearts, are truly kind, and so supportive. We’re lucky to have one another!

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Natalia Sylvester’s book — Chasing the Sun — has definitely been added to my MUST READ list!

    THANK YOU for another awesome post!

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    Thank you so much, Laurie! So wonderful to meet you through Melissa’s wonderful blog.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    I already have my own copy of Chasing the Sun because the story sounds intriguing AND because I’m so excited to support my friend Natalia. Would still love an extra copy to give to a friend or to my mom.

    Love seeing you two together here!

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    And I’m super excited to have such supportive friends like you, Nina! Thank you so much.

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    This sounds awesome! I love reading books from authors we’ve come to know online and through blogging! It’s great we support each other.

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    Thank you, Leah! And I completely agree about connecting online. It’s what makes this journey such a sweet one. It’s meant so much to me to have friends like Melissa, who I could share the ups and downs with, along the way.

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  • avatar Jackie Cangro Says:

    I’ve already got my copy on order, and I’m looking forward to reading it. I wish you the best of luck, Natalia. It’s so exciting to see your book out in the world.

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    Natalia Sylvester Reply:

    Thank you so much, Jackie! It’s hard to believe it’s finally out there. Your enthusiasm and support mean so much.

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  • avatar Melissa Crytzer Fry Says:

    Congratulations to Annie, Leah and Jessica! You’ve each won a copy of Natalia’s CHASING THE SUN! Enjoy.

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