Four Years of Seeing: Book Giveaway
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.
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.
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?