We last saw Debbie Cloyed on television way back in 2005 on The Amazing Race. That’s a long time in the world of reality television. There has been 12 more seasons of The Amazing Race since that time!
Before and after her appearance on The Amazing Race, Debbie continued her career as a professional travel photographer. Along the way, she also started writing a fiction book loosely based on her travels and near-drowning death experiences. Now everyone, including The Huffington Post, is raving about her first book. Here is what The Huffington Post had to say about The Summer We Came to Life:
“Cloyed’s novel is a surprising and ambitious debut that subverts expectations, ingeniously turning a resonant story of friendships rocked by a tragic accident into an even-more-resonant meditation on alternate realities and the nature of death.”
The Summer We Came to Life is now available to own from everywhere books and e-books are sold. Here is a brief synopsis of the book:
“Every summer, Samantha Wheland joins her childhood friends—Isabel, Kendra and Mina—on a vacation, somewhere exotic and fabulous. Together with their mixed bag of parents, they’ve created a lifetime of memories. This year it’s a beach house in Honduras. But for the first time, their clan is not complete. Mina lost her battle against cancer six months ago, and the friends she left behind are still struggling to find their way forward without her.
For Samantha, the vacation just feels wrong without Mina. Despite being surrounded by her friends—the closest thing she has to family—Mina’s death has left Sam a little lost. Unsure what direction her life should take. Fearful that whatever decision she makes about her wealthy French boyfriend’s surprise proposal, it’ll be the wrong one.
The answers aren’t in the journal Mina gave Sam before she died. Or in the messages Sam believes Mina is sending as guideposts. Before the trip ends, the bonds of friendship with her living friends, the older generation’s stories of love and loss, and Sam’s glimpse into a world far removed from the one in which she belongs will convince her to trust her heart. And follow it.”
I got the chance the other day to talk to Debbie about her Amazing Race experience, the book, and life in general since we last saw her on television. Here is what she had to say.
What were you doing before The Amazing Race?
Debbie: I was being typical me – half traveling like a gypsy, half touching down to take pictures and make money and hang out with my friends and family.
Why did you want to be on the show?
Debbie: I had never seen the show, to be honest. Bianca sold me on the idea, and I thought, Why not?!
What were your favorite memories from being on the show?
Debbie: Being on television with your childhood best friend in front of millions of people – start to finish it was a favorite memory. I have a bit more perspective now of course, so I see it as one big, fantastic, crazy experience I got to share with my best friend and my family.
How has your life changed since the show.
Debbie: Bianca and I are very lucky that we lived wild, full lives before the show and haven’t slowed down since! After the race, I lived in Honduras working as a photographer living the glamorous ex-pat life full of music, beaches, and dancing and laughter, then spent time in Kenya working with Muslim women in micro-financing, then lived in DC and NYC, before moving back to LA. Getting a two-book deal this past year with MIRA Books/Harlequin – that has been a life-long dream come true.
How long have you been working on this book?
Debbie: Start to finish, it was about three years. Or a lifetime, depending on how you look at if J
Did you learn any new travel tips while being on The Amazing Race?
Debbie: Check your flights and work on your map skills.
Everyone takes pictures when they travel. Mostly to document things that have never seen before and might never see again, or simply to document a moment in their life that they might not always remember. But what do you look for when you take pictures in your travels?
Debbie: Photography is scientific, with lots of equations, concepts, and dials to learn, but it is also an art and you the artist. So you start with your heart, a scene that draws you in. But how you express the emotion you want to convey, the story you want to tell – that’s composition – balancing the light and shadows, playing colors off one another by changing your position or perspective, changing your framing to make a certain statement, changing your focal length to move your subjects apart or together – that is you telling a story. Which is what I’m always looking for – the story.
How did you get into photography? Do you have a favorite picture from all of your travels?
Debbie: I took all the photography classes I could at the local college starting at age fifteen, spending many a weekend in the darkroom. I’ve been a commercial and fine art photographer for over ten years. Currently, I run an afterschool photography program for children K-5.
I don’t know that I have one favorite photograph from traveling, I have many!
The central theme of the book seems to be the idea of death and the afterlife, and if it’s possible to communicate with those that have died. This idea has been a very popular one in the world of entertainment with many TV shows and movies dealing with that subject. Why do you think this idea has become so popular?
Debbie: To be human is to wonder about death. Whether we fear it, rebel against it, or turn to one of two dozen religions or science for answers about dying, there is not a single human being that can say for sure what happens after death. It is a question as old as life itself, the other side of the coin we can’t flip before it’s time. I don’t think it is an idea that has become popular, I think it is the idea that drives the experience of living – growing up, striving, loving, losing, and mourning.
The main character drowns. You said you have had two near death drownings. Can you tell us about it? Did you experience any of the same feelings that the main character in the book did?
Debbie: I’ve always been a bit of a daredevil. Reckless, my mother would say! Nearly drowning, not once but twice, was my wake-up call to mortality. All my daydreaming about science and religion – it took on a very different tone after those experiences.
Both times, I went through an identical sequence of emotion/epiphany. First, the smile of exhilaration lingers. Then panic creeps in. Then as the water tossed me about, a simple question ‘Wait – Is this it?” Then follows absurdity – that you made it all these decades to die at this exact moment in the this most ridiculous way. Then the pain takes over and you’re absorbed by the physicality. Somehow your mind breaks free and an odd tranquility and curious observation takes over.
I put my character through the exact same sequence, with quite a different outcome of course!
Did your interest in quantum physics stem directly from your near drowning deaths or were you interested and studying this subject before those near drowning events took place? What got you interested in it?
Debbie: Science was always like candy to me, irresistible for the glee and rush it promises. I love the big ideas of physics and the transcendental, cosmic way they blow your mind. Parallel universes, string theory, M-brane theory, holographic universe, even Einstein’s very simple equation that says matter IS concentrated energy and vice versa – amazing.
In my twenties, I wrote a book that contained a comparison/explanation of quantum physics versus relativity. I drew on a lot of my research from that book, happily updated and fictionalized obviously for the book, but yes, as you say nearly drowning changed my interest in physics dramatically. No longer just for fun, studying physics became a yearning to understand what science can tell us about the true nature of time, space, life, and death. How the theories might function on a macroscopic level, in terms of relationships, love, and mourning.
What is your target audience of this book? Who do you hope will read it?
Debbie: Mothers and daughters. Fathers and daughters. Best friends. Lovers. Anyone that has ever made tough choices in life and love and had to live with the consequences.
Why do you think men don’t usually read fiction stories about women or where the lead characters are mainly women?
Debbie: Quite a question, isn’t it?! After all, women read stories about male characters all the time, especially from the Canon of Western Literature (capitalization intentional, add booming voice). Are men so conditioned to believe they ‘rule the world,’ enjoy a privileged position? Or is it truly a genetic difference we’re seeing – women hardwired for stories about love and relationships? Gender stereotypes? In any case, I think the best stories are universal. Genre categorizations are useful for selling books to ready made audiences, fulfilling certain expectations, but for me it’s really more of a fascinating peek at modern society’s stereotypes and social expectations of men and women.
Would you recommend someone trying to publish a novel go the independent route or try to go with the big mainstream publishing companies?
Debbie: I am very inspired by the surge and stories of self-publishing! The two
obstacles are promotion and distribution. For someone that loves marketing and self-promotion, I say go for it. But for me, who’d rather sit in my pajamas and write more than hit the road selling books (hmmm, put that way it sounds fun!), I appreciate the value of my amazing publisher with their support, experience, and distribution power.
Debbie also sent in a special video message for Murtz with her Amazing Race partner, Bianca.