SARANAC LAKE — Mountaineer, entrepreneur, and humanitarian, Silvia Vasquez-Lavado calls herself “A Messenger of the Mountain.”
She is the first Peruvian woman to climb Mt. Everest, and the first openly gay woman to climb The Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents.
Saturday morning at 7 a.m., Vasquez-Lavado leads a hike up Baker Mountain, her first hike in the Adirondacks, followed by a 5 p.m. talk at Saranac Lake High School.
AN OPEN MINDSET
Vasquez-Lavado is thrilled to be a part of the Adirondack Center for Writing’s inaugural Kickass Writers Festival.
“I’m looking forward to just explore,” she said.
“Every single journey, every single mountain trail, hike, it doesn’t matter how long or short. If we keep an open heart, an open mindset, it can be so fulfilling and powerful.”
Her debut memoir, “In the Shadow of the Mountain” (Henry Holt, 2022) tells the story of how an early life of abuse and addiction led her to discover hiking as a method of healing.
These pursuits transformed her life and empowered her to not only climb the world’s most challenging peaks, but also to found the non-profit, Courageous Girls, which is “dedicated to healing and empowering survivors of violence and abuse through adventures in nature.”
Her memoir is currently being adapted into a major motion picture starring Selena Gomez.
HOW IT WENT DOWN
“My literary agency has a first-book deal with William Morris Endeavor, which is an entertainment agency in Los Angeles that represents filmmakers, actors, producers,” Vasquez-Lavado said.
“As I was in the process of writing my proposal, I was told once we have everything done, we will send it to WME, but no guarantee of their interest. Once we sent my book proposal to all the different book publishers, my agency also sent it to WME, to the book-to-film division head.”
Vasquez-Lavado was in Peru at the time. Her father was quite sick, and she was spending time with him.
“When I got this phone call out of the blue from a literary agent asking me if I was hellbent that who would ever play me in a film needed to be Peruvian,” she said.
“I remember going like what in the world? Why am I getting this call? It was actually WME who had expressed interested in turning my story to make it more cinematic. What we needed to engage in the conversation further was to get a book deal. That became really hard.”
“In the Shadow of the Mountain” was turned down left and right.
“I had a miniscule social following,” Vasquez-Lavado said.
“We had this big publisher interested in us. She loved the story. She wanted to buy the story, but the social media team did an analysis on just my risk as an author, and turned us down. We were turned down by multiple publishers in New York.
“In my corporate life and in most of my life, I had held myself back because of fear of rejection. Imagine this particular time, I am sober. I am bringing my life on a platter. I have shared my most intimate details, pain, growth, learning, and these editors are reading it and saying great story, but not interested. Not interested. Not interested.”
‘NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP’
After about three months of really hard rejection, Vasquez-Lavado got lucky.
“Right before the end of the year, a couple of publishers expressed interest, and we were able to get it sold,” she said.
“That whole journey, that whole process, I think it was the universe. I think the lesson that I decided to share, the learning is just never, never, never give up.
“I think that’s one aspect as I am going through this journey and this story being embraced and published. I think one thing that keeps me humble just knowing how hard it’s been to be here.”
Vasquez-Lavado was in the midst of writing the book when WME started sending out her proposal.
“Her (Selena Gomez’s) team had read the proposal, they were very interested,” Vasquez-Lavado said.
“We started putting a team together. All along the way, I have found myself incredibly grateful. I know this is an amazing blessing. I like to joke that I feel like I’m in my own story of being a gay Cinderella with the caveat that I’m not looking for the Prince Charming. It’s an incredible journey that I never in my wildest dreams I would have imagined.”
Her film agents were very clear in telling her to take her time to write the book because the whole process will take awhile.
“When did I know this was out of the ordinary?” Vasquez-Lavado said.
“I think it’s been little signs along the way. I feel when we became an indie pick from the American Booksellers Association. When the ABA selected us as one of the Indies for February, that’s when I started feeling like whoa, maybe this story is going to be embraced in a very special way.”
Vasquez-Lavado is an executive producer of the film.
“We have just gotten the script,” she said.
“We are in the process of the script revisions. You never publish a book on the first draft, so we would never make a film on the first draft. I also know the limitations. You can’t bring a full book into a film. You need to do an adaptation. We are in that whole process about what parts are in, what parts are out, what do we need to explore further.
“This is a very unique journey. I laugh because my mother wanted me to get a master’s, and I still pray to her every day, and I’m still going through this master’s of life.
“I had a corporate career for over 20-plus years. I have a very strong business interest, and I’m fascinated by these new industries that I am able to be part of.”
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