Why I Wrote The Deep Space Between
One of the first things I did before I started writing my novel, The Deep Space Between, is write my inspiration story. My why-I’m-writing-this-book story. This is what I wrote. I’m sharing it because it says a lot about me, the writer, and the journey I’m on. It also foreshadows many of the imposter syndrome setbacks I’d have (am still having) with writing and sharing my writing.
And, it answers that age-old question: when did you know you wanted to write?
Let me take you way, way back
As a kid, I always had stories running through my head. If I wasn’t acting them out with my stuffed animals, I was laying in bed or the grass with an internal movie playing out whatever theme was the flavor of the day.
I also wrote stories — not at home because why do that when it could play out in my head without handwriting to slow it down — but in school, specifically during our weekly library sessions with the librarian, Mrs. Barzinski.
Mrs. Barzinksi was an odd woman. She wore clogs, big round plastic glasses, clunky wooden beaded necklaces, heavy wool sweaters in winter, and white cotton gloves. Her thick wool sweaters had the telltale bumps of her breasts somewhere near her stomach, which earned them the nickname Barzinski boobs, and served as a cautionary tale for all the girls to make sure they wore bras.
In those weekly sessions, the table at which we sat was split. One end featured those students who listened to the chapter of the current book we were all reading, headphones twice the size of Princess Leia’s braid buns clamped to their heads. Mrs. Barzinki’s voice read out the most recent chapter; at the end, she included a prompt for a story topic. We then had 20 minutes to write a story about that prompt.
At the other end, the students read the story out loud and she taped us. Similar to the ginormous headphones — this was the ’80s after all — the recording device was massive. It contained two tape reels fastened to the top. When she turned it on, there was a distinctive “thunk.” I can still hear it today.
Every week, she put the best-written stories on the wall outside of the library with an A and then numerous pluses after it big fat red marker at the top of it.
At the end of the year, the students who had the best writing, aka the most pluses, got a prize — always books — for their efforts.
In my sixth grade year, I was in an unstated competition with my best friend, Jenny Simeon, over the total number of pluses we’d get on those stories. Some weeks I won, but most weeks she did. I always came second when I didn’t win, but it was never enough. Jenny was smart, funny, creative, and well-liked. I was awkward, wore outdated hand-me-downs (which I loved), and quiet.
We were really good friends. Outside of school was the requisite sleepover. During school, we’d hang out on the monkey bars (until some dummy got hurt and they banned them), making up stories.
Sometimes they were based on Greek myths (I was Athena, always) and sometimes on characters we created, like Ricky and Katie (I was Katie, she was Ricky). We even wrote and put on a play for our 4th-grade class (9-year-olds).
We were enmeshed in our creativity without even trying. And yet, I still competed with her. I wanted to win that content — to be the best writer in the school.
But I didn’t. Jenny did.
As I watched her walk up to accept her prize — the full set of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books we’d read that year — I had mixed feelings. I definitely did not want that prize, because I hated those books. Who needs to know how to build a bed peg by peg? Not this girl. But I also really wanted to be as creative as Jenny was and I failed. I sucked. I wasn’t good enough. It didn’t matter that I came in second out of my entire 90+ student class.
I didn’t beat Jenny.
The in-between years
Fast forward through my life, where writing wasn’t a feature because I obviously wasn’t any good at it coming second place to someone I looked up to when I was twelve. I still had stories running through my head and often used them as a means to fall asleep when my brain wouldn’t shut off from the day. But I never wrote them down.
And then in 2009, after getting laid off from my publishing job, I decided I was going to write something down. The book I wrote was based on a dream in a post-apocalyptic world.
Most of my stories are extensions of my dreams, but this one had a lot of rich details to it that were used to get the ball rolling.
In November, still unemployed but freelancing to be able to eat, I participated in NaNoWriMo, which is a challenge to write the 50,000 first draft ugly awful words of a book. And I did it. I wrote 50,000 words and my book was born.
My main character, Jenna, was smart, sarcastic, and funny; she was also incredibly isolated, an outsider, and a person who never saw her impact on the people around her. It took me 5 years to finish it, picking it up and putting it down at random moments in time. But eventually, I finished it.
At the time, I had taken a science fiction and fantasy writing class at the local university. Part of the class requirement was to read out five pages of your book. The same week it was my turn to read I had had a job interview. I was more nervous to read those pages than anything else I’d done in life, including that interview.
My classmates liked the content, but I was bombarded with questions on where the people came from, how did the food get made, where did the clothing come from. I couldn’t answer any of these questions, because I forgot to build the world while building the book. I had no idea where it came from; to me, it wasn’t relevant to the narrative. But to the readers, it most definitely was.
My husband did some research as to how much water and power my New City of York needed. He did amazing work on it and tried to help me build the world, but it was so overwhelming, I couldn’t face it. Once the class ended, I shelved the book.
Fast forward to the present
The idea for my current book, The Deep Space Between, came to me while I was writing my other poorly titled Apocalypse Girl book. And it wasn’t a dream, but an idea born out of another daydream, featuring a girl with a boogeyman riding shotgun in her body.
A girl who was an outsider, who was isolated, who felt unloved and separate from everyone else. A girl who never saw the impact she had on the people around her.
Once I realized I’d written, or started writing, two books about the same type of girl, I took a long hard look at myself. I realized I was them, they were me, just in different settings and circumstances. I had a story that needed to be told and I was the person to tell it.
This book is born out of two fears: I’m not good enough to write an engaging story; and, it wouldn’t have any impact on anyone even if I did. But I’m done competing with my 12-year-old self (since it was never about Jenny Simeon anyway).
I’m ready to see the impact I could have, or my character will have, on the world around her as she navigates the story and potentially learns more about my impact on my world in the process.
And that’s good enough for me.
Thank you to author Cassandra Stirling for sharing her inspiring story that led to the release of ‘The Deep Space Between’ which is available now.
About the Book:
Seraphina Lastra Covington had never planned to set foot in the Magical Community of Merricott, New Hampshire again. When she reluctantly returns after a twelve-year absence, she finds that the town has changed: the bustling square she once knew is quiet, and a Magic Wielding child has gone missing. It is not until she starts heeding advice from the voice inside of her head that she realizes everything in her childhood home is not as it seems.
About the Author:
Cassandra Stirling’s entire career revolves around language. She has worked in the fields of law, publishing, and marketing; writing a book seemed like a natural progression. In 2020, her husband noted that, while Cassandra’s childhood dream job was to be a writer, she “was not a writer,” as “she didn’t write.”
She proved him wrong by writing her debut novel The Deep Space Between.
When she’s not writing or working, Cassandra can be found playing video games, reading, cross-stitching, or generally figuring out how to fit all of her life into the seventeen hours a day she’s not sleeping.