Cynthia Hamilton


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Cynthia Hamilton

The Story Behind the Story: Susan Rooke “The Space Between”

I first read some of Susan’s work last year after clicking on a link in her Twitter post. I knew immediately that she had a wonderful writing style, the kind that is so easy to get caught up in. I must confess that I downloaded her book when it came out and have gotten well into the story, despite that fact that I’ve had very little experience with this genre. The reason I haven’t finished it is that since I’ve gotten on Twitter, I’ve had the good fortune of connecting with many talented writers, and…to be perfectly honest, I’ve become something of a book junkie. The truth is, I have at least ten books on my Kindle that I’m currently reading. I’m starting to think this might be a mistake, but I can honestly say I’m fascinated by all of them. I think I may need an intervention!

But back to Susan’s book… Finding out how long it took her to write The Space Between explains why it’s so mesmerizing. She takes the reader into a parallel universe that is as complex and dynamic as anything you’ve ever encountered. I feel a distinct sense of tension when reading it; I have no idea where she’s leading me, but I’m certain the outcome will be quite dramatic and well worth the journey, which in itself is worth taking.

It’s my pleasure to introduce to you Susan Rooke:

Before 2005, I’d tried several times to write a novel and had the abandoned manuscripts in my desk drawers to prove it. So when I first began writing The Space Between: The Prophecy of Faeries in the fall of that year, my primary goal was just . . . to finish. I had reason to be hopeful. Unlike all the other times I’d tried, I had a new tool to push me over the hump: NaNoWriMo and its inspiring concept of writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

I decided on September 1 as the target start date. By then, The Daughter would’ve begun her senior year of high school. The house would be quiet and I would have the freedom to write the required 1,667 daily words. But as the date drew nearer, I began to grow nervous. I still had no notion of a plot. All I knew was that it would be fantasy, since that’s the sort of fiction I write.

Then one day after I’d learned of a folkloric belief that faeries are descended from fallen angels, I heard my own voice say in my head, “A young woman is taken by faeries.” A few days later I was on the treadmill, reading a fascinating book about the physical abnormalities that have been documented in human beings. I knew at once that the faeries who kidnap the young woman have imposed physical challenges like these on themselves, because of guilt over their fallen angel ancestors. I named them the Penitents, and, armed with that knowledge, on September 1, 2005 I began writing The Space Between. Thirty days later, I had a first draft of 51,000 words. Yes, NaNoWriMo had worked. But a few weeks later when my celebrating was over and I’d started a second draft, I realized most of the book still had to be written. The problem was, I’d created a multi-worldbuilding fantasy, and at a scant 51,000 words, I was still at least one world short.

Over the next eleven years and eleven months, I wrote draft after draft. Not only had I come too far to stop, but also my characters grew too insistent to ignore. They set up residence in my head and began making demands at all hours, including in my sleep. One memorable night I was in the middle of the book’s umpteenth revision and fell into bed with an overtired brain, still thinking about the scene I’d been working on that day. It was set in the Penitents’ Keep and featured Lugo, the Keep’s Master. I had this dream:

I was at the service counter of an old-fashioned hardware store, the kind with scarred wood floors and dusty shelves displaying every part you’d ever need, whether to repair your lawnmower or build a functional satnav system. The kind where every employee knows the inventory by heart and has worked there at least thirty years.

As I waited, a group of eight or ten very peculiar people in 1960s-era clothing entered the store and filed past me in a line, their eyes averted as if they were embarrassed. The men wore leisure suits and Nehru jackets. The women wore polyester pantsuits and had stiff, bouffant hair and eyes painted with frosted blue shadow. They were so out of place they could have been time travelers to the 21st Century.

Even though they wouldn’t look at me, I had the strong feeling that they were desperate for me to notice them. When I saw that each of them had some physical deformity, it dawned on me that I knew them—these were my Penitent characters. They had come to find me. And bless their hearts, they’d tried to disguise themselves as ordinary hardware store customers by dressing in a way they thought was fashionable for humans.

Dumbfounded to see them in my world, I waited for one of them to say something. They remained silent, though, and soon had looped past me, leaving by the door they’d come in. Then the last one, an austerely handsome, somewhat haughty-looking man (despite his outlandish garb of polyester bellbottoms topped by an open-necked shirt with an oversized collar), stopped in front of me. Unlike the rest, he met my eyes, giving me an appraising look. It was Lugo.

“We just wanted to make sure you’re as comfortable with us as you think you are,” he said. Then he turned and followed the others out of the hardware store, leaving me with my mouth hanging open.

It’s now almost thirteen years since I started writing The Space Between. Its sequel, The Realm Below: The Rise of Tanipestis, is nearing completion. After my successful NaNoWriMo experience gave me much-needed confidence, I chose to write it the old-fashioned way. My characters, of course, pitched in to help. We’re very comfortable with each other now.

To all of them, and especially to Lugo, I want to say this: Thank you for your trust, and for choosing me to tell your story. It’s an honor. The next time you need to find me, though, no disguises, okay? Just come as yourselves.

And thank you, Cynthia Hamilton, for allowing me to share the story behind The Space Between!