Shall I tell the story in reverse for once? Not bury the lede to draw out a bit of suspense? The news looks something like this:
Susan Van Metre at Walker Books US has bought The Space Between Loneliness and Fear by Jennifer Mason-Black(Devil and the Bluebird), a YA literary thriller about a home-bound girl who unravels the mystery of a missing local boy, while someone online is determined to keep the truth buried at any cost. Publication is set for fall 2021; Alice Speilburg at the Speilburg Agency handled the deal for world rights.
That’s it. That’s the news. Assume the rest of this post consists entirely of details. Feed the birds, if you prefer, or plot the garden for next year, or open that book you haven’t had time to read and make some time to read it.
Or, hang out here and learn a bit more about how this news came to be.
After Devil And The Bluebird came out in 2016, things were fine. Better than fine, really. I had set myself some simple targets that would define success for me. I met every one, plus some that I couldn’t have imagined. I took a bit of time from writing so I could be one with life for a bit. Things went well right up until we hit the election.
Before I continue, I need to say something about the election. The way this country is at the moment – and I choose to believe it’s a moment we can make it past if we care to try – if I say election, something toxic occurs. Conversation shatters. So let me take this outside of personalities and parties. I care passionately about the environment and about wilderness spaces. I care passionately about my fellow humans and the rights of everyone, across the board, to be safe from violence and from fear, to be fed and housed and tended to when they are sick, and to be respected on the basis of their humanity. Those are broad categories, intentionally. They include a great many things, but, as someone pointed out to me long ago, I tend to dream on a big picture screen.
Knowing that, when I say that the election broke me, it is because of exactly what we see now: destruction of the protections of land and people on a immense scale and the funneling of resources to an undeserving few. Politics, on its most basic level, is about how and why we choose to treat this world and everyone on it the way we do. It is part of the lives of every single one of us, part of every decision every day. Right now, the gulf between the principles I strive to honor and the route my country has chosen feels too close to unspannable.
The election broke me. I became more or less housebound because I lost my faith in other people. I no longer believed, for example, that if I broke down on the side of the road someone would stop to help me. Writing is a conversation with the world, and I no longer knew how to begin it, so I stopped writing as well.
At some point that changed. At least, I felt like I should write. Not that I really knew what story to tell, or how, and certainly not why. I started with a few chapters about a boy who walked out of a house one day and vanished into a snowstorm, and a girl who was afraid to connect with the world even though she desperately wanted to be a part of it. I started, and then I stopped. Writing really is a muscle, and mine was spongy with disuse. More than that, the why of writing still eluded me.
Then I gave those few chapters to my kids to read. Sharing it was a reflex, a reminder that writing is communication. They gave me a bit of feedback, and I tucked the story into bed, most likely for good. Only then my daughter said this to me: hey, you need to keep writing that story because I want to know what happens.
Writing is a reflex; parenting is a much bigger one. Had anyone else asked me, it might not have mattered, but this was my child. I had my why. The story emerged as a cicada from its nymphal skin, the fluid slowly beginning to circulate to expand the wings. Gaelen vanished without a trace, his reputation as a troubled loner making it all too easy for the world to forget him. Seven years later, Sarah retreats from the world after cyberbullying by her friends leaves her unstable and alone. The characters awaited. But, what was the story?
Life bends toward life. The lonely long for community. Gaelen and Sarah, in their own ways, were grappling with the world around them. So was I. We kept each other company, learning the lessons we shared in common and the ones we didn’t. Sarah was taken in by a group of homeschoolers and began to trust friendship again. Gaelen worked to become more than what everyone believed him to be. Blue Riley stopped by for a song or two and to remind everyone about being a hero and the moments in which we can each be just that. Two separate stories – Gaelen’s and Sarah’s – wove together more and more as past and present worked toward one another.
And then we reached the end. I knew where Gaelen and Sarah would end up from the beginning, but not the depth of the journey. I hadn’t known where it would take me either, even though the restorative power of fiction is something I’ve understood my entire life. At last I gave the book to my daughter and she told me it was everything it should be. I believed her because she doesn’t pull punches and is a devil with a red pen. I wrote it as a gift to her, and it’s been a gift to me as well, and ultimately that is more than enough.
But it will also be a book, with a great editor and a great home. It will be a bit of a wait. My daughter may very well be living somewhere other than home by the publication date, but that’s okay. It will still be ours.
That’s what I’ve been doing in life. Well, no, that’s part of what I’ve been doing. Life has so many cycles of tear down and rebuild to it. It’s part of being human, part of being alive enough to evolve. It’s what I always wish for all of you: a life in which you are fully, completely alive and growing up until it’s time to go.
November 22, 2019 at 12:39 pm
Congratulations, Jennifer! I love this story of how this book came from your feeling silenced and housebound after the election, and how you wrote your way out of it. I have one (not yet announced) coming out around the same time, also inspired by the election and its aftermath but a very different response to it. I’m thinking of panels, online or in person, about how those events inspired our work. Can’t wait!