Cassandra DeJesus is a first-time author and stay-at-home mother of two. Raised in Bay Shore, DeJesus drew inspiration for her debut novel, “The Away,” from her dreams, as well as from her Long Island hometown.
Her fiction novel will be available online on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Mascot Books and Books-A-Million on April 6.
The Islip Bulletin spoke with DeJesus about her writing process and inspiration for her work.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Islip Bulletin: What was the overall process of writing, editing, and publishing like for you? How do you feel that this experience has impacted your life and career?
Cassandra DeJesus: I have never written anything before ever in my life, and the idea actually came to me in a dream. There was one scene in the book where the main character, Sonia, goes to the grocery store, and that is the only scene I had dreamt. So, I literally started, from beginning to end, building off of that one scene. I never thought anything would come of it, but I eventually sent it to two publishers and they both wanted it ... and I was so shocked, I didn't know why they'd want something from a person who had no creditentials in this field. I said you know what, I'm going to go for it. So we went through it, and I went with Mascot Books as the publisher, because for a first time writer, they were very involved. , I felt that they were very involved in the process. The editing process was very back and forth, but the overall process was relatively easy with them.
IB: Did you always want to be a writer? Have you always had a passion for writing? What do you usually focus on?
CD: No, my husband always laughs at me because I am always doing a million things at home. I love to clean, and I love to repurpose furniture. ... So, one day I would be writing, and the next day I would be repurposing a dresser for someone. That's the way I am, I never do just one thing.
IB: You went to Bay Shore High School. Are there any similarities between Glendale, the town in the novel, and the Bay Shore community?
CD: Yes, almost all of the building inspiration of the high school in the book is from my high school. I graduated in 2001. Especially in some of the parking lot scenes, and hallway scenes, I thought about my high school. ... However, there are many elements that were fictionalized, but I definitely drew inspiration from Bay Shore High School, which is a beautiful building.
IB: Are there any other parts of the environment in the book that are based on certain aspects of Long Island?
CD: I have always lived in Bay Shore, so a lot of my inspiration was from certain areas of Bay Shore that I fell in love with. For instance, certain streets that I had an image of in my head, I portrayed in the book.
IB: What was it like balancing your writing and your responsibilities at home as a stay-at-home mom? How did the pandemic affect the progression of the publishing?
CD: When I was writing it, my kids were little. Every time my kids took a nap, I would go and write, or whenever my husband was off from work, and had time to watch the kids, I would go and write. However, with the pandemic I haven’t had the opportunity to go and do real book signings. ... I have to do a virtual book tour, but I would love to meet people who have read the book and hear about their favorite characters.
IB: Were your friends and family surprised when you decided to pursue writing? Who was supporting you?
CD: Absolutely! My husband when I told him I wanted to write a book, he looked at me and he was like, 'Uh, okay?' But when I started writing, and he saw how involved I was, and I was scared to send it to people ... when I told him I had submitted it to two publishing companies, he was so proud of me. The book is actually dedicated to my husband, John DeJesus, because he has been my support throughout the entire process.
IB: What was the timeline between when you had this dream and when the book was published?
CD: It was in 2019, but the book actually only took me five months to write.
IB: Why did you decide to go the route of a young adult novel? Were you inspired by another book you had read?
CD: I was inspired to do young adult because I love the “Twilight” books. I love vampire and fantasy books like that. I wanted to write something that was more fun to read, so young adults seemed like the best way to go.