The Extrahuman Union

Archive for the ‘Other writing’ Category

Ah, the writing life:

Hey everyone! I’m still coming down from finishing SEEKER STAR, but I have started working on other projects.

One quick announcement: I’ll have a story in the upcoming anthology THIS MUTANT LIFE: BAD COMPANY, due out in October. It’s all about superheroes, so Extrahumans fans take note! Really, go grab it when it comes out, you’ll like this story and this whole anthology.

I’m slowly easing my way into revisions on THE BELLS OF VALEN (Extrahumans #4), because what there is to do with that book is just overwhelming. I tell myself that the hill was just as high and steep with SEEKER STAR, but it’s always daunting to be standing at the bottom, looking up.

I’m also promising myself that I’ll write a few more short stories, because I like them.

And now here’s the serious part of this post: I’m also being careful because I can feel burnout creeping in around the edges. I’ve done a ton of work over the past three years, and I have a good buffer when it comes to books finished and on submission. But I also feel like I have a ton to do, yet, and I need to take some time to recharge.

I burned out once when I was a high school teacher, and it was awful. I don’t ever want to do that again, especially for something I love as much as writing. So I’m going to try and take a breather, balance my day job, columnist job and my home life out, and do what little I can manage for now.

After a couple of weeks of taking it easier, I’ll likely be back on the old schedule. At least, I hope so.

Until then!


It’s been a busy week!

On Monday we drove down to New York (note to self: next time take the train) for the 25th annual Lambda Awards. A great anthology that I have a story in, THE COLLECTION from Topside Press, was up for the Transgender Fiction prize. And, get this, we won! A bunch of us who had written stories for the book took to the stage to accept the award. You can actually see a picture of us here on Bi Magazine‘s Facebook page. I’m the one in the blue.

It was an outstanding moment, and one that is mostly just a blur in my mind. I’m hugely grateful to our fantastic editors Tom Léger and Riley MacLeod for accepting my story and working so hard to bring such a wonderful and important book to life.

Then, the very next day, the amazing collection of essays QUEERS DIG TIME LORDS (Mad Norwegian Press, edited by Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas) came out! I wrote an essay for this, and I’m amazed by the company I’m keeping in it. You can check the book out here There have been some great reviews so far, including this one on which says some very nice things about the essay I wrote.

I’m still coming down from the release of THE DAUGHTER STAR last week, too. What a wonderfully overwhelming two weeks it’s been! More of this, please.

Now things get back to normal, and I get back to work on the second Grayline Sisters book.

I promised myself that this year, in November, I’d take a break from fiction. I had all kinds of excuses. I wrote two rough draft manuscripts this year, I assured myself, and even though I hadn’t done much of anything with them since that was clearly Good Enough. I’d also gone through two actual book releases, one in January and another in August, and I’d just finished the revisions on another book due out sometime next year. Seriously, I thought, these were excellent excuses.

Lastly, and this may be the most legitimate reason of all, when elections roll around life as a political columnist gets really hectic. Elections tend to burn me out, so I figured this year I was going to play it totally safe. While everyone else was busy with their NaNovels, posting word counts and cursing their characters, I was going to be slaying digital monsters and sipping tea. Ah yes.

Have I mentioned that I’ve gotten into tea in a big way? Ask me about my tea infuser and giant tins of loose leaf tea. Ask me about the tea leaves scattered all over the kitchen counter. Go ahead. You have time to kill.

So that was it, National Novel Avoidance Month had come to Susanland, and I was living large. I spent my after-work time covered in a layer of cats. I finished up all my political writing and started reading Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which is a blast so far.

But then I kept having ideas. Conversations started playing out in my head. I started thinking about characters doing things. And, of course, everyone out there is writing stuff this month. It’s infectious.

Therefore, naturally, over the weekend I found myself arm-deep in a manuscript, starting the laborious process of revision. Argh! So much for vacation. All those monsters are just sitting there on my computer, waiting to be slain, and I’m figuring out how many members the Women’s Council in Müller-Darvan has. Bah!

*glowers at world*

Okay, so here’s what’s going on now!

  • I didn’t put up a post about it at the time, but THE COLLECTION from Topside Press came out in October! All new stories from the “transgender vanguard,” which sounds like a cool band name or maybe a football formation, and I’ve got a story in it. Check it out. So many good writers in there! The anthology’s been getting some rave reviews. My story, “Ramona’s Demons,” is mentioned in a few of them. One of them said, “This one had me laughing out loud and smiling and getting angry.” Excellent.
  • I finished up the latest round of revisions for THE DAUGHTER STAR, which will be out sometime next year.
  • Right now I’m working on revising the rough draft of THE SEEKER STAR, which is the follow-up to THE DAUGHTER STAR. Yes, this is the book that ruined my vacation.
  • I’m also making notes and writing a few scenes for the fourth Extrahumans book. I have no timetable for this one yet, folks, so bear with me.
  • I did a lot of political writing this election season, including this piece about quiet inside the voting booth, and this one about climate change. You can find my column over at every week.

That’s it for now. I’m hoping to be able to make an announcement or two soon-ish, as there’s more cool stuff coming down the pike. Until next time!

Seanan McGuire makes these lists every month of what she’s working on, and every time she does my eyes grow big. Every once in a while I like to do the same thing, just to get an idea of where I’m at with all my projects. It’s been almost a year since I did this last. To be fair: it’s been quite a year.

I’m not including anything that’s not in process in one form or another. I’m not including a couple of things because they haven’t been announced yet, or I’m still trying to find a home for them. But here’s the rest:

The Daughter Star – Announced this week (more on that Monday)! I’m working on the first round of revisions now. First in a planned trilogy about the Grayline sisters. This thing has eaten my life at the moment.

The Seeker Star – Second book in the Grayline sisters trilogy, it’s at over 50,000 words. Stalled while I finish revisions on Daughter Star.

Gifts of the Sky – Extrahumans #4, starring Jill, Penny, Torres and some big flying doofus. A little over 20,000 words but stalled out while I work on other stuff.

Siphane and the Whale – The book formerly known as Memory’s Fire, about the adventures of introvert Siphane and her bitchy robot pal Lurbira Call. New SF universe, far future, giant war, space whales, lots of fun. First draft done, no energy to revise right now.

Fury’s Stand – Disgraced fortysomething princess gets sent into exile, only to bump up against plots to ruin everything. Set in a world modeled after the 12th century Byzantine Empire. 16,000 words. Slow going, stalled while I sort out everything else.

The Adventures of Stacy and Jazz – Short stories about a suburban woman and her demon-hunting pal. Shopping them around in various places. I have three stories done and the first bit of a fourth written.

CT News Junkie column – Every week. Politics and Connecticut. What could be better?

And that’s it! It’s a surprisingly robust list.

I love maps. I admit it, I’m a map obsessive, and I always have been. When I was a little kid I made a huge cardboard map of the streets in my town–and it was almost 100% accurate. I may have forgotten a few streets here and there, but the upshot was that I’d looked at the map of Newington so many times that I had it basically memorized. I can still tell you where Twenty Rod Rd. is, even though I can barely remember where I’ve left my purse.

I also love books with maps in them. Fantasy books are great for maps, thanks in large part to the fantastic ones Christopher Tolkien drew for his father’s books. Some science fiction books have them, too–such as Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, which sometimes will have a very simple map of the Hegen Hub in it. Most speculative fiction books don’t have maps, which is fine. But it’s still a really good idea to have some conception of where your characters are. Very simple things can profoundly affect what happens in a particular world. Take, for instance, this map of the Confederation (see the Extrahumans series) that I whipped up:

THE SPARK, which releases on August 28th, is in part about an uprising on Mandolia. If you look at the map, you’ll notice that Mandolia is pretty far away from Earth and Calvasna, which are the most populous and capital worlds of the Confederation respectively. Earth and Calvasna are the heart of power for the Confederation, and Valen and Mandolia, where our characters can sometimes find a little bit of wiggle room around government repression, are out on the fringe. That distance allows a lot of the events in the book to happen without an immediate crackdown.

Even then, it’s good for me to know which planets are near which other planets. Mandolia and Valen are very close, which impacts travel time and communication, and there’s a lot of traffic between the two worlds. Quela, on the other hand, isn’t really all that close to anything.

Here’s another example of a map I’m working on:

This is for a fantasy project, and it shows two major things: one being the size of the Sona Empire now, and the other being how large the Sona Empire was a long time before the story takes place. Therefore a major piece of history is very clear on the map. A few other spots on the map are labeled. I can use this map, which keeps evolving, to track where my characters are and what their world is like. The book begins at the Yastine Convent, which is in the mountainous north of the empire, near the border, far away from the capital. That makes it a certain kind of place, and certain kinds of things can happen there.

I didn’t have a firm grasp on this story until I drew this version of the map. I must have drawn and redrawn it a dozen times before I got it right. Once I did, though, I had a better grasp of where all the players were and what was possible. I could see where the protagonist would travel, and I could see where the book would end up. I also knew what was crucial to this world, and what the story would revolve around. I knew some of these things already, but the map helped me place those abstract ideas into something more concrete.

I don’t think I’d put either map in an actual book right now, and I certainly don’t have to. Sometimes readers don’t need maps to follow along. I always liked imagining the geography of Narnia and Prydain as a reader; I didn’t need to see it. But if you’re writing fiction, whether fantasy, SF or contemporary, it’s not a bad idea to have some kind of map to keep track of where things are, and what everyone’s doing. That map can be anything from what I’ve created here to a simple diagram showing where the various buildings on the street where your story is set are located. For THE SPARK I drew a crude street map of First Landing, so I knew where in the city Dee was and where she could go next.

Maps are a great way to think about fictional worlds, no matter their scale or genre. if a writer really knows the space her characters are in and uses it well, the world starts to seem more three-dimensional to the reader.

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I’m pleased to finally be able to announce that my urban fantasy story, “Ramona’s Demons,” will be published as a part of Topside Press’s inaugural anthology. Topside is a new publisher specializing in transgender literature (yes! it exists!), and is brought to you by some of the same folks who are behind PrettyQueer.

“Ramona’s Demons” is an urban fantasy story about what happens when a routine tracking assignment turns into a battle to save an otherworldly kid from demons. Hope you’ll check it out!

I’m terrible at guest posts. I mean, I love doing them once they’re done, and I always enjoy working with book bloggers and other writers to create something for their sites! However, I have an awful time coming up with topics. One of my problems, I think, is that I’m just not that great when it comes to talking about myself, my writing, or my creative process. I never know what to say.

I had a number of posts coming up, and this time I thought I’d write short pieces, little vignettes set in the extrahumans’ world, instead of more traditional guest posts. The first one’s up today, over at The Discriminating Fangirl, which is a great blog you should all read more of. The story is about Ernesta Trägel, the head of the Confederation Military Police (ConFedMilPol, the Confederation’s secret police force), getting an order to write a report and thinking about the past. Ernesta is a rockin’ character who has yet to make it into any of the books.

There will be two more of these shorts coming out very soon. One is about Renna Fernandez Silva, her friend Amy, and Sky Ranger waiting to escape from Earth. The other is the actual report Ernesta Trägel writes to the President of the Confederation. Watch this space (and my new Google+ page) to see when and where they appear!

Anyway, here is the link to the story: Ernesta Trägel Watches a Video of Sky Ranger

Some people, when they post to their dormant-ish blog after a lengthy time of not posting, get apologetic and make all kinds of excuses. Not here. I’m just going to pretend it never happened and continue on as normal!


What’s been happening? Well, next week (Nov. 22) BROKEN officially launches in print. Ha ha, I know! You bought your copy from Amazon like six weeks ago! This hasn’t been a release date that’s been paid a lot of heed. Oh well. Anyway, we had a launch party for the book at Modern Myths in Northampton on November 5th, and it was a blast! Candlemark & Gleam have the roundup, which includes a few pics. I did a reading from the book, which was amazing. I’ve never done anything quite like this before.

Lucky for me, in about two months we get to do it all again. 2011 has been the Year of Constantly Rolling Out BROKEN, because we did the initial launch in e-book format only back in January, then launched the print version this fall. For the next book in the Extrahumans series, FLY INTO FIRE, we’re launching everything at once–and it’s all happening in late January! I think we may even be having another party.

In other news, I’m hard at work on new projects! Here’s where things stand:

FLY INTO FIRE (EXTRAHUMANS #2): Done, ARCs are shipping out from publisher, launch set for January! I’m sure we’ll be doing pre-orders soon! Want to win a copy? There’s a contest up at Goodreads!

THE SPARK (EXTRAHUMANS #3): I’ve sent this into my editor, and am waiting to hear about it. If all goes well, we may end up releasing this one sometime in late 2012. Stay tuned!

THE DAUGHTER STAR (MARTA GRAYLINE #1): Also sent in to editor. But that’s all I know about it! I’m hoping this one sees the light of day, I think it’s a cool book with lots that readers will like.

THE DEMON GIRL’S SONG: Somehow this title has stuck. I’m at 40,000 words on my first draft of the adventures of Andín dal Rovi and Lynde Shevariat, and I’m shooting to finish the draft by the end of the year. We’ll see.

[NO TITLE YET] EXTRAHUMANS #4: I’ve made a start on this and have some very fun ideas. Haven’t cracked 10,000 words, so I’m still considering it to be in the very early stages.

RED DAUGHTER (MARTA GRAYLINE #2): Planning is sort of done, and about 5,000 words and some opening scenes written.

POLITICAL WRITING: Lots and lots and lots. Here’s the latest run of columns at CT News Junkie.

Also, a short story! Really! Frog F**kery, a Stacy and Jazz Story, is up at 30pov. Sad to say, 30pov has gone on hiatus for a while, and I don’t know if they’re coming back. I’m working on other Stacy and Jazz stories, though, so never you fear! One of them involves some really rotten, mean and insulting eggs.

That’s it for now. Check back in December, I’ll be doing guest posts in at least two places, so I’ll be sure to link to those!

I’m busy building and expanding on various underused worlds for some of my upcoming projects, and I thought I’d jot down some of the big rules I keep in mind when creating fictional worlds. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and your rules may be different from mine! Anyway, here you go:

Rules for Creating Fictional Worlds

#1: Worlds and their societies are complex – Our own world is not an easy place to get a good understanding of in a single paragraph or even a single book, and your world should be the same. Does this mean you need spend the rest of your life crafting a huge, impossibly complicated world? No. But it’s good to hint at something below the surface.

Writing a story about a princess? Then have an idea of how her family stays in power, what life is like for random people in the royal city, and where the princess learns, sleeps, eats, prays, shops and is entertained. Is there art? Philosophy? None of this has to make it into the book, or if it does, maybe it’s only there as a line or a few words. Simple worlds can be nice, but if there’s no hint of depth then I care less when the whole thing is in danger. A royal castle is in danger? Eh. But a city full of life, culture and history? That’s worth saving.

#2: The currents of history – We’re all at the mercy of huge, historical forces all the time, and these kinds of forces ought to be apparent in fictional worlds to a certain degree. In our story about the princess perhaps there’s a history of increasing centralization (with all the griping and angst that accompanies it) in the kingdom, or perhaps there’s an emerging sense of the people not just as subjects of a king, but as members of a nation (i.e., nationalism). What about the march of technology, or religious movements? How do all these forces interact? A lot of fantasy worlds seem to exist outside of any history except for the Epic Battle With Evil, but there’s always more than a single historical force at work in the world at any given time.

A series that does this really well is champion world-builder Sharon Shinn’s Samaria books. Each entry in the series examines that particular fascinating world at a specific point in its development; the history of the world is inextricable from the storyline, and multiple developing forces interact to create tension and conflict.

#3: Geography and Environment are Destiny – In The Daughter Star I wrote about two planets who were settled at the same time with a crucial difference: the gravity. Nea has twice the gravity as Adastre. How does that affect the people who live there? In this case, Adastre has been able to merrily advance its technology and quality of life while Nea struggles to survive. Novans (the people of Nea) hate their planet with a passion, but the environment has made the people into hardy survivors.

In our story of the princess, is her kingdom hot and dry? Cold and wet? Is it yet another place that’s Just Like England somehow? Are there natural barriers against invasion, or is it a sitting duck on a flat plain surrounded by hostile enemies (see: Poland)? Do crops grow well? Are winters brutal or mild? Are the forests full of toxic spiders? The answers help shape the people who inhabit your world, and the mindset of the characters in it.

Also: make a map if you’re dealing with lots of locations. It can be a crappy map. But it helps to know where things are in relation to one another.

#4: Oh, magic – If you must go the magical route, be consistent and be careful! Don’t give your people the power to destroy the universe unless you expect them to do just that every once in a while. If your world has magic, think about how it fits into that society. And even if you leave magic/powers sort of a mystery in your book, have a basic idea of how it all works. When coming up with Extrahuman powers, I made a chart detailing their abilities. There’s only one character who is completely off the chart, but that’s by design.

Can Princess Whatsherface do magic? Is she jealous of people who can if she can’t? What does magic look like to her? Is it useful? Showy? Terrifying? What do people in her city think of those who do magic? Do they revere them? Persecute them? Employ them?

#5: Big world – What’s outside of the kingdom? What other planets are out there? What’s beyond the forest? Maybe your characters don’t care. Maybe they never go there. But the world doesn’t end at the borders of the kingdom, and what happens outside can sometimes affect what happens inside, and characters views on the rest of the world can affect who they are and how they interact with new, strange things.

The princess in this increasingly complicated story should have a sense of the rest of the world, because she’s a princess and that’s her job. If her kingdom is cosmopolitan, with lots of contact with the rest of the world, this might make her flexible and more open to change. If her kingdom is cut off and people know next to nothing about the next kingdom over, then maybe she’s a little afraid of something that breaks the comfortable routine.

#6: Little world – Lastly, what little things do characters do as part of how they exist in their world and their culture? There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Deanna Troi’s mother insists on the Betazoid tradition of someone hitting a little gong every time she takes a bite of food. She’s perfectly happy about this but it annoys everyone else to pieces. But this little ritual is part of who she is.

In the princess story, does she take her shoes off when entering certain rooms? Is she superstitious? Does her family offer thanks to a deity before eating (and if they do, how do they do it)? Do people in the city paint their houses certain colors? Do they leave their shops open late? When people meet friends, do they hug and kiss or just nod smartly? Little details like this can make a culture spring to life.

#7: Don’t ignore real life – Really. Whenever I see something interesting happening out in the world, I’ll casually wonder how I can incorporate it into one of mine. This might be one of the best ways I can think of to go about this! I’ve come up with all sorts of fun things this way.

So there you go. This is less a set of rules, perhaps, than a lot of questions to ask and answer. Remember that it’s not necessarily about including every detail of a world in a book, but including just enough so that readers start to taste the flavor of the places you’re describing.

What are your own rules for making worlds?

Hi everyone! I’ll admit that I’ve been having an emotional roller-coaster of a week. I’m mostly happy, but I’m also exhausted. Fall is not a peaceful time for me.

That said, it was really cool to roll out of bed on Saturday, check my computer, and find a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Seriously. I about fell off my chair.

Now both of the first two novels from my publisher have received starred reviews from PW (the other, Erekos, is so very worth your time). Let’s hear it for small presses putting out good stuff!

So that was cool.

Then, later on that day, the final copy edits on The Daughter Star were done. My wonderful wife had given the book a once-over, and then I did a few last edits. I took a deep breath and sent it in. That’s two books sent in this month.

It’s not a bad run for 2011. Here’s my output:

  • Two manuscripts, The Spark (Extrahumans #3) and The Daughter Star, started, completed and sent to publisher
  • Broken released in e-book form, with print due out in November
  • Major revising/editing for Fly Into Fire (Extrahumans #2), which is due out in January
  • Thirty-three political columns for CT News Junkie done
  • Seven short pieces for 30POV
  • Miscellaneous short stories, including “Ramona’s Demons” (which will hopefully find a home soon) and an Extrahuman short story, “Jump Up Into the Sky,” which takes place between the events of Broken and Fly Into Fire
  • A start made on two new lengthy writing projects
  • Plus blog entries, guest posts and roughly ten billion tweets

That adds up to a hefty amount of writing for one year! My publisher has threatened to start an imprint just for me if I keep this up. Of course, I happen to think my own imprint would be the coolest thing of all, so that isn’t too much of a threat.

Party Time

Note: the launch party for Broken‘s print run is going to be at Modern Myths in Northampton, MA! It’s scheduled for November 5th from 5-7pm. See you there!

Susan Jane Bigelow’s Extrahuman Union

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