Today I have the pleasure of turning over the mic to Susan Jane Bigelow so she can share her thoughts about her new book, THE DAUGHTER STAR. Published by Candlemark & Gleam, it’s out today!
I first discovered Bigelow and her writing when I read BROKEN (Extrahumans #1), her debut novel from 2011. It’s a wonderful tale about superheroes. THE DAUGHTER STAR is the first book in Bigelow’s Grayline Sisters series. I was curious about Susan’s process in writing the book, and here she is to tell us all about it.
Sometimes, stories really don’t end up where you thought they would, and sometimes stories change so utterly in tone that they don’t seem like the same thing anymore. THE DAUGHTER STAR was like that.
This book started out in a rather unusual way; I wrote it as a “pace book” when I was working on THE SPARK (Extrahumans #3). What that means is that I’d work on it when THE SPARK had worn me out, or I was interested in doing something else. I’d never written two books at the same time before, and it seemed like a fun challenge. So what I came up with originally was a much lighter book, because that was what I needed to counterbalance the melancholy, tense and serious nature of Dee’s story in THE SPARK. The first draft started out being a fun, silly kind of space adventure, and I didn’t take it entirely seriously. I remember writing at the time that I was writing a Jenny Starpepper Mystery (or a kind of pulp adventure novel. It makes sense if you’ve seen the movie Paul. Why haven’t you seen this movie? Go see this movie! It’s like a love letter to SFF fandom, and it has Sigourney Weaver).
However, as I explored the world and the characters more deeply, I felt that this lighter approach wasn’t working. There were all these massive issues of an alien species basically taking advantage of humanity, two sisters who run away to war together, and Marta Grayline’s whole process of growing up, and I felt like I was dancing around them instead of tackling them head on.
I’m not saying lighter books can’t deal with these sorts of issues, they totally can and do! I am probably not the author to write books like that, though, and as I went through rewrites it seemed like the book had a split personality. Parts of it were silly or nonsensical, while other parts were haunting or sad, and it just didn’t work together in a way that made sense to me. Also, pieces of the world felt one-dimensional, and I really wanted this universe to be as real-seeming as possible. I decided to remake the book.
What I eventually came up with after numerous rewrites and revisions is a book that is a lot darker than the original drafts. The stakes feel higher, Marta’s development is clearer, and Beth’s decisions feel a lot more frightening. I also changed what I wanted to do with this series; instead of a serial of adventure stories featuring Marta, I decided to explore the defining story of each of the three Grayline sisters in three separate books. This means that the next book will be about Violet, and the third will center on Beth. This allowed me to wrap up Marta’s story in a way that felt satisfying, instead of leaving her unfinished. I finished the first draft of Violet’s book, THE SEEKER STAR, between when I turned DAUGHTER STAR in to my editor and got her revisions back. That experience really helped me sharpen DAUGHTER STAR’s focus a lot more, and pieces of the world made a lot more sense to me as well. The final book is darker and more serious, but it’s also a way better book. It didn’t feel to me like something I’d written until the final version, if that makes any sense at all.
I… suspect that this piece makes it sound like my creative process is nothing but pure chaos. This is often true—at least with the rough drafts. I will often have no idea how a book will end when I begin writing it. The real work, and the place where I become a lot more methodical, is in the reimagining and reworking. THE DAUGHTER STAR changed more than many books over time, but every book I write goes through that dramatic refining process.
I hope people will check out THE DAUGHTER STAR, which releases today. Thank you all for reading, and for M. Fenn for having me!