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Dragons have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My father told us bedtime stories about an unusual dragon he met while boating in Lake Michigan. My parents were Peter, Paul, and Mary fans, so Puff the Magic Dragon was a common song on our many road trips. Even Elliot made an impression as he tried to rescue Pete from slavery in the Disney movie, Pete’s Dragon.

Since those days, I’ve been introduced to mechanical dragons in real life, the thought that dinosaur bones could have begun the belief in dragons in the first place, wise dragons, horrible dragons, dragons that were brought to life through myth and magic and those crafted by genetic science. I can’t imagine a world without dragons in it, whether you hold to the Smaug image of a monstrous creature that hoards treasure and eats people, the helpmates of Pern, or the wise creatures who try to steer humanity in the proper direction only to fail time after time. (more…)
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Belated update? I did finally finish the last steps of But a Pretty Bauble this week. The second draft ending word count is just shy of 80k at 79,841.

In case you're curious, besides a spell check in which I found some introduced errors as well as a few I just missed going through manually, my list included the following:
Note: These are small enough that they should not constitute spoilers, and it's a glimpse into my process.

1. Clan not Tribe for the dragonkind
2. Hiba's eyes
3. What is the side of power for the king?
4. How far is it to the mine?
5. Hiba needs to call her father the king sometimes
6. Make sure the dragonkind never use the term nomad for themselves.
7. Check the frequency of "then"
8. Verify no contractions in narrative?
9. Check for "was not"
10. Check for "had had"
11. Chairs in Kader's study. Either at the desk or gone from the table.

This list came about because I noticed patterns in my fixes that I may not have been as aware of from the beginning.

Simple ones like 1,2,5,6, and 11 are often items where I started out one way and ended up deciding to make a change. Those I may jot down on the continuity sheet of my world building spreadsheet during writing, or they may be an unconscious change that I notice during the first edit pass. I added this sheet to my process because of my copyediting work as I would have to note down the discontinuities so I could get a preferred value and track whether I'd made the fix. However, that made so much sense and worked so well that I ended up applying it to my work as well.

For word frequency or things like 8, 10, and 11, what I'll do is a search and replace with highlighted word for the offending item. Then I change the page size to 45% or lower...something that allows me to see frequency across a number of pages. When I find a cluster of the highlight marks, I flip back to readable with my cursor on that page and see what I want to do in context. Sometimes the frequency is appropriate after all, and globally changing anything just leads to jerky writing.

The contractions in the narrative decision was a toughie for me. Yes, I LITERALLY searched for a single quote mark through the whole document and wasn't that fun. This was something I had never faced, or at least not in a long while, because I do use contractions in the narrative normally. However, something in this particular book called for a more formal style outside of dialogue. I won't know if that was a good or bad call until I get feedback, but for right now, it's what I went with.

And then the distance to the mine? That was pure idiocy. This idea came on me hard and fast, I rushed through the prep, and jumped into the writing like a thirsty nomad falls onto the sand before an oasis to cup some of the precious liquid between his hands. Some simple things, like recording the distance where I could find it and prevent continuity issues before they were born, got lost in the mad race to have this story take form beneath my flying fingers.

So, there's a glimpse into my editing process. But I'll tell you, the most important part of all is simple: Even after focusing so totally on this draft to get it edited by the deadline I had set, the story still resonates. That spark that drove it into my mind still lingers on the page...for me at least.


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Today signals the end of the first edit pass on But a Pretty Bauble.  All told, it was pretty easy, though I do have doubts about the overall, and about the ending in specific.

Am I ready to release it to critters? No.

I have a couple steps still to do:

1) I have one note of something I need to seed better in the beginning because it becomes crucial.
2) I have 7 continuity elements to check from the time it takes them to get to the mine and back to whether the dragonkind ever refer to themselves as nomads, to an overuse of the word "then."  Those will be fun to squirrel out :p.

Honestly, considering it was a raw rough draft, that's not a heck of a lot.  I added less than 5k in new text as I edited, though, and some sections were rewritten from scratch.

The oddest part of this was the outline.  Often I'll update things that change, but there were many scenes that when I read the outline blurb, I expected a continuity nightmare.  The writing didn't reflect this at all, but the difference between the writing and the blurb gave an interesting peek into just how the story had changed.

Anyway, the point is that it has moved to the next level.  It'll be interesting to see the reactions.

And stats:
Edited Today: 2,497 words
29 Chapters complete - 105% of the novel
0 Chapters remain
-3,891 Remaining word count
79,483 Current Total
75,592 Original Total

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As a writer, I find myself gaining comfort in the oddest things. Today, I made myself cry. Not outright balling, but a tightened chest and watery eyes as the words on the page twisted my heart.


Now this is a novel I wrote. This is a novel that I know the ending to and already know that it'll come out all right.


So I have to wonder at the words affecting me, and hope that they'll affect all my readers in the same way.


I'm having some difficulty with But a Pretty Bauble. It's the kind of difficulty most writers claim to want with all their hearts, but facing the possibility in reality is nothing to write home about.


I have made some line-level changes, though there are whole pages that are "perfect," and have caught only one continuity error, a minor one. I'm swept up in the story, and this first draft is so far from raw that it's unbelievable.


Which is where I get to the problem. Have I achieved the impossible and produced an almost perfect draft (in comparison at least)? Or am I still, after letting it sit for three years, too close to the story to see the flaws?


When I weep, is it because I know how this should be, or because identifying with Hiba in this moment is impossible to avoid with what I managed to get on the page?


I'm not used to being this confident in a book, and at the same time having so little confidence :). But only time...and critters...will tell.


And stats (Note that I've passed the halfway point :D):

Edited Today: 6,301 words

16 Chapters complete - 59% of the novel

13 Chapters remain

30,773 Remaining word count

44,819 Current Total

77,493 Predicted Total

P.S. One of these years I'll do a complete Coma Wedding update.  As it stands, I'm moving forward and nearer to the point where I haven't finished the outline :P.
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Umm, did I say less complicated? My goodness I believe in layers. I am now about a third of the way into But a Pretty Bauble. I am finding nothing major (probably a sign I can't see them without help) and enjoying the story. It's funny to see how the story mutated away from the outline though. Hiba was supposed to be a spoiled princess with nothing but fluff between her ears, sort of a Middle Ages chick lit heroine. Well, that didn't work. She's innocent and ignorant, but mostly because she's led a sheltered life, and boy does she try hard :). And Bab is full of himself and so confident, right up until he's proved wrong. He accepts the correction well, while holding himself to blame for failing to realize it in the first place.


My absolute favorite parts so far? I'd have to say Bab and Faysal arguing, but Hiba and her father runs a close second, and heck, I like it all. Even the bad guy is...well...bad :).


So yes, while the uncomplicated part might not have worked out as well as I'd hoped, it's funny and fun.


I'm taking Holly Lisle's How to Think Sideways class (, which is a lot of work and definitely worth it. One of the things she has us look at is our interest areas. If I hadn't done that just a couple of months ago, I might not have noticed, but But a Pretty Bauble has a lot in common with Shadows of the Sun, as crazy as that may sound.


Now to be clear, Shadow of the Sun = sociological science fiction novel in which two sapient species conflict in a bloody and fatal manner when unaware humans breathe on the embers of a centuries-old conflict that has slipped largely into myth. So, aliens, another planet, jungle, islands, water, fish, humans, scientists, linguistics...


But a Pretty Bauble = fantasy novel where a small time kingdom fights with nomads over the right to mine jewels in the desert. So, humans (mostly ;)), this planet, desert, limited water, no fish, pre-industrial.


They sound like the spitting image of each other, don't they?


Except...both are clashes of culture with lives on the line. Both have misunderstanding built out of secrecy started for protection, and while in one the third party is ignorant and in the other he knows exactly what he's doing, in both there's someone outside of the conflict who eggs it on.


Some day, I'm going to be great fodder for a literature class :).


And stats:
Edited Today: 5,491 words
11 Chapters complete - 38% of the novel
18 Chapters remain
46,538 Remaining word count
29,054 Current Total
76,836 Predicted Total


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It's been a while since anyone has seen this title cross my posts, but I thought a short, fun fantasy might be just the ticket before I tackle another big one.

I went back to reread my early posts about But a Pretty Bauble, and they make me tremble for what's to come.  That said, at least this time I can feel the shape of the novel, the weight of it pressing against my hands.

So far I have edited the first four chapters.  The main characters have all been introduced, the main conflict and major secondary conflict have floated across the page...umm, make that two secondary conflicts...and I'm certainly not hating it.  I think this is a novel I'll require outside feedback on before I can tell if it works or not.  We'll see.  I may be able to see major issues as I get further in.

At one-seventh of the way, though, I'm tweaking, clarifying, and cleaning up some truly horrendous NaNo prose, but seeing no major changes at all.  Oh, and I am faithfully murdering sentence-level darlings that still resonate, but just don't work with what surrounds them.

Whatever happens, I think it'll be a fun excursion from my normally more complicated texts.

And stats:
Edited Today: 4,644 words
4 Chapters complete - 14% of the novel
46 Chapters remain
64,714 Remaining word count
10,878 Current Total
76,253 Predicted Total

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Well, thanks for playing folks. Ride's over. Exit is to your right (and yes, I wrote "write" first).

This has been a wild and crazy run. I had this idea mid September, I managed to forget it existed, and still the novel has gone from conception as a synopsis to outlined to written in just about 2 months time. Do I think it's the best thing I've ever written? Well, who knows, but it's certainly a fun tale. I guess I don't have to worry about percolation time. I thought Selkie was a fluke simply because the song has been part of my life since I learned it out of my Judy Collins song book when I was in my early teens. But a Pretty Bauble throws that out the window. It also tells me that the ton of old ideas waiting for me to come up with time to bring them to life may just have to wait. The ones that screamed to be done are largely finished and I'm getting new ones that apparently don't need to sit around for 2+ years before they're ready to cover the page.

The novel I'm thinking of starting to finish out NaNo (so I can keep my 2nd to 3rd page ranking ;)) is one that came to me a long time ago. A romance novel that was supposed to be my NaNo anyway so it's appropriate to tack it on the end. I'm sure I won't finish it, but I'll have a nice jump for next year.

And stats:
61 scenes
61 complete - 100% of the novel
0 Scenes remain
0 Remaining word count
75592 Estimated length - with an average of 1239 words per scene.
75592 Current Total
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Okay, I know I'm about the worst blogger out there, but though I'm not frequent, I hope some of what I say has value.

So, what have I learned this time? Not to blog my NaNo progress. It's moving too quickly and I don't have time to explore the process as much, which is what this blog is about.

That said, I did notice that because of the speed of NaNo, the "Ohmigosh, this is awful and unsellable" comes quicker, harder, and also vanishes just as quickly. I'm back to thinking there is some value to this book and that it's more than just another generic fantasy. Since I don't tend to read generic fantasy, I could, of course, be mistaken in this assessment, but editing, critting, and finally submitting is a better way to set myself straight than bemoaning before it's even complete.

So here I sit, somewhere between 6000 and 15000 words from the end and I still like it. The outline served me well overall, though it required some tweaking, especially as a true villain slipped into my cultural conflict somehow and had to be dealt with, but not before creating havoc of course, and my sons gave me a little assistance that, while neat and obviously worthy or I would have cut it, caused me some scenario problems. That said, I think we're back on track and moving smoothly into the end point, where I have to decide whether to shutdown NaNo for the year or roll off into the book I was planning to do for NaNo.

Oh, and the experiment, which I think I mentioned, of my first brand new, raw novel without at least a year to contemplate? Seems to be going quite well. Is this novel as complex as some of my others? Maybe not. However, the tale itself doesn't require that complexity to get across what it's trying to say, so I'm not stressing on that factor :).

And stats:
58 scenes
52 complete - 90% of the novel
6 Scenes remain
7715 Remaining word count
74579 Estimated length - with an average of 1286 words per scene.
66864 Current Total
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This is my...umm...14th? 15th? book, but turns out I can still learn basic things about how I work. I've heard many writers tell of how they stop in the middle of a sentence to make sure they can smoothly restart the next day. Whenever I stop in the middle of a sentence, or even worse, a word, I might as well just chuck that bit out the window. Sentences aren't just words to me. They're a sensation, a balance, a tangible object. And once that object has been chopped in half and neglected, it goes stale like a half loaf of bread left out on the counter. I can cut off three more slices and sometimes find a part that's still edible, but usually it's better to kick myself for not covering it and throw it out in favor of a new loaf. Okay, maybe that's stretching the analogy a bit because I haven't found a way to feed extra words to the birds, but you get the idea.

Anyway, that's a method I tried and obviously didn't work for me. What I do is write by word count quota, which really means that I get to the end of the scene I'm working on. If I'm over, what a thrill. And if I'm under, I might start another scene just to get that last bit, but rarely more than start it.

Enter NaNo. I'm trying for an insane daily quota of 5000 words. By the last stretch, I'm so wiped I couldn't care less about the end of the scene. I plan my writing in short runs throughout the day, and when that time's up, that mini-goal met, I stop, grateful for the break.

But should I be?

Okay, that's a lot of build-up for this simple fact. All stopping points are not created equal.

This amazing discovery I have made almost cost me my goal yesterday and meant I'm groggy from staying up too late last night.

Basically, I can stop when I finish a scene and I'm grand. I can start a scene, pulling together the disparate elements of characters, scenery, mood, and emotions so the next time I start I'm on the brink of explosion into happenings. I can even stop in the middle of the activity with tempers riding high.

You might ask, with so many options, why I can't just stop anywhere. At least, that was my assumption, and everyone knows what happens when you assume.

The critical failure point that I have discovered is this: I cannot stop at the point of wrap-up. Remember all those elements I pull into play at the beginning of a scene? Well, closure requires those elements to be accounted for, whether by a cliffhanger where they're thrown overhand to another scene or by a tidy denouement. It's the end of the juggling act and every piece has to be tossed to a partner or caught and stored away. It should be simple. It should not take any thought at all, and never has before.

Except that I left them hanging in suspended animation for several hours. Sometimes the suspension failed, and some fell to a splattery death, others drifted off course, others just blinked out of existence.

When I came back, that juggling act had fallen to pieces and I stared at the page for a long time before tossing in something that just sits there waiting for an edit to get the balls moving again. I'm frustrated, because I had no idea of this flaw in my logic and the poor piece is festering in the back of my mind, fighting my focus. I've moved on. I'm too bullheaded to let it stop me, but I'm going to finish the scene from now on if I can't stop in the middle of the conflict. I'm just hoping that when I edit, I'll understand just what Hiba was supposed to let slip and why that scene had to end in the way it did...or rather should have.

I guess it just proves the old saying wrong. You can teach an old dog new tricks; you just have to batter the dog about the ears for a bit :p.

And stats:
55 scenes
27 complete - 49% of the novel
28 Scenes remain
35817 Remaining word count
70355 Estimated length - with an average of 1279 words per scene.
34538 Current Total
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Hum, I guess I've been a little frantic preparing for NaNo and cleaning up a bunch of lose ends, so I forgot to post about this novel.

A quick update then.

First off, the outline is complete and currently at 54 scenes. It was only 53, but one scene has already split into two as often happens. The word count for the outline stands at 9846 and the total world building including the outline is 14,611. As this indicates, I tend to do the majority of my world building within my actual outline. One reason for so much extra is the character building marathon I mentioned in the original post. I took Holly Lisle's Character Clinic and started working through it for my characters. I normally let the elements of the characters come out in their own sweet time, but as an experiment, I found this very interesting. Some things came out that I didn't know, things that helped the novel immensely.

In my original post, I mentioned my concerns about the spoiled princess. Though I didn't explicitly state it, she came across to me as a chic lit type character full of flash and sarcasm. That image became harder and harder for me to hold onto for good reason. She isn't spoiled at all, not in the traditional sense. She's had her father's complete attention for most of her life, but this is because he clings to his memories of her mother, who died when she was two, and she tries to make up for that loss by being his helpmate, his comfort when the sorrow overwhelms.

This didn't change the essential events she undergoes in the story, but turns the nature of certain scenes from a temper tantrum to anger held as a shield from despair. The original thought still comes into play, but it's not true to her, it's how others perceive her. This makes it easier to bond to her as the main character and helps make trouble where things could have run quite smoothly, so I'm happy.

Based on the outline, this novel is running in the 65k-78k range, and based on the content, I'm thinking a YA fantasy. For NaNo, this is ideal because I can bring in a novel that exceeds the goals but not by so much that I'll be drained trying to finish it off in one month. So far, I'm about a third done and the story is moving along nicely. Another character has popped up just to be obnoxious and managed to wend his way through as somewhat of a bad guy in a novel about misconception and culture clash. It was a bad enough situation, but Prince Chori is there to make it worse :).

The question of POVs has been resolved and Faysal is doomed to find his voice in another novel. I love his character, but this novel does not play to his strengths, nor does he play a critical part. Instead, his brother gets the voice as both the Romeo to Hiba's Juliet and the one willing to reach out despite differences that seem overwhelming.

Finally, what makes this novel an interesting experiment is its timeline. As I said above, I don't normally do much world building, but part of the reason for that is because the world becomes alive to me as it stews in the back of my mind, sometimes for a significant number of years. Not so But a Pretty Bauble. No, this story came into being and whipped its way to the front of the line in less than 2 full months. As if that wasn't enough, those two months were chock full of "must completes." For the first time, I look at a scene and wonder what's the taste of it, the feel of it. The room, the people, don't exist until the moment I put my fingers on the keys. This has proved annoying for sure and is making the act of writing more difficult than expected. Still, it's something I need to know. Can I successfully complete a new story in this kind of timeline? Only time (and not a lot of it ;)) can tell. I will say so far with this experiment that it has made my confidence shaky. I know the overall shape of the novel, but not the heft. Without that, I can't see whether or not it's working, something that is frustrating to the extreme.

Anyway, enough blathering. Since I posted it at the NaNo site, I might as well share one small, very raw, snippet for your enjoyment. And the stats are at the bottom of course :).

Faysal = elected nomad leader and brother of the love interest.
Bab = love interest

Faysal shook his head. "This is an old argument, but its time is past. It's too late for talk. They've intruded on our desert and spilled our blood, taken our lives. Now we have to teach them a lesson not even their descendants will forget."

Cloaked in the aura of clan leader, Faysal strode back to the nearest entrance, his moment of grief and weakness cast aside. Bab stared after him, a bitter, sick feeling in his chest. "But what if that lesson costs us everything, brother? What then?" He asked the questions to the wind, for Faysal had already gone back to planning his next attack, the one that would cripple the land-churners forever...except nothing seemed to do that.

And stats:
54 scenes
23 complete - 43% of the novel
31 Scenes remain
37483 Remaining word count
65293 Estimated length - with an average of 1209 words per scene.
27810 Current Total
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New book for you all to follow...

Okay, this time I'm starting almost at the very beginning of the process. At some point this collection of process posts will demonstrate that each one has a unique beginning, but the process after that starts to look a bit similar.

This novel is titled But a Pretty Bauble and came into being because I was reading an article in the Atlantic Monthly about the Saudi royal family and the potential risk to the world oil supply because of the instability within the royal family now with the leader's health failing.

It was an interesting article, but very few of the elements ended up in the story I'm going to tell. My mind drifted onto the whole romance trend of the sheik and kidnapping into the desert. On the other hand, maybe it ultimately had more of an influence than I'd thought.

But a Pretty Bauble is about a spoiled princess who gets thrown in the middle of a political conflict between nomadic tribes and her father over a gem mine. She has no idea how critical this resource is to both groups, but when kidnapped, soon learns that the situation is not what it appears and she is the only one in a position to stop a conflict that could end in genocide.

Oil = gems
The pleasure-loving Saudi princes = our main character at the beginning of the story
Ailing health = the nomads way of life

Is it a conscious metaphor? No. However, piecing it together here for you, I see I subconsciously absorbed more elements than I'd thought, and for all I know, this story may have been pulling itself together for years.

The upshot of it was a 1100 synopsis that I then forgot about completely once written. NaNo approached and I had no idea what I wanted to write. It was starting to bug me a lot. Then I happened to brush my gaze over The Atlantic Monthly again and remembered it. Since, I've increased the preparatory work to almost 5k through a character building challenge on FM and this novel has fallen into first place in the running for my NaNo project.

The challenges with this are many. First, the main character starts out as a spoiled twit. With that description, you might guess I worry about reader interest, but we'll see. She's more deluded than nasty so... Then just to make things interesting, the next character of focus is not the one who will become the love interest but rather the love interest's big brother. I haven't decided who gets a true voice and it may be determined by who is present in key scenes. The political, romantic, and other tangles in this novel are enough to make me tear my hair out...which means it should be a blast to write.

So anyway, from idea to planning, this is the process I followed with this novel. The next step is to outline, something I'm supposed to start today.

P.S. I started gathering scenes for the outline. I have maybe 5 and they are out of order and scattered. Almas is definitely the main POV, but the others are still up in the air.


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Margaret McGaffey Fisk

April 2017

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