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It’s been a busy summer, but I’m not complaining. The Hermit Thrush haven’t scooted south yet, the sun still warms my skin. Maybe I wish I had a little more time, but who doesn’t?

I’ve been hard at work on final edits on my YA fantasy “Fairless.”  I participated on a Twitter pitch fest a few weeks ago and now I have an editor over at Entangled Publishing waiting to read it. Yay, me!

If you have a finished story, whether it’s YA, MG or Adult in any genre ready to pitch, you really need to head over to brenda-drake.com. She’s hosting a Pitch Wars. Here’s the deets:

“What is Pitch Wars? Is it another contest? Oh, no, it’s so much better. Pitch Wars is a contest where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions to shine it up for agents. The mentors also critique the writer’s pitch to get it ready for the agent round. Writers send applications (query and first chapter of manuscript) to the four mentors that best fit their work. The mentors then read all their applications and choose the writer they want to mentor for the next two months. Then we hold an agent round with over a dozen agents making requests.”

Pretty cool, right? And once the Pitch Wars are done, they have an agent round to be held November 3-4 where you can pitch that polished, dandy manuscript to an agent/editor and maybe, hopefully, find publication! Yay, us!

In the meantime, I’m also working on shifting blogs from wordpress to my author site at  www.suebahr.com.  Time to make more time.  It looks like this site, but to “follow” my blog and receive my posts, you need to enter your email and subscribe.

I hope you are all enjoying these wonderful days of Summer. I hope you are smiling, reading, swimming, writing and loving on your families.

I wish you all the best!

Sue

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A Rebel with a Cause…

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I’ve always approached editing as a linear progression. Roll up my sleeves and start at page one, word one and sweep through the manuscript, cleaning up chapter by chapter as I go.

And it works, for the most part. Until I reach the middle of the story, then fatigue sets in. The words drag together, the plot blurs. I let weak sentence structures slide by, thinking I’ll fix the mess on the next sweep through.

And I do, for the most part. Round two usually proceeds much like round one: start at the beginning and work forward, leaving the middle to sag much like my sad, sad waistline.

I know I’m not alone. I read it every day when I pick up a published book. Few, so precious few authors, hold onto tension in the middle. The story often drags, the scenes are lackluster. My stories certainly follow this course.

Enough I say! Who writes the rules governing editing? Who says an author must start at chapter one, word one? Maybe it’s the rebel in little Ol’Sue, but the last time I began editing my Irish story, Summoned, I decided to start in the middle. It was time to skip those over-polished first chapters and give the middle section a much-needed workout. Seem silly? Maybe, but let me share 4 things this achieved:

1) Fresh perspective. It’s a bit like taking a scene out of context and viewing it from a different vantage point. It’s astounding how much I cut from chapters after realizing the scenes or sections are dragging the pacing or killing tension.

2) Enjoyment. Really, I love attacking these middle chapters guilt free. It’s like being the second or third runner in a relay race. I’m fresh, aggressive. I don’t have the start or the finish line in sight, just these pesky, fat chapters in desperate need of trimming.

3) Edge. I push characters. I strip away their defenses. I remove light banter or chitter-chatter. I think some of this exists in books from shear author fatigue.

4) Bliss. Okay, maybe that’s pushing it, but there’s something about the insurmountable task of plowing through an entire manuscript, screening for grammar, plot, character and pacing issues that wear me down. Focusing on the middle section seems so… doable.

I’ve completed edits on the mid-section of Summoned and loving it. The characters are stronger, the pacing is tighter, and though I still have a ton of work to go on this bad-boy, at least I’m confident the middle is no longer the weakest section.

What do you think? Care to give it a go?

Happy writing!

Sue

 

An open letter from a reader to an author…

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Dear author,

Books are words in motion. Stories vividly told take me to worlds unknown. They let me fall in love, make me hate, sweep my emotions to the highest heights or darkest places.

I read to lose myself. To shove my daily worries aside so I can breathe again. No more family worries. No more teenager stress or financial woes. For the time that book is cracked open and sometimes long after it’s closed, I’m free.

Each story is unique. Each one has potential. I root for every book I endeavor to read.

Nothing disappoints me more than a story that doesn’t reach that potential. Sometimes I press ahead, determined to discover the golden nuggets buried within. I act as an invisible editor, sweeping all those “murmured, mumbles” confusing POV shifts away so I can continue. So I can finish what I’ve begun.

Sad when a story suddenly deflates, leaving me with no choice but to close the book for good. Tragic when a decent editor could’ve helped that author keep that story on track.

So, as a reader, I beg you… move mountains for me. Cast characters that my heart absorbs right off the page. Give me imagery so compelling it lingers long after I’m done. But please, please don’t bore me.

I promise I’m on your side.

love,

A reader

A Plot for Panster-Sue…

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If you’ve been around writing long enough, you know all about the labels of plotters and pansters. Some of you proudly embrace your title. Others refuse to be categorized as either. Some lucky ones have figured out how to be both!

Perhaps you’re all about plotting. You have the major turning points laid out, the chapters titled and organized for maximum impact. You’ve completed character wheels for every character, including the baddie…

control-427512_640Look at that outline, all neat ‘n tidy. If I sound snarky, it’s just because I’m jealous…

 

Or maybe you’ve accepted that will never be your style. You have to write organically. You need to write the story to know the story. Your characters have to show you the way, so you jump without a parachute…

 

 

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Okay, so I couldn’t find someone jumping without a parachute. Probably a good thing, anyway…

It’s a no-brainer where I fall. Yup, my brain lives in pantserville.

I’ve fought the pull of plotters. I’ve lived in mad envy of a well-oiled story. I’ve beat myself up for failing to plot one too many times.

So last week while on Sabbatical, I dove into my failed NaNo novel, Drift. I’d finished the first quarter of the book, right up to the first turning point, but was stalled on the mid-section of the book. I have tried everything to plot this story…

1. I outlined.

a. I figured out the major turning points or disasters.

b. I wrote them down.

c. I didn’t know what came next.

2. I created a Excell spreadsheet listing every chapter with summary.

a. Well, every chapter up to the first turning point. Then I got lost because…

b. I didn’t know what came next.

3.  I gave up and pretended not to worry about plot structure at all, believing it will all work out in the end.

a. I wrote some stuff.

b. I still didn’t know what came next.

4. I heaved a BIG SIGH

I’m not sure if it was the Sabbatical (which entailed a break from my computer for writing as well as for social media) or if I stumbled on an unused part of my brain, but for some reason, I finally figured out how to plot!

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yeah, me!

Now, to get back to the subject at hand (pun intended). As I said, I was stalled. I knew the major turning points, but what to do with all that stuff that goes in between?! Since I was going old-school, I took a piece of paper, wrote the turning point scene at the top and left it blank. Then it hit me – I knew what should come right before and right after that point. Out came more paper – each noted with basic information on top and left blank.

I continued this way until a full scene materialized. So, seeing as I already had a blank piece of paper and pen in hand, I wrote that scene. This led to the next and the next, and well, within the span of an hour or so, I had the middle and end of Drift plotted.

I’m not sure why this worked for me and why I couldn’t simply draft an outline like most able-bodied writers can. Something about physically seeing the chapters as separate pieces of paper clicked. And, as a side benefit – I was able to insert transitional chapters or move some around…

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Just think. All this goodness happened without staring at a computer screen. Lucky me!

And so, for those of you who roll up your pants and wade in, only to find yourself stuck mid-way through, I encourage you to give the Sue-thingy (that’s a real term – you can Google it) a go. You never know. Might work for you, too.

I wish you all the best!

Sue

 

 

 

 

a simple challenge from Sue…

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I’m back, refreshed from my computer/social media break. For six whole days, I relied on my cell phone only to check emails and read blog posts. For six days, I wasn’t glued to the one-eyed monster. I have to admit, I missed some things… others, not so much.

This quality Sue-break gave me some perspective. There’s a ton of pressure on authors, both to write and build a platform that requires extensive computer time! Argh! (right?!).

Just how do you find time to work on your novel when you haven’t posted and you need to update your Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram

Sigh.

We authors aren’t machines. We’re creative souls and creativity needs nurturing to thrive. And so, I challenge you to do as I did last week. Take a sabbatical. Take a break from social media and recharge. Perhaps you’ll find inspiration or work out that stubborn plot twist (like I did). Perhaps you’ll discover the simple joy of jotting notes on a piece of paper (again like I did.)

For sure you’ll gain perspective on how many hours you spend on a computer… and how important it is to unplug and recharge that precious creative spirit.

Wishing you all the best of weeks!

Sue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a dozen tiny questions for you…

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What do you need today? Someone to affirm what you’ve written has value? Someone to acknowledge there’s room for you in this vast, crowded published world?

Someone to affirm what you’ve written has value? Someone to acknowledge there’s room for you in this vast, crowded published world?

A single person to smile and say, keep going–I believe in you?

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What do you need today? Time to write? Emotional space to clear the clutter and receive those words from your inner muse?

Time to write? Emotional space to clear the clutter and receive those words from your inner muse?

A loved one to take on daily tasks, freeing you to sit and create?

 

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What do you need today?

Are you wrestling with words, trying to shape them into something coherent? Can you calm the inner editor and allow the words to flow?

Is there someone who’s familiar with your story who can help?

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I want you to know,  I feel your frustrations and celebrate your successes. I’m on this journey with you. 

I wish you all inspiration-

Sue

a dozen tiny startling revelations…

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1) The Earth is round. It’s huge, beautiful and teeming with life.

2) I’m not in control. Not of destiny, not of fate. Not of my life.

3) Worry, stress and fear haven’t saved me from large calamities. They found me anyways.

4) I love my children. I hurt when they hurt, but my worry, stress and fear has done more damage than good.

5) They need tools to tackle life, and if I’m not able to provide them, I have to trust they will figure it out on their own.

6) Sometimes loving means allowing them to fail. Allowing them to feel negative feelings and learn every action and decision has a consequence.

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7) I hate failure.

8) I hate disappointment.

9) I hate regret.

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10) It’s never too late to learn new skills, take a new approach to life. Replace worry with trust, stress with serenity and fear with confidence. It’s time to push ahead. To show my children, I can tackle any challenge, no matter the age. I can learn and grow and change and so can they.

11) I love my two daughters, but they need wings as well as roots. My love needs to grow and morph into something new- something far beyond the limits of my imagination.

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12) I have to trust this stunning world is ready to receive them.

Character development in five oh-so-easy steps…

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A compilation of my characters from three books, created by image credits: my uber talented daughter: McKenna Bahr.

My first story came from a dream. I can still see her–a woman standing in a crowded amphitheater, anxiously watching a man climb a stage and use it as a throne. All knelt before him, except her. She alone was unable to bow.

I’m glad I woke and scratched down the dream. Today it has evolved into a mega-epic Irish historical fiction called Summoned. Although the dream gave me a basic plot, it was the woman that captured my imagination. Who was she and why couldn’t she bow? Why was she so afraid?

Some characters are tricky. They slip through one’s fingers, evading clear definition. She did not.  I got her right away–a young woman named Kathlin, seeking control over her own destiny. It’s a tradition in our family to create at least one gift at Christmas time. My daughter painted this bookmark of Kathlin…

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Others, though, refuse to be defined. The appear well-developed, but a bit of examination reveals all the little character holes. You can’t fool a reader. They know something’s off, even if they can’t put their finger on it.

My protagonist from Fairless, Tipper Jones,  falls into this category.

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Unlike Shay, the golden-haired fellow on the right, Tipper has continued to elude my capture. Here is what I’ve struggled with:

First draft feedback: But WHY is she so against the Traditions? What makes it so bad that she’s willing to risk extreme punishment to defy them?

Second draft feedback: Okay, so she’s had these visions and is seeking a dream-boy. But what about her? What does she need that she can’t get without sacrifice? And she’s static–she continues to miss opportunities to change and grow. She needs to soften up in the middle and stop being so reactive.

Sigh.

Third round and boy, am I scratching my head. Okay, so better. But we still don’t understand what she needs. It isn’t enough! We want more!!! Gack. What is it with this character? How do I flesh her out?

I headed back to my old stand-by how-to books and came up with this oh-so-easy list. It’s helping me. I hope it helps you!

1) Take some time and journal. I like to write as if I’m the character. Details may pop up that won’t make it into the story but will flavor the scenes.

For instance, I didn’t know Tipper Jones struggled with a poor self-image until I wrote about her early school days. Then I learned how she saw herself–through the eyes of her teacher, who felt she was too loud, too brassy; and her peers who didn’t understand her doubts. Beneath all that reaction and anger, she felt she was somehow broken inside.

2) Journal the arc. Where does the character start and where do they end up?

This gave me the framework for Tipper. In the beginning, she’s stubborn, set on self-reliance, and doesn’t trust easily. Knowing this helped me create characters and scenes that would challenge her to change.

3) What’s the lie? What is one simple belief -or the lie- that influences the action of this character? Answer this and you’ll know your character’s dramatic truth.

Tipper believes she can fudge the truth. She can bully her way through any situation and somehow it will all come out okay. But her self-image is distorted and she doesn’t realize until it’s too late that every action comes with a consequence. Her dramatic truth: her brokenness is actually her greatest strength.

4) Understand the difference between compelling and sympathetic. I want my readers to relate to my characters, not feel sorry for them. Quirks are fine, but I like to dig deeper to discover the real nuggets.

This is from a scene near the end of the second act:

Tipper crept to the back room and found Shay lying on a bed of straw. Soft blonde hair fell across his incredible golden eyes. She resisted the temptation to move the]lock back. He needed sleep. And she needed time to form her plan.

She’d left her home. Tossed traditions aside, put her family in danger and for what? What was the real reason she had left?

Self-determination.

She needed to define herself without rules placed upon her by others. She needed to seek and know who she was and what she was capable of. Sadness flared when she looked again at Shay, but she pushed it away. She wouldn’t find it staying with this irritating, lying, beautiful boy-o. It is time to rise above her limitations without his interference.

She smiled sadly. Or what he would call help.

In the pre-dawn light, she opened her pack and extracted a pen and paper, careful not to wake Shay. He deserved better than this. He was only trying to help her and his sister, but she could see no other way. She’d leave him a note and try to put into words the dream that demanded fulfillment.

Dear Shay,

            How can I leave you, knowing how angry you’ll be when you wake and find me gone? And yes, I’ve taken James, so no need to check.

             I’m sorry for this and for the worry it’ll cause, but I could see no other way. I have to finish what I started. I have to do this on my own.

             Protect her Shay, watch over Gwen and I’ll seek Liam. It’s as it should have been from the beginning. You on your quest, me on mine.

            Forgive me?

            Tipper.

 

She wanted to write what was in her heart. She wanted to tell him she loved him. The words were there, just aching to come out, but she couldn’t say them. Not yet. Not this way.

She folded the note and left it by his bedroll where he’d see it when he awoke. There was no helping the betrayal he’d feel. She stood up. It was time to for the journey to continue. She walked through the barn, keeping her movement soft and light. “Be well, Shay,” she whispered as she closed the door.

“Be well, Shay,” she whispered as she closed the door.

5) Allow their brokenness to become their strengths. And know, some characters shine without any effort while others will haunt you forever.

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Shamus O’Reilly, from Fairless as imagined by my daughter, McKenna. He’s one of my all time favorite boy-os and one of my writer’s group most-loved characters. 

Both Fairless and Summoned are on wattpad.com.

I wish you happy writing!

Sue