chapter books

First Pages with Heather Flaherty and Maggie Lehrman

By Orel Protopopescu

Heather Flaherty, a Literary Agent at the Bent Agency, and Maggie Lehrman, a Senior Editor at Abrams Books for Young Readers, (as well as a YA novelist) addressed a rapt crowd at the Huntington Public Library on October 16, 2016 as part of SCBWI Metro NY’s On-the-Road series.   Rapidly making their way through a pile of first pages, ranging from picture books to YA fiction, they were in remarkable accord, zeroing in on what made (or detracted from) an opening that worked.  Published writers and beginners benefited from their expertise.

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SCBWI & The New School Agents Panel 2015

by Ellen Raskin

Agent Panel 2015Heather Flaherty of the Bent Agency, Alexandra Penfold of Upstart Crow Literary, and Alec Shane from Writers House were the featured agents at this year’s Agents Panel, co-hosted with the New School’s MFA writing program and held in November at the New School. The event was introduced by Caron Levis from the New School’s creative writing program and moderated by Gina Carey, a steering committee member of Metro-NY SCBWI, and Co-Regional Advisor Bridget Casey. Questions came from both the audience and the moderators. Here are some highlights:

Is an agent necessary?

All three agents: Yes! It’s a tough business and the complex contracts are usually familiar only to those in the industry. Agents also have unique relationships with publishers and editors. Agents protect writers’ rights so that writers may concentrate on writing.

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Crafting a Dynamic Character

by Gae Polisner

Kelsey MurphyEditorial Assistant Kelsey Murphy of Balzer & Bray led a wonderful workshop at the SCBWILI on Saturday April 13, at the Huntington Public Library on Long Island. The workshop was on “Crafting a Dynamic Character.”

Ms. Murphy provided a four-pronged outline on how to craft dynamic characters, explaining that, to draw in readers – and prospective agents and editors! – realistic characters (1) must have a want, (2) must change, (3) must be emotional and reactive, and (4) must be specific (not stereotypical or clichéd).

Using examples from both participants’ own two-minute writing exercises prepared on the spot, as well as from well-loved picture books and works of young adult and middle grade fiction, Ms. Murphy walked the audience through each prong of character building, helping us to see how it is done, and why each prong matters.

“A character will change, while still being that character at the core.”

Always coming back to prong one, that a character must have wants in order for the reader to connect—and to build plot—at the outset of a story, Ms. Murphy explained that a writer should even know the wants of her secondary characters: “A character that wants for nothing is dull.” She explained physical wants versus emotional wants, active and overarching wants to build characters from the ground up—and to view their personal history through these statements of want.

Elaborating that showing, not telling, the history leading to those wants is key to a well-told story, Ms. Murphy stated: “A character with a want has power and will encounter conflict either in pursuit or in lack of pursuit of the desire itself . . . and the backgrounds to those wants give the book momentum and energize the story.”

Carrying these precepts over to picture book writing, Ms. Murphy shared that simplicity of focus in picture books matters. At the core of a picture book, there should be one central idea “blown out” via repetition or exploration or upending of classic tropes—bringing them to a funny or unusual setting, while the simple want of the story remains clear. “She wants a frog!” Ms. Murphy exclaimed, alluding to one of her favorite picture books her house has recently acquired.

Following the workshop, Ms. Murphy generously fielded an audience Q&A session and took writers’ individual questions.

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Gae Polisner is the award-winning author of THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO and THE PULL OF GRAVITY (fsg/Frances Foster Books). She lives on Long Island with her husband, two sons, and a suspiciously-fictional looking dog she swore she’d never own. When she’s not writing, she can be found in her wetsuit in the open waters off the Long Island Sound.

 

Diversity Panel 2015

by Adria Quiñones

diversity panelThe last year has seen heightened awareness and active discussion about the importance of providing diverse books for children. Inspired by the recent Children’s Book Center report on the lack of diversity among writers of children’s books and the rise of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, in February SCBWI offered a panel discussion about diversity with six professionals: authors Matt De La Peña and Rebecca Alexander, illustrator Eric Velasquez, publisher Stacy Whitman (Tu Books, a middle grade and YA genre fiction imprint at Lee & Low) and editor T.S. Ferguson (Harlequin Teen), moderated by Metro-NY Co-Regional Adviser Bridget Casey.

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The Same But Different: Writing For Children’s Series

Originally Published: June 2011

by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein

Random House editor Diane Landolf and Julie Tibbott, editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, spoke about the unique challenges of writing for children’s series at the SCBWI Metro New York Professional Series on April12th.

“All you know about writing craft applies to writing a series,” Landolf said. “You still need an engaging character, a strong voice, and a fast-paced plot.” But writing for a series does have distinct issues of craft. As Landolf emphasized, “With each book, series authors need to find a way to offer readers a similar experience to reading other books in the series while delivering a different plot.” (more…)