Author Jessica Bayliss worked as a psychologist for years before beginning to write in her spare time. As her writing projects grew into novels, she discovered that the same principles she used as a therapist helped her more deeply understand her characters. At the May Professional Series, Bayliss explained the core model she uses as a psychologist, and how writers can use that model to write more believable characters.
Our stories include both an action plot–what is happening in the character’s external world– and an emotional plot–what is happening to the character internally. The Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) model relates the two. In the CBT model, a character has thoughts about their particular situation. Their thoughts generate emotions. Their emotions, in turn, drive behavior.
SCBWI Metro’s On-the-Road series returned to the First Baptist Church of White Plains, NY on Saturday, May 13, for a positive and informative First Pages workshop. Saba Sulaiman, literary agent at Talcott Notch Literary, and Kate Prosswimmer, associate editor at Sourcebooks, teamed up to critique a dozen or so first pages, ranging from picture books to YA, chosen at random from audience members’ submissions. Saba and Kate were lucky—all the first pages were really strong. Yet they still had helpful feedback and advice to share.
Perhaps because Stacey Barney was formerly an English teacher, her presentation seemed to flow from a lesson plan on successful novel writing at the Tuesday night SCBWI Metro NY Professional Series.
Ms. Barney says there are only seven stories she’s been told – Overcoming the Monster; Rags to Riches; The Quest; Voyage and Return; Comedy; Tragedy and Rebirth – and the writer’s challenge is to make these stories feel fresh. Her advice on how to do that is, “Voice is always the first place to start. If the voice isn’t working, nothing else is. Establish the voice right away. Voice is paramount and character is a close second. Character and voice go hand in hand.” There are many things she can help with as an editor, but “I can’t give an author a voice.”
“Author Platform” is a phrase that is often heard but seldom understood. It generates an unlimited number of questions for all writers. Luckily for the crowd at the SCBWI Metro NY Professional Series, Pixels to Platform, Gabriela Pereira was on hand to answer those questions and demystify the core tenants of any successful author platform.
Gabriela Pereira is an MFA graduate from the New School and the founder of diymfa.com, a website that provides authors of all stages a place to delve deeper into the “how to” of writing and “gain knowledge without the college””. While undercover as a graduate student, she learned the inside scoop on MFA programs, invented a slew of writing tools all her own, and developed a new, more effective way for writers to learn their craft.
On Tuesday, Gabriela shared her knowledge and showed the crowd the building blocks of a strong and successful platform. She shared with us the basic purpose of a platform as well the ABCs of creating one. Per Gabriela, the platform is a marketing structure meant to the connect the author with the readers and the fan base.
“Voice” is one of those elements of writing that gets talked about—or at least mentioned—frequently, but often the discussion doesn’t seem to go much further than noting that it’s important. What do we mean by voice? How do you create it, much less improve it?
Luckily for us, NY Metro SCBWI’s January Professional Series event featured Kat Brzozowski, an editor at Macmillan’s Swoon Reads/Feiwel & Friends imprints, who gave us the opportunity to analyze the choices that affect voice and to experiment with them in our own writing. The atmosphere was more like a writing seminar than a lecture, as audience members sat in a circle and engaged in a back-and-forth discussion of voice, both in well-known works and in scenes that attendees created on the spot.
For the third consecutive year, SCBWI Metro NY and The New School’s Writing for Children MFA program co-hosted an agents panel held at The New School. Linda Camacho of Prospect Agency, LLC, Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency and Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger Inc. were the featured agents. Adria Quiñones, a 2015 winner of SCBWI’s Emerging Voices Award, was the moderator.
The panel discussion began with what each agent is looking for. Linda Camacho said she doesn’t want to rule out any category but picture book representation is limited. Andrea Somberg also expressed a preference for MG and YA and emphasized that “diversity is a key word.” Susan Hawk is very open, joking that “you never know when you’ll read that amazing sports book.” She represents all categories of books for children and is “drawn to writing that is emotional.”
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.
Jennifer Baker, panel organizer for We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) and 2013 winner of the SCBWI On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award, led a panel discussion on craft and world-building. She asked whether outlining played a role in establishing the rules of the world and fantastical elements. Do you outline or not?
Heidi Heilig, author of The Girl from Everywhere, said she outlined a little, then wrote, then outlined again, going back and forth. She shared that her musical theater background provided training in setting rules that it’s okay to have singing in a scene. She had to have rules for her novel to put restrictions on characters’ powers, otherwise all powerful characters would be boring. “It’s good to know where the boundaries are and to play with them.”
Heather 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.
Jaida Temperly, Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary and Media agency, New York City, explained query letter tips at the October 3, 2015 NY-Metro SCBWI meeting, part of the Westchester On the Road Series: