Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 2, 2018

Agent of the Month – Liza Fleissig – First Page Results

Before we start the first page results, I wanted to share a picture of the beautiful flowers I received from my friends at the New Jersey SCBWI, wishing me a speedy recovery from the surgery I had last week. It will take a while to get back on my feet, but these flowers and the get well cards and emails I’ve received has helped cheer me up. Thank you so much. I feel very special.

Liza Fleissig, with her partner Ginger Harris-Dontzin, opened the Liza Royce Agency (LRA) in early 2011. A cross-platform company providing development, representation, and strategic career management for clients in all media, their goal is to represent clients in all stages of their careers, from the most established to those developing their craft, as well as debuts. Both former partners in NYC based litigation law firms, Liza and Ginger bring a combined 40 years of negotiating experience to the field. This background, along with connections rooted in publishing, movies and television, allowed them to focus and build on a referral based clientele.

From picture books through adult projects, fiction and non-fiction, screenplays to stage works, LRA welcomes strong voices and plot driven works. Their inaugural books became available in stores January 2013.  Their first was an Edgar nominee, another was an Indie Next Pick, and two others were optioned for film. LRA’s success began right out of the gate.

HERE ARE THE RESULTS OF THE FOUR FIRST PAGES CRITIQUED BY LIZA:

SALLY BUCHANAN SUEHLER, ‘THE LIES WE LIVED’ – YA

Munich, Germany, June 1943,   Heinrich Seidl preferred to have his prey vulnerable. Defenseless and cut from the rest of the herd. Kathi shivered, hearing his voice even before stepping off the trolley onto the busy street.  The early June morning suddenly losing its warmth.

“What poor soul is he running into the ground this time?,” she muttered.  The war widow with three children? The old man with palsied hands? Or just some unfortunate person
who didn’t respond quickly enough with the obligatory Heil Hitler! salute for Herr Heinrich Seidl’s fanatical standards.

At 7:00AM the self appointed neighborhood Blockwart was already at his malicious best. Of course the son-of-a-bitch had to be having his tantrum smack dab in front of  Aunt Klara’s hat store where Kathi worked. She had no choice, but to walk by.

Schorchi, the eleven-year-old caretaker’s son, stood cowering under the man’s rage, biting his lower lip in an attempt not to cry.

“Was ist das?” Seidl roared. What is this? “Was ist das?”

Kathi looked up to see what he was pointing at. Oh, dear Lord! That damned flag. Sometime during last night’s thunderstorm  the wind must have torn it loose from one of it’s fastenings and the Hakenkreuz hung like a forgotten dishrag. The evil black spider, as Kathi referred to it, lay dormant – hidden by its blanket of white and blood red cloth.

As if  Schoschi has anything to do with it. Leave him alone, you big ape! Go pick on someone your own size. Kathi wished she had the courage to say those words,  but knew she never will, never could. People tend to look the other way if they have a gun pointed at their heads or worse

at the head of a loved one, and like most Germans she, Katharine Maria Graf, wasn’t any different.

HERE IS LIZA:

The Lies We Lived (YA) by Sally Buchanan Suehler

This first page is rather confusing upon first reading. Who is Heinrich Seidel? A line here to introduce him would be helpful. And although the first line is intended to be powerful, isn’t prey always vulnerable? Isn’t Heinrich in a position to make anyone he wants defenseless? Kathi’s reaction to the situation doesn’t seem to ring true—she’s surprisingly relaxed and blasé about the whole situation, even when it’s clear that Heinrich is in front of the store where she works (and that she will need to walk by him), and that the boy, Schorchi, is someone she knows. If we are trying to create tension and drama in this opening scene, Kathi’s relaxed demeaner undercuts that entirely. Or is Heinrich not someone to be feared? If not, then why does he have “fanatical standards”? I also wanted a better sense of Kathi as a YA character. Her language feels and sounds rather adult; despite the time period, for example, it seems unlikely she’d call someone a “son-of-a-bitch” or later “Oh, dear Lord! That damned flag.” I do think there’s a good sense of conflict set up at the very end of the page, where Kathi wants to say one thing but will act another way entirely because she is afraid of the consequences. This definitely piques interest and keeps the reader interested.

****

Barbara Senenman – Santa Bunny (Alt. Title – Ho-Ho-Uh Oh!) – Picture Book 

(Illustrator’s Note – Santa reads a newspaper for holiday characters. Sample Headlines: Louie and Louise Leprechaun Learn Ballet. Hanukkah Harry Sings Solo.)

“Ho, ho, hum! All I do when Christmas is finished is exercise the reindeer and check on elf progress,” Santa said to Mrs. Claus.

A headline caught his attention.

UNLUCKY BREAK

Ernest the Easter Bunny broke his foot while bowling. Unless somebunny hops forward, children won’t be getting their goodies. Interested?  You must like children, be a judge of who’s a good egg, and travel the planet in one night. Own transportation is a plus. Easter will be here soon! Interviews at Ernest’s burrow.

Santa showed Mrs. Claus the article.

“I could do that.”

“You want to be the Easter Bunny?”

“It’s something different.”

“Traveling the world bringing children presents is something different?”

“No chimneys.”

Santa chose his best suit and flew to Ernest.

He squeezed through the burrow entrance.  Many waited for a chance to be the Easter Bunny.  Finally, it was Santa’s turn.

HERE IS LIZA:

Santa Bunny (PB) by Barbara Senenman

Funny concept for a picture book! It needs to be clear from the onset that Christmas is over. Even what Santa says to Mrs. Claus does not make this clear (he’s saying it as a general statement). Also, you want to be sure to use your illustrator notes wisely—the one here is confusing, i.e., what are “holiday characters”? And what is “a newspaper for holiday characters”? It’s not immediately clear. Why can’t Santa just be reading a regular old newspaper? Regardless, you don’t want your illustrator notes to be too long and you only want them to include vital info. Dialogue needs to be super crisp and clear. Santa’s first utterance is rather long and the voice seems to need more work so that it’s more compelling. The Easter Bunny article is cute and well-written, though why does the Easter Bunny have to be Ernest the Easter Bunny? I’d think this would confuse kids—we’re talking about the Easter Bunny, correct? Also, what does it mean that “Many waited for a chance to be the Easter Bunny”? This seems a bit like filler and probably isn’t necessary, especially as it’s a bit confusing. Most kids will think of the Easter Bunny as the Easter Bunny, just like they think of Santa as Santa… Finally, while there is an interesting set-up that’s created here, the conflict hasn’t yet been made clear. It feels like there’s too much leading up to things here (reading the paper, etc.) which is taking up a lot of space. You could probably get to Santa going to the Easter Bunny’s much faster and also get to what the conflict is going to be much faster too.

****

THE LITTLE ISLAND by Kirsten Bock, Picture Book

Once there was an island.

A patch of sand in the middle of the wide sea.

She wasn’t much to look at: a thin beach, some crumbling dunes, and a scraggly clump of trees.

Every day, the island listened to the swish swish of the rolling sea.

She watched the sun sparkle on the dunes.

She visited with the occasional bird who landed in a tree to rest.

But every evening, the island gazed at the busy, bustling mainland and she felt like something was missing.

One day, a small boat appeared. It carried an even smaller girl.

The island blushed as the girl looked around. She waited for the girl to row right back to the mainland.

But the girl didn’t mind.

Instead, she ran along the waterline. She danced beneath the dunes. She napped in the trees’ shadows.

As dusk crept in, the little girl whispered her deepest secrets into the breeze.

And the island whispered back. “I’ve been missing friends!”

That night, as the island gazed at the mainland, an idea rustled through her branches.

The next morning, the island got to work.

She shined her sand until it glistened in the sunlight. She grew her trees tall and straight, adding fruit to their branches. She sang a joyful tune that rang out across the glassy sea.

HERE IS LIZA:

The Little Island (PB) by Kirsten Bock

An unusual approach, featuring a character that’s an island rather than a person, which makes it intriguing. Some of the language is unclear here. What is “an even smaller girl”? Smaller than what? The boat? One would assume a person is smaller than the boat which is carrying them, so this is a bit confusing. And why is the island blushing? (And how does an island blush anyway?) This puts a romantic spin on the story which I am sure you are not intending for a picture book. The main problem here is that there’s no conflict set up for the main character, which is the island. Is the island lonely or sad or wanting a friend? Or does the island feel like less of an island because it’s so scraggly looking? And how does it know it’s scraggly looking if there’s no other island in sight? One might assume any one of these, but because nothing is firmly established from the beginning, it’s unclear. The result is that the story lacks tension and feels a bit aimless because we’re not being directed anywhere in particular. Other than that, I would recommend that you keep in mind that a picture book will be illustrated, so you don’t need to spend quite so much text and story space describing things since they will be clear in the illustrations.

****

Patrick Thornton Title: I’M COUNTING ON YOU – Middle Grade contemporary novel

“So I guess you’ll be man of the house again,” Stan, my best friend since kindergarten says with his usual goofy expression.

“Very funny.” Kind of funny, I guess, since I’m a girl. But I don’t laugh. “I gotta go. Thanks for hanging,” I tell him.

He tilts his head sideways and jerks on an imaginary noose. I don’t laugh at this either and his face goes serious. “Your dad’s going to be okay.” Then adds. “Your mom too.”

“Yeah,” I say wishing I knew that to be true.

“Okay. See ya tomorrow.” I give Stan a little wave as I go inside then up to my room.

The chart I made matching up the two time zones—here in Virginia and there in Afghanistan where Dad will be—is on the wall. I’ll use it to know what time it is for Dad when I’m getting up in the morning or having dinner or whatever.

For now, I just want to turn my brain off. I want to put the war—what could happen to Dad, what could happen to all of us—out of my head.

“Think fast!”

I jump like I’ve been electric shocked and look up just in time to grab the video game case flying at me before it hits me in the chest.

“Nice catch.” Dad stands in my bedroom doorway wearing his National Guard uniform, all brown and green camouflage. There’s an MP patch on the shoulder.  People say I look like him. I got his dark, curly hair (mine’s a little longer and most of the time under a baseball cap). Got his dark eyes too. I’m in pretty good shape from lots of sports. Guess you could say I’m the girl version of my dad. I love that. I’m hardly any version of my mom. My bed creaks when he sits down next to me. In my hands is the new Xbox game we’ve been waiting for.

“Practice up,” he says pointing at the game. “So I don’t embarrass you when I get back.”

HERE IS LIZA:

I’m Counting on You (MG) by Patrick Thornton

A great topic for a MG novel. Where are the friends hanging out? This is unclear. It’s a small detail but since it’s the beginning of the story you really want to paint a vivid picture in readers’ minds. In general, the approach here strikes as a little heavy-handed, and the story is maybe trying a bit too hard to garner sympathy from the reader, which feels too obvious/forced. For example, “For now, I just want to turn my brain off. I want to turn the war—what could happen to Dad, what could happen to all of us—out of my head.” This is telling the reader what to know rather than allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. Also, her voice (we don’t know her name yet, maybe we should?) seems rather depressed and a little generic. Remember, we need the protagonist and especially the narrator to come alive off the page and voice is a great way to achieve this. Yes, she is heading into a sad situation: her dad is leaving for Afghanistan, but if the voice isn’t compelling, which is a direct reflection of her character, then you will not get readers interested in the story you are trying to tell. Also, it’s worth noting that the girl’s voice seems slightly adult for this MG character. For example, “‘Yeah,’ I say, wishing I knew that to be true.” Not many kids speak like this. The end of the page is great, establishes Dad and a challenge he’s posing to his daughter while she’s away which is both fun and yet touching.

****

Thank you LIza for taking the time to share your expertise with us. It is truly appreciated. Have a nice holiday and keep in touch.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Kathy, I’m so sorry to hear you haven’t been well. Hope you have a super speedy recovery. Feel better. Big hugs! Robin 💜

    Like

  2. Get well soon Kathy! We are all wishing you the best.

    Like

  3. I, too, am sorry to hear about the surgery. And yet you carry on. Good job!

    Like

  4. Wishing you a speedy recovery and a quick return to full health!! We can’t thank you enough for being such a champion for writers, authors, and illustrators!
    All the best! Kim

    Like

  5. You SHOULD feel special, Kathy, because you are 😀 And SO happy things went so well! oxox The flowers are gorgeous 🙂 And, of course–great job on the first pages and critiques!

    Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Categories

%d bloggers like this: