Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 28, 2020

February Agent of the Month – First Page Results

Here is February’s Agent of the Month, Alexandra Levick at Writers House.

Alexandra Levick earned an M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media from New York University and a B.A. in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from the University of Rochester. She is a former bookseller with training in both the children’s and adult markets and has experience working on the house side of publishing in publicity. She is an agent at Writers House.

Writers House was founded in 1974 and since that time has become one of the largest full-service literary agencies in the world. They pride themselves on providing an extraordinary amount of individual client attention, combined with the benefits of full foreign rights, subsidiary rights, and contracts departments. They house an accounting department equipped to provide forensic royalty and financial analysis, as well as a digital department focusing on the ever-changing technological landscape of the publishing world today.

Alexandra started at Writers House as an intern for Brianne Johnson and was quickly pulled from the program to begin working for Senior Vice President, Merrilee Heifetz. Later, she covered senior agent, Stephen Barr’s, paternity leave and began working as an assistant to senior agents Brianne Johnson and Rebecca Sherman. In 2015, she graduated from New York University with my Masters of Science in Publishing: Digital and Print Media, with a specialization in Media Content Development.

Alexandra is actively growing her picture book, middle grade, young adult, and adult lists.

***

What am I looking for?

Picture book author-illustrators, a wide range of middle grade and YA, and more speculative-leaning or genre-bent upmarket adult works. I’m committed to working with writers from diverse backgrounds and am looking to put forth a list of outstanding creators who will be able to provide windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors (thank you, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop) into all kinds of experiences. I’m particularly looking for own-voices stories about historically underrepresented characters, identities, and cultures.

No matter the genre or age-range, I crave a distinctive voice and strong thematic point behind the work—I want to run screaming to my friends and family about your book because there is so much to discuss. I love character-driven stories that revolve around BIG topics (discussing things like mortality or grief in a new and hopefully somewhat uplifting way is always an instant lightbulb!). Upon further consideration, I’m not looking for ‘issue books’ per se, rather I’d like to represent authors and stories that stand for more than just a good yarn; I’d like to represent authors who provoke conversations around important and necessary topics in our world today. I don’t just want contemporary versions of these stories, either. Send me your fantasy, your sci-fi, your genre-bender!

So please, send your work over to me. I can’t wait to give it a read.

*******

Below are the four first pages Alexandra critiqued:

Alexandra’s comments in red

Blue text refers to what Alexandra is commenting on.

HERE, THERE, OTHERWHERE: A MILLENNIUM ERA MYSTERY TALE – MG by Carolyn M. Johnson

 

The scent of a forest’s evergreen trees on a soft summer breeze The slight rhyme here as an opener feels a bit more distracting to me than it is engaging but I’ll admit this is a very subjective thought! suddenly wafted around, or actually seemed to engulf, Ev-AlanSo are we actually in a forest or is he just smelling that scent?

That evergreen scent, he sensed, a bit, surely seemed to be drawing him into… something; something unusual, vague, that was awaiting him…

Was he, a vague thought crossed his mind, going to experience soon an adventure he dreamed of while reading his book collection’s adventure stories? I think this could be restructured slightly to feel more active.

Suddenly seconds later someone whispered so close to his ear that he felt the breeze of a breath.

“It’s over there…, somewhere…, new dude,” someone suddenly said. This feels slightly repetitive from the last line. I think you could condense.

Ev-Alan shuddered, yet not because he was cold, or scared; but maybe he thought, with a strange maybe weird sort of feeling, it’s like a wisp of wind coming in from a just-opened window. It’s somewhere in the forest, in a place far back from the road, just beyond a fog mist that appears, sometimes,” the voice continued. I feel like we’re starting mid-action but I don’t yet have a sense of who the character is or where we are. We need a bit more stasis in order to better understand the action at hand.

“Do you want to go see it?!”

“It may appear… just for you!”

                “Why did he say that?!!!” Ev-Al thought; wanting very much to know.

He whirled quickly around; grasping a box tautly to avoid dropping it; a box of his belongings he’d just gotten from the family car; still unpacking from the family’s move just yesterday to this place; his family’s new place; a country place; very unlike the city they came from. This is quite a lot of information packed (no pun intended) all into a very small space. Give us a bit more room to absorb this!

His cherished guitar (passed down through generations) nearly slipped off his shoulder, but he was just able to grasp it by its designer strap that was a gift from an aunt, with quoted lines from John Denver’s “This Old Guitar” and the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” lyrics.                                             

                Unknown to Ev-Alan at this time, these quotes silently echoed what this summer would be — the start of his coming of age moments; and more; much more.    This strikes me a bit more like cover copy in tone than narrative.

Here is Alexandra:

Generally speaking I think we could use a bit more scene-setting here—who the character is, where we are, what’s going on in stasis before suddenly XYZ changes things! In order to appreciate the inciting incident and what it means for the character and plot, we need to better understand the usual everyday routine.

*******

Siri Weber Feeney | Secondhand Secrets | MG Contemporary Fiction

1: School Clothes

We’re standing next to the gigant-o puppy mural outside the Flea Market. Yes, it’s a thrift store and yes, it’s broad daylight, but I can’t budge. I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to make of this. What should this tell us about our protagonist and the situation she’s in? I’m glued in place, counting the wrinkled dollar bills Mom’s handed me, hoping I’m wrong.

Excellent voice here as well as characterization.

“But—”

“But what? Look at you. I don’t see twelve, I see a full-on teen. It’s just clothes. You can figure this out. Love the voice and set-up you’re giving us here. We immediately understand the stakes.

“And Ray,” she says, dumping his sticky little-kid hand on mine, “behave for your sister.”

“Money!” says Ray, glomming on tight.

“Come get me when you’re done,” Mom says. I blink and she’s halfway down the block. Even though there’s no one else around, she’s putting as much sidewalk between her and the Flea as fast as possible. Great characterization.

Ray yells, “Mom! My book!” I give his hand a squeeze and he yells nicer, “Please Mom, my book!”

Mom ducks through the library doors and Ray says, “She heared, right?”Love this setup and characterization for Ray. It tells us so much about him.

“Even if she didn’t,” I say, “she knows.” I have to smile. Ray’s checked out Pippi Longstocking so many times, it’s practically his. The librarian had to buy another copy so someone else could have a chance to read it. I curl my arm around his shoulder and aim him toward the door. “Come on, kindergarten guy, let’s see if we can find anything decent.”

Here is Alexandra:

I think you’ve established a strong voice and character within this first page. It’s very clear what our protagonist wants and what the obstacle is in the way of that want. Next, it’s going to be important to set up the ways she will take action to achieve her goals.

*******

THE MAGIC OF A RE-DO YEAR by K. Mullane, MG

 

The flyer appeared out of nowhere, delivered on a breeze. I love the mystery this presents.

Floating I would suggest rephrasing this to ‘It floated down… ’down as Mom, blinking back tears, eased the car out of the parking lot. We were both still half lost in our goodbyes to my stepdad when she threw her arm across my chest.

“Oh! Lily, watch out!” This almost made me think Lily was driving? The wayward paper attached itself to our windshield, blocking her view. She swerved wildly. “What is that?”

Mom got out and plucked the leaflet off the window. Back in the car, I peered over her shoulder as she read aloud:

 

Looking for a place to stay?

Find your way to Miss Edna’s Boardinghouse

Located on Mystic St.

at the edge of town.

We’re running a special – stay one week, get the second free!

Find out about the best kept secret in Shepsville.

We can’t wait to meet you.

Should this sound more like an advertisement? It seems fishy to me otherwise and led me to question why they wouldn’t find it fishy, as well.

I snatched it from her hands and read it again before asking, “Should we try this place?”

“How strange. Where did this come from?” More feeling here! This comes across a little stiff to me. Mom stuck her face out of the window and looked skyward.

“It says stay for one week, get the second no charge. That’s pretty good, isn’t it?” I asked.

The ache in my neck cried out for a real bed. My stepdad’s rehab center was far from our apartment. We’d got in too late to see him, couldn’t find a motel, and had to sleep in the car, which was really uncomfortable, a little scary, and should never be on anyone’s bucket list.

Here is Alexandra:

I would like to see a stronger understanding of the setup (where we are, what’s going on, what led us here, etc.). I know this is a lot to ask of the first page, so we may get it in the coming text but I wanted to point out that I don’t yet have a solid footing quite yet.

*******

MARIA HANSEN – ON THE MOVE

 

Albert Fernway shoved his special spider-proofing device (actually an old toilet brush) into his left boot. When the brush came out clean, he squeezed his foot in.  He did the same with the right boot. This time something brown and wrinkly stuck to the brush.   Not a spider, just a dried up leaf. 

Boots on, Albert opened the back door and yelled. “I’m out of here!” Love this opener! It tells us so much about the character.

“Don’t slam the door!” came his father’s voice.

Bang-rattle went the door. This feel slightly too young in tone ti my ear. But I can’t tell if this is a chpater book or MG (Good reason to make sure you list that when you submit.)

“It was the wind!” Albert yelled back.  There was no wind, they both knew it this was just a game they played.

Albert sloshed down the path, out the gate and down Windermere Place. He crossed the road before number 14. Number 14 had a goat on a long stretchy rope. If Garry was round the fron of the property, he could reach the footpath. Gary was big. As big as a pony. His horns were big too. It was like wresting with a metal chair. I like these details, but I’m not quite sure what I am supposed to take from them. Is this scene setting? Forshadowing?

Windermere place is a cul-de- sac.  It came in, did a loop and went out again. Albert lived at the bit that looped.  The dead end where nothing happened. I grew up on a cul-de-sac and this cracked me up!

Behind his house there were paddocks with dry grass and weeds with tiny flowers in summer and a For Sale sign that had been there for ages, because no-one would ever want to buy the place.    His house? Or another house?  There had been a horse grazing there for a while but she got moved out, probably to a nicer street with better grass.   Albert wished they had moved with the horse.  What he really REALLY wished was that he could go somewhere new and exciting.  His mother said he had been like that since he was little.  “You were always running off exploring.  I was so fit back then, from chasing after you.”

So are we being set up for adventure? Mystery? What should I feel at the end of this scene? I’d like a slightly firmer sense of where we’ll be headed from here.

*******

Alexandra, great job! I am sure your thoughts will not only help the four writers, but the rest of us will find things they correct in their own writing. We loved having you this month. 

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Thank you Alexandra and Kathy! So appreciate the time you take to help writers.

    Like

  2. Thank you Alexandra and Kathy! Really appreciate the time you give to writers.

    Like

  3. Thank you, Kathy, for your blog and bringing Alexandra to us. And thank you, Alexandra, for giving us your expertise and encouragement. You made my day!

    Like


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