Dec 11

Deconstructing Characters with Alexandra Penfold

Alexandra Penfold

Alexandra Penfold

January is almost here and with it is the Kick Off event to The Writing Barn‘s 2013 Advanced Writer Weekend Workshop series. Our first hands-on workshop, World’s Without End: Deconstruction Children’s Literature Characters is being taught by Alexandra Penfold.

Last week, I got a phone call from Alexandra, informing me that after 10 years of editing at Simon & Schuster, she is making the switch to the other side of the contract table. Beginning in 2013, Alexandra joins Upstart Crow Literary, founded by previous Harper Collins editorial director Michael Sterns. Armed with her editing know how and behind-the-scenes insights into S&S, Alexandra is now looking to acquire picture book, middle grade, young adult and select lifestyle and cooking projects in her new career endeavor. (Check out her full bio at the bottom of this post.)

The Writing Barn is thrilled to have editor and author turned agent Alexandra Penfold with us in January. So much so we asked her a few questions about the particulars of her upcoming workshop. Application deadline is Dec. 15th. Apply now to not miss this extraordinary opportunity to have your work critiqued by Alexandra, who is actively looking for authors to represent.

The Writing Barn: How can deconstructing classic characters help writers in their own character building?

Alexandra Penfold: I like to say that some of my favorite characters live in books—you know the ones—those characters who are so fully rendered that you can’t help but imagine their lives that extend beyond the page. By studying classic, well-loved characters we can learn a lot in terms of how to build realistic and compelling characters that leap off the page into the hearts of readers.

WB: What makes a character a classic character?  Spunk? Voice? Audience affection? A character who fights big odds to succeed?

AP: I like to think of the “classic” characters as the ones that withstand the test of time. Voice has a lot to do with it. They’re those characters that stay in your head long after you finish the book. They bring a certain energy to you as a reader. They’re the characters that fascinate us.

WB: Call you tell us a bit about some of the exercises we may be doing?

AP: The workshop is going to be very hands on. There will be character development exercises to really get in there and figure out what is it that make these classic characters tick. We’ll be unpacking the concept of “show don’t tell” and hunting for instances where authors reveal character traits rather than describe them, then applying that to our own work.

For the workshop participants I have some exciting news. After nearly ten years at Simon & Schuster I’ve decided to move over to the agenting side of things and will be joining Upstart Crow Literary in the New Year as an agent where I hope to grow a wonderful list focusing on young picture books, middle-grade fiction, and young adult novels. In my other life I’m a writer as well, and am the co-author of the forthcoming New York a la Cart: Recipes and Stories from the Big Apple’s Best Food Trucks (Running Press, April 2013) and I’m looking to take on select lifestyle and cooking projects in addition to children’s books.

WB: Thanks for the info, Alexandra. Congrats on your move, and we’re looking forward to your workshop. If you haven’t applied yet, go to the application page now.

Alexandra Penfold has been working in publishing for nearly a decade. Formerly an Editor at Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, she recently joined Upstart Crow Literary as an agent and specializes in young picture books, middle-grade fiction, and young adult. She has edited award-winning books by Meghan McCarthy, Marissa Moss, Carol Lynch Williams, Tammi Sauer, Robert Burleigh, Scott Magoon, Laura Schaefer and N. H. Senzai among others. Prior to becoming an editor, Alexandra was a children’s book publicist. She worked on media campaigns that appeared in USA TodayNewsweekUS News and World Report, and NPR’s All Things Considered, among other national and local media outlets.


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  1. Editor Alexandra Penfold Now an Agent « Anita Nolan's blog

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