Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 31, 2017

August Featured Agent – First Page Results

When Larissa Helena finally announced her decision to major in Literature, her family and friends were too polite to reply “duh”. But everyone already knew, even then, she had no choice but to keep exploring the magic of words. A few diplomas, translations and years working as an editor later, she packed her suitcases and ended up in a city so nice they named it twice. Larissa found her new literary home at Pippin, where she is now Associate Literary Agent & Manager of Subsidiary Rights, and feels lucky to be surrounded by words and people who understand and share her passion.

Larissa Helena, Agent, Pippin Properties. Larissa Helena’s passion is fiction: between Brazil, France and the United States, her only certainty is that she wants to be around books. Larissa has been an Executive Editor, a Translator, a Researcher, a Foreign Rights Manager and an Agent. She’s open to books for all ages, and wants diverse narratives of all kinds. Voices rarely seen in literature, unconventional stories, quirky characters. Her favorite kind of book doesn’t try to follow a pattern or play by the rules. Favorite genre? Genre bending.

For submissions, e-mail your first chapter along with a synopsis and query letter to Twitter: @larilena

UNEASY GRACE by Susan T. Paxton  – YA contemporary

A siren shrieked in the distance. Shaken from her trance, Taylor turned away from the silent river. She twisted her hair into a messy knot and hurried down the steps of the wide veranda. She’d thrown on the same jeans she’d worn yesterday and a wrinkled sweatshirt. No way she’d wow with her beauty today, but it wasn’t as if this day would be any different from any other at Wayne County High. Same old, same old.

After almost six weeks, she was still New Girl Nobody. Being new was a familiar fate, but unlike her brother Mason, Taylor didn’t relish the frequent relocation her dad’s job as a roving real estate consultant required. For Mason, a new town meant slipping into a new personality he could stitch together like pieces of a quilt. For Taylor, unspooling the complicated threads of a new school, a new soccer team, and a new set of teachers had started to fray three towns ago.

Grace, North Carolina was proving to be the worst of all. At least those other towns had malls with multiplex theaters, public transit to nearby larger cities, and amusements other than standing in line at Grace Creamery waiting for a cone. Most of all, in those other towns, she hadn’t been a senior with no one to talk to.

She hurried down the steps turning her headphones on full blast. Even though she hated the local broadcast called “The Mouth of the South,” she tuned in every morning. It amazed her that a hokey DJ with a fake accent had become an instant celebrity in town. Each morning she felt a sick fascination, wondering what trash talk the DJ would be spewing to a half-awake world.

If only something would change.

Uneasy Grace

The first important thing to note here is why this is a wonderful title (and the importance of one): being greeted by smart wordplay suggests the reader will find some good writing here! And the opening lines did not disappoint – I like the careful choice of words, how well the alliterations sit, without being too obvious or obliterating the story flow. The cliffhanger at the end of this excerpt is a good idea; once again, the reader is left to wonder and ask for more.

Looking more closely at the text, good work, in the first paragraph, with reflecting in your narrator’s voice that we’re now inside the protagonist’s head – it’s sounds “teenagey” enough, without at any point impoverishing the text. On the second sentence of your first paragraph, there’s a bit too much information that perhaps would be more effective if these ideas (being new/ disliking it/ her brother finds it easy/ they have to move around a lot/ because of the dad’s job) were separated into two different sentences (the part about the dad’s job could come later in the text). Finally, I love how the amount of cities Taylor has lived in is used to count the passage of time at the end of this paragraph – another sign of great writing!

The theme “being the new girl” is one everyone is familiar with, but the particular seasonings of this story – the celebrity DJ that makes this particular universe sound so real, as well as the contrast of how easily the brother seems to fit in – in conjunction with the writing, give it a special flavor that really made me want to read more.

HOMEWORK by Amalia Hoffman – PB

A steep staircase led to Anna’s apartment at the tippy top of the tenement on the Lower East Side.

Up there, the sky disappeared behind knickers, petticoats and shawls, dangling from laundry lines. The fire escape ladder snaked its way from the tiny window down, down, down to a narrow alley where cats scurried around garbage pails.

Mama sewed clothes for fancy ladies from the Upper West Side and Anna helped thread the needles and pick up the tiniest pins off the wooden floor.

“You’re my extra pair of eyes,” Mama often joked. “Eyeglasses are way too expensive.”

One day, a new customer arrived to be fitted for an evening gown and she brought her daughter along.

“What’s your name?” asked Anna.

“Juliet,” answered the little girl.

“Wanna play?”

“I like to play house,” answered Juliet. “Where are your dolls?”

“I don’t have any.” Anna said quietly.

Mama cut the dress pattern out of tissue paper. Then she pinned the pieces together to make them fit perfectly.

“Thank you,” said the lady as she left the apartment with Juliet. “I’ll be back next week.”

That night, while Anna lay on the mattress, among her sisters and brothers, she wondered if Juliet would ever come back.

“Why would a girl from the Upper West Side want to play with me? I don’t even have toys,” she thought.



Once again, this is a great opening: straight to the point, it does a fantastic job of situating the reader – followed by a more specific image, a focus on the laundry lines to show (instead of explaining or describing) a little better which kind of neighborhood and social-economic situation will be the backdrop of the story.

Picture books are in the hardest end of the spectrum of word economy, so my greatest advice for a picture book author is: the more impact you can squeeze into a few sentences or lines, the better. You have such few words to work with; none of them should go to waste. Here are a few ideas on how to incorporate that idea here: for greater impact, it would perhaps be interesting to put Mama’s joke ahead of the explanation of what she does; it would create a tiny suspense in the story, making the reader wonder what she is talking about before the narrator explains Anna picks up pins while Mama sews. The dialogue between the girls could easily be replaced by a couple of lines from the narrator. That can’t happen! Make sure every phrase is unforgettable and irreplaceable – if you’ll give your main character a voice, it has to be uniquely their own, and can’t be confused with that of other characters.


Chapter 1 – The Royal Birth

The King’s top advisers and councilmen paced the floor and wrung their hands. Others sat at the room-long table fidgeting or doodling. Pages scurried around the great hall offering beverages of various potencies. The King sat at the head of the table drumming his fingers on the arms of his chair while his head valet placed cool towel after cool towel on his forehead. Frazzled nerves stretched to their utmost limits. Surreptitious glances towards the great doors at the far end of the hall became more frequent as day changed to dusk. Finally, the massive doors burst open.

“It’s a girl!” the Chief Cauldron Pot in Waiting proclaimed.

“Ring the bells! Sound the trumpets!” King Bungle said upon this announcement of his daughter’s birth. “I’ll be stewed like a fat goose if that isn’t the most wondrous news I’ve ever heard. Pass out the cigars – the ones with the pink bands – and open the champagne! Tonight, we celebrate!”

Of course, the State Secretary of the Archives immediately wrote down the King’s comments. In fact, the Secretary recorded everything the King said so future generations could marvel at how King Bungle managed the affairs of Ardania, not always with the aplomb we might hope for.

The castle towers’ bells joined with those in all the towns’ steeples to celebrate the birth. Soon their peals were the only sounds heard in Ardania. Everyone was delighted at the birth of the princess and knew countless jobs would be created by this great occasion.



This first paragraph is a fabulous example of “show, don’t tell”, for anyone looking for inspiration on how to do that. We understand from the very start that something is happening at the great hall by how the king and servants are acting, which is a great way to start a story. The end of the first paragraph is a mini-cliffhanger, which does wonders to ensure the reader will keep on reading!

However, the narrator soon falls into the trap of over-explaining: “upon the announcement of his daughter’s birth” repeats what your reader has hopefully already inferred by then. If you need to make sure your reader gets it, perhaps insert the idea briefly in the king’s next words: “Tonight, we celebrate my daughter”.

You mentioned this is a satirical fantasy – but that’s hard to tell from your first page (there might be a hint of it in the idea of the birth of a princess generating new jobs; a very intriguing one that I hope will be further developed). There are so many works of fantasy out there, but satirical fantasy could catch an editor’s eye! It would do wonders for your manuscript to bring that aspect to the forefront!

Also, reading your story out loud can be a good strategy to avoid too much repetition (too many births on the 5th paragraph), or confusing sentences (second phrase of the fourth paragraph).


By the time Justin discovered the magic, it was too late.

The library door thumped open and he looked up from an article on quantum physics. He peered through the small slots between the shelves, the hint of ink and paper tickling his nose. Earl “the giant” Jones, the biggest jock at Misty View Junior High School trudged in. He carried a fistful of crumpled homework. Justin slapped the magazine shut, a chill racing up his back. He’ll never stop.

Earl looked around the room and then strode towards the book stacks. Mrs. Edmonds, the librarian, glared at him as she eased a cart of books from behind a counter decorated with orange paper pumpkins and a tall witch holding a broom.

Justin crept down the aisle and kept an eye on Earl. A large tome rattled outward and Justin stopped. The burning that had appeared several weeks ago flickered in his chest. The book, A Complete History of Brightville and its Legends, bounced in place as if dancing, and then hopped off the shelf into his hands. What in the world? The book flipped open, the sheets of paper flapping as if a windstorm raged. When they stopped, words leapt off a page and shimmered as if on fire.

Beware and weep, ye inhabitants of Earth, for in the latter-day the daughter of light will break oath and set the darkness free.

Justin slammed the book shut and it thumped to the floor, his heart pounding. It’s only my imagination. It’s only my imagination. A laugh he knew better than he wanted to pierced the quiet of the library. He turned. Standing at the end of the aisle stood Earl, a hand grasping the metal shelf. A smile spread across the boy’s face. “Add weak to short nerd.”



What a great day for impactful openings! This is a remarkable first sentence, that at the same time tells us what the book is about, introduces the main character, and adds an element of suspense. Well done!

This first page does a good job of showing us who the main character is – a bookworm, interested in complicated subjects such as astrophysics, your familiar nobody h(a)unted by the school bully… and chosen for greatness. The archetype of the hero, the one marked as special, but still struggling to understand what that even means.

What’s hard to tell from it, though, is what is different about this story. What, in the universal idea of the magical hero, is particular to Justin Wisely? Bring that to the spotlight before your reader can get a chance to think of that character as an archetype, and you’ll strike gold!

Larissa, thank you for taking your valuable time to share your expertise with everyone here at Writing and Illustrating. We really appreciate it.

Everyone remember to stop back tomorrow to meet September’s Featured Agent.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I don’t know where I got the “astrophysics” from – I did mean quantum physics, hahah


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