Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 1, 2018

Agent of the Month – Leslie Zampetti – First Page Results

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Leslie joined Dunham Literary in June 2016. Previously, she was an intern for The Bent Agency.

A former librarian with over 20 years’ experience in special, public, and school libraries, Leslie has cataloged rocket launch videos and Lego rocket ship models, presented SEC documents and story times, and negotiated with organizations from Lexis-Nexis to the PTA. Her experience as a librarian has given her a distinct perspective on publishing and readers. A writer herself, Leslie is very familiar with querying from both sides of the desk.

Leslie graduated from Wake Forest University with a degree in English and has a Master’s of Library and Information Science degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
She is available to speak at conferences.

You can follow her on Twitter @leslie_zampetti.


What She’s Seeking

For children’s books, Leslie seeks middle grade and young adult novels, especially mystery and contemporary. Historical fiction set in the recent past, novels in verse, and off-the-beaten path romances are on her wish list. For picture books, Leslie wants unusual true tales, biographies of unsung heroes and heroines, or stories that show everyday diversity to mirror under-represented readers and open windows to others. She is drawn to books about Florida, baseball, and kids with book smarts and big hearts.

For adult fiction, Leslie is interested in literary mysteries, upmarket romance and women’s fiction, and historical fiction from lesser-known eras and places. For nonfiction, Leslie finds narrative nonfiction that straddles the boundaries between crime, memoir, and literature especially appealing. An armchair adventurer, Leslie enjoys experiencing wild places and extreme challenges from the comfort of her chair.


Jim Nicosia: The Janey Forthright Papers (YA novel) 1: The Exhibition @ Freemont School

The south stairway at Ketcham Hall has these huge, circular windows at every landing. They’re at least five feet wide and three feet deep. At each landing you can look out and see the whole Freemont campus, the surrounding towns and, on a clear day, straight through to Boston.

Nobody takes the south stairs in Ketcham Hall. The elevators at the east and west entrances take you where you need to go, and there are stairs there, too. So you can understand why I was surprised when Janey asked me to meet her on the landing of Ketcham’s south stairway. I shouldn’t have been. Janey knows every nook and cranny of this place. That’s how she introduced me to the freight elevator at Barton Hall, the basement of the music building and the glass-blowing furnace in the industrial arts building. But the stairway, that was unexpected.

I should have taken the elevator up, shot to the south, and walked the stairs down. But I wasn’t sure which floor Janey said to meet her on, so I went right to the stairs, started climbing.

That’s the first time I noticed those windows. I also noticed that each of them had been repaired with spackle. That was strange, since Ketcham Hall was new and pristine and perfect. When I stopped to catch my breath between the third and fourth floors, I realized how far you could see out those massive windows. It was actually pretty amazing to see the grids of streets, offset and by the abundant green of trees. New England looked quiet from there, and it seemed a shame no one took these stairs, because they were missing something special.

I climbed, thinking of the earth below, amazed at how heavy my legs felt, when I heard her voice. “Hello, sailor. About time you got here.”

Like I said before, it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. She was sitting in the window. Okay, lying there, on her back, her head halfway up the curve at one end, her legs partially up the other curve. It had to be at least a little uncomfortable.

Oh, and, of course, she was naked.

Leslie’s comments:

Janey is quite a character! I have a sense that a series is in the works from the title. It’s great to have such a vivid sense of a major character.

The reader is given a lot of information in this first page. While it serves to create setting, much of it seems repetitive, and even could be confusing. Does the reader need all of it? It appears all the reader needs to know is that no one takes the south stairs in Ketcham Hall and that this is the first time the narrator has seen the view from these windows. Is the spackling important to the story? Like Chekhov’s gun, the reader is going to be looking for that spackling – or the condition of Ketcham Hall – later on.

Janey’s voice feels more distinct than the narrator’s. We have more information about her as a character in a very few sentences. Given the first-person point of view, I would expect to have more empathy with the narrator and more of a sense of who he or she is. The last sentence seems designed to shock or entice the reader, a device that would be effective as a chapter ending.


Cross Stitch Crossbones  By Joan Leotta—Middle Grade

Chapter 1: Exercise Is Not Always Good Way to Start the Day

Exercise is not always a good start way to begin the day. Especially when it involves discovering  half-buried skeleton parts.  Confused? I’ll start at the beginning:

A few days after last New Year’s day, I was headed out for my first exercise walk of the New Year. My Grandmother and my new best friend, Colinda,  had both tried to get me to start working on the baby fat that kept me in floppy clothes and hiding behind my computer screen. Although excuses are  my middle name when it comes to exercise, in my defense, it rained heavily on New Year’s Day and the day after. Cold rain is unpleasant even in the far southeast of North Carolina. Mix hard rain with temperatures in the high 40s , low fifties and well,  January 3 was a good day to start.

Today, the sun was out. I put off the walk until late afternoon. Puddles abounded along the sidewalk-less road in Grandma’s  gated development.  I took a deep breath and plodded down the steps and along the road, raising one size ten foot at a time, then pushing it down to the ground and forward. Pod, push, repeat. Propelling my heavier-since-the-holidays body down the the road for exercise was an even more difficult experience than I had imagined when I made that seemingly good for me resolution to walk every day.

I sighed and scolded myself as I pounded asphalt, ” You always put things off. Too many excuses. Just like Mom always says.” My Mom is deployed in Afghanistan, and my dDad is missing in action, which is why I was my grandparents.  I miss them a lot, tho I admit I don’t miss Mom’s all too accurate assessments of me. Grandma is a bit more tolerant of my flaws and my baby fat. But even she agreed with Colinda that more exercise and fewer cookies would be good for me.

Leslie’s comments:

Half-buried skeleton parts? I’m on board at the very beginning. I love a good mystery. But direct address of the reader by the narrator is tricky; it’s often a less-than-successful narrative device. Here, it seems as if the writer is having trouble getting into the story, and we never get back to those oh-so-intriguing bones.

The first sentence of the last paragraph seems more effective as an opening to draw the reader in. The writer could use Mom’s physical fitness as a soldier as a reason for the narrator’s wanting to be in better shape. Or the third sentence of the second paragraph provides a good opening! The reader is walking along with the narrator, gaining information about the setting and the main character effortlessly. Either way leaves space for more to happen along the walk. Finding the bones instead of being told about them is more exciting for the reader.

(P.S. We all make typos, but even the most minor ones can distract the reader from your story. A really thorough proof-read will let your story shine.)


Cecile Mazzucco-Than,  Under the Fig Tree, YA

Chapter 1  Stai Attento

The floor trembled under Frankie’s resoled saddle shoes, a shiver at first, then a high-fever shudder that traveled up her legs, wobbled her knees, and swayed her hips. Frankie threw open the window, rested her forearms on the sill, and leaned out a nose-length over the fire escape. In seconds, the Third Avenue Elevated Train would come roaring by the kitchen window rattling the eight drinking glasses in the cupboard until they clinked for mercy. She gathered saliva at the tip of her tongue behind her pursed lips. No more Miss Nice Girl. She was going to tell the engineer exactly what she thought of a train that shook her apartment building and every building along its route through the South Bronx like a baby rattle umpteen times a day. She knew that if she screamed at the exact second the engineer’s car passed her window, the force would rip her voice right out of her throat and throw it past 175th Street, but today she’d find out what would happen if she spit. That would show him! Ever since first grade she told her best friend Sophie Goodman she could probably hit the engineer right in the eye without even aiming. Sophie insisted that the spit would whip right back into her own eye.


Frankie gasped and choked. The first cars flew by, and spit dribbled down her chin instead of zinging the engineer. A blast of stinging dust strafed Frankie’s face and pushed her into the kitchen toward her mother’s voice. The thundering of metal pounding against metal crushed the rest of the sentence. Frankie’s mother slammed the window shut and pulled the flour-sack curtains across it. No problem. Frankie could try again in less than half an hour.

“No, Mama,” her brother wailed.  “I want to wave at the train, too, like Frankie.”

“Remember, Beppe,” Frankie said as she tugged at the waist of her brother’s pants to help him climb on to the seat. “Only watch the trains with the window closed.”

Leslie’s comments:

Historical fiction is a perennial favorite, allowing readers to experience a different time and place while also providing possible classroom connections I love the first line– why is the floor trembling? We’re experiencing the setting along with Frankie. We’re obviously in New York (Third Avenue 175th Street, the South Bronx), and in a poorer neighborhood (eight drinking glasses, resoled shoes). While it also feels historical, the time period is less certain – will a middle grade audience know what saddle shoes and flour-sack curtains are? And today’s subway is still elevated at that point, so young readers may need more clues as to the time of the story.

The language is direct and vivid, images creating strong sensory impressions to engage the reader in the story’s action.

Frankie’s voice is distinct. We’re given a good sense of what kind of girl she is. She’s observant and curious and determined and Italian. She has a goal in this scene, and she acts on it – trying to spit at the train to show her annoyance. What is lacking is why Frankie’s so annoyed; wouldn’t she be used to such a regular occurrence? Having an inkling of the larger conflict would be helpful. Mentioning the war would not only help with establishing time period, but also clue the reader in to a possible problem for Frankie.



Glenn’s Chapter – Nowhere

Some birthday.

Even in the Middle East, it wasn’t usual to drive across the desert in the middle of the night without headlights on. Now, the elegant vehicle was stopped, parking lights on. Four people were emptying the car. One person stood to the side watching.

This was some birthday. A tear followed the already carved trail in the grit on Glenn’s cheek to dangle from her jaw. Her birthday was not supposed to begin in total darkness in the middle of a sea of sand who-knew-where.

If this was thirteen, she didn’t want to know what fourteen was like.

She touched the necklace hidden under her lavender shirt. Affeni and Fatima had given it to her for her birthday. Here in the desolation of this desert tract, she thought of it as her talisman. Another tear trickled down her cheek.

Glenn shivered a little in the rapidly cooling night air. She had gone straight from school to Fatima’s home for a pre-birthday dinner and so was without a shawl or even her detested chadri for warmth. When her parents picked her up from Fatima’s they hadn’t returned home, instead, they’d started on an odyssey that had ended here.

Wherever here was. And they were leaving. Would she ever return?

The idea of never seeing Fatima or Affeni again provoked several more tears. As she smeared her tears with the dust on her face she realized that the only thing she wouldn’t miss was Fatima’s ‘uncle’ Ali. He claimed he was a mage. The girls said he could do magic, but Glenn had never seen him do any. She did know that Fatima’s mother feared Ali’s magic, whatever that was. All she knew was he gave Glenn and her two friends the creeps.

But where were she and her family going? Home to France? She hoped so. Any place else would be foreign to her.

Leslie’s comments:

Young YA or upper middle grade is a growing category, as tween readers increasingly want more complex stories. I’m a fan of this, having seen first-hand how those readers want the complexity of YA even as they still want stories about family relationships and their place in their world.

Though the chapter heading reads “Nowhere,” we have a good idea of setting. We’re in the Middle East, it’s the middle of the night, and this is Glenn’s thirteenth birthday. The main character’s name, Glenn, implies that she is not originally from the Middle East herself, unlike her two friends. Though the reader is given a good sense of Glenn and her friends, who are the people emptying the car? Most likely Glenn’s parents and the rest of her family.

The juxtaposition of Uncle Ali’s magic with a contemporary setting also provokes questions. Is this going to be a fantasy? (Specifying genre as well as age category is helpful. The title could be a nod to fantasy, with the play on Oz.) If it is, a few more hints of fantasy would be appealing. If it’s not a fantasy, why is the magic important to the story? That could confuse some readers.

Much of this page feels as if the writer is getting into the story herself. Glenn’s questions and her thoughts seem meant to create empathy with her. If Glenn participated in the action of the scene instead of watching and pondering, the reader would be more connected with Glenn and the story itself.


Thank you Leslie for sharing your time and expertise with us. I’m sure the four writers and everyone else will find your comments helpful. 

Talk tomorrow,



  1. That’s hilarious. I sent her a query letter like yesterday. LOL


  2. Great stuff, Leslie! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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