Wednesday, September 5, 2012

CAGI Entry #12

Genre: Literary
Word Count: 86,000

In THE DIVIDE, eight and nine-year-old Allie and Orson escape their abusive past when they move in with their weekend dad, but a tragic misstep leaves them alone in the wild with only each other to face the violence. Allie and Orson hike through the Colorado wilderness with their father. They do well in the mountains; fewer bugs crawl over them than in their mother's apartment, and leg cramps are nothing compared to the braided bruises Mom's live-in boyfriend doles out with his belt. On the trail, the kids don’t think about what they left behind—at least until sunset, when they relive the terror in their dreams. Despite an auspicious beginning, Orson wakes on the second day with a soaked sleeping bag, and the ire of his dad and sister. Orson sinks under the weight of his insecurities, and a sneaking resentment penetrates Allie's interactions with her brother.

Back on the trail, the kids stumble upon a black bear den, and disturb the rotting goat it cached beneath the soil. The bear wakes from its midday slumber, and Dad moves his children up the steep switchbacks away from its lair. The children struggle to keep step as daylight wanes, and in the rush, Orson stumbles. Dad comes between his son and the vertiginous edge, but disappears over the mountainside and into the abyss. Two days from help, Allie and Orson descend to the bottom of the mountain valley in search of their father. They go off the trail, and into the primeval forest. All the while, the black bear is coming.

THE DIVIDE combines the drama of the fractured family with the journey of the epic hero in the same vein as The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and Swamplandia!
I am an educator with an MA in Studies in Literature. My family knows first hand the effects of physical abuse and neglect, and THE DIVIDE is informed by my experiences working with young victims, both in school and in my home.

First 250:

The train left the station, and cruised through historic downtown, past the strip of ski gear outfitters, microbreweries, and Colorado tourist shops that bisected Earnaness. As the line of cars cut through the city streets, bicycle commuters took their hands off their handlebars, children hung atop backyard fences, jeeps idled at the crossing, and drivers peered over their steering wheels, watching the tourists embark on the leisurely journey through the mountains.

Alison met every eye, and as they left behind the last few motor courts and entered the lush green of the country, she tried to grab the attention of tractor drivers in the fields, and catch the eyes of cows staring at the long yellow line sweeping past the barbwire. The tracks rose, and the pastoral homes slipped over the edge of the world. Stretches ranchland replaced the golf courses and summer cabins, and then the river joined their climb, keeping pace with roiling whitecaps interspersed between stretches of icy blue.

Alison imagined pursing her lips at the water’s edge like a deer, feeling the water splash across her mouth as she sipped from the current. Dad said they'd have to pump the water through a little black and red cylinder before they could drink, otherwise they would risk giardia. Hearing giardia, she envisioned water with slimy green ovals speckled throughout, but Dad said the bacteria were too small to see. She suggested a microscope; examine the water and drink straight from the bank! Dad said it didn’t work that way.


  1. The query reads more like a synopsis to me. The opening sentence of the query simply "tells" the reader what happens rather than setting up intrigue. Consider breaking up the first paragraph into two, with a hook right up front. I read a lot of literary fiction, and I realize that it does not always have as flashy a hook as some commercial novels do. However, there still needs to be a compelling conflict, specific image, or character connection in the query that draws the reader in right away. Here, I get a sense of general themes, like family and nature, but I don’t come away with an understanding of who the characters are or a sense of why their journey matters.

    The opening 250 words convey a vivid sense of setting. I would like to get a clearer sense of Alison's voice, though. We start to get a hint of it in the third paragraph, but until then, she's just an observer.

  2. I agree the query reads a bit like a synopsis. Is this adult or MG? I'm thinking the former, just wanted to clarify.

  3. Susan--Thanks for all your comments! After reading your critique, I now view that first sentence completely different. I'm still looking for the right hook, and I see how the initial summation defuses any tension I tried to build at the end of the query. I'm going to work on a more evocative opening, along with a condensed attempt at the plot. Thank you again for judging! I learn so much from these contests.

    Jess--It's adult literary, though a few readers have said it could have some YA crossover potential. Primarily, it's aimed at an adult audience. Thanks for your post!