Wednesday, September 12, 2012

CAGI Entry # 88

Genre: YA Post-Pandemic / Light Science Fiction
Word Count: 90,000


Sixteen-year-old Lucas Dawson must run away from the only life he’s ever known or face having the memories of his childhood erased by the Regime. They have decided that, as a Regime soldier, he will aid the Worldwide Union more effectively if he’s not “encumbered by family ties.” At least this way he can make a new life for himself on the run, with no weapons or provisions, completely alone, out in the Wild. Yeah, it’s a win-win.

Once he escapes, he vows to do everything in his power to take down the Regime. Of course, the vow of a weaponless, homeless, sixteen-year-old doesn’t count for much. But Lucas is one of the Regime’s highly trained Super Soldiers. They’ve altered him in ways that may make him feel like a freak, but do give him an edge in the Wild: enhanced eyesight and hearing as well as unusual strength. Finding the beautiful, haunted Cara and her cousin Ben won’t make it easy to keep his vow. Like Lucas, Cara struggles with what the Regime had planned for her. She wants them to live together like a family and forget all about the Regime. And he is totally untrained for the way she makes him feel.

When they are discovered by Regime soldiers, they must run for their lives. They come upon Evan, a Resistance fighter recovering from smallpox, who tells them of a plan to destroy the Regime. This is Lucas' chance to join others in fighting the Regime since Evan's pox scars will keep him from completing his mission. But if he takes Evan's place it means he may never see Cara and Ben again. Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe Cara would be happier with a normal human instead of a Regime lab rat anyway. Evan sure is eager for Lucas to go and he's made no secret of his attraction to Cara. But Lucas can't decide if his vow is worth the risk of losing them when they’ve become his whole world. 

THE WILD won the Mid-South SCBWI YA Fiction Contest at the September 2011 conference.

First 250:

For my sixteenth birthday my parents staged my death. The stakes were higher since I was so old. Sometimes the Under Tens had sudden “fatal” accidents, but my parents couldn’t bear to push me out into the Wild before I was tagged. So, they hoped for things to change, but tried to prepare me in case they didn’t. And well, things didn’t get better. They got worse.

One little green pill under my tongue and I was puking my guts all over the field at Regiment training. Rank, I know, but kind of funny watching the officers running around trying to figure out what to do with me. I don’t think anyone had ever been sick at training before, except for normal stuff, like exhaustion or heat stroke or injuries.

 I spent the next morning, my real birthday and my fake deathday, at home dumping water in the stainless steel toilet and making retching noises for the monitors. My first “sick” day ever. When Mom got home from her half day at the clinic, I made a final trip to the toilet, my throat raw from my supreme acting. It was show time. No turning back now.

“Oh Lucas, I was hoping you’d be better for your birthday,” my mom said. “I requested cupcakes.”

Nice touch. I raised my eyebrows, impressed.

She gave me a sad smile and held up crossed fingers.          

I took the herbs from her and lay down on the hover board, glancing around my bedroom one last time.


  1. I love the first 250 words. The stakes are high right from the beginning, but at the same time you get a sense of Lucas and instantly relate to him.

    The story reminds me a little of Logan's Run (in a good way), but at the same time, it isn't like anything I've read in the current YA offerings.

    Good job!

  2. Hi #88! This is your first-round judge comment.

    Comments on your query:

    Your first line is a bit blocky. The good news is that it contains the right elements for an immediate pull-in; I just think you could come up with a different arrangement of the sentence that isn’t quite as long. I’d like to see it with fewer wordy phrases (“must face having” and “the only life he’s ever known” are your worst offenders). Polishing it could really wow us. The second two sentences are a little disorganized, though. They could be combined into one idea—establishing that the Regime wipes memories to discourage personal hang-ups and establishing that Lucas finds this so unacceptable that he’s willing to take his chances in the Wild. “Yeah, it’s a win-win” seemed inappropriate to me—not just because it’s sort of informal, but because I don’t actually see how that situation IS a win-win without some understanding of why Lucas considers it so.

    On the second paragraph, your opening line is again a bit blocky; I like that it tells us his goal (and I think it’s wise that you save this for the second paragraph), but I don’t like it opening with “after he escapes.” There’s a little too much detail in this paragraph, especially when you take four sentences to explain his relationship with Cara and what her problem is. (You could also be clearer about how Cara and Ben make it hard to keep his vow.)

    Your third paragraph: You guessed it. Too much detail. I’d ease off inserting your character’s feelings and ruminations into your query; stick to the story. (In other words, explaining to us that he’s beating himself up over his appropriateness as a partner because he’s a “lab rat” and saying “maybe it’s for the best” is too much.) What’s compelling about this is a young man having to choose between his personal ties and his cause. Beyond that, we don’t need much padding. I also stumbled over the rhythm when you introduced Evan, with all the details about his smallpox and Lucas having an opportunity to get involved in the cause again.

    I’m a little torn on the overall plot, because you’ve told us at the beginning that Lucas was unwilling to have his memory wiped for the good of a mission, so it doesn’t seem likely at all that he’s the type of person who will sacrifice his personal connections for the greater good. It leaves little mystery on the question of what choice he will make, though I strongly suspect he’ll find another “win-win” for himself. Whether I want to tune in to find out HOW he does it will depend heavily on how much I care about Lucas, so your writing will have to carry that and I hope it can.

    Language notes on the query:

    * “the vow of a weaponless, homeless, sixteen-year-old doesn’t count for much”—Comma is unnecessary after “homeless.” He’s a homeless sixteen-year-old, not a homeless, sixteen-year-old.

    * I see a mixture of smart quotes and dumb quotes throughout your query. (Compare the apostrophes in your query’s third paragraph with those in the previous paragraphs and you’ll see how some are curled and some are straight.) You need to really watch this sort of thing because it makes it clear the text has been transferred between formats and has undergone revisions in more than one program. I recommend switching all dumb quotes to smart quotes.

  3. Comments on your first 250:

    “For my sixteenth birthday my parents staged my death.”—I think this is an excellent first line. Its power may be enhanced if you put it on its own paragraph.

    You begin telling us about “the stakes” being higher since Lucas is “so old,” and that’s where the narration slips into exposition mode. Leaving “the stakes” unassigned to any specific stakes makes it seem vague, and then we’re having stuff explained to us in a sort of jumble of stuff that happened in the past and stuff that is about to happen. It’s a speed bump after such a compelling first line.

    I think you made a good choice showing us that however Lucas and his mother are being monitored, it’s audio only, since she crosses her fingers and he communicates with raised eyebrows, but they don’t say anything. You may do well to incorporate more of this sort of thing—showing us without explicitly stating how things work. I did wonder about “parents” staging his death (as explained in the first sentence) and yet so far we only see his mom, but I guess I’ve only seen the first page, after all.

    Watching Lucas’s acting and his mom’s obviously being complicit in the act was enjoyable even though we don’t quite know what they’re doing yet. (And thank you for not explaining it thoroughly.) This makes them both sympathetic. I really want you to get to this faster without throwing those expository details at us in the beginning. You have plenty of time to explain your setting. It would be great if you could get us interested in the people first. We’ll pick up on the details later, and don’t worry too much about whether we can extrapolate right away. Trust your audience to start picking it up from context and I think this ship will sail more smoothly. Beginnings are difficult and I don’t want your story to sink itself at the start while it’s looking for balance.

    Language notes on the first 250:

    * “I was puking my guts all over the field”—This would read better as “puking my guts out.”

    * “I spent the next morning, my real birthday and my fake deathday, at home”—It would be more grammatically sound to set off “my real birthday and my fake deathday” with dashes instead of commas.

    * “It was show time.”—“Showtime” is actually a compound word.

    Please feel free to reply or contact me privately if you have any questions about my feedback. I’m honest but I don’t bite. Good luck!

  4. Intrigued am I. Seriously, really enjoyed your first 250 and would keep reading :)

    The query was a little blocky. I almost think you could take out the last paragraph and just sum up the end stakes with one or two sentences and not lose anything. Something like: When Lucas is given an opportunity to fight the Regime, he can't decide if his vow is worth the risk of losing Ben and Cara when they’ve become his whole world. 

    Not that exactly, but food for thought. Good luck