Friday, December 2, 2011

#35 Contemporary Middle Grade Fiction: Return to the Mountains

TITLE: Return to the Mountains
GENRE: Contemporary Middle Grade Fiction

Eleven-year-old Kate McAllister is tired of living in the shadow of her domineering older brother, Tyler. So when she sees a lynx (one that’s part of a controversial reintroduction program) on their Colorado ranch, she is determined to track it and get the recognition for protecting her family’s livestock. But when she realizes the lynx has kittens, and learns the reasons for the reintroduction program, she has a change of heart. Kate secretly watches the lynx until Tyler discovers them, forcing her to stand up to him to defend the feline family she feels she knows better than her own.

My brother is six feet tall, but his shadow seemed longer than a ponderosa pine’s. And no matter where I stood, his shadow fell on me. My dad looked to Tyler to do all sorts of things around the ranch, even though he was only 17. Me, I was almost 12, but dad and Tyler both treated me like a little girl.

Until the lynx.

It was an animal no one in our valley wanted back in Colorado because of the threat to livestock. The wildlife people released the lynx anyway, and spent all kinds of time and money monitoring them with a bunch of high-tech gadgets. Folks still grumbled about the program all the time, even though no one had actually seen a lynx, or had a problem with one, in the years since the reintroduction.

But as I stood in the shade of my brother on that first day of summer vacation, beside the empty chicken coop, I understood why ranchers hadn’t wanted the lynx back.

“Blasted cats,” Tyler snarled, sounding exactly like our dad. He stabbed the ground with his shovel.

“My chickens…” I started to say. But I had to stop so I could bite my tongue to keep from crying in front of Tyler.

“Kate!” He turned his whole body toward me and replanted the shovel. “This is exactly why the lynx don’t belong here.” Tyler stomped off. His boots pounded into the dry earth leaving a cloud of dust hovering over his path.


  1. Aww, this sounds really cute! I have a soft spot for lynxes myself. It;s the ears, I can't resist! Your logline does a nice job of establishing the conflict, and even with the opening exposition, I get a sense of Kate's character. Good job! I'd read this.

  2. Great job! The voice is really good and I like the conflict between the siblings. I'd want to read more. Good luck!

  3. I love the premise for this story (so cute!)and your logline is terrific.

    As for suggestions, I think your opener could start with a little more excitement, especially since you're aiming for a young audience. Maybe you could start it off by jumping straight into the problem of her eaten chickens. As it is, the first two paragraphs are all backstory. I'd like to see this information woven into some action.

    Good luck!

  4. This would be a great first line:

    "I stood in the shade of my brother on that first day of summer vacation, beside the empty chicken coop, and understood why ranchers hadn’t wanted the lynx back." Although I'd change "hadn't wanted the lynx back" to something along the lines of "were fighting to get rid of the lynx" or somesuch. It basically says everything your first couple of paragraphs say.

    Can't go wrong starting with dead chickens!

  5. I liked this and agree with other commenters that perhaps start with the para "I stood in the shade..." and then move on from there. It would draw the reader in to the action. Well-written and sounds like a great story. Best of luck!

  6. I'd read it!

    I agree with the suggestions to get into the action quicker.

    I see both sides of the wildlife issues - it looks like you handle it well.

    Best wishes,

  7. Based on the logline, I really like the idea of this story and the specific setting of it. And I think that the opening here has potential, but I agree with the other commenters that jumping into the action a bit quicker could be an improvement.

    As the sample is now, I got pulled out of the first sentence by the changing tenses--"IS six feet tall...SEEMED longer..." I couldn't tell if the narrator was supposed to be thinking back to a time long ago or what. A few paragraphs later, I was pulled out again when Tyler used the word "Blasted"--that sounds to me like a word that British people would use, but probably not a western ranch teen. (I'm a total city kid, though, so please call me out if I'm completely wrong on that!) Anyway, if Tyler really is so manly and sounding just like his dad, I'd expect him to use a more adult word, like "Damn."

    And in the last sentence of the sample, I think you need a comma between "earth" and "leaving."

    I'd love to see where this scene and the story go from here. Best of luck with it!

  8. I like the logline a lot. Sounds like a really sweet story that would be perfect for girls of this age group.

    The opening didn't grab me as much as I wanted it to. Like the others, I think you could start with more drama. Maybe she comes out and sees the dead chickens, then her brothers shadow falls over her when she's about to scream or something along those lines. That would show us how she reacts to trauma and her brother, all in a small space of time.

  9. I really like this. Seems like a very fresh concept and it's a great voice. It's something I could get right into and I already wish I had a second page to read!

    I did find it a little hard to believe that no one had had a problem with a lynx in the years since the reintroduction, and yet the first thing Tyler thinks is that a lynx got the chickens. If the lynx weren't causing problems for years, why would the reintroduction be controversial? Just a small point though.

    Love it! Nice clean writing.

  10. I like the concept. A LOT.

    Like some other commenters have said, I think the most powerful thing would be for Kate to find her chicken shed desecrated and to have a strong reaction. "My chickens..." I started to say misses a great chance of showing more of her character, because "start to say" is so ordinary. I would really like to get more into the character's head right here, and not just have her worrying about crying in front of her brother.

    "Blasted" does sound old-fashioned/British, and not something I'd expect from a modern Colorado teen.

    Having said all that, animal stories are always popular in MG--and lynxes are underrepresented. So I would definitely read on to see how the story proceeds.

    Good luck!

    Logline: This is a LONG pitch – it’s practically flap copy. I see subplots. :)

    Line notes: I’ve given someone else a hard time for passive voice, so I’ll point out your second paragraph. You could certainly make this more immediate by expressing Kate’s view of why her neighbors hate the lynx reintroduction plan.

    Actually, I’d probably suggest cutting the first two paras entirely and starting with the empty chicken coop, which much more immediately shows the problem, and is where Kate begins to form an idea of what she needs to do – where this story will go.

    Overall: I’m sure the sibling rivalry gets all tangled up in other aspects of Kate’s life, but I think you could focus a bit more cleanly on Kate herself in this opening, rather than by starting by focusing on Tyler. It’s an issue of balancing the plots, I think – and for your young audience, it will be more about Kate than about Tyler, even if she feels like she’s in his shadow.

  12. Yes - that's the main problem here (to reiterate what a few others have said): You need to jump right into the story, into the action, no backstory to start it off.

    Also, the info you have in the backstory, it's all TELLING, too (not how you want to reveal it). You want to weave this info INTO the action, SHOW it more. Don't just tell us that Kate's dad looked to Tyler to do all sorts of things around the ranch, SHOW it. When you come upon a scene with the father, have him clearly expect or tell Tyler to do things around the ranch, THEN have Kate internalize about how she feels about that. And don't just tell us that no matter where Kate stood, Tyler's shadow seemed longer - SHOW Tyler actually doing something that makes her feel this way. And integrate all that INTO the story rather than toss it into the first two paragraphs in backstory-form. That would be the main thing to fix with this piece, because other than that, the writing is clean and the concept is original. Good luck with this - you can do it!