Welcome to the RPLA Showcase
Each year at the Royal Palm Literary Award Banquet, authors experience the joy of earning accolades for all the hard work that is often done in the privacy of the home with little to no recognition. Our goal is to showcase the best of the best at the 2015 Royal Palm Literary Awards and provide First Place winners with a well-deserved spotlight. Not only are we recognizing extraordinary talent, but we’re giving readers an opportunity to sample excerpts from the winning stories.
2015 Published Young Adult
The Saffron Crocus by Alison McMahan
Alison McMahan won First Place in the Published Young Adult category. In The Saffron Crocus, set in 1643 Venice, Isabella wants to sing in Monteverdi’s Choir, but only boys are allowed. Isabella’s singing teacher, Margherita, is murdered. Now the killer wants Isabella and Margherita’s handsome son, Rafaele.
Click the link to read a sample:
Q & A with Alison McMahan
Q: Where do you get your story ideas?
A: I grew up in Franco’s Spain. The emotional core of my ideas, no matter what form they finally take, usually originate from that experience. I write historical mysteries, so often ideas will come out of my research, whether it’s reading, trips, or museum visits. I keep a writer’s diary and write down anything interesting that happens, or random ideas, bits of dialogue, images, etc. The diary is in digital form so I can search on certain words and concepts after the fact. Every half-year or so I start a new document, otherwise it gets too long. When I need to put a new outline together, I go back through the notes and cut and paste any good bits into a new document. The best story ideas come from pulling together two opposing concepts. I also like “prompts.” For example: Open a dictionary randomly at three different places and write down the first word you see. Write a story logline or synopsis that incorporates those three words.
Q: Anything in particular about your award-winning RPLA entry that you’d like to share?
A: The musical world of Venice in the mid-17th Century was absolutely wonderful. Because my heroine is a singer, I was able to talk about music in the book from the perspective of someone who listens to it with comprehension and performs it with great emotion and skill. The heroine is also hampered by the fact that women were not allowed to perform in public. They preferred to “alter” little boys rather than let girls sing. It was a time of great violence and also a time of great creativity.
Q: Who do you credit with inspiring your writing?
A: The people I love are my muses, in the sense that I write my books for them. But anyone can inspire a character: people close to me, people I barely know, and people who are so flawed it is impossible to like them. Sometimes, when I have a lot of negative feelings about someone, I write them up as a villain. By the time I finish the story, I’ve gotten to understand that villain as a human being so well that I can no longer dislike the flawed human they are based on.
Q: Any tips for new writers?
A: These are the basic skills I wish I had known I needed to master when I was 20. If I had devoted myself to learning these skills systematically in my first year of writing, I would have saved a lot of time. Learn from my mistakes!
1) Learn how to plot first. The best plotters are screenwriters; a good screenwriting course will serve you well. Test your story idea and plot in logline and synopsis form by pitching it verbally to friends and beta readers before writing a draft. Know the genre you are writing and write to your genre, or undercut your genre or transcend your genre, but it’s all about genre. (Lit Fic is a genre). Read the bestsellers in your genre. They are bestsellers for a reason. Find out the reasons.
2) Learn how to create interesting characters. They should not all sound like you. Study the Harry Potter Wikia character descriptions, for those characters are the most excellent models. Don’t bother writing long character bios, that will just confuse you. Focus on a short list of key character traits and one subtext trait (look up “character diamond” for more on that).
3) Learn how to write Deep POV, whether you write in first or third person. Lots of good books and online courses for that. Study the nuances of psychic distance.
4) Learn how to write a good scene. Make sure something happens and someone changes in every scene. Make sure the setting is conveyed through all 5 senses of the POV character. Make sure that what the reader learns about the setting tells you more about the character. Avoid static scenes like two people sitting at a table. Learn how to write a fight scene — swordfight, gunfight, fistfight, whatever — and a love scene. End every scene with a cliffhanger (there are lots of different types of cliffhangers – learn them). Open every scene with a hook (there are lots of different types of hooks — learn them).
5) Learn how to write good dialogue. If you mastered #2, this will be easy. If your dialogue isn’t working, go back to #2.
6) Finally, learn how to edit. Learn the difference between a simple, compound, and complex sentence, a dependent and an independent clause. Learn the basic rhetorical devices. For the love of all that’s holy, learn punctuation.
But don’t bother with editing until you’ve mastered 1-5. If you edit your words too soon you will feel “married” to them and won’t be able to edit! Be married to your vision, be married to your characters, but don’t feel married to your words.