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RPLA Showcase: Claire Hamner Matturro and Penny Koepsel

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2016 Unpublished Young Adult/New Adult

Wayward Girls by Claire Hamner Matturro and Penny Koepsel

In Wayward Girls, two teens are tried as adults for setting a man on fire–are they crazed killers or just wayward girls trapped in a boarding school scam turned deadly?

At the 2016 Royal Palm Literary Award Banquet, authors Claire Hamner Matturro and Penny Koepsel won First Place in the Unpublished Young Adult/New Adult category. Each year at the RPLA 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. We’re showcasing the best of the best with our First Place winners spotlight. Not only does RPLA recognize extraordinary talent, but we’re giving readers an opportunity to sample excerpts from the winning stories.

Click the link to read a sample:

Excerpt from Wayward Girls

Q & A with Claire Hamner Matturro and Penny Koepsel

Q: Where do you get your story ideas?

A: (Claire) For Wayward Girls, Penny and I were getting ready for a reunion of all the classes at a Florida boarding school we both attended in high school. As we shared stories, one of us said, “We should write a book.” Later, at the reunion, as the wine and the laughter flowed, we both said, “We should definitely write a book.” At first, Wayward Girls was more of a Trouble With Angels story with high jinks and fun, but when Penny told me about a true story in a Texas wilderness school and how that school’s founder was linked to our school, the darker story emerged. As for my other books, including Skinny-dipping and the Lilly Belle Cleary legal mysteries, the ideas came from my life or the lives of people I know. I’m a firm believer in “write what you know.” And, since I practiced law for a number of years, adding a legal element to Wayward Girls and my other books felt natural to me.

(Penny) I have to echo Claire’s response regarding Wayward Girls.  We both attended the same boarding school, though we were there a few years apart. I went the first year the school was opened, when it was new and pristine.  I had several classmates who had been sent there by the same unlicensed psychologist and we talked about this on several occasions.  We put two and two together and realized there must be some kind of scam or kickback involved, and this kickback scam becomes a big part of our fictional Wayward Girls.  Years later when Claire attended, the lovely building had succumbed to neglect and the elements, and there were emerging financial concerns.  The school closed abruptly mid-semester. At the nearly the same time in Texas, the unlicensed psychologist who had sent so many students to the Florida school was charged with murder over the death of a student-inmate at the substandard East Texas wilderness school he owned. The case was famous in its time. I have since developed a friendship with a woman who attended the horrific Wilderness School, and she has shared many of the abuses and neglects they experienced.  Their only crime was not having parents with money who could afford to send them to an exclusive girl’s boarding school instead of a hellhole.  As such, the real life story of the abuses and death at that Texas wilderness school inspired me to co-author Wayward Girls.

Q: Anything in particular about your award-winning RPLA entry that you’d like to share?

A: (Claire) As the dedication makes clear, Wayward Girls is a cautionary tale for parents and teenagers alike. Headlines repeatedly scream with stories about abuses against children and teens, and yet the abuses continue. As a culture, we must fix this. The damage is too great otherwise.

(Penny) Wayward Girls is inspired by true and documented accounts of horrific abuse and neglect in the 1970s, and yet similar abuses continue today. This is unconscionable and frightening.  Learning about these abuses early on became one of the reasons I pursued a degree in psychology, and why I work in this field today.  For me, making a positive difference in the life of one child and/or their families is paramount.  I hope that Wayward Girls can make a difference as well.  Too many youth continue to suffer in silence and I want to do what I can do to bring attention to these needless and criminal cases of abuse and neglect.

Q: Whom do you credit with inspiring your writing?

A: (Claire) One of the first teachers to encourage my writing was Jesse Mercer, an English teacher at the boarding school. Penny and I both have fond memories of him as a person and a teacher. We have a character in the book that shares some of his qualities. Beyond that, while I was in graduate school, the late, great Barry Hannah truly inspired me to pursue writing.

(Penny) I attended a girl’s boarding school in North Carolina that was operated by the same entity that later started the school Claire and I attended.  At the North Carolina school, I met my mentor, Jesse Mercer. Some fifteen years ago, I rekindled a relationship with him, which we enjoyed until his recent death.  I included him in the “Acknowledgments” section of my published dissertation:  “Finally, I need to thank Captain Jesse Mercer, wherever you are.  Thank you for your unabashed support, encouragement, and mentorship to a lonely, young 16-year-old far from home in a private school.  You read my poetry and short stories, encouraged me to write more, lit that flame of creativity, sparked that love of knowledge, and helped me realize the endless corridors I could explore.”  He continued to encourage me and was thrilled when he heard that Claire and I were collaborating on a book together.  Claire has been an outstanding mentor as well and I have learned an inordinate amount from her.  Added to that we are kindred spirits and developed a friendship which will last forever.

Q: Any tips for new writers?

A: (Claire). Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write. Join writers’ groups and go to conferences. Take creative writing classes and journalism classes. And then, read, read, read, and write, write, write.

(Penny). Perseverance, do not give up, keep plugging away.  While pursuing my undergraduate degree I was not sure whether I wanted to go the route of English and creative writing or Psychology.  Psychology ultimately was my choice, but writing continues to be a passion that I will pursue forever.  Joining writer’s groups, going to conferences, again I echo Claire’s comments.

Thank you for sharing, Claire and Penny, and congratulations! Visit Claire’s website: www.clairematturro.com

A message about supporting literacy in Florida:

If every member of FWA went to Smile.Amazon.com, chose Florida Writers Foundation, Inc. as their charity and, instead of logging into Amazon.com, logged into Smile.Amazon.com, FWF would receive 0.5% of the purchase funds. Every time.

We could significantly fund the literacy efforts of our organization. No money out of your pockets…just some invested time to set this up.

How easy for us to make a difference. To see all of our work, please read the pages of our website www.floridawritersfoundation.com. You’ll be proud.

Tom Swartz, President, FWF

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Award-winning author Bria Burton lives in St. Petersburg with her wonderful husband and two wild pets. They will soon welcome a baby boy (their first) in November 2017. Her fiction has appeared in over twenty anthologies and magazines. Her novelette, The Running Girls, is a 2017 Royal Palm Literary Award Finalist. Her novella, Little Angel Helper, won a 2016 RPLA. She has earned two First Place RPLAs for unpublished manuscripts. While she writes, her dog and cat do their best to distract her, which is why they star in her family-friendly short story collection, Lance & Ringo Tails. She's a blogger and customer service manager at St. Pete Running Company. As a member of the Florida Writers Association, she leads the St. Pete chapter and serves on the statewide FWA Board. She's also a member of the Alvarium Experiment, a by-invitation-only consortium of outstanding authors who created The Prometheus Saga, Return to Earth, and The Masters Reimagined anthologies. Website www.briaburton.com

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