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RPLA Showcase: Mary T. Wagner

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Most First Place Awards Received: Mary T. Wagner

At the 2016 Royal Palm Literary Award Banquet, author Mary T. Wagner not only won First Place in the Unpublished Chapter Book category, but she also won First Place in the Published Creative Non-Fiction category, making her the author who won the most First Place Awards for multiple entries.

2016 Unpublished Chapter Book

Finnigan the Circus Cat by Mary T. Wagner

In Finnigan the Circus Cat, Finnigan is a rescue kitten who has to fly “under the radar” at a small town circus museum. Befriended by a pair of mice, he discovers his acrobatic talents and saves his pals from disaster!

Click the link to read a sample:

Excerpt from Finnigan the Circus Cat

2016 Published Creative Non-Fiction

R.I.P. the Meatball by Mary T. Wagner

In “R.I.P. the Meatball,” Mary’s son adopted an aging cat with bad habits and a superiority complex, but no one could predict the moments of tenderness and wonder that followed in his wake.

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.

Q & A with Mary T. Wagner

Q: Where do you get your story ideas?

A: In the case of Finnigan the Circus Cat, this was entirely due to two factors–my younger son and daughter-in-law brought home a rescue kitten a few years ago and named him Finnigan, and my younger daughter is a contemporary circus aerialist so the subject of circus was always floating through the conversation somehow. Finnigan stayed with me for a couple of weeks when he was brand new, and then for six months after he was all grown up while the kids studied abroad. There was just something about his personality that suggested a circus performer strutting around in striped tights! Now I’m close to finishing a second book in the series, Finnigan and the Lost Circus Wagon, and that one will be chock full of insights into old circus wagons and the golden days of circus parades. I absolutely love old circus wagons, and I make at least a trip a year to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, which is where the Ringling Brothers Circus got its start.

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

A: Writing Finnigan was really a leap of faith for me, because I’d never written for a young audience before. The age I was targeting is from 7 to 10. I only showed it to two people between when I’d finished the manuscript and when I sent it to the RPLA contest. One was a friend who works with young children, and the other is a circus historian and archivist. Both were very encouraging in different ways and validated my feeling that I had a book to believe in. An even bigger leap of faith was booking the hotel room and buying the plane ticket to the awards banquet without knowing that I was a first place winner! I was all nerves the day of the dinner until Finnigan’s prize was announced. Then I could finally relax. I’d self-published the book after submitting the manuscript to the contest and before the awards banquet, and it was such a thrill to hold it up at the podium when I picked up the award! And as a crowning touch that came months later, despite the fact Finnigan was self-published, it scored a favorable review in Publishers Weekly!!

Q: Whom do you credit with inspiring your writing?

A: I can’t think of anyone who has “inspired” me in terms of causing me to actually write words down, but I greatly admire both Anne Lamott and Anna Quindlen. And I’ve had a lot of encouragement over the years from friends who saw more talent in me than I ever thought I had. I believe I’ve tried to rise to their expectations. I think a lot of my essay writing (my third essay collection “Fabulous in Flats” actually won the RPLA Published Book of the Year award in 2011!) is driven by a simple need to get my thoughts out on paper and share them. Finnigan on the other hand has been such a departure from that, and it feels like a delightful indulgence to sit and ponder what a cat and a couple of mice could be up to in a circus museum!

Q: Any tips for new writers?

A: Yes. Break away from your computer once in a while and write with pen and paper. Thoughts and words flow very differently that way. And get out and do some “live lit” once in a while! There’s an incredible energy and synergy that flows from being in that environment, even if you don’t get up and read for the first few times. Writing is a solitary pursuit, so go rub some elbows with other writers! An essay I wrote about doing this in my home town of Chicago a few years ago is called–what else–“Reading Out Loud.”

Thank you for sharing, Mary, and congratulations! Visit her website: www.marytwagner.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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Blogger at St. Pete Running Company

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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