Monthly Archives: February 2017

Florida’s top local young-adult authors

Tortuga Bay takes home three awards in 2016 Royal Palm Literary Award competition.

National authors are easy to spot–they are the ones on the best-seller lists of the New York Times, USA Today, and other national publications. But what about local authors? These writers are often unknown and lack the national distribution networks of big publishers, but they also produce exceptional work from small and independent presses. The problem for readers (and bookstores) is assessing the quality of their work in a crowded field. One way to set them apart is to look at their performance in literary competitions that are referred by independent judges.

Florida Literary Competitions

Tortuga Bay earned two gold medals in the FAPA President’s Awards

Fortunately, several organizations exist in Florida that hold statewide competitions. These competitions generate hundreds of submissions from Florida authors and publishers, but they award top prizes to just a few.  The better literary competitions employ rubrics that independent judges use for numeric scoring to rank submissions. These rubrics generate overall scores that must meet certain minimum thresholds before a book can advance in the competition.

I examined data on the first, second, and third place awards for three established statewide literary competitions: The Florida Book Awards (FBA) hosted by Florida State University, the President’s Awards run by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association (FAPA), and the Royal Palm Literary Awards (RPLA) hosted by the Florida Writers Association. I then analyzed the places earned by Florida authors and ranked them by the number of wins.

Since a first place is generally considered superior in quality to second place (and third place), a first place award was given 10 points, a second place award 5 points, and a third place award 3 points. Thus, an author who earned two first place awards would score 20 points, and an author who earned a first place and a second place award would score 15.

These competitions, of course, are not inclusive of all authors. Authors may not submit their books because they are unaware of the competitions, find the entry fees too costly, don’t need or want the visibility, or already have an established marketing and distribution platform. Nevertheless, as a general indicator, placing well multiple times in a competitive literary contest is probably a reasonable indicator of quality.

Full disclosure: I have done well in recent literary competitions, albeit in multiple categories, and have won awards in the FAPA (Tortuga Bay), RPLA (Tortuga Bay, St. Nic, Inc.), and Seven Hills Literary Competition (Renegade) run by the Tallahassee Writers Association (and not included in the rankings for this article). The results below are based on the methodology above which focuses exclusively on weighted, numeric scoring.

Florida Young Adult Author Rankings

The FBA, FAPA, and RPLA competitions provide lists of all award winners going back several years. I wanted to capture active writers and those committed to the Florida literary scene. Thus, the rankings include only those for the last five years.

Since 2011, 53 authors have received first, second, or third place awards from one of these three organizations. Just six have received multiple awards. The top five young adult authors were multi-award winners and placed first in at least one competition, and are

  1. Leslee Horner (Tallahassee), coming of age, http://lesleehorner.com
  2. SR Staley (Tallahassee), action adventure, http://www.srstaley.com
  3. Jade Kerrion (Orlando), science fiction, fantasy, http://jadekerrion.com
  4. Kyle Prue (Naples), fantasy, http://kyleprue.com.
  5. M.R. Street (Tallahassee), coming of age, horror,  http://turtlecovepress.com  

Leslee Horner’s work is notable since her books have taken home four awards–the most of all authors entering the competitions–in the young adult categories in FAPA and FBA competitions. Honorable mention also goes to Alex Finn (http://alexfinn.com), also a multiple award winner (although not first place).

Other Florida authors who earned first place awards in one of these competitions included:

  • Gino Bardi
  • Mary Dawson
  • Dennis Cooper
  • Debbie Reed Fisher
  • Carl Hiassen
  • Christina Diaz Gonzalez
  • Shaun David Hutchinson
  • Joe Iriarte
  • Linda Kelley
  • Madeline Kuderick
  • Alison McMahan
  • Mark McWaters
  • K.B. Schaller
  • Ryan Van Cleave
  • Rick Yancey

Future blog posts will include rankings for the categories of historical fiction, mainstream/literary and thriller/suspense.

For additional information on the rankings, contact Sam Staley at sam@srstaley.com.

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Review: Manchester-by-the-Sea Grips Audiences with Gritty Realism

Manchester-by-the-Sea is one of those movies I sometimes hesitate to see. I am pretty sure I am going to like it, but in a crowded field of really good movies, which ones do I want to give up to see this one? Well, Manchester-by-the-Sea was well worth the time, and it’s earned its spots as a nominee for academy awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island), and Best Original Screenplay. The movie is a gritty, compelling, down to earth story of tragedy and heartbreak that still sits in my brain, propelled by fine, grounded film making and exceptional acting.

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (Gangs of New York), the story is set in New England and focuses on Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James, Gone Baby Gone, The Finest Hours) a handyman in Quincy Massachusetts who returns to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea when his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights, Bloodline) dies from heart failure. He finds that Joe has assigned him guardian of his teenage son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges, Moonrise Kingdom, Kill the Messenger). Lee is forced to confront the challenge of parenting a teenager and demons of guilt from the tragic loss of his children years earlier. He also must face the legacy of the tragedy that still lives in the memory of the townspeople, as well as Joe’s friend and partner George (C.J. Wilson).

The story starts out slow, as films of this nature tend to do; they are not action films. But the characters and story grip the audience as soon as Lee Chandler returns to his hometown. The story is complex and layered, with the screenplay providing a textbook example of how to reveal only what is absolutely necessary to keep the audience engaged, leave enough unsaid to maintain tension, and provide just enough information to keep the pace moving forward. Lonergan does an excellent job of splicing in flashbacks at just the right moments to enrich the plot and reveal the intertwined lives of the characters. We learn why some relationships are tenuous, some are frosty, and others are too hurtful to confront. The audience, however, is never overwhelmed with their complexity and layers.

It’s a poignant but real story, and Affleck leaves no doubt that he owns this film although the supporting cast is also superb. Central to the story is whether Lee can put the defining tragedy of his young life behind him. Other characters have found ways to forgive him and move on, but Lee struggles. Affleck deftly shifts from happy go-lucky young husband to self-loathing, guilt ridden wreck, but plays the part with a balance and reserve that keeps the audience rooting for his recovery. Viewers might leave the film a bit disappointed because it lacks a clear resolution. Then again, this is a story about real life, not fantasy.

Manchester-by-the-Sea has earned more than $50 million since its release in mid-December 2016, an astounding and well-earned return on its $8.5 million production budget. Producers Matt Damon and Chris Moore (among others) have proven once again they have a knack for finding a compelling story that can become a gripping movie without a big budget or A-list actors. This movie, however, might be the vehicle to put Casey Affleck back on the path to the A-list.

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