I still remember when I received the e-mail from Dreamspinner Press informing me that they were interesting in publishing my first novel Dueling Divas. I was so overwhelmed, all I could do was cry. To know that someone believed in something I wrote enough to buy it was incredible. I’ve had friends and strangers ask me how I did it and for advice, etc. There are also people who asked me how I actually started. I’d written some short stories and plays back in school but had left it behind for a while. As an English Literature major in college I was kept busy writing term papers and trying to write what the instructors wanted rather than what I wanted. But that’s what one has to do in order to obtain a degree. After that, I didn’t think much about writing for a while and then something changed.
What changed?—For so long I’d written what others wanted but with Dueling Divas I had something that I wanted to say. It didn’t have to be anything profound or earth-shattering, but I wanted to give voice to my thoughts. There was a story I wanted to share with others and a story which was demanding to be told.
The process—It’s not a quick process. At least for me it wasn’t. I had the story fairly down pat, but had never really learned to type which meant I had to learn how many spaces needed to go before or after a period or after a comma, etc. The editing took a lot longer than I would’ve thought. At this time you learn a lot such as making sure that what your thinking regarding the story actually makes it down on paper. The audience can’t read your mind.
Advice for those wanting to write—Make sure you have something to say and that you believe in your work and “need” to do it. It can be a long process and you need to believe in what your doing otherwise you’ll become bored or discouraged. Also start growing a thick skin now—more on that below.
My approach to Dueling Divas, an Avondale story—The idea for Dueling Divas was born after a disastrous night out with family members to a local club. I’m not fond of the club scene and felt tricked into going. I remember being angry and needing an output for the anger. That was when the idea came to me. The funny thing is that an idea can take you to a far different place then where you started. Divas turned out to be a story which at its core is about family, relationships, and love. So, how did I actually start.
In my writing, characters are everything. It’s all about the people inhabiting my world and what makes them tick. The characters come first and I flesh them out in my mind so that they have distinct personalities which become even more rounded out as the story progresses.
I’m lucky in that I can actually picture my story in my mind like a film. I can see it so clearly that it’s as if I’m jotting down the notes from what I’m watching. The next thing I do is write an outline of the story that I can refer back to and then I’m off. At that point you just jump in with both feet, start writing and see where the characters take you.
Oftentimes the characters led me where they wanted to go and I think a well written character will do that.
Some good advice I received—The best advice I got was from the writer Etienne. The advice was to write yourself a cast of the characters with all their pertinent information. Their age, description, quirky traits. That way you always have something to refer to without having to go back and dig through what you’ve already written.
The biggest thing I learned—To be completely honest, I had to learn how to deal with criticism. I was shocked by how protective I felt about my work when I dealt with my first editor. And I did yell at the computer and pound my fist on the desk, all that good stuff. Then I calmed down and realized, hey they have a point. Often times the fixes were small things that I just needed to make clear. There were times I needed to say I believe in this and I’m not changing it, but I also needed to learn to see others viewpoints. Not easy but a very necessary thing to learn.
Who am I as a writer?—I think that foremost I am a writer who finds characters to be the most important things in a story. You can have a fantastic story to tell but without compelling characters it’ll fall flat. I enjoy putting characters in unusual circumstances where they may meet people they wouldn’t otherwise meet or be places they wouldn’t usually go.
Dueling Divas, an Avondale story—Divas has compelling characters who find themselves in unusual circumstances. Avondale is an actual area of Jacksonville where I lived for many years. Some of the places mentioned in the books are made up for the story—such as the clubs. And then there are real places, some of the eateries, which really do exist.
In the story an aspiring singer named Nash finds himself having to don drag in order to compete in a contest he feels could help further his career. Along the way he finds love with Bobby, the brother of his biggest competitor, a woman named Stacey. These three characters live fairly normal lives filled with good friends and family. They meet some quirkier characters while in the contest. All of the characters are somewhat out of their element in the story and learn to turn to one another for survival when a murderer starts killing of contestants of the singing competition.
Dueling Divas is a fun story filled with romance, mystery, drama and heart. Thank you all and let your inner divas shine.
Exclusive excerpt from the story:
When they arrived at Publix, Meggy and Bobby headed to the ice cream section to pick up Meggy’s favorite—ice cream sandwiches. Bobby had his head in the fridge getting the ice cream sandwiches and a carton of plain vanilla ice cream when he heard Meggy calling him and pulling at the hem of his shorts.
“It’s Mr. Wow!” Meggy said. “Look, it’s Mr. Wow!”
“Mr. What?” Bobby said, not remembering what he’d said the last time he was in Publix with his niece.
Bobby put the ice cream in the cart, and looking around noticed the familiar ass of the man bent over stocking the freezer across the way. Bobby walked toward the man, guiding the shopping cart with one hand and holding Meggy’s hand in the other.
“Well, hello stranger,” Bobby said.
Nash looked around and saw familiar bare feet in flip-flops. Resisting the urge to kiss the feet he found so sexy, he stood up and turned around with a big smile on his face. “Well, hello, yourself.” Then he looked at Meggy and said, “I recognize you, little lady.” He took her hand and gently shook it.
“I’m Meggy. We came to get ice cream. I know who you are. You’re Mr. Wow. I heard Uncle Bobby call you Mr. Wow last time we were here.”
Bobby found it funny how his niece had added the Mr. title to his Wow comment when he’d first seen Nash. He figured it saved him the embarrassment of having to explain himself to her.
“There you two are,” Jeffrey said from the end of the aisle as he walked toward his daughter and brother-in-law. “Did you find everything all right?”
“Sure did,” Bobby said.
“We’re talking to Mr. Wow,” Meggy said.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Wow,” Jeffrey said, extending his hand to shake Nash’s while looking at Bobby with a quizzical expression on his face.
“Nice to meet you, too, but actually the name’s Nash, though I kind of like Mr. Wow too. Are you folks finding everything you need today?”
“I’ve found everything I need,” Bobby said, still looking at Nash.
“I found the chips and steaks,” Jeffrey said, starting to figure out what was going on in front of him. “We’re grilling out tonight.”
“You can come,” Meggy said.
Jeffrey noticed the eye contact between Bobby and Nash and how Bobby blushed when Meggy extended the invitation to Nash. Poor Bobby, his blushing always gave him away at things—cards, surprises, and now this. Jeffrey felt like he could see his brother-in-law clearly for the first time.
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Antonio was called to write at various times in his life. When he was young the writing consisted of plays and short stories. Then he explored the fine arts and literature, earning a bachelor’s degree in the latter while minoring in art history. In his studies he was fascinated by and enjoyed analyzing characters, their personalities and motivations. To him it’s always been the characters that make a story special. Once again writing has taken hold of him. In the past it was just an amusement, but now—for Antonio—writing is a passion to live, eat, and breathe.
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