Staying home has given Southwest Florida a new appreciation for all things local. Two local authors have found that love being extended to them with books that have been published as the coronavirus developed. In fact, one of them is in print because the coronavirus developed. Meet authors Jeff Bruce and Ronnie Antik:
Jeff Bruce has been seeing Strange things happen, and he’s delighted.
The Naples mystery writer, a former executive editor for the Naples Daily News, has been mining the life and times of his continuing protagonist, columnist Alex Strange, with new sagas nearly annually. Strange is a geographic mutt in the silver-white sunshine of Southwest Florida, and as he develops, his audience does as well, with reviews that have applause beginning to come in.
Bruce’s book, “Florida Man,” published in January, is his fourth in the Strange Files series. And as something of a prequel to Strange’s Florida adventures, it’s the perfect one for attention from grassroots groups. Says the national Online Book Club: “From the very beginning, I loved this book”; and Readers’ Favorite: “The plot flows flawlessly from the entrancing beginning to the smashing conclusion. … I can’t wait to meet up with Alexander again.”
“Florida Man” is a two-word sobriquet for the everyman victim/perpetrator in Florida’s inexhaustible supply of bizarre tales. Florida Man does things like throwing an alligator through a Wendy’s drive-in window or breaking into a farmers market in a tutu to steal fruit.
In the latest book, Strange has left his defunct Phoenix newspaper to take the enviable and exhausting job of documenting those tales for an online news service. But not before he entangles himself with a spiritual reader who already knows his history and a friend who is being blackmailed with deadly overtones.
“The two books that follow this book I actually wrote before ‘Florida Man,’ and it occurred to me that I’d never told the story of how Alexander got from Arizona to Florida,” Bruce explained. “I mean, I knew the story but never told the story.”
In fact, he knows the movements of his character, Alex Strange, so well that Alex, under Bruce’s computer skills, even writes an occasional weird news blog for Bruce’s own author website. “He’s picking up a bit of a following,” said Bruce, pleased.
At least one of Bruce’s Alex Strange plots embarks from the free lodgings aboard his uncle’s boat, the Miss Demeanor, in Goodland (“Get Strange”); another story (“Strange Currents”) docks in Key West. Alex roams through Pelican Bay, Ochopee and other fascinating points of Florida in his sidetracked column quests. Any good editor would fire him for not producing enough copy.
He’s self-published but then, he says, “If you’re a new author, even if you’re published by one of the five publishing houses, under whatever title, you’re going to be responsible for your own marketing.”
Establishing his own publishing entity has become the promise of a second industry. His Tropic Press is taking on other independent authors
“I have spent the last five years really trying to get a handle on the book publishing industry,” he said. International Thriller Writers Conference in New York. He met wonderful people and gleaned some good tips. But part of the education was about how mercurial the industry has become, with social media, e-books, podcasts biting off chunks of income and attention.
And then came the coronavirus restrictions. Book signings and festivals are out of the question. “And as every writer will tell you, THE single most important marketing tool you have is word of mouth.”
“There are a lot of different strategies, depending on what people like to do. My thinking is that I want to continue to write books. I want to send out books for reviews. Having that validation of people who will review the books and, hopefully, there’s good things to be said about them, will help create the basis for people being willing to take the risk of buying them.”
Even though he spent enough of his years in Ohio to develop an affection for the basement-dwelling Cincinnati Reds and was an editor at the Dayton Daily News, Bruce is a proud Florida native. His home state alternative frustrates and fascinates him.
“Florida has always been the last refuge for scoundrels and con men and grifters,” he said. “We’re crazier here — it’s warm year ’round so people can run around naked and do stupid stuff. There are easy ways to smuggle drugs in, and you can hide here effectively. People have sort of adopted the pirate mentality around here.”
He lets Alexander Strange say it best: “It’s the Candy Land for crazies.”
Neither Alex nor Bruce would want it any other way.
“Florida Man” and the other Strange Files series books are available via Barnes & Noble, iBooks, amazon.com and other bookstore chains.
After Ronnie Antik wrote an essay on the various personalities who walked the path around her community’s lake each each day, her friends told her: “Ronnie, you should write a book.”
Actually, she already had.
Antik is a speech therapy major who has worked with writing every chance she got — editing her school newspaper, publishing a corporate magazine, writing for newsletters: “I’ve always viewed it as a creative outlet, and I do a lot of things that creatively involve writing. Whether it’s bush league or not — I do it. So writing a novel wasn’t that far off.”
“Second Wind,” her freshman novel, is the story of a couple who find themselves financially and emotionally adrift when the $50 million sale of his magazine vaporizes in a bankruptcy. What they have left is a hotel in Bermuda, a family property that was meant to be a getaway. Suddenly it must become the ship from which they sail into a new life, with both hardships and hope in store.
Robin and Cia exude the aura of high net-worth Naples couples, and their vulnerability suggests the potential for a morality play. But the story moves beyond their circumstances to their native savvy and the dilemmas their mistakes put them in.
It was born in an online writing class in which Antik learned about themes, chapters, development and self-criticism.
“I learned you’re not even writing the book until you’ve got your third draft — and here on the first draft I was thinking I got my book now,” she recalled. But as she rewrote and rewrote, she conceded her characters “morphed into more meaningful, more authentic decision makers. That was important.”
“I guess I have COVID to thank for it,” said Antik, who self-published the book on Amazon this spring. “The truth is I had written it, and didn’t publish it. To me, it was enough to have written it. And then came COVID. And, quite frankly, I had nothing to do.”
That said, Antik meant for her book to be an accurate portrayal, whether it was published or not. When her daughter offered her trip to the location of her choice as a birthday gift, she chose Bermuda. She’d never been there. And while Antik’s studies as a speech therapist had enabled her to write phonics, “I wanted to see if what I read matched what I heard.”
The result is a small glossary in front of the book for Bermudian slang such as “Wopnin” (what’s happening) and “ace boi” (boyfriend). It’s not pervasive in the book, but is in conversations at the hotel occasionally.
“I’ve gotten great response from the 100 people who read it,” she said wryly. “I don’t want to overstate it. I didn’t market the book.”
But she admitted to a tingle when she saw residents on the Mediterra beach area whom she didn’t know with copies of ” Second Wind.”
“I thought, ‘Oooooh, you’re reading this!”
Antik added that her daughter, who lives in Hollywood, California, has told her that “Second Wind” would be a great TV series.
“I said, ‘That’s nice.’ But let me just do this first.”
Does “this” include another book?
Replied Antik, “Already started.”
“Second Wind” is available in paperback or Kindle e-book through Amazon.com.
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.