I met Johnny Diaz at the Barnes & Noble in Coral Gables where, not surprisingly, I found him working on his next novel. Though we only met once before, we soon got into a lively conversation about writing, living in South Florida, and being a gay Cubano.
Soon our talk got louder and livelier, to the extent that a man sitting next to us had to come over and ask us to lower our voices. The main topic of discussion was “Looking for Providence,” Diaz’s fifth novel.
Diaz was born in Miami and studied at Florida International University. He first became famous as the then-boyfriend of “Real World: Miami” cast member Dan Renzi. Diaz later moved to Boston, where he worked as a feature writer for the “Boston Globe.” While in Boston Diaz wrote his first four novels: “Boston Boys Club” (2007), “Miami Manhunt” (2008), “Beantown Cuban” (2009) and “Take the Lead” (2011). All of Diaz’s novels are connected and feature many of the same characters. “Take the Lead” was translated into Spanish (as Tomar la Iniciativa) where it became a bestseller on Amazon.com. Diaz is now back in South Florida, where he works as a Features Reporter for the Sun-Sentinel as well as a novelist.
“I moved back two years ago. I wanted to be close to my parents who were getting older and flying back and forth was getting expensive. And every time I came down here I felt bad because you know, they were getting old (viejitos). And it turned out I got a job at the Sun-Sentinel as Features Reporter so I got everything lined up.” Though Diaz is no longer a “Beantown Cuban,” his blog (www.beantowncubanito.blogspot.com) retains that now-famous name. “I don’t know what else to call it,” he admits.
Though Providence, Rhode Island is the setting for “Looking for Providence,” Diaz never lived there. “But I always wanted to live there. When I was in Boston I went there over the weekend. It’s like a mini-Boston. There is plenty of parking, beautiful red brick buildings. It’s like 45 minutes from Boston and I would take my bike and go biking along the river there and go out to the clubs. In the other books I always put a chapter in Providence. And I always wanted to put a book there.” In fact, “Looking for Providence” is the first novel set in Providence, as Diaz soon found out. “I asked people. I looked it up at the Library there. No one has done a whole book about it.”
Unlike his previous novels, “Looking for Providence” was published by Diaz himself, through Amazon CreateSpace. “I wanted to see what the process was like, from beginning to end, because some of my favorite authors did it. And I was curious. I have seen my publishers design my book covers. I have seen them copy editing it. I really didn’t know anything about formatting. And I was like, let me do it. So I explored Create Space in Amazon and I started doing it. It was a good education. I would come here on Saturdays and Sundays, and I would sit here and I would just edit or design the cover. They actually walk you through it so I just wanted to see what it was like.”
“The other reason I did it was because I needed a distraction when my Mom, who passed away in November, got sick and I had to be with her at Mt. Sinai and Mercy (hospitals). So I kept her company while she was watching television and I always had my laptop with me. And I worked as a therapeutic distraction.”
Some of the characters in “Looking for Providence” previously appeared in other Diaz novels. And, as in his previous novels, some of the events in this new book are based on Diaz’s own life experiences. In “Looking for Providence,” Diaz has two main characters, Ronnie and Elias.
“I am more like Ronnie,” Diaz admits. “The main theme that I explore in this book is the economy and losing a job and having a job reassignment where you had the job you wanted and then they give you another job and how you deal with that. So the two characters have their own job issues. Ronnie is a features reporter in Providence. He loves it but because of the economy they made him a business writer and he is like, what is this, I am not a business reporter?”
“Now Elias worked for a Latino cable network, Latino TV. And he got laid off from his job. He was a producer, a videographer, and he has to move back to his mother’s house. And he is trying to figure out how to start over. So both characters are trying to find their way professionally and at the same time they each have a romance because I like writing about love. Ronnie lives in Providence. Elias lives here [Miami] and then goes to Germany. He ends up volunteering for a project and decides it might be a good thing for him.”
And what was Johnny Diaz writing when I met him? “Since gay marriage is so topical I am thinking of taking all of my characters and marrying them: “A lot them are already paired up. But then there is this guy, the Tommy Perez character, who goes to all their weddings.” Will Tommy find a love of his own? This new Diaz book is still a work in progress. “The first wedding is in Provincetown but I don’t know where Tommy is going to live. All my characters live in Boston, here, and now Providence. I need another city. Maybe New York. Or Atlanta.” We will see.
“Looking for Providence” is available at Amazon.com.