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Florida Life - Novel Ideas

Jennifer Valoppi
Founder/president/CEO, Women of Tomorrow Mentor & Scholarship Program, Miami

Certain Cure
In 1997, after a career as a TV host, producer and Emmy Award-winning journalist, Jennifer Valoppi decided it was time to put her experience and influence to use by helping at-risk girls in south Florida public schools. So she founded Women of Tomorrow Mentor & Scholarship Program, which pairs accomplished professional women with small groups of female students and provides them with academic scholarships. The program began with 23 mentors in six schools; today, 250 mentors visit 98 schools, and the organization is looking at expanding nationally.

In her spare time, Valoppi writes novels. Her first, "Certain Cure," which she describes as an "end-of-days thriller that bridges the gap between science and religion," was a National Best Books 2008 finalist. Now Valoppi is at work on the sequel.

Who knew? "I've always been somewhat of an amateur biblical scholar, and I've always loved advanced science. I was intrigued by how futuristic ancient biblical prophecies sounded so I decided to put them in a modern world."

Is full-time writing in her future? "Not sure. But I would love to sit in an isolated ski house on a mountain somewhere with my family and just write and ski and drink wine for the whole winter."

What she reads: "As a kid, I loved to read Alfred Hitchcock, and right now rereading all his books is on my list. I love all Dan Brown's books and Michael Crichton's. Paul Levine is a great read and a good friend, and he's from Miami."?

Next page: Meet Florida author John Manrique.

John Manrique
Vice president, sales and marketing, Starwood Vacation Ownership, Palm Beach Gardens

Ocean Raton
When John Manrique decided to write his first novel four years ago, he "followed the advice 'write what you know,' " says Manrique, who was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey before settling in Florida more than 20 years ago. "From 2002 to 2006, I lived the prelude to 'Ocean Raton.' There were so many people in real estate — buyers, sellers, developers, financiers — grinning at the boom, saying, 'This is crazy,' and indeed it was. As the 'crazy' good times intensified, I had a strong sense the smiles would soon fade, since those who don't learn from history are destined to repeat it. Ultimately, 'Ocean Raton' was my imagined satire of the beginning of the end."

Centering around an exotic dancer looking to strike it rich by selling luxury condos just before the real estate bust, the book features a plot that twists and turns and a cast of colorful characters inspired by people Manrique has come across.

Manrique's latest book is "For the People: The Invisible Hand of Power's Unofficial Guide to the 2008 Presidential Election."

For the People
It's been a long time coming: "At age 7, when I discovered the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' series, I knew I wanted to write books. The structure of those — to actually see the choices a writer makes in building a story — fascinated me, and I wanted to do it myself."

On his night table: "I enjoy a wide range of authors from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Mark Haddon, and recently my wife, Michelle, turned me on to the brilliant David Sedaris. For Florida fiction, I enjoy Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey and the great John D. MacDonald."

Inspiration: "My satire focuses on the topical, so everything from the Publix checkout line to the church parking lot offers ideas."

Writing full time: "With the first book, I didn't have much research to do, but the second one required quite a bit since the subject wasn't something I knew intimately."

Up next: "I'm in the early conceptual stages of my next novel, which is shaping up to be a satire of organized religion. The working title is 'The Book of Judas.' "