By Emily Hoover | email@example.com
Photos by Emily Hoover
More than a year after Victor Holtz lost his Lincolnville home in a fire, he is releasing his first novel, called “And the Violent Taketh by Force.”
“The book is an action-adventure story like [Dan Brown’s] ‘Angels and Demons,'” Holtz, 49, said. “But it also has a redeeming social message. We need to look out for each other, our families and friends, because if we took care of each other, there would be less people homeless, on drugs and hopeless.”
“And the Violent Taketh by Force” is the first novel out of a series of books, called “The Gutter’s Priest,” Holtz said.
Holtz, who was born in St. Augustine and said he has traveled through 14 U.S. states and four countries, said he plans to use the Internet to publish his novel. He said that he searched online for publishing companies that said they required a summary of the novel and three chapters for consideration.
Although he said he received contracts “overnight” from companies after submitting six short chapters, he also said that most contracts included a clause in which he would be forced to “forfeit his material” to the publishers, who could change the content at any time.
“That’s when it hit me,” Holtz said. “I figured I could start a website and shop the book around online. I plan to market St. Augustine first, and after I get St. Augustine, then I’ll put out electronic books for the nation.”
Holtz said he has been working at Pizzalley’s for three years. He said that his job is part of the reason he is alive to tell the story of the fire, which happened, he said, in December 2009.
“I had just worked a double at Pizzalley’s, actually two doubles in a row, and I needed to go to sleep,” Holtz said, his caramel skin illuminated by moonlight. “My phone rang and it was a friend I knew. She wanted to go out. I said I was staying [home] and she came [to my house] at midnight.”
Holtz said that he had a space heater by his bed in his “old Lincolnville” house. The heater apparently set his bed on fire during the time he was out. By the time he returned home, he said, there was nothing he could do.
“I lost everything,” he said, wearing a sullen look on his face. “I saw gray smoke and firefighters digging through the rubble. When I said my name, they said ‘stop digging, he’s not in there.’ They were looking for me.”
Even though his house could not be salvaged, Holtz said that “God was working” with him, because he had given the novel manuscript to a family friend for proofreading via a USB drive before the fire.
“I’m at work two weeks [after the fire] and she calls me about the book,” Holtz said. “She told me that I was a writer with a style like Ernest Hemingway and that I could come by to pick up the jump drive. I’ve got the drive, so I’m back at trying to publish.”
Holtz said that he served in the U.S. Army for six years, graduated from Edward Waters College in Jacksonville with a degree in business and marketing and worked in marketing in Jacksonville. He said that he began writing his novel while he was in Jackson Correctional Institution in the Florida Panhandle. He said he served three years after pleading guilty to trafficking stolen property.
“I made a friend and he got me into the drug game,” Holtz said. “I sold guns, drugs and women and for 14 years they couldn’t catch me. I remember thinking there was no way I was created for this purpose. It’s too easy. Three months later, I went to prison.”
According to Florida Department of Corrections, Holtz was also arrested for cocaine distribution and possession of cocaine in the 1990s as well as in 2004 for possession of a controlled substance.
“If you believe in God, he manifests himself,” said Holtz, who said he was released in 2006. “In prison, God told me to write a book and I did.”
Because of his prison record, Holtz said that he was worried about finding a job upon returning to St. Augustine. He said that while Columbia Restaurant on St. George Street hired him, Pizzalley’s was the job that “came after” him. He also said that despite his worries, his prison record was not a problem.
“I wanted a job that I like, where people like me,” Holtz said. “If you want something, don’t let it pass because it affects your drive and determination. People see your drive—they hope it rubs off on them.”
Zach Jackson, 26, who works with Holtz at Pizzalley’s, agrees.
“Victor is a very dynamic person,” he said, smiling while preparing pizza dough. “He brings a lot to his job everyday, definitely more than the average bear.”
Holtz said that his belief in a “go-getter attitude” has helped him write his book.
“I’ve started my second [novel],” he said. “Lord willing, I’ll have five [for the series.] I don’t care what people know about me, I know me. You’re born many men and die as one. These characters are me, a combination of the many men I’ve been.”
However, Pizzalley’s Tony Hesson, 26, said that Holtz’s “upbeat attitude” is sometimes distracting at work.
“The things that bother me about Victor are the same good qualities he has,” he said. “When he comes inside waiting on samples, I’m in the zone in the kitchen. He’s singing and dancing on busy days. It just depends on the mood you’re in and what you’re doing.”
According to Jackson, who has worked with Holtz for three years, self-publishing a novel is the best way to create readership.
“I personally told [Holtz] to put it online,” he said. “I think he has a real chance of developing readership and it’s the cheapest route to put it online. He’s brought up small details and I definitely want to read it if he puts it up [online] or brings one [to Pizzalley’s].”
Holtz said he has plans to create newspaper advertisements for the novel and said he has purchased business cards. He said he will use the refunds from his income taxes to fund the website. He hopes to have the website “up and running” by the end of February, he said.
While Holtz said he acknowledges that the fiction-writing world is a competitive one, he said he can guarantee that readers will laugh out loud, express interest and read “And the Violent Taketh by Force” again.
“I know the ending, I know how to get from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ and keep you interested,” Holtz said, gesturing with his brown eyes. “But I want to keep your neighbor interested, the doctor, your best friend. To have success, you have to have something to entice everyone. Look at it like a business, break down the audience percentages, market to everyone and keep the story consistent.”
Holtz said that he sees a distinct “game plan” for himself in the future. He said he hopes to buy property in Hastings, Fla., and build a centralized medical facility. He said he also wants to build an ice and roller-skating rink on Anastasia Island. However, he said his most ambitious goal is to write and produce movies.
“If I have breath, I think I can do this,” Holtz said. “I’m a believer—I think I can work where I am.”
“Victor is very driven, [this book is] his main focus,” he said. “This is his way out—a way to get himself established.”
Even though Hesson said he has not read the novel, he said he is interested in working with Holtz through his production company, Thunderstorm Productions, which he shares with another Pizzalley’s employee, Travis Sheltra.
“Victor has the ideas finalized, but he’s not showing it to too many people,” said Hesson, who said he is leaving for Borneo on Feb. 16 to work on a project for Thunderstorm Productions. “He’s told me little stories that are good to bring into fiction. The more you’ve been through, the more you can tell.”
Although Holtz said he is happy to be renting a newer house, he said he loves to live downtown. When he looks back on his past in St. Augustine, he said he is glad he has learned to appreciate himself.
“I’ve learned to stop being a coward,” he said. “It’s safe to stay where people know you because you sell drugs. Don’t waste your time being like somebody else. Let your own light shine.”