Author Brian Antoni's SoHo loft seems more like a museum of family oddities than an apartment. On the southern wall hang three photo portraits of his parents; in the first, Mom is dressed as Dad and Dad is dressed as Mom--makeup and all. Across the room stands a bust made of chocolate that his artist sister, Janine--who's also responsible for the photos--carved with her tongue. On a table in the living room lies a sculpture of a baby with a brain defect, the inspiration for "Divina Trace," a book written in "monkey language" by his brother, Robert. "All three of us are mental cases," says Antoni. The 35-year-old sometime lawyer's first novel has just been published by Simon & Schuster. "Paradise Overdose" is the story of a young man from a wealthy Caribbean family who gets caught up in excessive money, sex and drugs. It's easy to believe that Antoni and his siblings might be the result of a severely dysfunctional family, but he says, "My parents are normal. We all had normal childhoods." Antoni, who was born in Trinidad, admits his book is largely autobiographical. He comes from money and claims to be a descendant of one of the oldest families in the Caribbean. "Money makes life easier," he says. "I thank God I have it. I would hate to have to live off of writing. You have to put it in perspective, though. Money can become an addiction." It's a dependency he has managed to avoid. After getting a law degree from Georgetown University, Antoni decided corporate law was not for him, although he says he still handles some of the family's legal matters now and then. "Being a lawyer is fighting all the time," he says. "That's not me. A lot of my friends are lawyers. They're like rich chairs. It's a life I rejected." Antoni is in the early stages of his second novel, which takes place in Miami's South Beach, a place he describes as "a body culture." The author spends nearly half the year there, and the rest of his time in New York. "When I told people in South Beach that I was writing a book, no one knew what to say. In New York, which is more of a brain culture, people were into it," he says. Nonetheless, he admits Miami holds a special place in his heart. Growing up in the Bahamas meant many trips into Miami for Antoni; American shopping was just a short plane ride away. "Miami was always a symbol of the real world for me," he says. "I would come over as a kid and look at the neon. Now, South Beach is like the sixth borough of New York. People from L.A. are even starting to go there regularly. If the people are there, and the weather is there, then why not start making movies there? You can't go out now without seeing celebrities." Antoni dedicates much of his efforts to the restoration of the old buildings there. "Buildings are like an art project. You can scrape off a decade of neglect and have a beautiful building again. It affects people's lives," he says with a smile. That is exactly what Antoni wants to do. "Writing is not going to affect my lifestyle one bit. It's not money that will make my book count," he says. "I want to affect just one person with my story. That'll do it."
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