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Published: Sunday, 4/24/2005

A new chapter in her life

BY RHONDA B. SEWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Philana Marie Boles Philana Marie Boles
LISA DUTTON / TOLEDO BLADE Enlarge

Just three years ago, Philana Marie Boles was venturing into unfamiliar territory as an author.

On her first attempt, the then-27-year-old had secured one of the most respected agents in the business, Mel Berger of the William Morris Agency - agent to Judy Blume and Bill Cosby - and landed a five-figure advance and a contract with a major publishing house, Ballentine/Random House, Inc. Her debut novel, Blame It On Eve, was published in 2002.

The 1994 St. Ursula Academy graduate put all her hopes in what began as a 500-page manuscript, written five years ago. It told the story of her protaginist, Shawni Baldwin, an ex-model who lives on New York's Upper East Side, and her fiance, Bo, a music entrepreneur. A sensual singer named Zin, who happens to hail from Toledo, comes between the couple and forces Baldwin to examine her addiction to men.

With such a beginning the only way to go was further up the literary ladder, which Ms. Boles, a 1998 creative writing and theater graduate of Bowling Green State University, has done with impressive grace.

The 29-year-old Toledoan's second novel, In The Paint, has been published with the same agent, but with another major publishing house, HaperCollins; it is in its second printing. The novel focuses on Danni Blair, an art gallery publicist whose boyfriend, Dallas Laylock, a Detroit Pistons basketball player, says he needs some time away from her. During the break, Danni discovers herself and her gifts as an artist.

Ms. Boles, who grew up on San Jose Drive in Toledo and is the daughter of Pat and Philip Boles, is scheduled to appear for a talk and book signing here from 4 to 6 p.m. May 7 at the common area outside the new Borders bookstore at Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park Mall. The author has one sibling who resides in Toledo, older sister Ginger.

Ms. Boles is also under contract with HaperCollins to release her third novel this December, a coming-of-age adolescent read about a group of girls, set in a town very similar to Toledo.

So far, things are going well - she even likes the proposed artwork for the new book.

"I've never gotten a cover off the bat that I love. I just love this one," she says, while walking in New York City and conducting an interview from her cell phone. Ms. Boles is speaking of the publishers' proposed jacket front for her third novel, Little Divas. If sales go well, a series may be in the cards, similar to the popular Babysitters Club book series.

Ms. Boles has remained humble through all of her success as an author.

"Your stories choose you, more than you choose your stories. You have to surrender to where your characters want to take you," says Ms. Boles of her books' various writing styles and the inspiration behind her stories.

Ms. Boles and her recent novel, In The Paint, have been chosen by HarperCollins as its featured author and book for the month of May. The house selects one of its books monthly and gives book clubs across the nation an opportunity to speak to authors by phone-conferencing.

Ms. Boles says she draws inspiration from the diversity of New York City. "I'm on sabbatical, drinking from that fountain of inspiration. My pen can't write fast enough when I'm here in New York, it's the best of the world and the worst of the world all at once. It's good to be here," says Ms. Boles, who, when in Toledo, is known to be a regular at Beaner's Gourmet Coffee, where she often brings her laptop to write her stories.

A self-described nomad, the author has a maternal relationship with her hometown, which she fiercely protects. While her books' writing styles and themes are vastly different, one common thread is the mention of home in all of her work. Her first novel had a character from Toledo; her second novel mentions an unnamed art gallery in Toledo and Diva restaurant, where Ms. Boles had a successful premiere party in 2002. In her adolescent-oriented book, the author mentions the former store Jacobson's as a place where her young characters frequently shop and buy swimsuits.

"I make a concentrated effort to pay homage to Toledo. My fourth book, the one I'm working on now, is set in Toledo," she says.

Yes, a fourth book is in the works, and Ms. Boles says the theme is abuse. Ms. Boles is critical of an author who gained popularity last year with her debut novel of an Ohio character from Toledo who was portrayed as a backwards Midwestern hick who moved to the big city of New York. (Although Ms. Boles declined to name the author, the lead character in Erica Kennedy's Bling, Mimi, has been described as an unsophisticated, naive girl from Toledo.)

"After that book, that was like, enough! I wish the author would have paid a visit to Toledo. She did not know Toledo. If Toledo is going to be out there, let's represent how it really is," she says.

"When I mention Toledo or things in Toledo in my work, it's just a gift back to home. No matter where you go, home is home."

Ms. Boles says she first honed her skills as a writer at St. Ursula Academy, but it was her parents who fed her appetite for reading at a very young age.

After graduating from BGSU, Ms. Boles moved to New York City, where she worked as a story reader in Brooklyn for filmmaker Spike Lee. She also worked at Glamour magazine as an assistant to the then-director of media relations, a time when she started working on her manuscript. She now calls Toledo home.

Contact Rhonda B. Sewell at: rsewell@theblade.com

or 419-724-6101.



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