Lifelong Bronx resident Justine Manzano fell in love with writing as a child and dreamed of publishing a book one day.
Today, her dream became a reality. On July 9, her debut novel “The Order of the Key,” a young adult urban fantasy, will be released. What was once planned to be a physical book launch run by Bronx bookseller Boogie Down Books, has now been converted to a YouTube Live launch on July 11.
After years of diving into fiction as an escape from depression and anxiety, writer and editor Manzano has combined her love of reading with her passion of fantasy.
“It’s pretty crazy,” she told the Bronx Times. “I’m sending this out into the world and hoping people love it. It’s been a long time coming.”
An origin story of sorts, “The Order of the Key” follows Bronx teen, Jacklyn Madison, as she stumbles her way into a world of supernatural abilities and terrible monsters.
An innocent evening snack run turns into a story of self-discovery and the dangers of true power as the main character is attacked by an interdimensional beast that leads her to unlock her own supernatural abilities and a journey that reveals secrets about her parents that reshape her entire view of the world.
As she joins the Order of the Key, Jacklyn navigates the questions of family versus duty, and power versus morality as she struggles to discern who her true enemies are.
Manzano, 37, was born and raised in Morris Park. Her older brother and former Bronx Times editor Jon Minners, was a writer, and like many younger siblings, Mazano wanted to followed in his footsteps.
While she did not go into the newspaper industry, his influence was always with her.
“He’s always been more influential on the go-getter side of me than the writing side,” she said about her brother. “He’s always pushing me. He doesn’t let me give up.”
While she would pen short stories as a youngster, she recalled that Mr. Shaw, a teacher of hers at P.S. 108, really impacted her.
“I feel like when I watch my son go to school, I say, ‘where’s Mr. Shaw,’” Manzano said.
She put writing on pause as she attended Hunter College for theater and music. However, in school she took creative writing classes because the passion never left.
Manzano eventually landed a job as a legal secretary in NYC, married her husband Ismael, who is also a writer, and had a son. But her first love of writing always remained.
She worked on the book for about a decade and finished it two years ago. She is on cloud nine that it finally came to fruition.
“I am about to accomplish my dream,” she said emotionally. “I have held my book in my hand. I’ve kind of teared up.”
Even though it took her years to write the book, she never gave up hope. Her mom Doris instilled the values of perseverance and determination in her daughter.
Mazano said that she is already working on a sequel.
“My brain is a storyteller, so I always have stories rolling around in there,” she explained. “I feel like I kind of have to write.”
“The Order of the Key” is available in trade paperback and ebook formats at all major book retailers. If ordered from Boogie Down Books, personalizations and autographs can be requested from the bookstore.
More information about Manzano and “The Order of the Key” can be found on her website, justinemanzano.com.