Freshman SHSU student publishes ‘And then there was Billy’

Xavier Neal, author and freshman SHSU student, has let her life experiences guide her literary voice. The 18-year-old hopes to shatter any preconceived notions of what a young, African American female writer can produce.

Her first novel, “And Then There was Billy,” was released Jan. 19, 2007 by iUniverse, Inc. The book, a coming-of-age romance, was written while Neal was a student at Cedar Park High School.

Neal describes “And Then There was Billy” like a film that can be read.

“The way I wrote it, it’s really visual and fast-paced,” she said “It makes you feel like you’re a part of the story.”

Neal said that this visual aspect of her novel is what sets it apart. “Different is good. People get tired of reading the same thing,” she said. “This way, it feels like the reader has a hand in what’s going on.”

She feels that her novel stands out, since many books about African Americans deal with lower-class struggles. Although she was raised in Cedar Park and never struggled financially, she said that it’s not the point of her work.

“And Then There was Billy” is a universal story that anyone can appreciate.

“Since I grew up in North Austin, I have a different perspective,” Neal said. “I’m an intelligent and well-rounded person. I feel I don’t get enough credit for being intelligent.”

The novel is about the story of a young girl and her best friend who both have a goal to reach. The pair meet Billy and his friend, who become obstacles and accessories to the girls’ journey.

Neal also explained that Billy was a member of her extended family who passed away when she was in the eighth grade. She was the last person in her family to find out.

“He was my whole world,” Neal said. “It started as a small story, which turned into my book. It was my way of saying goodbye.”

Neal, who started writing “And Then There was Billy” at 15, feels like she has matured in the years between completing the book and publishing it.

“When I started, I was over-dramatic. I’ve learned from the things I’ve written. It’s no longer just things that I’ve observed, but things that I’ve lived.”

The customer reviews on the Barnes and Noble Web site, which praise her work, have put a smile on Neal’s face.

“It makes me feel good that people enjoy the book,” she said. “It feels like a pat on the back; like I’m headed in the right direction.”

Neal has continued to write since enrolling at SHSU. She finished her second novel last semester and a book of her poetry will be released this summer.

“And Then There was Billy” was published through iUniverse, a self-publishing firm where the creator retains the rights of the work. Should another publisher pick up her novel, it would be licensed directly from Neal.

“I retain control over my work by publishing this way.”

Although the task of promoting the book falls on her shoulders, Neal remains optimistic. Neal will be signing copies of “And Then There was Billy” during an in-store appearance at the Cedar Park Barnes and Noble this weekend.

“Everything is on the up and up,” she said. “The Internet makes it so much easier. It makes the process of contacting people go faster.”

At the moment, Neal is self-managing her career. She feels that things become more difficult when agents get involved, but she’s not wholly opposed to the idea.

“It gets on my mother’s nerves when I talk about getting famous all the time, but I just want to succeed.”

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