Cabarrus

His message: Get busy living

A.R. "Tony" Longo was in fifth grade when he knew what he wanted to be: The next Steven Spielberg.

Longo, 23, has since written three unpublished screenplays and had his first book - a 92-page autobiography, "Life's Waiting to Begin," - published in July.

Longo, who is legally deaf and has cerebral palsy, said the message of his book is, "Be yourself. Don't let other people change who you are."

He will sign copies of the book ($11.95) from 9 to 11 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at Lake Norman YMCA, 21300 Davidson St., Cornelius. Signed copies also are at his website, www.arlongo.com.

Longo is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, who was born six weeks premature. His mom, Susan, 53, is a special education teacher who figured writing on a computer might be good for her son, who was in third grade at the time.

Longo has produced character-driven screenplays about a high school baseball team, another script loosely based on his life and a third that he describes as a survivor tale with an element of science fiction.

He started on his book in August 2010 and completed the first draft in a month, followed by numerous rewrites, he said.

How many? I asked during a recent interview with him and his mom.

"Too many," he replied with a smile.

Longo lives in Cornelius with his mom and his dad, Richard. His brother, Dominic, 25, is in his third year at Elon University School of Law in Greensboro.

Longo dedicated the book to his family and friends and to those who face daily challenges due to any handicaps.

"Despite those challenges, don't stop believing in yourself," he writes, "and don't settle for anything less than your own perception of yourself."

His aunt, Paula Jo Boykin of Lake Norman, encouraged him to add more details along the way and helped him choose a publisher, OutskirtsPress.com.

The book offers a candid look into his life, including how a bully so picked on him in middle school at the Florida School for the Deaf & the Blind in St. Augustine that he decided to leave and be homeschooled, before deciding to return in ninth grade.

As a child, he'd never thought about his disabilities, he writes. "I knew I was different, but I was never interested in why I was different," he writes.

The book strikes me more as a young man's coming-of-age story, of hopes and dreams and things to come. It delves into relationships, his affinity for Rocky Balboa movies and the band Angels and Airwaves, and his love for his chocolate lab, Shadow, who died in 2006.

"If you have noticed, I rarely talk about my disabilities," Longo writes on page 73.

"I never liked talking about it to anyone. If somebody asked me about it, I'd answer. However, I have accepted it and moved on. It is a part of me, but I never let it define me."

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