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Thursday, June 28, 2007

USA Today article about CASANEGRA

Hello, readers--
Here's an article that ran in USA Today on Thursday, 6/28. Hope you enjoy it!

Underwood in role of author

Actor-author Blair Underwood's Casanegra is a play on the 1942 film classic Casablanca.

By Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY

Philip Marlowe, watch your back.
If actor-turned-author Blair Underwood has his way, a new series featuring gigolo-turned-actor-turned-L.A. tough guy Tennyson Hardwick will be in bookstores every summer.
HERE'S LOOKIN' AT AN EXCERPT: Get a taste for 'Casanegra'
The first novel in the series is Casanegra (Atria, $25).
With a noir mix of murder, mayhem and sex, "it's like Walter Mosley meets Zane," says the Sex and the City co-star. "It's great summer reading."
FIND MORE STORIES IN: Casablanca Blair Underwood Photography Atria
The new book is an unusual literary collaboration. Underwood's co-authors are well-known married writers Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. Underwood, 42, says the trio has ideas for 10 more Hardwick adventures. They've already sold the second book, In the Night of the Heat, to Atria.
Publishers Weekly praised Casanegra as "seamlessly entertaining." The novel takes on rappers, Hollywood glamour, inner-city despair, the LAPD and the seamy world of professional sex workers.
Underwood, best known for his years on the hit show L.A. Law, did not draw upon any firsthand knowledge of gigolo-hood. "Not at all!" says the actor, who's married and has three children.
But the inspiration for Hardwick came from a project years ago that matched Diana Ross as an older woman with Underwood as a gigolo. Though it never materialized, Underwood was fascinated by the idea of "taking that road of selling your body and your soul for money." He proposed the character of Hardwick to Due, whom he had met after optioning her 1997 supernatural suspense novel, My Soul to Keep.
Due wrote the first draft, then Barnes and Underwood weighed in. "But now we can no longer tell who wrote what line," Due says.
Underwood contributed his insider knowledge of the L.A. entertainment scene he has known for 20 years. His TV credits include The New Adventures of Old Christine and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He'll also star in the upcoming HBO drama In Treatment, which stars Gabriel Byrne as a psychologist. Underwood plays his Tuesday appointment, a fighter pilot.
Underwood — who has made People's "Most Beautiful People" and "Sexiest Men Alive" lists — wants to launch Hardwick as "a brand, a franchise." He hopes to produce a Hardwick film independently and has solved the major casting question of who would play the hero.
"That's me," he says.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Essence Book Club article on CASANEGRA: July, 2007

Hello, readers--

There is no substitute for picking up a hard copy of Essence magazine, if you don't already have a subscription, but here is a peek at the Patrik Henry Bass's article about CASANEGRA in the brand new July issue. Wow. We are thrilled beyond words.

Incidentally, the magazine version also has photos of Blair and the book cover, FYI...

Hollywood Swinging

Don't miss our ninth ESSENCE Book Club pick, a sizzling mystery that will keep you guessing to the very end.

By Patrik Henry Bass

Credit: Atria Books

L.A.'s dark side is exposed in a hot new novel.We know what can happen when there are too many cooks in a kitchen. But when you see three names on the cover of the juicy new thriller Casanegra (Atria Books, $25), don't fret. Yes, celebrity novels written with established authors have proved to be a dicey mix, but kudos to actor Blair Underwood for having the good sense to create Casanegra with talented scribe Tananarive Due (whose novels, such as 1997's My Soul to Keep, have terrified us) and her equally gifted husband, Steven Barnes, author of 2002's Lion's Blood. They've concocted an exciting whodunit that we chose as our ninth ESSENCE Book Club Recommended Read.

We think you're going to really dig on Tennyson Hardwick, a suave, sexy, reformed gigolo who finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery in this page-turner set in Hollywood. It's a town that Underwood knows well. "I was working on a movie with Diana Ross. I was going to play a gigolo, but the film never got off the ground," says Underwood, 42. "Somehow, the character never left me. And when I was in New York visiting the publisher of my children's book, Before I Got Here, I realized they had also published Due's novel My Soul to Keep. From there the ideas started to flow."

It wasn't so much his 2004 role as an urbane physician on Sex and the City that inspired some of Casanegra's provocative bedroom scenes but rather Zane. Yep, he said it. "We wanted to find a way to fuse Black erotica with elements of mystery and some brilliant writing," Underwood explains. It's safe to say the trio, who outlined the project last fall, has succeeded on all counts. They also plan a screenplay, with a certain photogenic leading man considered a shoo-in to play Tennyson in a film adaptation.

But the Tacoma, Washington-born father of three children with wife Désirée says he and his collaborators weren't chasing Hollywood's bright lights in penning Tennyson's story. "We want this novel to succeed on the merits of the storytelling," Underwood says. "I'm proud that we've created a fascinating journey for the reader to enjoy."

30-second excerptIn this exclusive passage from Casanegra, hero Tennyson Hardwick has a fateful encounter with the mysterious April Forrest, who just may end up causing him a whole lot of trouble:

"I've studied people all my life, the closest thing I got to acting lessons before college. I examine their faces, their style, their gestures. Sometimes I can see things people have missed after a lifetime in their own skin. So, I knew what this woman was about. Her clothes were neat but not fashionable, she used minimal makeup, and she wore flats, not heels. She was a worker. Ambitious, trying to impress somebody, and she was in over her head."

For more information, visit

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

CASANEGRA: A grand time with Steve and Blair at BEA!

NOTE: At the end of this entry, you'll find a great Publishers Weekly blog item by Bethanne Patrick about the African-American Booksellers' luncheon Steve and I attended with Blair Underwood at BEA, the major national Book Expo, on May 31, 2007. She wrote a terrific piece about the luncheon, sponsored by Atria Books.

Here are my own BEA highlights:

This was the first time Blair, Steve and I appeared in public to promote our erotic mystery, CASANEGRA: A TENNYSON HARDWICK NOVEL--which, incidentally, is now available on and (It should be in bookstores any time...)
We knew the room would be aflutter because Blair's presence always brings out the flutter in people, but the event was even more exciting than I had anticipated. Here's why:

** The three of us have always had great chemistry, but aside from Hollywood pitch meetings, we haven't had many opportunities to "strut our stuff" in public. The topic of the panel was "Writing Outside of Your Comfort Zone," and one of the questions was about the greatest challenges--and the greatest benefits--of our new project together.
As for challenges...well, let's just say that I once had a very personal writing process, so collaboration did not always come easily to me. I have really sharpened my skills since I've been working in Hollywood, which is Collaboration Central. I mentioned that Steve and I had a few arguments when we first started collaborating on screenplays, and the two of us also had a few minor disagreements in the formation stages of Casanegra. It's always tough to find a shared vision, no matter how close you are. That's probably the hardest part.
As for the benefits? I was sitting BETWEEN Blair and Steve at the table, so I rested one hand on Steve's back and one on Blair's with a huge grin on my face:
"Lucky me!" I said.
The audience laughed. Enough said. Working with two handsome and dynamic men is never boring, and my point was plain as day.

**It was a real treat to meet erotica writer Zane, who was also on our panel. Some of you may not have read Zane, but you need to know her name. She is a one-woman industry unto herself, with her own line of books at Atria and a whole slate of media projects she is storming Hollywood with. Zane is pleasant, gracious and demure. And she is committed to helping other writers fulfill their dreams, a truly admirable trait. And her new advice book, Dear G-Spot, is getting good reviews as well as good buzz!

**If you haven't read Nathan McCall's Makes Me Wanna Holler, you really should. Even as someone who was raised by civil rights activists, Nathan's smart insight into black male rage in America opened my eyes in new ways. Nathan was on our panel promoting his first novel, entitled Them, which is going to blow audiences away yet again. Nathan is a terrific and important writer, and it was a pleasure to share a panel with him.

**There is a new writer named Stacey Patton who is publishing her first memoir, That Mean Old Yesterday, and her presence on the panel infused it with a sense of both freshness and gravitas. Her memoir recounts a painful childhood and a legacy of physical abuse with roots in American slavery. It was lovely, and heartbreaking, to hear her tell her story. She is brilliant, lovely woman who has overcome adversity with her heart and soul intact.

**The Rock Bottom Remainders: I don't think I've ever mentioned it on my website, but over the years I have been privileged to sing backup, dance and even play keyboards with the Rock Bottom Remainders, organized by author Kathi Goldmark. Even if you've never heard them play, you might have heard of the band members: Stephen King. Dave Barry. Ridley Pearson. Mitch Albom. Scott Turow. Amy Tan. And others.
I first met Stephen King while playing with the Rock Bottom Remainders, and through that contact he was gracious enough to read and blurb my second novel, MY SOUL TO KEEP.
Aside from that, as someone who would trade my writing talent for more musical talent any day (sorry), it has been a dream come true to stand on a stage with these writer/musicians, and performers like now-deceased rock legend Warren Zevon, to experience the heady rush that comes from playing and singing music on a stage.
Steve and I stopped by during the rehearsal and sound check at Webster Hall to say hello. I'd been invited to sing backup during the concert later that night, but I ultimately couldn't make it because of exhaustion (I was in bed by 9:30!). But it brought back a rush of memories to have the chance to climb on the stage one more time, however briefly, and stand beside Kathi and Amy to sing back-up and play a kazoo while the band rocked on.
Needless to say, any chance I have to say hello to Stephen King is precious to me. Without King's work to tickle my imagination, I don't know that I ever would have discovered my love for writing novels about the supernatural. King hasn't performed with the Remainders nearly as frequently since his devastating accident...and you've got to see the bliss on the man's face while he's up there on stage. Music has its own magic. King was as excited to meet Warren Zevon for the first time as I was to meet him!
Dave Barry first invited me to jump on stage with the band about ten years ago, while we were both working for The Miami Herald and I ran into him in the company cafeteria. (It just goes to show, folks: Even if you're really shy about asking a question, it never hurts. Next thing I knew, I was playing a keyboard in front of my first live audience!)
Wish I'd seen the concert last Friday night. I know they were great.
Thanks for the memories, gang! Hope to play with you again.
(One of these days, I'm going to post an audio link so you can hear Tina Turner's version of "Proud Mary" I recorded--with Warren Zevon singing Ike's part--for Kathi Goldmark's Don't Quit Your Day Job Records. The CD features several writers singing, including Norman Mailer, Maya Angelou, Dave Barry, Stephen King, and others. It's a real hoot! You can grab a copy of this rare CD for yourself at

That's my BEA roundup! Can't wait for BEA in Los Angeles next year.


The Publishers Weekly piece follows:

The Book Maven

Bethanne Patrick
Book Expo 2007: Atria's African-American Luncheon May 31, 2007
Today I attended the African-American Booksellers Luncheon (sponsored by Atria this year) -- far and away the most congenial BEA event, open to all and always fresh and interesting.
The theme for 2007 was "Writing Outside of Your Comfort Zone," with panelists Nathan McCall, Stacey Patton, Zane, and the writing team of Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due, & Steven Barnes, along with moderator Adrienne Ingrum. Everyone on the panel has written a new book in a genre different from their previous one:
-- McCall, a journalist and the author the autobiography Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America, has a debut novel coming out in October called Them.
-- Patton, a journalist and academic, has a memoir called That Mean Old Yesterday due out in September.
-- The ever-prolific and adaptable Zane will release her first nonfiction title, Dear G-Spot, in July (just wait until you see the fabulous cover!).
-- Due, Underwood, and Barnes have collaborated on a new mystery series called Casanegra (and yes, Blair Underwood is that Blair Underwood -- but besides star turns on Sex in the City and Madea's Family Reunion, he is the author of Before I Got Here: The Wondrous Things We Hear When We Listen to the Souls of Our Children), the first mystery series for any of them.
A few fun quotes and moments from the standing-room-only crowd in the large ballroom where the luncheon was held:
-- After Steven Barnes decried the lack of creation stories for African-Americans, there were shouts of "Preach it!" from the crowd.
-- Zane, just about everyone's favorite erotic author, saying of herself, "I'm no sexologist!" but also pointing out that her book's cover (with its gorgeous photo of a woman's torso) is much hotter than anything from "Dr. Ruth or Dr. Phil."
-- Stacey Patton describing a newspaper assignment in which she interviewed an older man whose shoeshine business was about to be shut down because of new construction: "We talked about shoes all day... and I finally felt I had stepped into his life... that was a powerful moment."
-- Tananarive Due telling the story of an email from a reader who said that after reading one of Due's books, she (the reader) felt able to cope with and fight off an attacker. "That's the kind of reader I want."
-- Nathan McCall responding to a submitted question about potential reader disappointment when an author tries something new: "Our primary responsbility as artists is to write the book we would want to reader."
Sing it, Brother McCall. Thanks, Atria Books, for a wonderful kick-off to this year's BEA.