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 Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. (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 www.dqydj.com.)
That's my BEA roundup! Can't wait for BEA in Los Angeles next year.
The Publishers Weekly piece follows:
The Book Maven
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.