Reading Circle Pages

Search This Blog

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Essence Book Club News! (and a dab of football & TV)

Lots of great news in the past few days—and utterly unexpected.

In December, my ghost story "Ghost Summer" will be published in a book of novellas called The Ancestors (Kensington). The anthology includes me, L.A. Banks and Brandon Massey. We're kind of a literary family, so we decided to do a project together.

What do we have in common? We all write supernatural and paranormal fiction with black and multi-ethnic protagonists. Urban paranormal. Supernatural suspense. (Yikes—in some circles, even called horror!) And we've been doing it for a long time.

L.A. Banks has set publishing on fire with her New York Times bestselling Vampire Huntress Legends series. Brandon Massey writes awesome supernatural/suspense novels like Don't Ever Tell and The Other Brother, and his Dark Dreams anthologies have enlivened the genre, shining a light on talented supernatural writers like Terence Taylor, Linda Addison, Christopher Chambers, Robert Fleming and Michael Boatman. (Yes, the actor. Also a writer.)

And I’ve been writing about my own ghosts, curses, gifts and demons. My latest solo novel, Blood Colony, is about African immortals with healing blood, a follow-up to My Soul to Keep and The Living Blood.

I blurbed the first L.A. Banks and Brandon Massey novels—Minion and Thunderland, respectively—so I like to pat myself on the back for having the good sense to recognize talent and drive when I see it.

Slowly but surely, the audience has been growing. Even the great Octavia E. Butler wrote her own unique version of a vampire story in her last novel, Fledgling. (If you haven't read it…why not?)

Still, don't think we chose a well-paved road. It has been bumpy. Any reader who has ever argued on behalf of our novels at book clubs meetings knows that we haven't always been an easy sell. ("It's about WHAT?")

We know. It has been lonely, at times, to write what we do. We have all traded advice and war stories. And one day, we all said, "Hey, let's do a book together."

Well, we just learned that The Ancestors is the January ’09 pick for the Essence Book Club. We're grinning ear to ear. We didn't expect it.

I feel doubly blessed. Last summer, my mystery novel Casanegra—the predecessor to In the Night of the Heat, was picked by the Essence Book Club too. Ironically, Casanegra is also a collaboration—with my husband, Steven Barnes, and actor Blair Underwood.

Hmmm. What's the lesson from this happy surprise?

There is power in numbers? Readers will find you, so keep on writing?

We're just all so grateful for your support as readers over the years.

Thanks to you, The Ancestors will be out in December.

Sweet dreams.



The Miami Dolphins—who had been winless for twenty of their last twenty-one games—just gave the New England Patriots a legendary beating that has been the talk of sports television and radio. Some New England fans must be crying. As a Dolphins fan, I know how losses like that feel. (See my 12/16/07 blog on the agony of the 2007 season.)

So this win is not only big for Miami fans—it’s BIG, period. The Patriots! Last year’s Super Bowl contenders, who came within a fingernail of obliterating the Dolphins’ long-standing distinction as they only undefeated NFL team in a season, played like the 2007 Miami Dolphins. Trust me, that’s not a compliment.

It’s hard to fit it all in my head: The Miami Dolphins embarrassed New England 38-13. On New England’s home field. And no, the game was not just a dream—although that notion recurred persistently as I watched the rout.

Anything is possible.

Yes, we can.



I’m about to write my first television script! Steven Barnes, my husband, was just named story editor on BET’s “Hannibal” animated series, executive produced and directed by Vin Diesel—who will also voice the older version of African conqueror Hannibal. Steve and I are collaborating on a script, and we’re very excited. Watch for “Hannibal” in 2009!

**Blair Underwood will appear on "Live With Regis and Kelly" Friday, Oct. 3 to talk about In the Night of the Heat, our collaborative mystery novel. Don't forget to watch! (And see Blair's recent appearance on the "Today" show posted below...)

**I don’t want to miss Angela Bassett’s debut on NBC’s “ER” Sept. 25—all the more fun because she’s cast alongside true-life husband Courtney B. Vance, who will play her…husband! What a treat! I don’t know the storyline, but it’s bound to be powerfully acted. I’m one of the few people who has never seen an episode of “ER.” Guess I’m watching now.

** One word: “Dexter.” If you’re curious, rent Season 1 on DVD and see what all the fuss is about. Dare you to stop watching. The Season 3 premiere is Sept. 28 on Showtime.

**You know I’ll be watching Blair Underwood on ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money” Oct. 1. The billboards for “Dirty, Sexy” are up all over Hollywood. Great cast also includes Lucy Liu, Peter Krause and Donald Sutherland. Blair has a meaty role—a multilingual billionaire who is the main family’s nemesis. Go, Blair! Even if you missed last season, you’ll catch up.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Blair Underwood discusses IN THE NIGHT OF THE HEAT on "Today"

Hello, readers--
It's hard to beat the fun of waking up in the morning to find Blair Underwood on national television talking about our new Tennyson Hardwick novel, In the Night of the Heat. The interview was fun, so I thought I'd share it! (Did anyone else see it?)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

New novel excerpt: IN THE NIGHT OF THE HEAT

Wow--time really flies!

I couldn't believe it when I checked and saw that In the Night of the Heat, my newest Tennyson Hardwick novel with Blair Underwood and my husband, Steven Barnes, is already in stock. Its official on-sale date is September 16!
With that kick in the pants, I thought I'd better post an excerpt and let readers know that this novel is about to drop. And here's a hint: It sounds like hype, but this novel is better than Casanegra, in our humble opinions. The story is better. The cover is better, as you can see for yourselves. And get this: The novel comes with its own suggested MP3 soundtrack you can download for yourselves to listen to while you read [see the list of songs at the very front of the novel, after the dedication]--Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Kanye West, Isaac Hayes, Alicia Keys, and lots more! I always listen to music while I'm writing, so this time we decided to make the soundtrack a part of the novel so it feels like a movie inside and out.
The story, as always, is ripped from real-life headlines. In Casanegra, we fictionalized the LAPD-hip hop connection that made headlines after the murder of Biggie Smalls.
In this new novel, Tennyson is asked to solve the murder of a football icon and film star recently acquitted in the murder of his ex-wife and her fiance--and Tennyson realizes that he can't solve T.D. Jackson's murder unless he can answer the question that captivated a nation: Who killed his wife?
Is it steamy? Guess you'll have to read the book for yourselves.
Here's an excerpt from Chapter One:
April didn’t use the doorbell anymore, not since I had given her a key. At ten after seven, she let herself in after two quick, shy knocks.

Who is THAT? I thought in the millisecond before I remembered she was my girl. April had changed her hairstyle, framing her face with chin-length braids in the front, elegantly styled into a shorter page-boy style in the back. Her haircut made a dramatic shift on her face, from cute and girlish to queenly. For a year solid, I hadn’t touched anyone else. Monogamy was the last thing I’d expected in this lifetime.

My girl. My girlfriend. My life had a new vocabulary.

April undressed herself bit by bit as she crossed the room toward me; her jacket on the coat rack, her hat on the sofa. April’s ivory sweater, stretched tautly across her bosom, made me wish we were on our way upstairs. April docked herself against me. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. Her lips brushed too quickly across mine. “You won’t believe...”

I interrupted her, holding her still for a kiss with a little flavor. Her lips relaxed, offering nectar. Then she pulled away shyly, as she always did when Dad was nearby. April was smiling, but she wasn’t planning to stay. I could see it in her eyes.

“So get this: The brother’s car blew up,” April went on. “They chase him for nearly eight miles, and his Ferrari flips into a ditch. This poor old lady he broadsided on La Cienega might not wake up, but of course he walks away without a scratch.”

April’s stories from work made me feel tired. After staring down a gun-barrel in the desert that day, I felt no schadenfreude. But April hadn’t been with me in the desert. She was a police reporter, and death entertained her just fine.

“They’re lucky nobody got killed,” April went on. “These police chases are out of control. Yeah, he robbed a bank, but sometimes guilty people go free. Deal with it.”

“Saw it on TV,” Dad called from the kitchen.

Dad had hooked April up with police sources more than once, old buddies from his Hollywood division, many of whom had risen high on the ladder and were willing to speak off the record. Retired Captain Richard Allen Hardwick and April Forrest were becoming a formidable team.

“Where’s Chela?” April asked me.

“Chess club, ‘til eight-thirty. She said not to wait.”

April lowered her chin, skeptical. “Chess?”

“I bribed her into giving it a try.”

“How much of a bribe?”

Dad wheeled himself into the dining room, a large plate of warm nachos on his lap. Suddenly, I was surrounded by observers.

“An iPhone,” I said. “Let’s eat.”

“Plainfoolishness,” Dad said, or something like it. With words at easy disposal, Dad would have been ranting. A nascent rant glimmered in his eyes. April sighed, too. Tag-team.

The fact was, it was Chela’s second chess club meeting in a month, which was more commitment than she had given the drama club. Chela needed to buy into something new, and chess had a nice ring to it. Better, by far, than her former hobbies. Besides, Chela hadn’t come around to liking April yet, and wasn’t sorry to miss Thursday dinner.

For now, separate corners worked best.

Dad mumbled grace too low to hear, the only time he spoke at length without self-consciousness. We couldn’t quite make out the words, but the gratitude in his voice needed no translation.
“Amen,” he finished.

April’s face lit up. “Oh, Ten, don’t forget—the Tau fund-raiser is tomorrow night.”

I searched my memory, and came up dry.

“The scholarship fund, remember? You signed up for the celebrity booth. People come up and take pictures with you. The committee chair loves ‘Homeland,’ and she was so excited when I said you’d come. Give me the dates for your episodes, and she’ll have all our sorors Tivo you.”

I’d forgotten all about the fund-raiser. When April’s work week ended, her community work began. Her exhausting schedule was one of the reasons we saw so little of each other.

“So you’re tied up tomorrow night?” I said.

“But if you’re there with me...” she said playfully, and grinned. Her dimples wrestled the disappointment right out of me.

“Okay.” It was hard to say no to April, another growing problem.

I felt Dad beaming silently across the table. He must have thought he’d arrived in Heaven early. If police captains had the same powers as ship captains, he would have married me to April on the spot. He'd just heard me commit my Friday night to a scholarship fund-raiser hosted by one of the country’s most prestigious black fraternities, Tau Alpha Gamma. Dad was a Tau, too, but I had refused to pledge during my year in college, mainly because I knew how badly he wanted me to. Dad never left the house except to see his doctor, so I knew better than to invite him.

“Thanks, Ten.” April draped an arm over me when she kissed my cheek, which gave me hope that she might come upstairs after dinner. “Guess who else committed today? T.D. Jackson.” Her voice soured. “He must be on a goodwill tour before his trial. You know it must be for a good cause if I can stand to be in the same room with him. I’ll have to meditate first.”

T.D. Jackson. Fallen football and action star, accused of murdering his ex-wife and her fiancé. Despite a mountan of physical and circumstantial evidence, he'd been acquitted in the criminal trial six months before. No surprise there. The rich and famous rarely go to prison. Justice would have another crack at him, though: The civil trial would begin in a week.

Twenty years before that, T.D. Jackson lived in my dormitory suite for about three months while I was at Southern California State. He was a star from the moment he set foot on campus. What I remember most was the parade of girls to and from his door. Once, I ran into him in the bathroom as he flushed a condom away at six in the morning. The lazy sneer on his face said: Most of you losers aren’t even out of bed yet, and I’ve already been laid.

T.D. Jackson made April crazy. The thought that he had gotten away with abusing and finally killing an upstanding sister seemed to keep her awake at night, as if his very existence set back the progress of civilization. Her teeth were already grinding.

“Innocent until proven guilty,” I reminded her.

Dad and April both made comments, but they kept them under their breath. The guilt or innocence of T.D. Jackson and what his case did or didn’t say about the roles of race and gender in the criminal justice system had already spiced our dinner conversations.

But I was glad I would run into T.D. again. I didn’t expect him to remember me, but I looked forward to shaking his hand and staring into his eyes. Wondered what I would see there. If I was right, T.D.’s eyes would probably broadcast the same thing April had just told me herself:
Sometimes guilty people go free. Shit happens.

Deal with it.
© Copyright 2008 by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes