The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, July 06, 2007

Note to Frank, and on CASANEGRA

I want to clarify something to Frank. On re-thinking, it wasn’t four “ex-CIA” guys I heard/saw claiming Plame was covert. It was three, plus my friend who is former Military Intel. Only two of them claimed to have specific knowledge—the other two were guessing based upon what they knew of the case. And there is a possibility that someone was lying, of course. I didn’t/couldn’t check credentials. Two of them were on the radio, one on television. It all seemed legit, but because we are discussing things that are critical to the safety of our country, I wanted to be super-clear, and as honest as I could be.
Boy, Amazon is great. I’ve been watching the numbers on CASANEGRA bob up and down. Got down to 935 yesterday. Blair did Entertainment Tonight and is doing another huge show on Monday. I think People magazine is coming up next week…

I appreciate folks coming to my defense about CASANEGRA when a poster seemed to criticize our decision to work with Blair. Warms my little heart.

But there is one thing clear about such critics: they are NEVER professional writers. They may be intelligent readers, or unpublished writers. But they are in delusion about what the professional life is.

There is no war between art and commerce, unless it is in the heart of the artist. I can always create something that is EXACTLY what I want to write. Might not be able to get it published, but hell, who cares about little things like that?

There are apparently a few writers who can write exactly what they want, with literally no thought to the market at all, and make plenty of $$.

Great. But unless you are independently wealthy, you had BETTER take the audience into account. Shakespeare certainly did. Twain certainly did. Hell, the Sistine Chapel ceiling was painted for money.

Anyone who thinks that my art is more important than my family doesn’t understand me at all. My art is my life. My life is my art. Writing is just a facet. My art is, (in Larry Niven’s words) “Life lived as a tapestry.” With the greatest degree of grace and power and contribution and joy I can manage.

I have rent to pay, a daughter to put through college, a son to raise, a wife to cherish, family and friends to assist in any way I can. For almost thirty years, I’ve been the only black male SF writer in the field, and have used every trick of mental conditioning, goal setting, emotional cleansing and networking I could manage to keep going.

Last year, I came to believe that I could never reach financial security in the SF field. Not that many do, but I’d always believed that if I was good enough, and worked hard enough, long enough, I could. I no longer believe that, due to some very basic human wiring that unfortunately works against me.

But I’m not a quitter. I really don’t know how to stop, once I’m in a fight. So I wanted to try Mysteries, which I believe has greater acceptance of non-European characters. I tried several contemporary novels (THE KUNDALINI EQUATION, BLOOD BROTHERS, IRON SHADOWS) and wasn’t happy with the results—great reviews, no sales.

Hmm. One of the problems was that the book buyers at Barnes and Nobel just didn’t know me in this new guise. They literally just didn’t buy the books. They never had a chance.

Hmmm. So…what to do? Can’t stay exclusively in SF. Can’t find the right opening for a sideways move. This is kinda scary.

Ten years ago, Tananarive optioned MY SOUL TO KEEP to Blair Underwood. She had written the “David” character with Blair in mind, so it was a perfect fit. Over the decade, we’ve gotten to know and admire him. He’s a shark, but he’s an honest shark with great integrity. As long as you don’t jump in the water with an open wound, you’re all right. In fact, I find him delightful.

I’m not a shark. More of a dolphin, I’d say. Dolphins build community, and a dolphin community does quite well with sharks, thank you. We are cautious of them, but understand they are of the natural order. As long as you take responsibility for yourself, Sharks are perfectly cool.

At any rate, one day Blair came to T and asked her to write an historical novel with him, set in New Orleans in the 19th century. I suggested that if T was going to invest the year necessary to write a book, it should have the potential to make a series, to create a platform that might bring us to a new audience, allow us to write new things.

She agreed, and I shared my thoughts on mystery and suspense—a genre I dearly, dearly love. We sketched out some ideas, and presented them to Blair. He’s quick on the uptake, and made great suggestions of his own. We re-worked the character and the world, and began working.

Blair contributes characterization notes, and knowledge of Hollywood’s paler side. I had a big chunk of responsibility for plot, research, and of course the action sequences. And Tananarive pulled off a miracle with her blitzing First Draft attack. What a woman! You really should have seen her.

At any rate, once we decided to do this, the only question was creating the best book possible. The three-way partnership, and Blair’s participation, gave the book a special cache, a marketing hook that would take it beyond what New York can typically do.

This is a fairly new business model. We don’t know what will happen with it, but I already get queries from other writers wanting to copy it. Hah! Good luck. If you have a ten-year relationship with a star, such that there is real trust and communication, you can do this. Otherwise, I’d think it a pig in a poke. Whatever the hell that means.
We have plans for numerous future books, dealing with Hollywood, Black Hollywood, social issues and spectacular crimes and criminals. Maybe even a little espionage, if I can integrate some of what I’m learning from “Hughie” my Military Intel friend.

Only some, though. Some of what I’ve learned, believe me, you don’t want to know.
At any rate, I am perfectly aware of the tightrope walk I’m performing, trying to balance my inner and outer worlds as an artist. It is an intoxicating challenge. Hell, last night I saw my book front-and-center on Entertainment Tonight. How many writers have ever done that?

But there are dangers to the artistic spirit. I’ll try to navigate these water carefully.

Capsizing is a definite risk.

And like I said: there are sharks in the water.

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