The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, June 29, 2007

No more teasing...Here's what's up

Thank you for the prayers and good thoughts.
Two and a half years ago, Tananarive and I moved to Southern California. My intent was to work my way back into Hollywood—I’d walked away from it ten years ago to raise Nicki in Washington. The first thing I learned was that the model for writing television had changed: it was mostly done by staff, and they didn’t hire people over 40 for writing staffs. So…I was SCREWED, and had had no idea of this when I moved down.
So we concentrated on the two avenues said to be open to us: creating a new series, and feature film.
In film, T and I pitched, among other things, a feature version of her novel THE GOOD HOUSE. With GOOD HOUSE, among others we had Forest Whitaker attached as producer: he helped us develop the material, and opened some doors.
We pitched it five times, I think, and one of those was at Fox Searchlight, where T’s book MY SOUL TO KEEP is in development. Fox wanted GOOD HOUSE.
That day was glorious. Peter Rice, president of Searchlight, shook our hands personally. Forest introduced me to Steven Spielberg in the commissary. It felt as if the sky had opened and the sun had begun to shine. Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
Unfortunately, the deals were a bit difficult to work out, and all of them were contingent upon each other—in other words, until EVERYONE’S deal was made and signed, no one got dollar one.
I will draw a bit of a veil across what happened next. Catch me some time at a con, and I’ll be happy to tell you. There are limits to what I’ll say publicly.
Let’s just say it was all enormously frustrating to nail down every deal point, and get everyone to sign. It took over TWO YEARS to get everything in line.
But yesterday, the final paperwork arrived at Searchlight. What happens next is anyone’s guess, but the following things are now true:
1) T and I have sold a script to Fox Searchlight, one of the best movie-makers in town.
2) Academy Award-Winner Forest Whitaker is signed to direct or produce.
3) This is all happening the same week our CASANEGRA is in USAToday. Blair will be in PEOPLE magazine promoting it. And Regis. We’re doing NPR, and
4) We’ve sold the second novel, IN THE NIGHT OF THE HEAT, for a healthy six-figures.

There are still stresses, of course. Always will be. But right now, things are looking pretty damned good.

Again, thank everyone out there for your prayers and support and friendship. This has been a fantastically difficult passage.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


d a conversation with a friend yesterday, the subject being a disagreement we’d had a couple of weeks back. He took the position that members of a particular social class react as “X” in a particular situation. I disagreed, and thought there would be more flexibility.
And that disagreement made it very difficult to continue the conversation. It it difficult to discuss this without falling into “I’m right, He’s wrong.” So…let me try to say how it LOOKS to me, with full acknowledgement that I might be seeing it all through a twisted lens.
My friend seems to have that “If you disagree with me, you’re either stupid, or deliberately being contrary” attitude that highly politicized people get. It’s the “my opponents are either fools or knaves” thing you hear on Talk Radio so much. If I disagree, it must be that I don’t understand the argument. If I understand, I am being insulting to say “in your opinion” or “you feel” or “you believe” because from his perspective, his position is FACT. If I suggest an experiment to test the contention, he grows agitated, insists that we can’t get a truthful reaction from the target group. All right, that may be true. Personally, I’m willing to take the position that we simply disagree. But my friend seems to feel that the mere fact that I disagreed is somehow deeply offensive.

Again, this is all my POV.
But if I’m correct, my best guess is that my friend is deeply insecure, has no real confidence in his worldview, and is covering up deep and destructive fear with intellectual bravado. I can’t imagine that he spends much time around people who are intellectually challenging.
This is sad, because I really want to help my friend through some issues, and am growing afraid of any conflict at all. Does anyone out there know someone like this?
Today in USAToday, CASANEGRA is on the first page of the Life section! I love it when a plan comes together. You can check the article out at:

The thing that’s so much fun about this is that, while Tananarive, Blair and I designed CASANEGRA as a commercial product to take advantage of our skills and allies, I’ve wanted to create a contemporary hero for years, and found myself stymied by the fact that I was categorized as a “science fiction writer.” So there are ways that CASANEGRA is pure labor of love, a dream deferred. It already has six reviews on Amazon (all five star) and most of them are from guys. GREAT! Tooling through the internet, I find references to the book, with women talking about how they’re going to give copies to their brothers, husbands, and boyfriends.
Please stand by for some big, big news—supposed to happen today. PLEASE keep your fingers crossed—this one’s been percolating for over two years!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

F is for Final Draft

My work, whether books, screenplays, stories, or
whatever, are written using two different software
programs: Microsoft Word, and Final Draft.

I love Final Draft because it is a piece of "vertical
market" software that was written for writers,
created for creators. Because of that, it has some
interesting functions that we will discuss. Those
functions dove-tail beautifully with the way I
choose to work.

First of all, I'm not exactly recommending my
method to others. What I AM doing is suggesting
that you find your own way, a path that allows
you optimal access to your particular creative flow.

That said...

Final Draft has one function in particular that I
love. It's three basic modes (script, outline,
and index cards) allows me to "toggle" back
and forth between them, to look at my story as
either text, or blocks of text under major
headings. If I make the index cards small
enough, this allows me to see an entire book,
or movie, on screen at the same time. When
I do this, it seems to allow my deep mind, the
true creative self, to sense the flow of the
entire project, to grasp the whole instead of
being mired in the parts.

One of my favorite tools for plotting is a stack
of 3 X 5 cards wrapped with a rubber band. I
can just write down any scenes that come to
mind, and continuously re-arrange them until
I have a stack of 30-100 cards that contain a
complete story. Then I can transfer that
information to Final Draft, and re-examine it.
And then look at it again in script form, and
slowly begin to build it up to a finished product.
Now, this is where it gets kind of interesting.
A novel contains (according to Steven King),
dialogue, description, and narrative. A script
primarily contains just two of these: dialogue
and narrative. There isn't much description,
and therefore you can create a short-hand
version of a novel in a month or two. Looking
at your story in the form of a script, you can
see if the characters work, and are balanced.
If the story works in the ways you need it to,
if the ebb and flow of tension seems to be
spot-on. If it is...

Well, then I import the document into Microsoft
Word, and spend a few months expanding it
out into a novel, tightening and tweaking.
Along the way new scenes will come to me. In
a novel, there is room to expand and play. But
the important thing is that I have perfected the
spine of my book in only 30-60 days. The
rest of the work is easy, just "texturizing" until
the screenplay becomes a book. I can go into
my characters internally, take side-trips, write
leisurely descriptions...just have fun, really.

I've done about eight books this way, and it
just works.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I Hate Hypocrisy

This morning, listening to Air America, Rachel Maddow was talking about Fred Thompson’s dating life. Apparently in the 1990’s he was a swingin’ bachelor, and racked up a serious conquest list. And his exes are apparently quite complementary.
At any rate, Rachel made some noises about how it was hypocritical for Republicans to support Thompson when they criticized Clinton for his womanizing.
Excuse me? Clinton was married. Thompson was not. I fail to see any similarity at all, and that’s the kind of thing that drove me away from Right-Wing radio. Dammit, I just hate politics—I really think it motivates people to lie and twist the truth to elect “their” candidate. Feh.
By the way--anyone out there have an opinion on Thompson? I know some people who respect him highly.
Was at a tremendous martial arts workshop over the weekend. Graciella Cassilas (Kali), Dr. Ron Chapel (Kenpo), Ahati Kilindi (African fighting sciences), and others made it an entertaining, occasionally bruising weekend. Dr. Chapel demonstrated a cavity strike knock-out on a rather dumb-ass participant (a certain science fiction writer), and THAT made for a woozy ride home. Boy oh boy, it felt great to climb in the hot tub Sunday night…
Everything’s going well with CASANEGRA. The publicity doesn’t really kick off until next month, but we’re doing a USAToday interview today, did Black Issues Book Review yesterday (cover story), while Blair is doing Regis and Kelly, the Today show, and We may have created a new business model here—and it’s fun to watch people react to it. William Shatner seemed to have done something similar with “Tekwar”—that is, started with an idea, had a couple of writers flesh it out, and then go on to leverage the book into a Sci Fi channel series. Smart.
We’re doing something similar, but different in some key ways. Since I really don’t know the behind-the-scenes on Tekwar, I can’t comment with any authority.
Adam Crafter sent me his first month’s results from I.F. I spoke with him yesterday, and apparently the techs supervising his little experiment were simply shocked at the results, which included two kiligrams of fat loss and an increase in bone density. Personally, I worked out all day Saturday with absolutely no sense of weakness, and almost no hunger. I watched the others have lunch and felt almost serene. Odd.
The general impression remains that I.F. triggers your body into trying to turn you into a more efficient hunter-gatherer. That means all health buttons are go, but senses also sharper, energy higher, reflexes faster. Ordinarily, the body seems to have to make a choice between health and fitness, but this doesn’t seem to play by those rules.
I figure I’m going to be balls-to-the-wall with writing until next March, at which time I might really…genuinely…be able to take a little rest. The amount of work I’ve been producing is just about at my limit. I’m afraid that there’s so much of it that some might be getting short shrift. Really hope not, but the possibility is real.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Lifewriting core principles

Lynn asked if I could share more about E.C, my student with PTSD. The simple answer is: no, I really can’t, but if E.C. reads these words I ask that she step forward and comment.

What I can say is that I have students choose subjects for their writing that involve personal wounds, having their characters walk the same paths they themselves have walked—or wish to walk. The basic steps are:
1) formulate your goals and vision for the rest of your life.
2) Understand the intermediate steps necessary to take you there. (Don’t worry, goals and steps always change in time, but the process of clarification is vital)
3) Adopt a 1% attitude. (Small changes, over time, will take you where you want to go.)
4) Develop a meditation practice, and begin looking more closely at your motivations and actions. Where do you diverge from the path that will take you to health in all three arenas?
5) Choose a problem area, and delve deeply enough to find a “knot” in your behaviors, beliefs, value hierarchy, etc. that inhibits your growth.
6) Write a story about a person with this problem. Use the Hero’s Journey pattern to be certain your character has accepted responsibility for her life (Adulthood), is taking actions and gathering new allies, is faced with absolute failure, clarifies their faith and keeps going. If they can’t get through the barrier, clarify the character’s goals and get them better internal/external allies, then have them try again. More clarity and better allies. Repeat this process until their goals and actions are in alignment.

Now, personally, I think that the universe works in such a way that when you do this, you vastly increase your chances of achieving your goals. VASTLY. But that’s my belief. Yours may be that the universe is not just cold and random, but malicious. Personally, I’ve met a number of such people, and in every case thought they were extremely confused and damaged—there were obvious solutions to their problems that they could not access due to lack of clarity, fear, loss of faith, internal dishonesty, confusion of responsibility, etc.

As with the FEAR REMOVAL process, this approach is quite generative. As you study the Hero’s Journey in all of its expressions, and also examine the seven levels of characterization (The Chakras) it will become easier to spot the area of damage.
HERE’S A HINT: if you can identify a damaged “chakra”, concentrate your efforts on the chakras to either side. We have a lot of redundancy built into us—if you do an “end run” around the damage you’ll find your system starting to heal.

One way to do this is to define CLEARLY what your life would be like if you didn’t have the damage. Go after this life with a vengeance. In small increments, begin to re-claim the damaged territory, at a rate of 1% a week. Use Fear Removal to process the pain.

Intermittent Fasting is kind of a “nuke” here, in the sense that you can access some pretty core programming pretty quickly. In addition, you gain extra time for planning and meditation. Just a thought.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

No pleasing Barnes, or stopping Curious George

A note from a student:

“Dear Mr. Barnes,

Words cannot describe the sense of completion I have now that I've finished (her new story). I feel like I've gone through the Hero's Journey. I have become a teacher.

Your homework prompt, DVDs, and emails forced me to write from my life. It was frightening at first. I do say, PTSD is not a pretty face to wake up to.

When it hit me that I could write it under a pseudonym, my fear left. Ten years this story has festered in my head until finally, it's got a voice.

Lifewriting works. Thank you.

Thanks, E.C. nice to know I’ve been able to pass on the wealth of knowledge I was entrusted with…
Having a three year old, I end up watching a lot of kiddy-vision. Luckily, I’ve been able to avoid a certain purple dinosaur, who gets on my nerves, for some reason. Maybe it’s a lurking suspicion that Barney is playing with his food. Not sure.

At any rate, Jason loves Curious George, and I have to admit for sharing a certain affection myself. George has all of the qualities I love in a 3 to 5 year old. And of course, people give him the kind of responsibilities one would ordinarily only give a teenager. And most interestingly, George is the freaking Aristotle of monkeys. I mean, his learning curve is simply beyond belief. George can learn to manage a trainyard in minutes, fly a rocket in hours, has the emotional intelligence to manage a dozen dogs in an afternoon.

The Man With The Yellow Hat, on the other hand, has one critical personality characteristic: he has infinite patience. Except for the Will Ferrell-voiced theatrical version (where, scandalously, The Man With The Yellow Hat was actually given a name: Ted. What were they thinking?) where TMWTYH displayed a bit of snittishness a time or two, he’s a perfect parent. Which makes me wonder why he isn’t married, but that’s another subject.

George’s world is interesting as well. The ethnic diversity is simply astounding, actually more genetic variance than I’ve seen in any city I’ve ever visited. I don’t know who does the character designs, but they definitely have an agenda: the screen explodes with brown people, composed in almost every shot. (Compare this with the theatrical version, which has fewer minorities than one finds in the real New York—this is the typical animation routine, which makes PBS’s program all the more startling.)

Compare this with, say “The Flintstones” or “The Jetsons”, both of whom lived in completely segregated worlds. In fact, the “Jetsons” movie was so typical of classic science fiction in this regard that I almost (ALMOST) wondered if it was deliberate. There were many hundreds, if not thousands, of human character designs. All were either white, or imaginary creatures.

Now, one of the things about “George’s” diversity that amuses me is the fact that the voice actors all seem to be white. This is so different from much of what I’ve seen over the years that it stands out. Black voice actors seem to be more present in voice-over work in CGI and animation than in actual feature films. James Earl Jones in “Star Wars” and Roscoe Lee Browne as the voice of “Box” in Logan’s Run were two early examples of this tendency.

The popularity of black music with white faces on the album (in the 50’s and 60’s) and the number of black-starring movie posters where they bleached out the faces of the actors led me to my first theoretical model of race relations and media: that there was a “flinch” response to the actual skin color.

Back to George. Worst case scenario: negative portrayals of black people. Medium bad: No black people at all. Medium good: black people portrayed, with white voice actors. Best: black people portrayed, with black voice actors.

In the last and best scenario, not only are blacks being represented as part of the human family, but black voice actors are given work, allowing them to support their families and send their children to college. Unless they got equal work portraying WHITE people in cartoons, of course. In which case we’ve entered a different, and possibly better world. In that case, I guess anyone can portray anyone, right?

If Vin Diesel can play an Italian mobster in “Find Me Guilty,” then I suppose it’s o.k. for Angelina Jolie to play Mariane Pearl in “A Mighty Heart.” Maybe. I’d feel more comfortable if there were more good roles for black actresses.

But then, if they HAD cast a black woman in that role, as the widow of Daniel Pearl, I’d probably complain about black women boffing white guys. See there? Just no pleasing Barnes…

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Four days off I.F.

I had four days of lazy eating habits right around Father’s Day (Nicki was going out of town, so we kind of celebrated early on Thursday. Then “cheat day” Friday, and Saturday was fun…oh well.

Felt bloated by Sunday, and had gained about 5 pounds (!) REALLY happy to be back on I.F. yesterday. I’m pretty sure that that shocking weight gain is the waste material passing through my intestines.
I would expect a whole bunch of different factors influence longevity and Infant Mortality Rate. I suppose it’s possible that there is simply no way to assess whether one system is better than another…especially if we project out into the future based on medical discoveries of the next three decades. But when people mention “obesity” as a factor (which of course it is) that’s something that can be overcome (in many cases) with education, counseling and focused support—something that would certainly be a part of any decent health care plan.

Does anyone have data on the relative progress of health care systems under UHC and non-UHC conditions? Everything else would have to remain relatively constant, of course, so we couldn’t compare America with Sweden, but we might be able to compare Sweden pre and post-UHC. It is valid to ask “How LONG would the average person receive better health care.” If the question is impossible to answer, though, I would suspect that it becomes more of a political Rorschach than anything else.
Saw “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.” Being an old Marvel fan, I anticipated this one pretty hard. Surfer looked cool, and they DID get him right. And the silly banter in the Baxter Building? Cool, as well. Special effects: decent, sometimes a little cheesy. It irritates me that Alicia Masters is black. Considering how “Blade” was deliberately and maliciously de-sexed by David Goyer, it seems that everyone in the Marvel Universe likes girls, even the monsters…unless they’re black. And black women, once again, are sexually available to white guys. Even the monsters. Over on the DC side, even “Hellboy” got a kiss. It disgusts me.

Now, the director, Tim Story, is black, so trust me, this rot runs deeper than hell, all the way to the Top of the studio and out to the grass roots of the ticket buyers.
We were watching “Set It Off” the other day. A terrific crime movie with great performances all around. A terrific love scene between Jada Pinkett and Blair Underwood. Directed by F. Gary Gray…also black. Now, what happened to his career? Simple: he got kicked upstairs. He directed “The Negotiator” with Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson (everyone’s favorite Badass Eunuch), which of course had no sex in it.

Went from there to “A Man Apart,” Vin Diesel’s change-of-pace film, where there was romance, but no sex (and little melanin) and then hit the jackpot with “The Italian Job.” I noticed something kind of funny in “The Italian Job.” It felt structured for a love scene, but didn’t have one. I kind of wondered if F. Gary Gray had talked the studio out of doing it—didn’t want to do one with a white guy? Could be. Then he did “Be Cool” the sequel to “Get Shorty,” which had a black singer vamping up to ArrowSmith’s Steven Tyler to get a break (perilously close to real life there, aren’t we?) and “The Brazilian Job” is coming up for 2009. Now, a director gets an average of 5% of the production costs of a film.

Hard to fault Gray for going where the money is, but it really points out a problem. Most of us can be bought…or rented anyway, if the money gets big enough. I’m quite sure that Denzel weighs the difference between 20 million dollars for a sexless studio film, and 3 million for a little film with Spike. Or Will Smith. Anyone think that his “I Am Legend” will feature a sexual romp like Charlton Heston’s “Omega Man” did? And oh, Heston’s was with a black woman (Rosalind Cash).

And I’m starting to see more interracial commercials on television. That is, clearly domestic partnerships with husband and wife of different races. As I predicted, the first I’m seeing are white men and Asian women.

It’s pretty clear who’s controlling the fantasy machinery. You see, this is why diversity at the decision making level is important, and the changing percentage of racial representation in the population is, in my mind, a good thing.

Like I’ve said before, if you have an all-male judging committee at a text book company judging, say, 20th Century Literature, you’ll get fewer women represented. All female? Fewer men. All white? Fewer non-white. All American? Fewer non-American.

Not because of anything wrong with males, females, whites, or Americans. Just because that’s the way human beings are.

Everybody thinks they’re better. Sort of like the average driver thinks he’s above-average. Absent Enlightenment, the only answer I see is diversity. And it is amusing to see whatever group is losing the advantage squeal about it...

Monday, June 18, 2007


Heard a supposed former CIA operative on the radio this morning. His position is that Scooter Libby was indeed involved in the outing of a covert operative. I seem to remember George Bush the First, quite a while ago, commenting that what had happened was indeed treasonous. As former Head of the intelligence agency in question, he would indeed have an informed opinion. Does anyone out there have data about opinions offered by other former Agency personnel?
Had a conversation about health care over the weekend. My position is that things become part of the “Commons” when enough people declare they are. That the best argument I’ve heard against Universal Health Care is the simple “I don’t wan’t to pay for other people’s insurance.” Fair enough, but almost no one says that. The other good argument is the “I want the right to negotiate treatment outside the system,” an argument I’ve heard from several well-to-do folks. Fair enough. But if that’s the argument, it would seem that the best arrangement is to add some kind of amendment (wrong word?) to a Universal Health Plan, allowing those with enough money to purchase an “upper tier” of coverage that will give them what they want. Is it my mistake, or has no one proposed such an “upper tier.”

Of course, if the real argument is “I don’t want to pay for other people’s insurance,” that would explain why I haven’t heard an “upper tier” argument.

The thing I hear more than anything else is that Universal Health Care would become very inefficient and ineffective. Well, if that’s true, it would be relatively easy to determine. Ineffective implies that health services aren’t reaching the customer in a timely, effective fashion, right? In which case it should have an impact on health and longevity, right?

Well, there are two standards I know of in that regard, and they’re pretty straight-forward. I haven’t looked this data up yet, but I know I’d be willing to be guided by the results of this little investigation—and so should anyone else who is genuinely interested in the quality of health care available to citizens.

The two measurements are:
1) Life Expectancy
2) Infant Mortality Rate.

This is a non-political comment. Years ago, I was willing to grant that a low black infant mortality rate in South Africa implied that the health of blacks in that country was better than in many “freer” black countries. Why? Because that was the data.

So…whatever one may think, this isn’t a loaded question for me. I suspect I know what the answer is, but haven’t looked it up. My suspicion is that in countries with Universal Health Coverage, their life expectancy is at least as good, and their infant mortality rates are lower. THIS IS A GUESS. Please feel free to educate me if I’m wrong.

But if I’m correct, then the only real argument that remains (in my mind) is: “I don’t want to pay for other people’s insurance.” All right, that can be an honest and honorable response. Odd how rarely I hear it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Miles to go before I Awaken...

The above are two links to the actual book promotion videos for CASANEGRA. These are new promotional tools created by Simon and Schuster…enjoy!
In meditation this morning, again I found myself migrating to a multi-sensory mode: visual, auditory, kinesthetic. Interesting: all of my basic sensory input was covered. My mental “garbage” was minimized. Strange how my mind has such a range of wobbly response. Visualizing my inner light, or my image in a mirror (searching for light) while feeling my heartbeat. And with every inhalation “I” and every exhalation “Am.” I didn’t want to make it so complicated. Just was “leaking” all over the place, internal voices, visualizations and sensations struggling to pull me out of my grove.

So for about 9 days now, I’ve hit it very regularly and powerfully. Didn’t meditate yesterday morning, but was up at 5 to work with Tim Piering and the guys, and we went through the Hsin Hsin Ming—incredibly powerful stuff (Jed McKenna would approve.)

Every time my ego tried to interrupt by oozing through another sensory modality, I could shut it down with a different facet of the same exploration. Interesting.
I was 172.6 this morning. I'm taking my weight down to 165-170. That was my best fighting weight, when I was 30. I was faster than hell, and hit like an elephant, thank you. If I protect my joints with Yoga, push fitness with Kettlebells and the Bruiser, and slowly increase overall coordination with FlowFit, the results should be interesting.
On my morning tea box, there was a reference to "easy yoga for flexibility and spiritual growth." I'd bet not one in a thousand readers of that has any real idea how to actually make a physical movement relate to spiritual advancement. Here's a key: breathe. Get advice from a yoga, Tai Chi, or meditation teacher on breathing. Or get a copy of Coach Sonnon's Be Breathed or FlowFit. Then use a movement that is slow and gentle enough that you can split your attention between motion and breath. Take yourself to the edge, where you can feel the strain. How is your breathing? Calm it. Feel what happens to your body.
Now. During the day, at least five times (every hour divisible by 3) stop and breathe for 60 seconds. Have goals in all three major arenas. I promise you that over the course of a week, you'll deal with stress in all three areas. As you learn to root yourself in calm, you will eventually SPONTANEOUSLY breathe calmly under stress.

You will go to the root, as it were. When faced with anger, you will see fear. Dissolve the fear, and there is nothing but love. When dealing with inappropriate appetites, you will see your own animal conditioning. Calm the beast, befriend it, and find an ally. When plagued with self-doubt and lack of focus, you will discover a lack of clarity. Remember your core values in life, and find the eye of the storm. Do these things, and even without "religion" or a specific ethical or spiritual path, you will make progress. If you HAVE a spiritual path: this will accelerate you like you may not currently believe.

Had Daniel Keys Moran over to the house last Friday. Terrific guy, had forgotten how much I enjoy talking to him. We talked the air blue on every subject imaginable, but the topic came around to the nature of human existence. He takes the position that we are complex machines. That works for me: any notion that can be broken down into words is less than, and different from, the Thing Itself. But from that mechanistic perspective, I can easily see the nurturance of morality and ethics, especially if one sees the Small Machine (the “I”) as a cog in the Big Machine.

I mentioned to him that there were only three things I found worthy of living for: Knowledge, Pleasure, and Honor. Why, he wondered, am I poking around at this Enlightenment thing, especially since I suspect it can be dangerous? Knowledge, I said. I want to know the truth. (Yes, I get the perverse contradiction there: there is no “I” to know Truth. Nonetheless, language is all we have. But there is no “we”…aw, crap.)
At any rate, he asked me which would I choose: Happiness or Truth. I said that was a “red pill or blue pill” question (love me some Matrix!). He wanted an answer. “Truth,” I said. “I’ve been happy.”

But as I’ve said, I’ll wait to push at it until Jason is 18…I have miles to go before I Awaken…

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Wild, Wild West, and "E"

One of my cable stations is rerunning the old "Wild Wild West" series with Robert Conrad (little relation to the terrible Will Smith film), one of my favorites from my boyhood. It holds up quite well, the very best job television ever did imitating 007. And my first sustained exposure to martial arts. Man, Jim West kicked BUTT. And anyone who listened to Conrad's criticism of Smith's film and thought him racist were off target--he thought Wesley Snipes would have been just tine. (Imagine THAT casting!) At any rate, I always wondered what martial art West was using, and recently came across an interview with Conrad where he told: It was based on Kajukembo, Shotokan, and...(wait for it) Flaminco dancing! I laughed my ass off. Watch an episode, and you'll see the dance movement quite clearly. This guy was WAY ahead of his time...

E is for Entertainment

Again, in reference to my new book Casanegra.
The primary intent of Casanegra was to see if
Tananarive and I could create a mystery series
that could broaden our fan base and expand
our careers. Blair's participation increased the
likelihood of a movie deal, of course. I wanted
to experiment with collaborating with my good
lady wife, and also a chance to do something
different. Never written a straight-out
contemporary mystery before.

But there were also serious intents. I am horrified
by the percentage of commercial rap that is
violent and misogynistic. Those qualities per
se don't bother me, but the fact that there is
so little balancing imagery, as well as the
violence in the world of the musicians themselves
(and don't think it's something intrinsic to
"black culture"--the
Temptations didn't shoot at the Four Tops)
curdles my stomach. Something is very
wrong, and those who speak the truth about
it are attacked. I strongly suspect that many
of those doing the attacking are themselves
afraid of admitting there is a problem. Why,
I don't know, and that's a subject for another
time, perhaps for my blog (

But I wanted to deal with that issue. And there
were other social issues as well: poverty, sexual
power games, and personal responsibility,
among others.

But there is a truth in writing: entertainment
value must come first. Your reader doesn't
read fiction (or go to the movies) to be
"educated." They go to be entertained,
taken away from themselves. If you don't
see to this first and foremost, you'll never
win their hearts. In essence, entertainment
is the "carrier tone" that gives you a chance
to present images and ideas that might go
deeper than "mere" entertainment.

But this must ALWAYS be your primary intent.
As one of my mentors put it, a book costs
about the same as a six-pack of beer. You
have an obligation to provide that amount
of entertainment, otherwise Budweiser will
get your customer's money next time.
Cynical? No just realistic, and you'd better learn it
if you want writing to be your day job.

You see, it is very possible to satisfy both
the mind and the heart, if you will clarify your
priorities. FIRST tell a great story, with great
characters. Then flesh out the world with
telling details and background. The way the
universe of the story interacts with the
characters in response to their actions will
give you every chance you need to expand
theme. Your use of language and imagery
lets you play all kinds of subtle games with
your reader's mind. If you're good, if you
have mastered your basics, you'll have all
the opportunity you need to teach the reader.

But FIRST, and foremost, you are an entertainer.
Learn your basics. Make your reader laugh,
cry, shiver. And then, very stealthily, you
can teach them as well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Casanegra in Essence...

This article in this morning...

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 D�sir�e 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 excerpt
In 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."

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Sopranos

"A Finale Without Finality"

That was the title of the Variety piece on the 86th and final episode, which was broadcast last night. Tananarive bet that Tony would die. I bet he’d live—but I DID think there would be a bit more closure than there was.

I have to say that creator David Chase did the best job of humanizing a monster that I’ve ever seen in my life. A great, great show. But make no mistake: Tony Soprano, while human, is a monster. He has broken every commandment, corrupted the (relatively) innocent, promoted contexts in which bystanders have been killed and directly ordered or facilitated the deaths of “non-soldiers.”

But he is a (relatively) honorable monster, who lives unapologetically, accepts that what he has done to others may well be done to him, and loves his family as much as he can. Dr. Malfi disappointed me greatly. Couldn’t she see that unless Tony was willing to step away from his criminal activity, it would be impossible for him to heal. Impossible for his actions, words, values, and beliefs to travel in a straight line toward resolution of fear and preparation for death. All she was doing was helping him be a more effective criminal.

Note, please, how seductive all of this is—not just to Tony, not just to Carmilla (who is as monstrous as Tony, but lives in greater illusion. She believes her hands are clean), not just to the endless string of young women who service him to be close to his power, not just to Dr. Malfi who perhaps dreamed that she could be the one to save him, but to us. To the HBO audience, who fell in love with him. I loved him too, but he was a rabid dog, utterly beyond redemption.

It is so, so easy to stray from the path. All we need to do is say: “I want it, and it is easy to take.” We all do this. Most of the time in tiny ways. And because there are so many definitions of moral behavior, it is easy to find someone to support whatever position we wish to take.

But one thing I liked about Tony is that he knew he was a predator, and didn’t claim that his predation was somehow good for the world. THAT particular lie is particularly venomous. I’ve often said that I’d rather live in a world controlled by the Mafia than one run by the Church. Why? The Mafia won’t torture you to death to save your soul. They won’t convince themselves that the damage they do was for YOUR benefit. That drives me crazy.

Thomas de Torquemada convinced himself that he killed and tortured for the sake of the victim.

Radical Righties and Lefties have blown up buildings and killed “for the sake of the people.”

“Information Wants To Be Free” types say they steal music in the name of abused artists—whether those artists wish their music “shared” or not.

Slave-holders claimed that they were doing blacks a favor, civilizing them. And raping black women was doing them a favor—improving the breed. I had a man tell me that whites segregated blacks “to protect them.” Dear God.

At least, Tony didn’t engage in this. He was an honest monster. So phenomenally charismatic that a huge proportion of his audience seriously debated whether he was “good” or “bad.” Gandolfini only lost faith in Tony last season. Wow. Talk about self-deception.

I draw the line much more clearly than that. Whatever one’s motivations, actions speak louder than intents. Are children safer because Tony and his Crew worked the streets? Hardly. That makes a gigantic light go off in the back of my head. No justifications can compensate for the near-corruption of his own son, when Tony pushed him toward the criminal sons of his own friends. He KNEW what would happen. He knew.

Bye-Bye Tony. I loved you as much as anyone.

Satan is the man in the mirror.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Copyrights and black male readers

I find it interesting when people use the “Artist X says its alright to take their music/books for free” argument to say that I must or should do the same, or that the consumer has the right to set the price. This argument has always been in existence. There have ALWAYS been people who give away sex, or books, or performed free concerts. Great! Fantastic! Go there. It has nothing at all to do with whether you can take those things from ANOTHER person without their permission. Nothing at all.

If Krispy Kreme gives away free doughnuts, does that somehow give you the right to steal doughnuts from Winchells? Reminding me that that’s an excellent marketing ploy doesn’t mean that Winchells is obligated to do the same, otherwise customers have the right to reach around the counter.

As the business model changes, people will find different ways to promote. Publishers give away free copies of books. Free Downloads may be available, with hopes that people will buy hard copies. Fine. None of this has anything at all to do with whether person X gets to set the price for person Y. None at all.

And remember please: we have electronic books. It’s right here. And they only have to get about one generation better before they’re equal or SUPERIOR to the paper kind. At that point, the entire question of electronic theft becomes very serious indeed.

I know lots of people who offer electronic samples of their work. Good for them. I’ve done it myself—through my publisher. I might do it through my website, but that’s another day. Probably be a good idea. But I’m reminded of comments by rapists to the effect that, hell, they weren’t hurting her. Not like they were breaking something, or wearing something out. Hell, they were doing her a favor!

I don’t pretend to know what is “true.” All I’m doing here is stating my position. And my position is that anyone who thinks they have more right to decide what shall and shall not be done with MY work is no one I wish to call friend, or would want as a reader, or neighbor. Deal with that as you will. Because you found a key to my house doesn’t mean you can come in and take what you want.

But if you do—at least, for God’s sake, be an honest thief and say “I do this because I can, and I want to.” All of this crap about how people are doing artists a favor to take their work, even if the artists protest, is the very worst kind of childish self-deception.

Musashi’s first principle: “Do Not Think Dishonestly.” Break this one, and you can’t even get into the game. To be honest with you, you can’t even see the stadium.


The question of finding black male readers is an interesting one. And there are two basic approaches to finding readers at all:

1)Synthetic media (television, billboards, internet, magazines, etc.)
2) organic media (word of mouth)

“Casanegra” for instance, was created to be a cross-over book in several senses. The following audiences are targeted:

1) Mystery fans. It’s just a cracking good mystery.
2) Hollywood story fans. The folks who read tabloids. We have a Roman a clef here, dealing with the (fictionalized) murders of Tupac and Queen Latifah.
3) Steven Barnes fans.
4) Tananarive Due fans.
5) Blair Underwood fans. In many ways, it’s a book written by me and T, but “starring” Blair. It’s as close to his voice as we could get, and we worked carefully with him on background, character and tone.
6) Women readers in general. Very sexy book.
7) Male readers. Great action and suspense
8) Black women readers specifically. Blair has a huge following here. And this is where we get to cross-over to—
9) Black male readers

My position is that the black male readership isn’t there because they like the exact same things that white male readers like, and such books (with specifically black characters) don't exist in sufficient quality and quantity to create and feed a sustained readership. And males don't empathize with males of other groups TO THE DEGREE that women do. So white women would read "Waiting to Exhale" more rapidly than white men would read a book about a black James Bond. Conversely, black male readers seeking action have ALWAYS read white books--its all there was. But the percentage of men who can get past the color shock simply isn't as large as the sum total of potential male readers.

I’ve been watching this market for over 40 years, and I’d say that the black male reading audience is actually larger than the percentage of books designed to appeal to them.
There has always been “street lit” and I suppose most of it is roughly equivalent to the books that imitated “The Executioner” or “The Destroyer”—very pulpy, cheap, poorly written in the main. In terms of contemporary stuff—not much. Even Mosley’s Easy Rawlins is historical, not contemporary. The action, adventure, military, detective, or suspense stuff—not so much. A tiny fraction of the published output.

The “Alex Cross” novels by James Patterson are interesting. Quite popular, but I think more with white males than black ones. While Patterson writes Cross with respect, Cross simply doesn’t have the internal representations of the typical black man, even successful black man. Yes, there are black men like Cross, but Cross’s popularity is I think largely because he is comfortable for whites: he carries little of the specific damage black men take, the anger and fear they feel. In some ways, it is as if he was born perhaps in 2020, the product of a future generation, transplanted back in time to grow up in the 20th Century without a 20th Century black man’s actual experiences. Still, I respect them.

It is interesting to read Dean Koontz’ comments about Denzel being his favorite actor (available on Amazon). Loves his grace and poise—except in his films that deal with race.

Also interesting to note people’s reactions to “Crash,” Paul Haggis’ story of race relations. Tons of venom, feeling that it was a bad exploration of these issues. Never, in one post or conversation, did anyone spontaneously suggest an alternative film that dealt with these things, and usually when I ask, people go blank. The entire issue makes whites uncomfortable, and understandably so.

It’s a little the way Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell were poster children for the Right, examples of the “incontrovertible” fact that if you are smart, and work hard, you can make it on your own. Both of them have suggested that Affirmative Action was important to counter-act historical racism. This opinion on both their parts is, to my knowledge NEVER referenced by Conservatives arguing that all is well.

And I note how often people say to me: “gee, Steve, you’re so successful. How can someone as intelligent and self-motivated as you believe the playing field isn’t as level as it can be..?”

In other words, if you are winning at the table in Vegas, you don’t ask if the deck is stacked. In truth, you don’t want to know.

So this can be a problem. If you create a black character with realistic internal representations, whites will be uncomfortable. Even if you don't, they'll be wary if there is even a black face on the cover. Since most publishers, editors, distributors and store owners are white, you get segregated into the “black” book section, and your exposure is minimized.

If you create a black character (Alex Cross. And by the way, anyone notice that when they made him into a movie, they stripped out the sex?) without such internal representations, you sell to white audiences without giving black males much to hang their hearts on.

And if, of course, a black author writes about white characters, they are simply behind the curve in terms of depth. Given 100 units of talent, they won’t be able to create characters of the same depth as a white writer with the same 100 units of talent. It will take about 120. So there’s a problem THERE, too, in terms of earning a living.
Thinking this all through, I realize that all I wanted to do was create characters that I could have identified with as a child, a young man, or an adult. Yes, I identified with Tarzan, and James Bond, and so forth, but was aware that my own skin color was omitted, and when it was featured, it was generally in a demeaning way.

I never wanted to create solely black characters—and never have, with the exception of “Great Sky Woman.” Note that no SF magazine would even review it. Coincidence, I’m quite sure.

What I wanted to do was create a book that would appeal to anyone who doesn’t “sort” primarily by race, that would be good enough to overcome the “5-10% Flinch” response.

And also to reach what I believe to be a gigantic, untapped market: black male readers. And the tactic I’ve selected is to write a men’s book disguised as a women’s book. By appealing to women, I have a potential market quite large enough to support my family. Blair has a great fan-base. Black women readers are a gigantic group, networked to the hilt. Publishers KNOW how to reach them already. And each of these women has brothers, fathers, sons.

So…I can use synthetic media to reach them, and then…IF we’ve done our job properly, they will pass the books to their friends, husbands, and cousins of the male variety. In droves. “Read this!” is the highest form of organic advertising.

And THAT is my plan. To create a great book that anyone who likes mystery and suspense would want, but has special appeal to a segment of the population that has been grossly underserved.

Only time will tell if we’ve pulled it off.

But if we have…

Whoa. Good times.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Shadow Play

Your ego identifies itself with whatever your “steady state” is—usually your current self, but if you are in a state of flux, whatever your most stable condition might have been. This is one reason why diets don’t work—they are the result of conscious action. Whatever your automatic habits would turn you into? That’s your ego. Take your concentration off for a few weeks, and you’re right back where you started. It takes months of conscious action to begin to change this. Affirmations, hypnosis, meditation, NLP…all are valuable to shift this. Remember: if you don’t change your internal image, your ego-identity, you’ll have to use conscious attention to compensate. And trust me: your conscious mind is the smallest, weakest part of you. Eventually, it will LOSE.
Your “shadow” is the part of you that trends toward the unconscious negative. It will create perfectly reasonable short-term actions that sabotage long-term goals.
For instance: In financial hot water? Your shadow will distract you from balancing your check book. Relationship trouble? Your shadow will stop you from having reasoned discussion about the core issues. Either you will avoid conversation totally, or discussions will be hyper-charged with emotion, so that the underlying truth is distorted by fear, pain, guilt, and blame.

And weight? Wellll…I’ve just detected a “Shadow Pattern” that could make Intermittent Fasting a problem for sedentary people, women particularly. Let me explain:
1) The spiral of “Increasing Energy” is, roughly speaking, good rest, good exercise, good food. Decreasing energy? Poor rest, poor exercise, and poor food.
Now, what can your Shadow do if it wants you to remain heavy? Well, if you’re using Intermittent Fasting, you’ve got a HUGE advantage in the arena of eating—caloric input. Hard for your subconscious to screw with you here. So what can it do? It will attack you at the other end of that two-headed snake. Remember: you have to control both Input AND Output to control weight. If you are sedentary, you will start to slow down even more. Put off exercise, or exercise later in the day (exercising early is more efficient for hyping metabolism.) The effect? Weight loss results slow down.

There is an interesting opinion held by many weight experts: men try to lose weight by increasing exercise. Women try to lose weight by decreasing food intake. So women, especially, please listen now.

If you are using I.F., and NOT in an active lifestyle, and NOT exercising about 1/2 hour a day, your Shadow will slow you down, make you more sluggish and inactive. You will walk slower, sit longer. As your weight loss stalls, you will compensate—unconsciously—by eating LESS on your “feast” days. The result? Subtle nutritional deficiencies. Your energy drops lower. The negative, downward spiral increases until you feel like crap, and literally start getting sick. You react by stopping I.F. “See?” your shadow gets to say to you. “You tried. This is just another thing that didn’t work…”

Be very careful. If you have a totally sedentary lifestyle, make sure you exercise 1/2 hour a day. If you have a moderately sedentary lifestyle, short bursts of intense exercise should work fine with I.F. (that 34 minutes a week we’ve talked about).

Your Shadow is damned smart. Design your basic habits to shine the light in those dark corners.

Copyright Infringement and "D for Detective"

A QUESTION and answer:

“Vis-a-vis downloaded illegal copies of material.

When a person buys a used copy of a book or music the publisher and artist do not receive any money.

How is this different from illegal copying, in that the result for the copyright owners is the same?”
Mike Frank

ANSWER: It is very different, unless the music owner deletes the copy of the music from his own computer or Ipod. Selling a book is not like Xeroxing a copy for a friend. Which is not like duplicating it potentially THOUSANDS of times. While in neither case does the copyright owner make a profit, in one instance a single book passes from hand to hand--a minimal loss. In the other, a single book can be duplicated thousands of times, losing thousands of potential sales. That's my mortgage, man. That's my daughter's year in college. That's not a joke. If one person walks across your lawn, you don't notice. If a thousand people walk across your lawn, your lawn dies. Same action PER PERSON, but the result is different. In the first case we shrug, in the second, we either put up a fence, or have a dead lawn.
Or: "what is the difference between stealing ten cents from your dresser, or 10,000 dollars from your bank account?"
or if you want to be more precise: "what is wrong with weakening the social contract that states taking other people's time and energy is wrong? I mean, I PERSONALLY will never do more than take a penny...who'll miss it?" Right. But a million people taking a penny is ten thousand dollars. And some percentage of those people will be encouraged and emboldened by your relaxing of those rules--and take a hell of a lot more. And you helped create the atmosphere and context in which it was possible.
(By the way: I don't say "you" to mean you, Mike. I know you to be a good and decent man. I use it for simplicity's sake. No inference or accusation intended or implied)

There is a simple fact: human beings like to get things for free. Do you lock your door? Your car? Do you know ANY successful business that does not? That is human nature. To set up a situation where people can choose to get it for free is an invitation to disaster. Humans just aren’t that resistant to temptation, and never have been.
Here is the underlying rule of this behavior: "I can tell you what your work, time and energy are worth. I can decide what I will or will not do with it. If you will not give it to me at that price and with that freedom, I will take it for nothing, and do with it what I will." I know of many people who play by this unspoken rule. But not a single person who wants it applied to them. Oh, they might say: "sure, if I made a song, you could duplicate it..." but that's because they agree with that specific interpretation. They don't want me deciding I can come into their house and take their possessions--which would be MY interpretation of the same principles. Either we respect each other's wishes regarding our work and energy, or the laws of society break down. Everybody takes what they want. In essence, file-sharing technology is used by people who want to set their own rules about what they can do with other people's skill, time, and energy--which is all that "money" is, by the way. They NEVER want other people to treat them this same way.

By the way--this would, in my mind, be a textbook example of a difference between "child" and "adult" behavior. Adults understand that if you steal from others, or perform an action that those others interpret as stealing, you violate the social contract and give implicit permission for those others to steal from you. If you then protest when they steal in return, you are a hypocrite. Children on the other hand, say "mine mine mine. I want it. NOW." And justify taking it in any way they can. If you know anyone who has used the "artists only get 30 cents per CD" excuse and HAS sent that artist their 30 cents, you are dealing with (in my opinion) a very childish, deluded individual. If they HAVEN'T sent the artist their 30 cents, the person is just a lying thief. I can at least have respect for an honest thief: "I wanted it, I took it." Wow. Clarity. But all of this Robin Hood or "information wants to be free" nonsense makes me want to vomit.

I MAKE MY LIVING SELLING INFORMATION. It is delivered in magazines, books, lectures, via radio. The exact same arguments used to "share" music could be, and have been, used to take money from my pocket. You say you have the right to copy and distribute it to thousands without my permission, and you are saying you have no respect for my rights, my bank account or my life. I then would be a fool to have any respect for yours. No society operates this way--it is a child's dream of "I want it, it's mine." Adults get murdered over this nonsense every day, all over the world.

Never get between a man and his income stream. It is not safe. I am not kidding, even a little bit.

D is for Detective

All right. I can’t help it. I have to share this review of my new novel, printed in Publisher’s Weekly:

Casanegra: A Tennyson Hardwick Story
Blair Underwood with Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. Atria, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7432-8731-9
Actor Underwood (Sex and the City, etc.) teams up with accomplished authors Due and Barnes to produce a seamlessly entertaining novel. Tennyson Hardwick—semisuccessful actor, ex-gigolo and incipient sleuth—has the mixed fortune to reconnect with rap superstar Afrodite, a former client, for a night of more than just sex. The next day, she's found dead in a plastic bag with a split skull, and he's a suspect. To clear his name, Hardwick draws on all of his considerable assets: good looks and charm, a $2.5 million house inherited from a devoted client, martial arts skills (Barnes's stock in trade) and connections on both sides of the law. The authors have mixed up a cocktail of exotic elements—the sex for pay industry, the grind and glitz of Hollywood and the rap biz, a smart leavening of black film history—and topped it with a double shot of brutal murder. Handsome “Ten” Hardwick has not only a great backstory but a very promising future. 6-city author tour. (July)

Casanegra is the product of about 3 years of discussion and work. Tananarive and I have interacted with Blair on two other projects: the movie version of My Soul To Keep, T’s second novel, and the movie version of The Good House. Both are over at Fox Searchlight even as I type this. He came to her and suggested they collaborate on an historical novel set in New Orleans. I suggested a contemporary novel, a mystery, because of the series potential. Also, the core of a mystery is a simple logic puzzle, which can hold a narrative together very well, thank you.

The book is designed to bridge the publishing and motion picture industries. In other words, Blair helped us with characterization, insight into Hollywood, thematic elements, the brilliant notion of Hardwick being a former sex worker. The character is based on his physical description and certain personality traits. We did the actual typing, but Blair was involved in every stage of the creative process, and he is one bright, focused, creative guy. In essence, we wrote it, and he stars in it.

The idea was to take a man (Tennyson Hardwick) about one order of magnitude less successful than Blair, give him physical skills capable of dealing with danger, an intuitive sense of characterization that could lead to personality insights of the variety useful to a detective, and a background varied enough to be both colorful and capable of dumping him into trouble at every turn.

The book is a redemption plot, really, with a crippled father (former policeman) symbolizing Ten’s own broken ethical life. And a teenaged prostitute who he rescues and semi-adopts symbolizing his own lost innocence. A former client/lover at a stratospheric level of success, symbolizing his lost dreams and opportunities. And a journey between the lowest and highest levels of society (a traditional passage for detectives) symbolizing the fact that traditional organs of law enforcement cannot bring justice to the world as effectively as a single man committed to truth at any cost.

It was a blast.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

High Tension

I hafta say this: Hollywood is a trip and a half. Can't talk about it more specifically than this: something just happened that could break open a project we've been putting together for over two years. I mean, a verbal commitment that is in line with what a number of other interested parties have also committed to. If any and/or all of them are telling the truth, I'll have some very good news for you guys within a week.
Did 2500 words today on the second ASSASSIN'S CREED novel, and am absolutely brain-fried. The two are not directly connected, though: I can still feel a few bacteria lurking around in my system from the food poisoning, and had an intense workout this morning, beating up my abs. That may have triggered a bit of residual yucka. Whatever...I'm taking the rest of the afternoon off to re-read some source material, and watch a horror movie called HIGH TENSION, a blatant rip-off of Dean Koontz' rather classic INTENSITY. Blatant. I have no idea how they got away with it. The first 2/3 is damn near scene-for-scene. Only a "twist" ending keeps it from being a photocopy. I wasn't that impressed by Intensity on first reading. But I went back to it, and am now an admirer. It's one of those books that feels like it could be written in a week--but only by a master. Most couldn't write it at all, a damn-near real-time thriller pitting an innocent girl against the monster who slaughtered her best friend's family. Koontz has really developed over the years. Now, when he gets into his moralistic trips I don't find him as interesting. But when he goes for the lean, stripped-down people-in-peril stuff, there's damned near no one better.
And...another good meditation this morning. I'm stirring up some not-pleasant stuff. Gummy and sticky. Third morning in a row. Tell you what: I'm going for 100, and let's see what happens. That "young Steve" voice inside me is encouraging me to ignore any and all older voices (during my meditation) and pay attention to what he is saying. Astonishing how hard it is just to get quiet and listen. Those older voices try to pull me into worldly concerns of all kinds: money, power, career...none of them have anything to do with the core of my quest, which is to be a "Potato"--solid top to bottom, with my goals, values, and actions all moving in the same direction. I had been working at a pretty high level, but it's amazing what happened as soon as I committed to pushing toward greater congruence. Or is the term coherence? Whatever. I remember Swift Deer telling me that it was taking every erg of his energy to make a jump to the next level of spiritual integration. I see what he was talking about. And I have renewed appreciation for what people go through when they try to heal their hearts, lose serious weight, or straighten out their finances. It's like the walls of our prisons are made of pain. As long as we don't try to break through them, the pain is locked in a matrix: it confines us but doesn't exactly hurt. The price of freedom is re-absorbing and processing what we froze into those walls. If I don't refine my ability to process the toxins, they will overwhelm. My ego, afraid of leaving the prison (by which it defines itself) will use everything--including creating "emergencies" by the score--to slow me down.
While I've postponed the Spiritual Autolysis until Jason is older, this path is still capable of creating scary levels of chaos. But in an odd way, is also wicked fun. It's a little like an existential extreme sport...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tuesday: Talking to Stevie

You know, I have a problem with people who feel folks who used Napster in the old days had the right to do it because they disapproved of music prices or quality of albums or something. Had this conversation just in the last couple of weeks with a very intelligent lady. Sure that her attitudes make perfect sense to her, but I don’t get it. Yep, I’ve burned copies of music, but I never thought I had the RIGHT to do it. Just the ability. And I wouldn’t have protested had I gotten in trouble. I remember a time when I needed some research to finish a project. And didn’t have the money to buy the audio research material—would have cost thousands. And someone offered to sell me copies for about fifty bucks. Agonized, yes, but I took it. Just like if Jason was starving I’d steal bread. Doesn’t mean the bread is priced too high, or that I had the “right” to do it, or that theft should be legal.

Two days ago, I had this exact conversation with another guy who liked to use file-sharing software to build his music collection. “The music companies are thieves” he said. “All the money is going to the executives. The artists only get thirty cents an album.” So…wait for it…I asked him if, after getting his music, he sent that thirty cents to the musician. He grinned and said: “Naw. It’s only thirty cents.”

So in other words, if you don’t like the price, you can set your own, and if they don’t take it, you have the right to steal it. And then blame them for what you did, and feel that you are actually some kind of Robin Hood, taking from the rich and giving to…who?

I hated having to steal to finish a project. And have tried to make up for it by buying the stuff I copied, later. Am I a hypocrite? I don’t know. But I’m sure as hell not Robin Hood. I don’t think that a society, any society, can operate if people think they can set their own prices for anything they want, and then just take it if the owner doesn’t agree.
Hit a fascinating place in my meditation yesterday, and today. There is a child in there, near my first chakra. A little older than Jason. Maybe…Six years old. My suspicion is that this is the youngest part of me that can have an articulate, abstract conversation, that can understand the needs and goals and fears of my adult self. It talks to me, and tells me to be quiet and listen. I think that it is young enough to remember what it was like to be…well, to be born. To enter into this world, and put on a covering of flesh and ego. If I get quiet enough, he whispers that I shouldn’t trust what any older part of me says, because those parts get lost in a hall of philosophical mirrors (my words, not “his”). “He” doesn’t really exist, any more than any of my other “selves” exist. He is just another layer of the onion, but gets the “joke” better than “I” do. (This is pretty hard to write about. Sorry about all the quotes.)
But that part has me lined up in a very interesting way.
SURVIVAL: committed to my family, willing to die to protect them, grasping that my life does not belong to me.
SEX: committed to sharing this energy only with my wife, using the heat of our connection to melt ego, to align our energies, to focus toward the future, to create peace and joy and safety and a context for growth. Oh, and to have mucho fun.
POWER: a commitment to my maximal expression of my physical energy and aliveness. Intermittent Fasting has nailed this one. For the time being, obviously my intrinsic energy really believes I take this seriously.
HEART: All of my passion and fervor is directed to creating the home that Tananarive and I dream of…and making that a place of rest and re-creation.
These first four levels are critical. Finding the way to make the internal light not just shine in all of them, but to “thread the needle”—have them all line up so that a thread of consciousness can wind all the way down to the base…that’s like threading a needle in a whirlwind. You have to get very very calm. You have to find the eye of the storm. In the midst of life stress, it takes an act of faith and concentration at the absolute outer edge of my capacity for thought or feeling to believe that there is more value in sitting quietly in the morning and meditating than getting up and “doing something.” My god, everything inside me wants to “do.” Why is it so hard just to “be” even for a few moments?

When all of this lines up, it seems to work like magic. Life just happens. The goal stuff falls into place. Movement is effortless. Stress is there, but strain keeps its distance. But then, just when things are going well, the little voices come back and distract you from doing the very things necessary to keep progress. “You” did this, they whisper. “You” must work hard. “You” have no time to connect to your deep self.

And inside me, that younger self, “Stevie” laughs at me, watching me fall off the road again.

All right. Today and yesterday I am on the path. Let’s see how long “I” can keep my balance before my ego screws with me again.

Tell you what: I’m going to try to make it a single week. Let’s see if I can.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Back From New York

Was at the BEA book fair, doing a panel for Atria with Blair, T, Nathan McCall (“Makes Me Wanna Holler”), and Zane (black erotica queen). The audience mostly black, mostly female, were book sellers from around the country, very much the core audience we need to reach for Casanegra. Why? Because the white book audience is easy to reach with Entertainment Weekly and Publisher’s Weekly and so forth. The audience I CAN’T figure out how to reach is black males…in my mind a gigantic and relatively untapped resource. The strategy? Reach them through their wives, girl friends, sisters. The audience was vastly appreciative, and they all got free copies of the book.

Now, then…if T and I have done our job, we’ve got a chance. This is an interesting balancing act…

Saw Walter Mosley while I was there, and he was grateful to me for reviewing his terrific “47” SF slave narrative. I think we’ve got a quote coming.
I came down with food poisoning while back there. Now, I’m looking for any problems with I.F., just trying to make sure my head’s on straight. I think that my digestive tract is a bit more vulnerable…but hard to say, since I was darting back and forth between time zones as well. Yuck. But between the Atria panel and the next morning, my stomach went south on me. For two days, I really couldn’t keep anything…er… “up”? I definitely felt weak by the time I flew home, but I’m much better now. Keeping my eye on this.
Saw “Mr. Brooks” last night, the Kevin Costner serial killer movie. Sweet. I really enjoyed it. The conceit is that you have a super-successful serial killer who is trying to quit. The metaphor is addiction, and the guy has joined AA. This is really a hoot, with William Hurt playing his Id in a rollicking performance that was the highlight of the film. Demi Moore is perfectly fine as the cop trying to nail him, and simultaneously re-capture another killer she previously put away. Costner performs “one last” murder, and makes a mistake, is caught on film, but the photographer doesn’t want to turn him in. He wants to taste the forbidden fruit…

And the story lines converge. Oh, it’s all a bit manipulative, but if you grasp that this is a REALLY dark comedy, you’ll have a good time. A “B.”