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Celebrity Authorship with Group Effort

The LA Times’ Greg Braxton looks at the collaboration between actor Blair Underwood and married novelists Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. The result makes for a complicated book jacket (Underwood’s name leads off and is most prominent, with Barnes and Due mentioned in smaller font beneath the title) but the arrangement seems to be working out pretty well in producing a mystery series starring Tennyson Hardwick, a former gigolo and down-on-his-luck actor who is forced to turn into an amateur sleuth when he is implicated in the murder of a popular female rapper.

The first book, CASANEGRA, is faring relatively well, with climbing sales and notices from the Essence Book Club and Entertainment Weekly, a good thing as there was, in Braxton’s words, a creative calculation to the book venture. Underwood is hoping that the novels will serve as a launch pad for Tennyson to hit the big screen. And there is a clear first choice on who would play the sexed-up gumshoe. The partners are attempting to develop CASANEGRA as an independent film while working on the second book, IN THE NIGHT OF THE HEAT (the Hardwick books will all have titles with variations of classic films).

Making Tennyson a former male escort was Underwood’s idea, said Due. “He really wanted to bring that erotic angle to it.” The team worked smoothly together. Underwood came up with the idea for the character, and the three worked on an outline. Due did the majority of writing of the first draft, which was revised and tweaked by Barnes. Those chunks were then delivered to Underwood, who added ideas and input, particularly to Tennyson’s place as a man inside Hollywood just enough to be a minor celebrity. Said Barnes: “Through our friendship with Blair, we really got to see him in various surroundings in Hollywood, and how people react to him. He carries himself with gentleness, but there is the sense of leashed energy.”

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