On blending art and social justice: my short film, “Lost”

A still from my short film

A still from my short film

Recently, I took part in a conference at Princeton called “Ferguson is the Future,” which blended speculative artists with social justice activists for a magical weekend of sharing and dreaming. Whether it was on panels or only in our minds, as artists we all confronted the question of how we might use our art to broaden our impact in true life world-building.

Days later, I took my iPhone to a local hiking trail and started shooting a short film called “Lost”–about a woman, you guessed it, who gets lost on a hiking trail while she’s trying to find her office team-building retreat. (I actually got lost three times shooting the film, but that’s another story.) The woman happens to work for a private prison company, and the rest is…well, you’ll see.

Because I love horror, my idea was to shoot a found footage-style movie–but I also wanted to add a social justice theme highlighting an issue of critical importance to me: mass incarceration. The United States has imprisoned more than 2 million of its people, giving us the highest incarceration rate in the world. This national tragedy has resulted from systemic bias against minorities, particularly with harsh sentences for nonviolent drug offenders in the nation’s “War on Drugs.” (Read more about mass incarceration HERE.)

I am a novelest-turned-screenwriter who has had scripts optioned within the Hollywood system, and in 2013 my husband/collaborator, Steven Barnes, and I co-wrote and co-produced a crowdfunded short zombie film called “Danger Word,” starring Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott. I’d had the benefit of being on director Luchina Fisher’s set to see how all of the pieces fit together to turn a script into a film.

But “Lost” is the first time I’ve directed or acted in a film myself. My reasoning was simple: I was fired up, I wanted to tell a story, and I didn’t want to let the lack of a budget, director, crew, cinematographer or actress stop me from making a film. I’ve written about how much fun I had shooting book trailers in my previous post, and this would just be a like a trailer–except longer. (I will blog more about the logistics of making the film on a future post.)

I’m fortunate enough to have an iPhone 6 with iMovie, and that was all I needed. In the hands of a more seasoned director and editor, the iPhone CAN create cinema quality films. (The Sundance darling “Tangerine” was shot on an iPhone 5S.) In my case, I wanted to tell a simple story that would both entertain and inform, primarily through social media.

All of my work, including my novels, has a certain spoonful-of-sugar-helps-the-medicine-go-down quality. History, for example, is often at the root of issues my protagonists face in the present. As I mentioned at Princeton, I was raised by two activists: civil rights attorney John Due and the late Patricia Stephens Due, who spent 49 days in jail for sitting in at a Woolworth lunch counter in Tallahassee, Florida–along with her sister, Priscilla, and a few other students from Florida A&M University. I was raised at my parents’ knees with stories of individual courage in the face of great odds to try to build a better world.

My mother, Patricia Stephens Due , arrested in Florida in 1963

My mother, Patricia Stephens Due , arrested in Fla in 1963. CREDIT: Florida Memory Project

But my parents never scoffed at my dreams of being a writer, even when I was writing about talking cats or children stowing aboard space ships rather than stories of racism and struggle. As my mother often told me, the civil rights orgnanization the NAACP always invested in the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch because its leaders understood the importance of images in creating a brighter future.

Filmmakers like Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X) and Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowehere and Selma) have been deeply inspirational in the ways they combine art with messaging. And Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, about the killing of Oscar Grant by transit police, helped spark a national conversation about police abuse before Ferguson.

As we all discussed at Princeton, Afrofuturism–or black speculative fiction–lends itself particularly well to questions of dystopia and societal change. Whether it’s the near-future bleakness of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, the alternate slavery history in Steven Barnes’s Lion’s Blood, or the sumptuous world-building in N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season, speculative literature arms readers with a lens through which to view–and, hopefully, to improve–the world we live in.

Often, my work serves as more indirect allegory. But “Lost” is very specific.

Pioneering science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany has said in an interview that he did not set out to “change the world” in the science fiction he began publishing in the 1960s–and yet, his very presence as a black writer and the casual conversations around race, gender and sexuality in his work were revolutionary. As I said in a recent interview in “The Guardian,” even today the presence of characters of color in fiction (and film) feels revolutionary because we have been erased for so long.

Steve and I wanted to make “Danger Word,” a black horror film, because we were tired of the same old horror tropes that often rendered black characters useless, spiritual guides or purely sacrificial.

But “Lost,” for me, is taking a social justice message one step further–I wanted specifically to address how the black middle class has been asleep on the growth of mass incarceration, even as it affected many of our own families. Whether it was because of shame, indoctrination or helplessness, it took too many of us far too long to realize that prisons had become The New Jim Crow. (I used that term in my 2008 novel Blood Colony, where lifegiving blood from immortals was treated as an illegal drug. And Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness is a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand the breadth of mass incarceration.)

We are at a crossroads as a nation. With more growing awareness, President Obama’s recent visit to a federal prison (the first by a sitting president), and bipartisan support for criminal justice reform on the street level and beyond, we can all unite to make a difference. Here’s a petition you can sign today to urge lawmakers to embrace criminal justice reform.

Left to right: DeRay Mckesson, Johnetta Elzie, author Daniel Jose Older, and me.

Left to right: DeRay Mckesson, Johnetta Elzie, author Daniel José Older, and me.

No one film, or book, or song, will change the world. To me, the true heroines and heroes in social justice are those who are willing to take to the streets, as my mother did, and face arrest, or worse, to raise awareness. Having the chance to meet Ferguson activists DeRay McKesson and Johnetta Elzie was among my high points during the Princeton conference. (Here’s a link to the Ferguson panels. I spoke on Panel #1,)

Fired up from Princeton, with “Lost” I was ready to amplify my social justice message in a short film. And, hopefully, create a short that would also be entertaining enough that people would share it whether or not they care as passionately about ending mass incarceration as I do. Horror or “Twilight Zone” fans, for example.

I hope you will enjoy “Lost.” If you do, please spread the word. And as an artist, consider the ways you might introduce large and small revolutions in your own work–even if it’s only in a single brave choice, a character from an ignored community, or a tiny nugget that will encourage your audience to think about our world beyond your story.

Tananarive Due is an American Book Award winner who teaches Afrofuturism at UCLA. Join her email list to hear about free gifts and webinars for writers. Upcoming webinar: “Avoiding the mistakes new writers make” (Friday, Oct. 9)




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My Ghost Summer book trailer: shot & edited on my iPhone! (And 5 reasons trailers matter for writers)

Still from my trailer

Still from my Ghost Summer book trailer

I admit it: when my publicist asked if book trailers actually help me sell books, I wasn’t exactly sure. The trailer I just shot for my new short story collection, Ghost Summer: Stories, simply appeared as an inspiration: I get to make a movie! 

This is my third trailer and my most ambitious: my first, for my African Immortals novel My Soul to Take, was all in one take, so it didn’t require editing. My trailer for my YA zombie novel Devil’s Wake was from an iMovie trailer template I learned how to use during an hour-long Apple workshop.

But for THIS one, I shot all of my footage and edited it from scratch using the iMovie app on my iPhone 6.  All of the images and audio were directly input to the phone. Some audio was free in the app’s library.

The result, I think, is pretty darn scary for 71 seconds and true to the spirit of the stories in my collection, which are a mix of horror and science fiction I have published since 2000. (You can read “Patient Zero,” the story that inspired my son’s image in the trailer, in Lightspeed magazine here. It was included in two best-of-the-year sci fi anthologies when it was originally published.)

My son, Jason, as

My son, Jason, as “Patient Zero”

The trailer isn’t perfect, of course. But after several viewings, I finally stopped comparing the final trailer to the one I’d envisioned, since my talent (my son) was a bit distracted and wasn’t down with retakes. Now I accept it for what it is, not what I imagined. (And he did a GREAT job with the voiceovers and posing.)

Why do I love making book trailers? That’s easy. After twenty years of publishing, the only film adaptation I’ve seen from my work so far is a short film we adapted from a zombie short story in this collection, “Danger Word,” I co-authored with my husband, Steven Barnes. (The film, directed by Luchina Fisher, stars veteran actor Frankie Faison and teenage gem Saoirse Scott.) We crowdfunded to raised money, primarily through Facebook and Indiegogo.

I am a screenwriter as well as a novelist (with a lot of curiosity about directing), so trailers are a great creative outlet. But with a couple of caveats, I think book trailers are a great exercise for all writers who want to both publicize their books and tickle their own imaginations. We’re living in a world where video is of greater and greater importance. To me, no experience can replace reading a good book, so video doesn’t feel threatening–for me, a film adaptation would just be a great chance to sell more books.

Ghost Summer - Final

First caveat: Don’t spend a lot of money. (Or any, if you can help it.) Today’s smartphones make it easy to shoot high-quality video, and there are plenty of YouTube tutorials on how to use iMovie and the iMovie app. Even if you just use a template like I did with my second trailer, it’s a visual expression of your vision.

Second caveat: Don’t expect a trailer to make books jump off the shelves.  I don’t have anything close to statistics on how trailers translate to sales, which was my publicist’s point. Create a trailer in the spirit of fun.

But here are five reasons I think trailers are a great idea:

Trailers are a basic introduction to filmmaking. As I tell my writing and screenwriting students all the time, chances are high that if your work is ever adapted for film or television, you’ll have had a lot to do with making that happen. The more proactive writers are about learning how to deal with the world of film and television, the better the chances of adaptation — including learning how to write your own screenplay. A book is not a screenplay or storyboard, so even if an executive is interested in your book, they often need a visual walkthrough. A creative trailer with a “take” on your story not only grows your skills, but can serve as a mini blueprint. (But make sure candid critics think it’s good enough to share. Pay special attention to sound and lighting.)

Trailers can be a love letter to your fans.  Your readers would love to see a film adaptation of your work as much as you would, so a fun book trailer is another way of dreaming together and enjoying even a short adaptation.

Trailers are great practice for your friends who want to make movies.  The filming of “Danger Word” was a great bonding experience for me, Steve. Luchina, and our editor, Terence Taylor. When I required my screenwriting students at Spelman College to produce a short clip from their screenplays, they drew on friends and family to pull it off. I definitely caught “the bug” on our shoot for Danger Word.

There ARE people who watch book trailers. As you’ll see in this article in the New Yorker and in this article in The Rumpus, “Fantastic Book Trailers and the Reasons They’re Good,” book trailers are actually a thing. They’re used in education as well as for publicity. The Creative Penn also has this article, “Book Trailers and Using Video for Marketing.” As with any other subject, a quick Google search will teach you much of what you need to market your trailer.

All publicity is good publicity. Even previous readers don’t rush right out to buy everything you publish. In sales, popular wisdom says it takes seven-plus contact points before customers are ready to buy. The trailer may not be the final push, but it can be shared, so it can serve as a contact point for more than one person. Any edge in creating buzz helps separate you from the pack.

Give it a try!

Tananarive Due has won an American Book Award and NAACP Image Award. She teaches Afrofuturism at UCLA and in the creative writing MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles. Her new collection, Ghost Summer: Stories, is on sale now.


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Ghost Summer: Stories (Sept. 1) — My love affair with short stories, and why you should write them too

Ghost Summer - Final

Like many writers, I began learning my craft with short stories. By the time I finished my graduate English degree, I’d shifted my focus entirely from my unfinished novels to short stories. I needed to master beginning, middle and end.

Finally–a sale! In about 1990, I sold a short story called “Amusement” to a small magazine called Writers’ BBQ. I was ecstatic…and then I learned that the magazine went out of business. No publication for me. Although I continued to write short stories, they were repeatedly rejected. I did not publish a word of fiction until my first novel, The Between, in 1995. After that, my focus shifted back to novels. But I’d honed my craft on short stories first.

And I couldn’t walk away. When Gordon Van Gelder invited me to write for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, I wrote a short story called “Patient Zero” that ended up in two best-of-the-year science fiction anthologies. And so it went on, a story here and there, only by invitation: Harlan Ellison (“Señora Suerte” in F&SF), Marita Golden and the late E. Lynn Harris (“The Knowing” in Gumbo), Nalo Hopkinson (“Trial Day” in Mojo: Conjure Stories), Brandon Massey (“Ghost Summer” in The Ancestors and “Danger Word” in Dark Dreams) and of course Sheree Renée Thomas (“Like Daughter” and “Aftermoon” in Dark Matter).  More recently, I’ve published three plague stories for John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey for their post-apocalyptic triptych that began with The End is Nigh (“Removal Order,” “Herd Immunity” and “Carriers.”)

I made it a personal goal to continue to write short fiction, not just novels. Why? Because my novels would be swayed by commercial concerns, but my short stories would exist for their own sake. They would most likely reflect my inner 10-year-old and the stories she wanted to write just because.

Sure enough, by the time I was ready to publish a collection, I was told that my longtime publishing house wasn’t interested. Short story collections weren’t considered profitable. And I sat on this collection for some time–years, I confess, because I was busy with my novels. Then I saw a collection called Kabu Kabu that Nnedi Okorafor published at Prime Books, a genre house with an editor I’d known since my very first days as a novelist, Paula Guran. The cover blew me away.

My collection found a home.

As you can see, the cover for Ghost Summer is also beautiful. But I didn’t fully appreciate how apt it is until I re-read my stories and noticed how many of them have child protagonists–from “Patient Zero” to “The Knowing” to “Ghost Summer” to “Danger Word.” They’re not stories for children, mind you (though they’re definitely YA appropriate), but many of these stories are about characters in helpless circumstances who must find their inner strength and light to survive and overcome. Children and adults alike must grapple with plague, apocalypse, possession, monstrosity and loss. Even zombies. (We crowdfunded and adapted “Danger Word” to a short film available for viewing at www.dangerword.com.)

Actors Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott in the short film "Danger Word"

Actors Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott in our short film adaptation of “Danger Word”

Publishers Weekly, in its Starred review, wrote: “In these extraordinary tales, American Book Award–winner Due (My Soul to Take) uses a clear-eyed view of history to explain (but never excuse) the present.” READ THE REST HERE.

Ghost Summer represents the past fifteen years of my short story publishing history, with a few newer ones–and one, “Vanishings,” that has never before been published. (A few erotica stories didn’t make it into the collection because they did not blend well with the other stories. Maybe next time.)

Aside from the creative exercise that has taken me away from series writing and dreams of bestsellerhood, my short stories have introduced me to readers who have never read my novels. My story “Herd Immunity” was a finalist for the 2015 Theodore Sturgeon Award. Short stories published years ago have found new life, and new readers, in reprints.

Admittedly, some of my recent love affair with short stories has been because of time factors: now that I am doing more screenwriting and teaching (I teach Afrofuturism at UCLA and in the creative writing MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles), it takes longer to write a novel. I’m currently working on a period novel set in this collection’s fictitious town of Gracetown, Florida, but I’m sure it won’t be finished until sometime in 2016, much less published.

In the meantime, though, I will continue to publish short stories. I meet an endless variety of new characters in short fiction, and short stories help me remember why I began writing in the first place.

Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott in Danger Word

Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott in Danger Word

As a writing teacher and personal coach, I’m floored by how many excellent-though-unpublished writers I encounter who are trying to learn craft in the endless creative caverns of a novel rather than concentrating on short stories first. It’s akin to screenwriters who leap into features without writing a few shorts. The reasons: writers tend to write what they read, and there’s very little money in either short fiction or short films.

But I would not be the writer I am without my love of short stories. They demand clarity of thought and theme, more careful use of language, and the ability to draw readers into a world in only a page. Or a paragraph. On the practical side, they also take much less time to write, they can be published almost immediately (compared to a long wait with a novel), and they attract readers who otherwise might never find you.

So, I take my own advice: as I continue to work on my novel-in-progress, I will keep publishing short stories. If I keep working at it, I hope to get even better. And it won’t be fifteen years before I publish my next collection.

Tananarive Due is an author and screenwriter based in Los Angeles. She has won an American Book Award and an NAACP Image Award. Learn more about her work at www.tananarivedue.com


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3 Things I Learned from Moderating the “Empire” Writers Panel

Photo credit: Kima Jones

Photo credit: Kima Jones

Saturday, I had the pleasure and honor of moderating of writers from the hit show “Empire” at L.A.’s Leimert Park Book Fair: Joshua Allen, Eric Haywood, twin sisters JaNeika and JaSheika James, Attica Locke and Carlito Rodriguez.

For an hour, the writers spoke frankly about their own careers, their experiences in Hollywood, and what it’s like to work for mega hit show “Empire”—which simply must be one of the best writing environments in television. As in…Best. Job. Ever.

They laugh all day. Yes, they argue. Yes, they get the job done. But they have “Good Times” sing-alongs. Their stomachs hurt because they laugh all day. One of the writers actually said this.

But I digress.

Leimert Park Book Fair

Leimert Park Book Fair

As a novelist who is also writing screenplays and pitching my novels for TV and film, I’m always eager to hear the secret to success from veterans—just as I listened eagerly to Anne Rice when I interviewed her in 1992 as a newspaper reporter dreaming of becoming a novelist. From Rice, I learned that I should shed my reservations about writing about the supernatural. I never confessed that I wanted to write novels, but Rice told me that she had learned to laugh off the stigma of genre because her books are taught in universities. That realization was a breakthrough, and I wrote my first novel, The Between, within nine months of our interview.

The “Empire” panel may provide its own kind of breakthrough—helping me focus my resolve to work harder, and smarter, to break into television and film.

The first thing that stood out: the collective EXPERIENCE in the room. Attica Locke had never worked in a TV writers’ room, but she’d spent years writing unproduced scripts for studios. (She only started writing novels–which are acclaimed–because she couldn’t produce her own politically charged legal thrillers like her new novel, Pleasantville.)

Even other writers with little television writing experience brought experience from other realms: Carlito Rodriguez was editor-in-chief of The Source. Joshua Allen was a playwright. Even young writers like identical twin sisters JaNeika and JaSheika James had years of experience in television. Everyone on the panel earned their seat at the writers’ table after years of striving and not despairing at setbacks—Allen worked on “Hostages” for a year, for example, and then it was canceled.

And most writers had waded through the experience of being “the only one in the room,” as discussed in a recent NPR article based on comic Wyatt Cenac’s anecdote about Jon Stewart shouting him down when Cenac was the only black writer in the room on “The Daily Show.” You’re the only person of color at the table. Or the only woman. Or the only [fill in the blank.] Carlito Rodriguez joked that he is black, but he is also Latino—“which still makes me the only one in the room.”

They, too, have learned how to choose their battles and experienced the extra stress in their bones. But now, they say, they feel like they have found family.

Eric Haywood, who previously wrote for “Soul Food” and “Private Practice,” rightfully pointed out that “Empire” benefited from the pioneering work of Shonda Rhimes. (I would compare Rhimes’s impact on television to what Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale did for black writers in publishing.)

Here are my biggest takeaways:

1. Write more. So you finally wrote that screenplay? Congratulations. Now move on to the next one. My screenwriting time competes with my prose writing time, but I want to learn to better set aside time for both. One screenplay will not build a career in Hollywood. Neither will two. Or three. Remember how much rejection you face with your prose? Expect more rejection in Hollywood.

2. The Way is in Training. I have never taken a Sundance lab or even a two-day boot camp with Robert McKee. Collaborating with my husband, Steven Barnes (who has extensive TV writing experience), I have learned to write screenplays by writing screenplays (with smart notes from producers), reading screenplays, and reading books about writing screenplays. I write good scripts, and I love teaching screenwriting, but I can always learn more. With an 11-year-old son, two part-time teaching jobs, and a life as a novelist, the focused time, energy and effort even a short a class demands would be good for me.

3. Network, network, network. Because I already have cultivated industry contacts over fifteen years as an author trying to adapt my books to film or TV, I tend to be too low-key about following through after new connections. I collect business cards I often don’t end up using. I let email chains die. I’m a bit shy, so I’m not a naturally social person—I’m a writer!—and I live too far outside of the city to take a drive to L.A. lightly, whether it’s for lunch or—dear Lord—a meeting. But everyone knows Hollywood is built on lunch and meetings, so am I serious or not? I may not be able to do everything, but I need to be more active in the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA). That’s a start. And lunch now and then with new people wouldn’t kill me. (Find a way to improve your version of networking, i.e. attending a film festival with accessible panelists.)

These principles aren’t new to me. They’re not new to you either. But sometimes it takes a panel of writers to help clarify what we already know.

Tananarive Due is an author and screenwriter. She teaches Afrofuturism at UCLA and creative writing in the MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles. Her short story collection, Ghost Summer, will be published Sept. 1. 

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Charleston (a poem)


June 18, 2015


–For John Due and Patricia Stephens Due

And the 9 Homegoers at Emanuel AME Church

Candles - 9

Because I was hurting and knew he was too,

I spoke to my 80-year-old father today—

The man who served beside my late mother in

America’s undeclared war on Her Own,

Whose heart sped in Florida and Mississippi,

Whose daily waking world is retold in my history books–

And he was too busy to talk,

On his way to a meeting,

Going about his business,

Because he knows Freedom is a journey,

Never a destination,

And because the Movement toward liberation

Is what keeps his heart Alive.

© 2015 by Tananarive Due

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For Writers: My Revision Breakthrough


Prime Books: June 2015

Prime Books: June 2015

With the upcoming summer publication of my first short story collection, Ghost Summer, I have been focusing on short fiction for the past couple of years. I always encourage newer writers to hone their craft on short stories before potentially getting lost in the maze of a novel, but with a caveat – writing short stories is not EASY. For some writers, they’re more difficult. The language is often sharper by necessity. But they’re also great for learning structural compression—beginning, middle and end.

I’m pleased with my first two Nayima survivor stories in The Apocalypse Triptych edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey (“Removal Order” and “Herd Immunity”). I wanted the third story, “Carriers,” to take place about forty years in the future, reimagining my plague concept but keeping Nayima’s core character intact.

As the deadline drew near, I had breakthroughs and wrote in a white heat, believing I’d expressed my vision.

But the editors sent it back, asking for revisions.


I was ready to defend the story and point out all the reasons it was being misunderstood—but when I read it again after some time away, I realized they were right. The story was flabby and wordy. One scene was so crammed with infodump that it was like a textbook example. I’d saved too much of the good stuff for toward the end—an oh-so-revealing interaction with another character.

All feedback gives me a shape to walk toward in the fog. I spent hour after hour revising the story. I moved the late interaction higher, to the second scene, and the story brightened. Then, a domino effect: with an earlier reveal, the infodumpy scene could be significantly trimmed down AND now had much deeper emotional impact on its own merits.

Then I trimmed. And trimmed.

Did the sentence teach me anything about the character? Could the second half of the sentence be snipped off? Was it necessary to include this information? Was this sentence too clever for its own good? Some of the phrases and images that had come to me first, helping to ignite the rest of the story, ended up being cut.

The story got slim. And crisp. And engaging.

At the same time, I was getting feedback from Paula Guran, the editor of my upcoming Ghost Summer short story collection, on an unpublished story called “Vanishings.” It wasn’t working for her. It was confusing.

She wasn’t the first to say it. I’d been tinkering with that story for at least two years, on and off. I’d shared passages aloud with my MFA students (which led me to ban the practice), I’d given it to my best friend from college to read. (It didn’t work for her; she didn’t get it.)

Any time I struggle with a piece of fiction, I’m haunted by the unfinished stories on my old floppy disks, written in WordPerfect, when I was a newer writer. I lost interest in two novels, once about a hundred pages in, about two-hundred into another (hand-written, no less). I had a short story with a great gimmick I’d never truly paid off.

My unfinished stories haunt me—not because I really believe any of them were The One, but because I gave up on them. And I’m always afraid that I will give up on my stories again as writing seems to grow harder and harder.

But fresh from my last revision experience, I realized I could crack “Vanishings” too.

Yes, Idris. Yes, we should.

Yes, Idris. Yes, we should.

The story faced two primary struggles: I had geared it toward literary readers who might not be familiar with fantasy or magical realism, so I had minimized fantastic imagery. And I was relying on the gimmick of a late reveal to give an entirely new sheen of meaning to the story. Like The Sixth Sense.

The delayed reveal wasn’t working. Period. And the lack of specific fantasy imagery only created confusion for the readers—I was hinting at phenomena that I wasn’t showing. (Also, in part, because I was holding back for the reveal.)

In January, lecturing at the Whidbey MFA program, I gave a talk on writing mystery and suspense that specifically addressed the pitfalls of too much concealment. And here it was, right under my nose.

Writing doesn’t get harder—it just stays hard. With practice, we expect it to get easier, but in truth we stretch ourselves and grow and grapple with new lessons. We seek new words to create order of the joys and terrors of our lives.

I don’t want to get tired of writing. Writing gives me too much.

All of my fiction in recent years, one way or another, has helped me process the long illness, suffering and death of my mother, Patricia Stephens Due, in 2012—and the growing toll of time on my friends and family, who are also aging, sometimes dying, like Octavia Butler and Leslie (L.A.) Banks and E. Lynn Harris. I still can’t believe any of them are gone.

If you don’t need to write, sometimes it’s not worth the trouble. Sometimes people are struggling to write because of an outgrown dream or outside pressure—and life is too short. (James Weldon Johnson’s poem “A Poet to His Baby Son” is about a father’s disappointment that his son seems to have a poet’s eyes. Oh, what a road for one’s child!)

With a struggling project, sometimes it’s appropriate to move on. In my case, I needed to write more short stories before I started a novel. I think this is true of most writers. The ideas were bigger than my skill level—and by the time I gained the skill level, I had bigger ideas.

But giving up is very different.

If you have to write—if you must write—don’t give up on yourself and your projects.

Carve out the time. Commit it to paper as a goal. Create an outline. Have writing quotas. And be brave enough to find beta readers to help you assess your writing. Trade manuscripts. Start a writing group, even if it’s only a group of two.

As readers, we can easily point out the flaws in the writing of others—but when it comes to our own, we often are standing too close. We need beta readers. We need editors. We need people who aren’t afraid to tell us the truth.


And then stop revising and ask for a reader’s eyes. Because it may be ready at last.

Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes are teaching an online writing workshop March 7-28th. EARLY REGISTRATION OPEN. More information here. 


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Spring Online Writing Workshop (March 7-28, 2015): Storytelling Principles for All Writers

Are you working on a novel, short story or screenplay and want to improve your writing? Do you want to participate in a writing workshop from anywhere in the world?

Here’s what Wayne said about our January workshop: “I have been on a ‘natural high’ from the beginning of the first class. No synthetic drug can duplicate this and it’s all you and Steve’s fault. Thank you both!!!”

Dog Writing Advice -- Sit & Stay

Do you want input from a writing professional on your pages?

Are you an author or screenwriter who wants to understand more about PLOT, CHARACTERIZATION and VISUAL DETAILS in your writing? Are you struggling with writer’s block?

Our unique approach is useful for writers of all levels–whether you’re a beginner or you have already published or produced your work. 

Authors and screenwriters Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due are offering an online writing workshop March 7-28 to help you whip your project into shape. Until March 1, register at our EARLY-BIRD rate of $300. Regular registration is $350, and time is running out… so–register now.

Here’s what Rorie said about our January workshop: “I found it enlightening, inspirational, and exceedingly useful. I really do hope you have another!”

And Angelique said about our fall workshop: “I want to thank you and Steve for an incredible experience.  I have truly learned a lot…..and I went to FILM SCHOOL!”


Here’s what you get:

  • One 30-minute personal phone consultation with Steven Barnes or Tananarive Due
  • Notes on 10 pages of your story, novel, screenplay and/or treatment/outline. (Choose whether to receive notes at the start of the workshop, during, or at the end of the workshop.)
  • Four weekly hour-long video Google Hangouts sessions with instructors Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due
  • College-level syllabus with outside viewing and reading
  • A guest appearance by an industry professional to answer your questions
  • Peer review from other writers in the workshop

Here’s what the workshop requires:         

  • Registration fee ($300 early bird / $350 regular)  SPACE IS LIMITED
  • An existing story, screenplay or IDEA you can outline
  • RECOMMENDED TEXTBOOK: Story by Robert McKee
  • Willingness to participate in peer review with other workshop members
  • Internet access for one-hour weekly Google Hangouts lectures / discussion


Who are the instructors? 

Steven Barnes

New York Times bestseller Steven Barnes has written more than twenty-five science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. His “Stitch in Time” episode of “The Outer Limits” won an Emmy. The NAACP Image Award winner also has written for “The New Twilight Zone,” “StarGate,” Andromeda,” and “Ben 10.” He has been nominated for  written for Hugo, Nebula and Cable Ace Awards. In 2013, he and his wife, Tananarive Due, co-wrote and co-produced the short film “Danger Word,” based on their novel,Devil’s Wake. He and Due recently sold a cable TV adaptation–details soon!

Tananarive Due 

Tananarive Due, a member of the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA), has been named to the Grio100 and Ebony Power 100. The Essence bestseller and NAACP Image Award winner has also won an American Book Award for The Living Blood. She recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus. She is the former Cosby Chair in the Humanities at Spelman College. In addition to co-producing and co-writing the short film “Danger Word” with Steven Barnes, she currently has several book projects under option. She and Barnes recently sold a cable TV adaptation of one of her ovels–details soon! 


You may also email us your questions at Tanacoach@gmail.com.

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