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Sales gimmick

August 18, 2007

LABELING actor Blair Underwood an "author" of "Casanegra" ["Under Covers," by Greg Braxton, Aug. 14] denigrates the writing profession and encourages our culture's long slide into celebrity-induced mindlessness.

As your reporter told it, Tananarive Due, an established author, wrote a first draft. Her husband, Steven Barnes, then "revised and tweaked" it. Underwood then added "ideas and input." In other words, he shared his ideas with Due and Barnes, who then rewrote parts of the book.

That's what production executives do during the screenwriting process; they give "notes," though rarely in writing. In exchange for that and many other duties, they get screen credit as a producer or something similar. They do not share writing credit, because a writer, as anyone with a grain of sense understands, is one who actually puts words on a page.

What Underwood did for "Casanegra" is also akin to what happens in publishing: An editor shares ideas or impressions with an author or authors; if the author feels this input was important, he may acknowledge the editor with a few kind words buried amid dozens of similar niceties on a rarely read page in the eventual book.

Underwood may be a talented actor, but elevating his contribution to that of coauthor with top billing is a shameless ploy intended only, as he acknowledges, to pump up sales. If such "collaborations" become common, then neither writing talent nor dedication have a future. Only celebrity will be rewarded, and that is the end of literature in this nation.

Marvin J. Wolf

Los Angeles

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