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Success has been otherworldly Horror: Author Tananarive Due dismisses her fears and turns on the chills.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Perfection. Admit it, perfection in our significant others is what everyone dreams of, at least in the beginning, where there's still that irrational hope we may have actually found it.

Yet, even after five years of marriage and the birth of a child, to his wife Jessica, David Wolde remains perfection -- a stunningly handsome, brown, brilliant package of lean, muscled manliness.

Yes, David Wolde is perfect. In fact, he never changes -- literally. The man never grows older, never gets so much as a sniffle, and his mind holds an incredible wealth of knowledge. You see, David Wolde is immortal, having traded his sould for eternal life some 450 years ago in Abyssinia.

Jessica, who happens to be an investigative newspaper reporter, is in for one, wild scary ride when she digs up the truth.

Author Tananarive Due deftly weaves this horrific, paranormal tale of a contemporary perfect love gone very, very wrong. "My Soul to Keep" (HarperCollins, 1997) is Due's second horror novel, a book that could propel her into the first rank of American horror writers.

It's fair to say Due is something of an anomaly among authors in the horror genre. She is a young (31), African-American woman in a field dominated by mostly white males and a few white women, most notably Anne Rice.

"You know, someone once asked me who my audience is. I said primarily African-Americans and horror readers. Then he said, 'Well, as long as you are not going for African-American horror readers!' " says Due.

It's her way of saying she realizes there are enthusiastic fans of horror novels of all colors. And that there are others -- black, white, yellow and brown -- who will always dismiss the genre as beneath them.

Due has met her share of the latter.

"I remember when I was in college and I mentioned that I was reading a Toni Morrison book and a Stephen King book," Due says. "Well, the Toni Morrison book got the nod of approval, but it was like I was supposed to feel ashamed for reading the Stephen King book."

Due, a features writer and a syndicated columnist for the Miami Herald newspaper, got help learning to deal with that sort of attitude from horror superstar Anne Rice.

"I was interviewing Anne Rice over the phone and asked her something about horror novels not getting respect and how she dealt with that," Due says. "Well, she said she was beyond that!"

The message, Due says, was to write what you want. That anytime you write about what is close to the heart, success will come.

"It was a breakthrough for me," she says.

Despite her friends' criticism, Due never stopped devouring Stephen King novels. Now she is able to count horror's heaviest hitter among her many fans. King, who has suffered his share of put-downs, offers a gushing blurb on the back cover of Due's new book.

"I love this novel. ... It's really big and really satisfying, an eerie epic ... Ms. Due accomplishes the hardest thing of all with deceptive ease, creating characters we care about on their most human level."

"Well!" says Due when asked about King's praise. "When I saw that I just screamed!"

Due, whose parents named her after a city in Madagascar, would be justified in screaming a lot these days. Rave reviews are pouring in. Publishers Weekly called the new novel "harrowing and moving ... a novel populated with vivid, emotional characters that is also a chilling journey to another world."

Kirkus Reviews labeled it a "top-flight soft-horror novel ... gripping originality."

The good notices are welcome. It means Due managed to avoid the "sophomore jinx" after the success of her first novel, "The Between" (HarperCollins, 1995).

Due, who isn't ready to give up her day job yet, is hoping her books might recruit new readers for horror novels.

"The title 'horror' scares some people away," she says. "They think it is a bucket of blood thrown against a wall, But that's not what I write about. Technically, it is a horror. But I write fantasy. I write about relationships. I write suspense, entertainment, but with some reality that grounds it in the African-American community."

So what is it about being scared that so thrills this nice, college-educated young woman from a middle-class Miami home?

"Well, it's not like I like to be scared when I'm at home and really hear footsteps downstairs," she says. "I like any author or movie that can make me feel emotions. That can make me laugh or cry. Or that can make me feel scared."

Her influences? Besides those Stephen King novels ("He was the only horror writer that I read," she says), there were those moments spent in front of the television watching horror movies with her mother, Patricia Stephens Due.

"My mother and I were always into horror movies. We would watch 'Creature Features' together," she says.

These days, they are working together on a very different project. "My mother and I have been talking about documenting -- that's her word, she's very proper -- the civil rights movement that she knew in Florida. The book will be first-person from her point of view. And it will be an oral history from various 'foot soldiers,' both white and black."

For now, though, Due is kept busy with "My Soul to Keep." Her promotional tour brings her to Maryland today. For the young horror writer, the tour has been something of a paranormal, but far from terrifying, experience.

You see, since she was a child, Due has had this vision.

"I would dream about walking into book stores," she says, "and seeing a book with my name on it."

Book signing

Where: Karibu Bookstore, Prince George's Plaza, 3500 East West Highway, Hyattsville, Md.

When: Tonight, 6-8 p.m.

' Call: 301-559-1140

Pub Date: 7/11/97

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