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JUST ASKING

She's being hailed as the next Terry McMillan. Former Buffalo English teacher Virginia DeBerry has hit it big with her latest novel. And speaking of big, you may remember tall Ms. DeBerry as a leading large-size model.

Now another African-American beauty with Buffalo roots, actress Vanessa Williams, is trying to option the novel, published by St. Martin's, for film. It's a selection of the Literary Guild and Doubleday Book clubs. Yes, we've saved the killer title for last:

"Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made." Everyone's been under those sheets, girlfriend!

Ms. DeBerry knows all about major life changes. A graduate of Fillmore Junior High and Bennett High, she was an English major at the University of Buffalo. Later she taught at Genesee-Humboldt Junior High, East and Lafayette high schools, and UB.

But in her 30s, she knew she was ready for something completely different. She became director of a modeling agency representing large-size and petite models. And then she teamed with co-author Donna Grant, a New York University grad, for her literary career.

If you haven't seen her on "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee" or the "Today" show, you can catch Ms. DeBerry when her coast-to-coast book tour brings her to Western New York, date to be announced.

At 47, she's the rarest of writers -- able to work with another writer who, in this case, happens to be her best bud.

Writers are such solitary creatures, How do you make your co-authorship work?

It makes it much less lonely; writing is an isolating experience. People often ask us how we can write fiction together. We don't know how or why it works. It just works. As Donna and I were kicking around ideas for a story, we were well aware that the friendship we had come to share was as open, honest and unconditional as the ones that usually begin in childhood.

We decided early on that we wanted to do something together. We began wondering, what happens when you abandon a lifelong friendship? How do you fill the void? What happens if your paths cross again?

But we hear that you were rivals at first, when you both showed up at modeling auditions.

Only one of us was going to get the job. We were supposed to dislike each other. But modeling was not fulfilling to me. Somehow the animosity that was supposed to develop between us sort of did a flip, and we just got closer and closer. Now it's gotten to the point where our mothers can't tell our voices apart on the phone.

There's a rumor one of your early readers lost her job because she called in sick to finish your book.

That's the kind of reaction we've had from everybody. They read it in two days, finding themselves on Saturday still in bed at 2 in the afternoon.

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