Alabamans Fannie and Harper Unite

Attendees at last year’s Alabama Writers Symposium were joined at the annual Harper Lee Award luncheon by a totally unexpected guest. Nelle Harper Lee, long-time resident of Monroeville, Ala., and celebrated author of To Kill a Mockingbird, attended the conference for the first time in its 15-year history. The reason? She came to see Alabama-born author Fannie Flagg—whose latest bestseller, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, marks its second week on our Hardcover Fiction list (at #11)—receive the award. Flagg said that Lee’s presence moved her—she had planned to tell a personal story about the Mockingbird author before she knew of Lee’s visit. Flagg said, “She is one of the most intelligent women I have ever known, brilliant and delightful—the lady has been an angel in my life.”

“She was an angel to me twice,” Flagg continued. “Meeting her was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me, I admire her dignity, her incredible mind, and talent.” Flagg told the audience that Lee had given her a quote for her second novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, which increased the book’s publicity big-time.

Yet another surprise visit occurred Nov. 20, when Flagg stopped in at the Random House offices for the first time. The author was feted with a toast celebrating her eighth Random House bestseller and her nearly three decades of her RH affiliation. Attending the festivities were president and publisher Gina Centrello, publisher Susan Kamil, Fannie’s editor, Kate Medina, and close to 60 other members of Flagg’s publishing team. (In reference to the visit being Flagg’s first to the RH building, she joked that she always hides from Kate when in New York because she knows she’s going to be asked for her next manuscript!)—Dick Donahue

Albom’s Call from Heaven Heard Loud and Clear

The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom is ringing up sales, debuting at #2 on our Hardcover Fiction list. In the novel, residents of a small town in Michigan begin receiving what they think are phone calls from departed loved ones, who report that they are in Heaven and happy. Skeptical protagonist Sully Harding, recently widowed and just released from prison, makes every effort to uncover what he’s sure is a hoax, even as the media fans the flames of an irresistible feel-good story about hope and modern miracles. PW called it “another winner from Albom” in a starred review. A big marketing campaign began months ago, when the title was featured at BEA. Major media hits include CBS This Morning and Fox & Friends; still to come next month are Albom’s appearances on Dr. Phil and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. A 15-city tour began Nov. 12, the on-sale date, and concludes right before Christmas. (The novel’s story concludes on Christmas day.) The launch included a Twitter chat and Facebook Q&A; Albom has more than 226,0000 “likes” on FB. Look for a little staying power? Albom is both an accomplished storyteller and successful brand, with 33 million of his books sold.
—Marcia Z. Nelson

Cornwell Sends Kay Scarpetta to MIT

Dust, the 21st installment in Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series, debuts at #3 on our Hardcover Fiction list. Massachusetts Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta is still recovering from working one of the worst mass killings in U.S. history—the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings—when Det. Pete Marino phones her early one morning to say a body has been found on the MIT campus. The victim may be missing computer engineer Gail Shipman, last seen the night before at a trendy Cambridge bar. It appears Shipman’s been murdered, weeks before the trial in her $100 million lawsuit against her former financial managers. Scarpetta doubts it’s a coincidence.

Cornwell’s books have been translated into 36 languages in more than 120 countries. She is a founder of the Virginia Institute of Forensic Sciences and Medicine; a founding member of the National Forensic Academy; a member of the Advisory Board for the Forensic Sciences Training Program at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, New York City; and a member of the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital’s National Council.

Cornwell kicked off the launch in New York with interviews on CBS This Morning, Huffington Post Live, a 17-city TV satellite tour, and an 18-city radio satellite tour. Print coverage for Dust has included reviews and features in the New York Times Book Review, Associated Press, Boston Globe, New York Post, Fort Worth Star Telegram, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. On Nov. 14, Cornwell spoke to 400 fans at Writers on a New England Stage in Portsmouth, N.H.
—Peter Cannon