Phoenix Books Inc., which had been working to position the Los Angeles-based company as a publisher of serious fiction and nonfiction since the death of founder Michel Viner last summer, was abruptly closed Friday by Dwight Opperman who bought the company in fall 2007. Few details were available this morning, but Gray Peterson, executive v-p and editor-in-chief Dan Smetanka left the company Friday after being told the publisher was being closed. Both men had been brought in to move Phoenix away from its tabloid-driven past and make it a well-rounded independent publisher.

Phoenix had moved aggressively since last summer to sign new authors, including debut authors, and was particularly excited about prospects for Birth: When the Spiritual and the Material Come Together by Shari Arison, a bestseller in Israel which was released in mid-November with a 100,000-copy first printing. The lead title for this fall was to be a memoir by Linda Gray Sexton, Half in Love, which recounts her relationship with her mother, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton. Phoenix has also signed James Brown's This River, a sequel of sorts to his The Los Angeles Diaries, which Phoenix will publish in trade paperback. The company was also rebuilding its audio operation and had launched a children's imprint Pickwick Books.

No one was available to discuss what will happen to titles under contract or why the plug was pulled on the company so quickly. Its web site is still promoting planned appearances for its authors, including appearances at the ongoing Los Angeles Times book festival.