First novel 'Flora's Suitcase' gets HarperCollins deal, thanks to 'The Bestseller' contest

That's godmother, not godfather. In the midst of the hits HarperCollins has been taking lately about the lawsuit filed against mobster book Underboss, as well as its announced plans to cut more than 100 titles, author Olivia Goldsmith and some HarperCollins editors have been handling a much pleasanter task: weeding through the amazing 7000 entries to the get-published contest advertised in the back of Goldsmith's August 1996 novel The Bestseller. On July 14, Goldsmith informed 32-year-old Colombian native -- and now New Yorker -- Dalia Rabinovich that her novel Flora's Suitcase, a Latin magic-realist tale inspired by her Jewish grandparents' immigration to Colombia, could be published as soon as next fall.

"I know how hard it is to get published," said Goldsmith, explaining the reason for the contest. "I think people were really amazed at the response we got. There were a lot of wonderful stories -- it was tough to make a final decision."

Tomorrow, she and Rabinovich will start a media tour to reveal the win, always planned to be announced around the time of The Bestseller's publication in paperback.

"It's really exciting," Rabinovich told PW. She learned about the contest not by reading The Bestseller herself, but from her mother, who picked up a copy of the contest rules from a Borders store in Philadelphia.

In May, Rabinovich was told she was one of four finalists and was asked, like them, to submit the rest of their novels (entrants had submitted a one-page synopsis and the first 30 pages). The other finalists will get framed certificates and "hopefully exposure to lead them to their own book deals," said Marjorie Braman, senior v-p and publishing director of HarperPaperbacks.

The other finalists are Sean Devlin, whose Above the Gutter is a social realist look at a crew of roofers in Scituate, Mass.; Rocco Doramrunno, whose The Five Points is an Alienist-like story set in 19th-century lower Manhattan; and Edna Helland, whose Penance peeks at a widow's descent into alcoholism in Irish and Italian Greenwich Village, circa 1940.

Rabinovich's winning Flora's Suitcase grew out of what was originally a writing project in one of her classes at Brooklyn College. Prior to pursuing her MFA in writing, Rabinovich held various promotional and writing jobs in television and told PW she "definitely" sees her story being turned into film.

At press time, however, Rabinovich had yet to sign a final book deal -- and Goldsmith was helping her find a lawyer and/or agent. Braman told PW that publishing plans were still in development -- the book could be hardcover or trade paper -- although it definitely fits in the literary fiction genre, one of the house's newly announced "core" areas of acquisition. "HarperCollins is always looking for talented new writers," she said.