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Paul Nathan -- 1/12/98
Sole Survivor
Being named the sexiest man in America on the cover of People was just what George Clooney needed to get Universal to buy a novel he's been wanting for his production company. Gates of Fire by Steven Cressfield deals with Thermopylae from the P.O.V. of the lone Greek survivor. The film sale negotiated for the author by Jody Hotchkiss of Sterling Lord Literistic and Three Arts Entertainment's Rich Silverman provides for box office and bestseller bonuses that could carry the price to $1 million. Sterling Lord placed the book with Doubleday for fall '98 publication.

Aiming for the Heart

Two other novels recently optioned for the movies promise to play on the heartstrings.

One, still in manuscript, is Magic Time by W.P. Kinsella. As in the Canadian author's Sh less J , which became the hit picture Field of Dreams, baseball and the flowering of romance are intertwined. Acquiring the option were Barry Levinson and Mark Johnson, who have been associated on various films including The Natural, from the Bernard Malamud novel-another baseball story.

The present deal was negotiated by Jerry Kalajian of the Los Angeles agency Becsey, Wisdom and Kalajian. Once the film contract was signed, Kinsella's literary agent, Carolyn N. Swayze, in White Rock, B.C., sold publication rights to Doubleday Canada, ending her client's long-term relationship with HarperCollins Canada. The manuscript is now in the hands of New York publishers.

Troubled Families

A second novel with heart appeal, Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams, has been optioned by two independent units at the same studio, Fox 2000 and Fox Searchlight, teaming up for the first time. The Farrar, Straus &Giroux title is to be adapted by the author and Stanley Tucci, the latter to co-produce with Beth Alexander. Jennifer Craig, Tucci/ Alexander's assistant and development director, was the first movie person to see the manuscript a year ago and to call Williams's agent, Marianne Gunn-O'Connor in Dublin. Now, with other parties vying for dramatic rights, the option has brought six figures.

Four Letters tells of two deeply troubled Irish families touched by healing and transforming love.

Down to Earth

What might seem a grim subject has not discouraged foreign publishers from buying Thomas Lynch's National Book Award nominee for nonfiction, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (Norton). Purchasers include Jonathan Cape, U.K.; Baldini &Castoldi, Italy; Goldmann, Germany; Vassallucci, Holland; Shoshei, Japan; China Times, Taiwan. Offers are in from Spain and Sweden. A p t and undertaker, Lynch has a new p try collection coming from Norton this year.

Lynch's agent, Richard McDonough, in Cambridge, Mass., also represents John Dufresne, who is adapting his Norton novel Louisiana Power and Light for the screen. After acquiring an option on the earthy comic tale, designated a New York Times Notable Book of 1995, producer Bonnie Timmermann has found a berth for it with Miramax Films.

Glamour's First

Having bought no fiction over the past several years, Glamour features its first-ever novel excerpt in the February issue. Chosen by Book Editor Laura Matthews is Laura Zigman's debut novel, Animal Husbandry, due from Dial. Bill Clegg of The Robbins Office made the sale.

Among other excerpts scheduled for the next few months-all nonfiction-are Planet of the Blind, Stephen Kuusisto's memoir about coming to terms with blindness (Dial); Embracing Victory by Mariah Burton Nelson, lessons for women about competing in sports and life (Morrow); Unafraid of the Dark, a memoir by African American Rosemary Bray, whose mother insisted on getting her the best education by sending her to an all-white school (Random); A Mother's Place by New York Times reporter Susan Chira, on the new backlash against working mothers (Cliff Street/HarperCollins); and The Bad Daughter by Julie Hilden (Algonquin), a chilling account of losing a parent to early-onset Alzheimer's.

Agents handling first serial rights to the foregoing were Irene Skolnick, for Kuusisto; Felicia Eth, for Nelson; Barney Karpfinger, for Chira; and Henry Dunow, for Hilden.

Stories for Old and New

Michael Fuchs, former head of HBO, and co-producer Ellen Krass have tapped The Flamingo Rising by Larry Baker (Knopf). The story involves a war between two Florida coast families in 1968. One owns the world's biggest drive-in theater, the other a funeral parlor. The drive-in screen blocks the funeral parlor's view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Representing Baker's agent, Nat Sobel, the Renaissance agency's J l Gotler and Irv Schwartz obtained $50,000 for a one-year option, with a minimum purchase price of $500,000 and a maximum of $750,000.

Steve Fisher, also with Renaissance, has placed a mystery that caused a stir in 1966, A Queer Kind of Death, with Lawrence Fishburne's company, Cinema Gypsy. The gay-themed novel launched George Baxt's Pharoah Love series featuring a black New York P.I. Alyson Publications is to reissue the title in paperback in July. On behalf of the Cynthia Manson agency, Fisher negotiated an option contract providing for a set-up bonus, co-producer fees and a mid-six-figure price.
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