KING OF 1999
If all g s well next year with Pocket Books' plans, both the publisher and Stephen King will end up way in the black. Publisher Gina Centrello announced plans to do an unprecedented three King titles in the course of the year -- and each will come under the author's unusual joint venture deal with parent company Simon &Schuster, with King sharing in the proceeds. First up is a book version of the only original King screenplay written directly for TV: Storm of the Century will be an ABC miniseries during the February sweeps, with a simultaneous trade paperback tie-in (250,000 first printing). Next, in March, there'll be a single-volume mass market edition of King's serial novel, The Green Mile; in late spring, a movie tie-in edition will coincide with the Tom Hanks movie. And in June a mass market version of King's latest Scribner bestseller, Bag of Bones, will go out with a first printing of at least two million copies. As if all that were not enough, Scribner will be offering King's new hardcover, Hearts of Atlantis, in the fall. With a program like that, who needs an advance?

It's been barely six months since Liza Dawson, a former top editor at Putnam, hung out her agent's shingle in Montclair, N.J. -- and already she has one of those proverbial "healthy six figure" deals under her belt. Her author is first-time novelist Tawni O'Dell, whose Back Roads is a tale of murder and domestic crisis in rural Pennsylvania. The story is told in a male first-person voice, described as "unique -- both untrustworthy and likable." (Because of that voice, the author may publish as the less obviously feminine P.L. O'Dell, according to Dawson.) The route to publication was unusual. Two earlier books, with another agent, had failed to find a buyer, though they were admired, also, for their voice. Then Dawson, who took over O'Dell, shipped off a copy of Back Roads to England, supposedly to coincide with submissions here. It arrived much sooner than expected, however, inspiring enthusiastic scouts' reports to filter back here. So when Dawson borrowed a friend's car and personally delivered 18 copies to New York editors two weeks ago, there was a built-in eagerness to read. Before she got back across the river, there were calls waiting. Marjorie Braman at Harper was the first among six editors who made a strong offer. But Viking's Barbara Grossman, tipped off by about-to-leave Jonathan Burnham, who had given it a quick read, tracked Dawson down at home with a better offer -- for two books -- and the deal was done. Molly Stern will be the editor.

Nothing gets tongues wagging faster or checkbooks waving more vigorously in New York publishing than the prospect of a book with strong local media interest. There were two such last week; the first (the subject of a hefty New York Times story) was Blue Blood, a title by a 33-year-old, Harvard-educated, third-generation New York cop who had already written two much-admired essays for the New Yorker under the pseudonym Marcus Laffey. He chose it, said his agent, Owen Laster at William Morris, to make it easier to work with his colleagues in blue, but the Times was unkind enough to unmask him as Edward Conlon; he was "not pleased," according to Laster. The agent, who has represented Conlon since before he joined the force, said the magazine articles had brought many inquiries from book editors, and Laster and Conlon decided he would do a book that would not simply be a collection of pieces, but an original memoir, containing some reworked material; he also took Conlon around to meet editors. Interest at the auction Laster arranged, starting at $350,000, was intense, with most of the big houses involved. It was eventually won, for $995,000 (anything to avoid "seven figures"!) by Christopher Knutsen, a new editor at Riverhead who, coincidentally, is also a former New Yorker editor (though not Conlon's). The book is about 18 months from completion and should be published in 2000.

The other eye-catching book of the week was a first novel, The Fig Eater, a suspense novel set in turn-of-the-century Vienna with overtones of Sigmund Freud (the title character is loosely based on one of his cases) and a keen sense of the aesthetic revolution stirring there at the time. The author is Jody Shields, a former design editor at the New York Times Magazine who has also contributed to such tony magazines as Vogue, Details and Vanity Fair. It was also the first big buy for a new face at Little, Brown, Judy Clain, a former movie agent who knew Shields's work from a couple of unproduced screenplays. She had the floor in an auction, but in the end had to exercise her topping privilege, for a mid-six-figure sum. Anne Edelstein was the agent.

It's a promising idea for a book -- and one that came not from the metropolis but from little gay-oriented Cleis Press in San Francisco, whose sales manager, Don Weis, came up with the notion to collect the prolific and bestselling author's writings on sex -- many of them written for small gay periodicals without wide readerships -- between covers for the first time. Gore Vidal was more than willing, happy even, to have them appear in book form, and faxed his permission in a handwritten note from Ravello, Italy, where he lives, according to Cleis publisher Felice Newman. Vidal also asked his agent -- Owen Laster again -- to facilitate clearances from Random, his regular publisher, and elsewhere. "Glad to do it," said Laster. There will be 13 articles and several interviews in Gore Vidal -- Sexually Speaking, including two done specially for the book: one with playwright and activist Larry Kramer and one with Cleis's Weis, who will go to Ravello to talk to Vidal in person. The house, which is distributed by Publishers Group West, will do an unprecedented (for them) first printing of 25,000 next spring.