The vastly popular exercise videos of Billy Blanks, embracing his Tae Bo exercise techniques, which involve a combination of music, dancing and kick-boxing guaranteed to leave you breathless and slimmer, obviously suggest "book," and Bantam's Irwyn Applebaum has come up with the necessary to land one. He's not saying how much he paid, but word has it that it was a million and a half; underbidder Marjorie Braman at HarperCollins d sn't mind saying that she went as high as $1 million and is sorry she didn't land the prize. According to J l Gotler of L.A.'s Renaissance Agency, the book, for which a co-writer is still being sought, will be called The Tae Bo Way and will instruct readers how to manage that invigorating process. Applebaum said the plan is to publish as early as this fall, and that he is delighted to have an author who is "so highly promotable." Bantam will make a major multimedia promotional push, aided no end by Blanks's TV infomercials, which are very popular themselves. The editor for the book will be Robin Michaelson. According to Gotler, by the way, the Blanks autobiography that is said to have been shopped around by the William Morris Agency, which represents him on the talent side, is a nonstarter. "He d sn't want to do an autobiography," Gotler said firmly.

Clive Cussler is a name to be reckoned with in adventure writing, his Dirk Pitt series having been a bestselling staple for years at Simon &Schuster. Now, under a new contract inked last year with S&S's Jack Romanos (a contract, incidentally, that foreshadowed the somewhat later, better publicized deal that gave Stephen King a larger share of a book's profits to make up for a smaller advance), the first of a new series is to appear from Pocket Books in July. It will also have a new hero, named Kurt Austin, and we are promised it will incorporate some of the same kind of underwater derring-do that made the Pitt series so popular. The first title in a contracted two-book series (which agent Peter Lampack said will almost certainly involve further titles down the line) will probably be called From the NUMA Files, after Cussler's own real-life National Underwater Marine Association, which specializes in investigating historic shipwrecks. The books will be co-written with Paul Kemprecos, himself the winner of a Shamus Award for his first novel, Cool Blue Tomb, and who specializes in underwater thrillers. Cussler told PW he had earlier endorsed one of Kempreco's books, and thought of him when he needed a co-writer for the series. "He d s a marvelous job," Cussler said, generously estimating the younger author's share in the writing at 90%, though the concepts are his. A new young Pocket editor, Tristram Coburn, will handle the books, though the jury is still out on whether they will be released in hardcover or trade paper; Cussler prefers hardcover. A new Dirk Pitt, by the way, is due in the fall.

Mary Lou Retton still has huge recognition as a celebrity athlete, though it has been 15 years since she won an Olympic gold medal in women's gymnastics as a teenager, and now at last, she said, as a 31-year-old mother of two, she is able to put her success story in perspective. She plans to do so in a book just signed by Robert Asahina, his first major acquisition in his new role as Broadway Books' senior v-p and editor-in-chief. The book, still untitled, will be an inspirational and motivational study of how the young athlete built a successful career as a motivational speaker, corporate spokesperson and TV sports commentator. It is tentatively scheduled for publication in spring 2000. Asahina bought world rights for a reported mid-six figures from agent Al Lowman of Authors and Artists Group, in association with the New York licensing firm Momentum Partners.