RETURN OF A LEGEND
It's been a generation -- well, more than 25 years -- since anyone had the pleasure of opening a new book by the princess of hard-breathing glitz, Jacqueline Susann, and that's a lack several affectionate fans are aiming to remedy. Agent Ira Silverberg at Donadio &Olson (note new agency name) has long been a devotee, and when he learned from Lisa Bishop, Susann's literary trustee and "keeper of the flame," that among the author's papers were sketches for what might have been her next book had she lived, he began to think: "If Scarlett, why not?" He communicated his enthusiasm to Crown's Ann Patty, another fan, who immediately thought of a possible Susannesque author: Rae Lawrence, whose Satisfaction she had published back in her Poseidon days. The pseudonymous Lawrence agreed, and a six-figure world rights deal was drawn up to expand Susann's notes into what Patty gleefully predicts will be a "pink trash spectacular." It will be called Jacqueline Susann's Shadow of the Dolls, after her immortal Valley of the Dolls, that will appear, we're told, in a new movie version next year, which is likely to help sell Shadow.
HERMAN AND THE BARD
This is an all-Doubleday story. Retired editor-in-chief Herman Gollob had been a Shakespeare fanatic for many years before Oscar fever took hold, but has now become emboldened to throw his hat in the Shakespearean ring. Approaching his former successor, David Gernert, now best known as John Grisham's agent, Gollob wrote a long letter setting out his thoughts on the Bard and the kind of book he wanted to write. This went through three drafts before Gernert decided to use it as the proposal for a book to be called Experiencing Shakespeare. In it Gollob will evoke a year in the life of a Bardolator like himself: studying, attending lectures, reading, watching plays and movies, meeting and talking to great Shakespearean actors and directors, even talking (as only Gollob can talk) about his hero. "It can be a great book-- exuberant, provocative and personal," declared Gernert. He sent it around to the many editors who know Herman; justly, it was Doubleday's own Stephen Rubin, acting with Anchor's Gerry Howard and new editor-in-chief Bill Thomas, who swiftly preempted.
There are tons of books about women trying to balance work and family, but last week agent Jillian Manus at the West Coast offices of Manus &Associates sold Pocket Books' Emily Bestler (for "a low but healthy six figures") a work by a Stanford University professor with a combination of academic research and experience behind her. She is Laraine Zappert, whose Balancing the Equation: The Life's Work of Professional Women is based, said Manus, partly on two decades of research at Stanford into how graduates from its business school have managed their careers and families. Manus brought her author to New York to visit interested houses, and, according to the agent, at each meeting a number of women of different generations gathered to hear her discuss the problems -- "the younger ones worried about the future, the older ones concerned with the present." All the principals bring their own experience to the mix: Manus has four kids, Bestler has three and Zappert has two. The book will be ready in September, for probable publication in fall 2000.
OUT OF THE BLUE
It's always news when a first novelist makes a strong sale, but when the author is also an African-American who approached her agent with a letter that was "so good, and eloquent, that I couldn't resist asking to see her book," it gets even better. The agent in question is Jim Vines at his own agency, the author is 33-year-old Bernice McFadden and the buyer, the first editor to whom he showed it and who came through with a two-book preemptive offer, is Laurie Chittenden -- making her first acquisition since moving to Dutton/Plume from S&S this month. The book inspiring the excitement is Sugar, a touchingly lyrical tale of two neighbors in an Arkansas town 40 years ago who become great friends; the only problem is that one is a pillar of her church, the other a prostitute. Sugar, which McFadden expanded from one of the short stories she said she kept writing but not selling, will be published in winter 2000.
It was a big payday recently for Deborah Smith, a Southern writer described as "a cross between Anne Rivers Siddons and Alice Hoffman," whose agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh at the Virginia Barber agency, made a $1.25-million world rights, two-book deal with Judy Clain at Little, Brown. The author, whose A Place to Call Home was admired at Bantam last year but who decided to move on, will deliver two books. First up is The Iron Bear in summer 2000, to be followed by Alice at Heart. Walsh said a number of publishers made offers, but Clain won with a best bid.
Julie Grau at Riverhead has bought world rights to the first novel by current nonfiction bestseller Nuala O'Faolain (Are You Somebody) from agent Sydelle Kramer of the Frances Goldin agency. It's called My Everything Always and interweaves a contemporary story with one of the great potato famine.... Sheri Holman, who used to work at the Aaron Priest agency, has sold a second novel, The Dress Lodger (after A Stolen Tongue), to Elisabeth Schmitz at Grove/Atlantic. It is a tale of the darker side of medical science in 19th-century England.... Pocket Books assures us that it, not Little, Brown (Hot Deals, Mar. 15) was first out of the gate with a book on the disastrous Australian yacht race, with Knockdown: A True Story of Sailors and the Sea by Martin Dugard via agent Scott Waxman, to be edited by Tristram Coburn for August release.... Last week's column misidentified Colson Whitehead's editor at Doubleday. It is Tina Pohlman.