Linda Richman has had a difficult time; at one point she felt so overwhelmed by all the deaths and tragedies in her life she didn't venture out of her apartment for 11 years. Finally, she learned to laugh about her troubles and, by extension, teach other afflicted souls -- including many of Hollywood's brightest -- to do the same. So when her agent, Richard Pine at Arthur Pine Associates, recently brought her in to see publishers to talk about her book proposal for The Courage to Laugh, several were anxious to meet her and sign her book. In the end, it was Warner's Rick Horgan who took the North American rights, beating out Dell/ Delacorte's Leslie Schnur for what he called "very major money." There are a lot of selling points for Richman in addition to what Pine described as her ability to deliver "a real, true Jewish chicken soup for the soul." Richman is probably best known to the public at large as the model for the character played by comic Mike Meyers on Saturday Night Live. (It d sn't hurt that Meyers is her son-in-law.) According to Horgan, "The group who met her at Warner were bowled over by the wealth of stories from her own life and the wry lessons that are implicit in them." He plans to publish in fall 2000.

Far from being the monotheistic nation it once was, the United States is now a country of remarkable religious pluralism. That is the basic thesis of The New Religious America by Harvard professor Diana Eck, who has chaired the university's Committee on the Study of Religion for the past decade and whose book has just been signed by Harper San Francisco executive editor John Loudon. Loudon said he had been pursuing Eck for a book suitable for a trade readership for years, and when her agent, Jill Kneerim of Boston's Palmer &Dodge, passed on word of the book's availability, he snapped it up with what he called a "substantive" preempt. Loudon said that The New Religious America, which HarperSF will publish as its lead title in spring 2001, will be the first book to reveal the extraordinary diversity of American religious life, in which Muslims now outnumber many Protestant denominations.

A blast from the mystic East is to arrive by way of St. Martin's Press, whose Michael Denneny has signed a program of no fewer than 12 installments in a new series being created by followers of the late guru Osho. The series, Insights for New Ways of Living, with its first book out this fall and continuing into 2001, will consist of decks of transformation and continuation cards, as well as an Osho autobiography and works of wisdom on such matters as creativity, aging, femininity and death. The deal, described as being in the six figures, was put together by Jim Fitzgerald, himself an SMP alumnus who is now agenting at the Carol Mann agency.

Morgan Entrekin at Grove/Atlantic has signed Robert Olen Butler for a satirical novel titled Desi about a spaceman and set in the near future. According to Entrekin, the story has "a very big surprise at the end and could answer once and for all whether there is intelligent life beyond Earth." The agent is Kim Witherspoon.... Joanna Pulcini at the Linda Chester agency has sold Betty Kelly, editor-in-chief at Morrow, a novel called Boy Still Missing by a former colleague of Kelly's at Cosmopolitan, senior books editor John Searles. It's part of a two-book deal for a strong six figures and tells the story of a teenage boy involved in an affair with his father's ex-mistress.... Emily Heckman at Pocket Books won a heated three-day auction for a true account by ace San Francisco Chronicle reporter Frank Viviano of the early days of the Mafia in Sicily, based on the murder there a century ago of his great-great-grandfather. The deal for Blood Washes Blood, for six figures, was made by Amy Rennert of the West Coast office of Donnaud &Rennert.