Everyone knows what Karen Duffy looks like -- she's a cover girl who has also been seen in the movies and regular TV spots and was Revlon's "Charlie Girl." As a writer, she also did magazine stories. Four years ago, however, she woke with a headache that turned out to be a potentially life-threatening and inoperable tumor at the base of her brain. Since then, she has suffered through extended chemotherapy and is on morphine for the sometimes excruciating pain -- but she has periods of relief when life feels almost normal. During one of these, Dean Williamson and David Vigliano of the Vigliano agency took her around to meet publishers interested in her story, which Duffy tells in a wisecracking style that nonetheless "looks death in the face," as Williamson put it. The publisher with whom she clicked most warmly, and who offered what is understood to be a good six-figure sum for world rights to the book, was Diane Reverand at Harper's Cliff Street imprint. The book, to be called, engagingly, Model Patient: My Life as an Incurable Wiseass, will appear next fall. A rather chilling sideline to this tale: one interested publisher, reports Williamson, gave a thumbs-down to the book because he wasn't sure Duffy would survive to finish or promote it.


Mark Spragg is a veteran Hollywood screenwriter whose first book, Where Rivers Change Direction, a tough and laconic memoir of growing up in Wyoming, out this month from the University of Utah Press, got a starred PW review. He went to a university press with the book on the advice of Larry McMurtry, setting in motion a train of events that showed it was good advice indeed. His Utah editor, Dawn Marano, took him to a writers' conference in Utah where an agent, Nancy Stauffer from Connecticut, was "bowled over" and took him on. Also at the conference was a Penguin Putnam sales rep, Laura Shepard, who was so struck by Spragg's reading that she sent a copy of his book to Julie Grau at Riverhead. She in turn was sufficiently struck to call Stauffer to try to preempt paperback rights. Grau eventually got her paperback deal, plus hard-soft rights to Spragg's first novel, sight unseen, all for a price in the six figures.


Someone not heard from for a while, in this column at least, is Ballantine's Leona Nevler, who has just consummated a couple of world rights deals for hardcover novels by new women writers in whom she is particularly interested. One is Cuban-American Achy Obejas, an arts editor and columnist at the Chicago Tribune, whose Days of Awe, set partly in Havana, partly in Chicago, tells a story of conversos -- Cubans of Jewish origin -- and their ways of at once assimilating and preserving their culture. Her agent is Charlotte Sheedy.

From Michael Carlisle, in another world rights deal, Nevler bought Catching Heaven, a first novel by actress turned novelist Sands Hall (Oakley Hall's daughter), which she describes as a touching comedy-drama set in New Mexico, about two sisters: an ex-actress and a would-be painter, each of whom believes the other has the better life.


Some people who have read Gale Z Garrett's first-person account of raunchy teenager Roanne Chappell's encounters with the world, Visible Amazement, are comparing the author and her creation to J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. The author, born in New Zealand and now based in Toronto, is a busy movie, stage and TV actress who has also found time to write dozens of songs, contribute to magazines and newspapers and publish p try. Her first book, which comes loaded with garlands, is just out in Canada from Stoddart Publishing, and her Toronto agent, Jan Whitford at Westwood Creative, has sold U.S. rights to Michael Korda and Chuck Adams at Simon & Schuster. This came about, according to Whitford, because Garrett heard Korda reading from his publishing memoir, Another Place, and asked him what kinds of novels he liked; what she heard persuaded her that Amazement hit the right notes, and when Korda read it, he unhesitatingly agreed.


One of publishing's own, Warner executive editor Amy Einhorn, on leave for three months as a new mother, turned the period to good account by writing The Fourth Trimester: Advice, Humor and Inspiration for New Moms, which her agent, Victoria Sanders, sold to Betsy Rapoport at Times Books.... Pocket's Greer Kessel Hendricks has bought North American rights to Girl Talk, a first novel based on a prize-winning short story by young Julianna Baggott, which, according to Hendricks, calls to mind the work of Janet Fitch and Mona Simpson.... Crunch! Aaargh! ReganBooks at HarperCollins has been chosen as the official publisher for the World Wrestling Foundation, and the program will be launched with two no-holds-barred memoirs, Have a Nice Day! by Mankind (Mick Foley), out later this month, and The Rock Says by... well, The Rock, due next February.... William Morris's Bill Contardi has closed two TV movie deals. One with Grossbart Barnett Productions, in partnership with ATG, for the S&S series The Mediator by Meggin Cabot, about a teenager who can talk to ghosts (agent is Larua Langlie). The other is with Kevin Brown and Lawrence Bender for Brenda McKay's memoir Gold Coast Undercover, which agent Craig Nelson has sold to New American Library; it's the tale of a Long Island deb who turns FBI informer on the Mafia.... We'll shortly be extending our rights coverage to the Internet, where PW Rights Alert, an expanded collection of rights articles, will go out twice weekly via e-mail to people who sign up -- free at first, by subscription after a couple of months. Watch for details.