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John F. Baker -- 1/24/00

Fictionalizing the Romance
That's what editor-in-chief (at Morrow) turned novelist Jim Landis has been doing for much of the decade or so since he quit publishing, and the result, a massive novel firmly based on the facts of the Robert and Clara Schumann story and called Longing, has been bought by Walter Bode at Harcourt for publication this fall. It is a remarkable love story, as Bode notes: When the lovers first met, Robert was a dashing 17-year-old, Clara barely nine. When they married she was still in her teens, and they had to take her angry father to court for permission to tie the knot. Landis first wrote it as a play, found that unwieldy, so turned in a hefty manuscript that has now been discreetly whittled into a 700-page read. Henry Dunow was the agent, for North American rights only.

Picador's 'Pianist' for Polanski
The Polish-born movie director, now based in Paris, has bought movie rights to a memoir called The Pianist by Polish pianist Wladislaw Szpilman, who tells an astonishing story of how he survived the war in Warsaw. Polanski has been telling interviewers he looked for years for the right Holocaust subject to bring to the screen, and found it in this book, which was suppressed in Poland after the war and only recently came to light by the efforts of the still-living author's son. George Witte at Picador USA published it in hardcover last fall, saw it make a couple of Best Books lists, and now hopes for even greater things from the forthcoming paperback. Polanski plans to start filming this winter.

Novels Out of Nonfiction Frames
Two notable sales in the last week seem to suggest that some novelists are getting the hang of the current editorial passion for "narrative nonfiction" and proving they can get in on that act. Michelle Chalfoun, for example, who scored a hit with her first novel, Roustabout, has just sold her second to the same editor, Diane Reverand at HarperCollins's Cliff Street, and it seems, as one scout who read it noted, to have many of the virtues of The Perfect Storm. It's a story of plucky New England fishermen against the elements in a bid to save their threatened way of life, called The Width of the Sea, and Reverand was said, by agent Mary Evans, to have paid well into six figures for it. The agent is keeping world rights, and is hoping for similar strong foreign sales to those enjoyed by Chalfoun's first book.

Meanwhile, over at Dutton, editor-in-chief Brian Tartt also paid well after tracking down Elizabeth McGregor's The Ice Child, an emotional tale of a mother's love for a son set against the Arctic background of one of those ill-fated polar expeditions that so tormented the 19th century. It was sold by Liv Blumer at Barney Karpfinger, who also retains world rights and has already sold the book to customers in Germany, Sweden, Norway, Holland and Italy.

Two-Book Deal for Story Whiz
Dan Chaon
is young but already has some impressive accomplishments under his belt: short stories in the Best American anthology and the annual Pushcart gathering. Now this graduate of Tobias Wolff's creative writing class has made a six-figure, two-book sale to editor Dan Smetanka at Ballantine of a story collection, to be called Among the Missing, and an as yet untitled novel. Smetanka thinks Chaon has staying power as well as talent, and also expects some high-level endorsements for his new protege. Chaon published one previous collection with a small press, TriQuarterly. The new one concerns the impact of violence on families; the novel is a murder story set in a small Nebraska town. Agent Noah Lukeman made the deal.

Short Takes
Doubleday's Bill Thomas and Shawn Coyne have won an auction conducted by John Taylor ("Ike") Williams of Boston's Palmer & Dodge agency for a memoir by Ben Crenshaw, captain of the 1999 Ryder Cup golf team... In an entirely other sport, HarperCollins's Marjorie Braman beat out several competitors to buy From One-Eyed Jacks to Jokers: A History of Poker, a mix of history, culture and advice from ace player Andy Bellin, who before turning pro was an astrophysicist. Agent was Rebecca Kurson at Liza Dawson... We should have said that the sale of Jaclyn Moriarty's Feeling Sorry for Celia to Picador, made by Jill Grinberg at Anderson Grinberg (Hot Deals, Jan. 10). was made on behalf of Curtis Brown Australia; and we hereby do.
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