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John F. Baker -- 3/27/00

The Right Life for a Writer

There used to be a tradition that novelists did lots of other things before turning to writing, and it's one that's been loyally carried out by a 50-something named Evelyn Lambright (who g s by the nickname "Slim"). Waitress, bartender, go-go dancer, numbers runner and court reporter are just some of the jobs she's held in her colorful life so far. Now she's also a first novelist, thanks to agent Victoria Sanders, who found her at a Philadelphia black writers' conference three years ago, and HarperCollins v-p Carolyn Marino, who made a "solid" six-figure preemptive bid for world rights to two books set in the same Philadelphia neighborhood. The first is The Justus Girlz, starring four blue-collar black women who first got together in junior high to form a drill team and telling of their lives during the subsequent 30 years. "Very vividly written" is how Marino described this saga; she hopes to publish spring or summer of next year. Next up in what Lambright plans as a series of four interlocking books will be Ruby Blue.

Putin in Candid Closeup

Very little is known about KGB-man-turned-Russian-prime-minister Vladimir Putin, who is about to become Russia's new president--but that's a gap a book just signed by Peter Osnos at Public Affairs hopes to fill. Working with the same agent, Andrew Nurnberg, who sold him Boris Yeltsin's forthcoming memoir Midnight Diaries, Osnos acquired world English-language rights (except for the U.K. and Commonwealth) to Putin's First Person, described as a remarkably candid series of interviews plus a collection of previously unseen photos. This will be rushed out as a paperback to be in stores in time for the presidential inauguration in Moscow May 8.

A Fashion Statement

That's what we can expect from a combination of George magazine senior editor Michael Gross and veteran fashion designer Ralph Lauren, whose biography Gross is planning. It was a combination offered by agent Ellen Levine exclusively to Diane Reverand for her Cliff Street imprint at Harper, and accepted for a North American-only payment in "the very high six figures." Reverand aims to publish the book, tentatively titled American Dreamer, in early 2002. Gross was the author of the bestselling Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women, and another book for Cliff Street, My Generation, is a current release. Lauren's story is a typical rags-to-riches one, of a poor Russian Jewish immigrant boy (born Ralph Lifshitz) who began in Seventh Avenue fashion house stock rooms and became a billionaire.

'Cod' Author Turns to Fiction

Mark Kurlansky has made quite a name as an author of witty and revealing nonfiction studies of little-known subjects (Cod was a big, award-winning hit for Walker two years ago, and The Basque History of the World is still doing well for them). Now he is following his editor for these as well as earlier books, Nancy Miller, to Pocket Books' Washington Square Press imprint, which she currently heads, for two books: the first is a fiction collection, The White Man in the Tree, the second another nonfiction effort titled 1968: The First Global Year. This was not a two-book deal, as might be assumed; the two deals, both for world rights, were separately brokered by Kurlansky's agent, Charlotte Sheedy. The fiction collection, which consists of a novella and eight stories, is set in the Caribbean, where Kurlansky has spent much time as a newspaper correspondent, and will involve the comedy of cultural misunderstandings, with liberal helpings of local food lore. It will appear this fall; 1968 is due two years later. Meanwhile, the author still has another Miller-edited book, Salt, due from Walker next year.

Short Takes

Dutton's Doug Grad has signed bestselling author John Jakes for a new novel tentatively titled Charleston, which will be the story of a wealthy local family and its dark secret, from Revolutionary times to the Civil War. The deal, arranged with Frank Curtis at Rembar & Curtis, is a hard/soft North American-only one, with a Dutton hardcover due in summer 2002 and a Signet paperback the next year. It's the author's third book for that combo.... Trena Keating at Harper beat three other publishers with a mid-six-figure bid for Journal of the Dead, a real-life adventure/true crime tale involving two young men and a killing on a cross-country trip. The author is journalist Jason Kersten, repped by agent Scott Waxman, who sold North American rights only.... Gremlins, alas, ran loose in last week's column. Connie Brisc was the author whose book sold to Janet Hill at Doubleday, and that was her in the picture, not Debbie Macomber (who did make a deal, but with MIRA). "John Neuland," author of Random's Riding Shotgun, is in fact Robert Reuland. And although Gerry Howard buys for both Doubleday and Broadway, it was the former for which he bought Chuck Palahniuk's new novel, Choke.
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