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John F. Baker -- 4/3/00

Advice from an Ex-Con Man

Frank Abagnale was one of the great con men of our time, one who effortlessly pretended to be many people he was not; at one stage, he even passed as an international airline pilot. In the course of a brief criminal career, between the ages of 16 and 21, he cashed more than $2,500,000 in fraudulent checks, here and overseas. Finally run to earth, he spent several years in prison before being let out--on condition he become an FBI instructor on the tricks of his trade. He told all about his bizarre early life in Catch Me If You Can, a 1980 bestseller from Grosset & Dunlap long out of print. Abagnale is now a respected security consultant and lecturer (he even has a dignified Web site) and is turning his hand to another book, in which he will tell people and businesses how to avoid people like his old self--a sort of Gift of Fear for dodging scam artists. It's been bought, for world rights, by Charles Conrad at Broadway; as part of the deal, the house is bringing back Abagnale's previous book in trade paperback this summer. Catch Me is also about to be a DreamWorks movie and is racking up foreign sales. The unagented Abagnale put together the deals himself, with the aid of a lawyer; perhaps no agent dared take him on.

Harper Re-Ups for Archer

Speculation was rife in London on our recent visit about where bestselling novelist (and politician) Jeffrey Archer would go after his longtime friend and supporter Eddie Bell resigned as chief of HarperCollins UK. It turns out that he didn't go far. Harper's worldwide president and publisher, Jane Friedman, announced that the house will do Archer's next three books around the world: two novels and a new story collection. The deal also calls for Harper to buy the copyright on all previous Archer titles. No money was spoken of, but word in London was that an eight-figure sum (in pounds) was being sought for a new Archer contract. Friedman described him as "a compelling storyteller whose sales record worldwide speaks for itself." At present, Archer's story collection To Cut a Long Story Short is a bestseller in the U.K., where his work has always sold better than in the U.S.

'Rex' Author Strikes Again

A bright, decidedly offbeat young writer named Eric Garcia caused quite a stir in this column, and at publisher Villard, last year with Anonymous Rex, the story of a Los Angeles police detective who is in fact a velociraptor, erroneously believed to be extinct. Editor Jonathan Karp was sufficiently enraptured to sign him to a two-book deal. Now, even before the second in the series, Casual Rex, is out (it's due next March), Karp has signed him on for two more books, via agent Barbara J. Zitwer, for a high six figures for U.S. and Canadian rights. The first will be a third Rex yarn, Hot and Sweaty Rex, the second a caper novel featuring a compulsive con man titled Matchstick Men. Zitwer told PW the second has just been sold to Warner for a movie by Endeavor in L.A., with Ted Griffin (who wrote the new Oceans Eleven screenplay) to adapt. Meanwhile, Karp said the Rex series, which has made a number of foreign sales, shows signs of becoming a cult classic; such is Garcia's energy that two of the three novels now under contract are already written.

Munich Olympics--and After

What really happened when Arab terrorists kidnapped, then killed, a group of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich has never been told in detail until now. A documentary movie, One Day in September, just won an Oscar, although no one has seen it yet, and that fact released the embargo on a book Arcade has ready to go, with the same title. British writer Simon Reeve, with the aid of hitherto secret German documents and interviews with actors on all sides of the drama, gives not only a detailed, minute-by-minute account of the massacre but also tells the remarkable story of the Israelis' later dogged pursuit of those responsible. Dick and Jeannette Seaver, who head Arcade, bought North American rights to the book from Faber in London and plan to have it in stores early in May.

Short Takes

Ballantine's Gina Centrello and Dan Smetanka swiftly preempted a first novel by p t Elizabeth Rosner on what it means to be the child of Holocaust survivors. The book, titled The Speed of Light, was bought for six figures in a two-book world rights deal from new agent (and former Ballantine hand) J lle Delbourgo...Another first novelist, Thisbe Nissen, was also given a two-book, world (English only) deal by Knopf's Jenny Minton, working with Eric Simonoff at Janklow & Nesbit; the 27-year-old's first book was a story collection published by the University of Iowa Press.
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