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John F. Baker -- 4/10/00

Saga of a Reform-School Boy

Sean Wilsey is a thoroughly reformed character; now in his mid-30s, he is an editor at McSweeney's, following a stint as assistant fiction editor at the New Yorker. His earlier life did not run so smoothly, however. In a memoir just preempted by senior editor Dan Menaker at Random House, Wilsey will write of his somewhat eccentric family, and of the string of reform schools--from the wilds of Oregon to Italy--through which he passed as he went through his tempestuous teens. The untitled book, of which Menaker saw about 100 pages, was bought for what the editor cautiously described as "a reasonably significant six figures" (a brand-new formulation) from agent David McCormick at IMG Literary, who reported that Wilsey would deliver a finished book next January. Editor and agent both spoke of the quality of the writing. Menaker: "Highly energized." McCormick: "Sometimes stark, but funny and affecting."

Two Valleys in California Conflict

The tale of how the inhabitants of one mediagenic California "valley" are beginning to impinge on the resistant residents of another will be the theme of a new nonfiction book just signed by senior editor Suzanne Oaks at Broadway Books. It's by Alan Deutschman, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, who has been tracking how newly wealthy young Silicon Valley tycoons are running into roadblocks in their efforts to build and buy in the old-established winemaking Napa Valley north of San Francisco. Oaks niftily pitches it as a blend of Philistines at the Hedgerow (culture clash in the Hamptons), The New New Thing (the big money in Silicon Valley startups) and, for wine lore, Under the Tuscan Sun. Oaks got an exclusive on this, as her option for the next book after Deutschman's forthcoming The Second Coming of Steve Jobs. The agent was Suzanne Gluck at ICM, and the deal was for North American rights only.

New 'Wake-Up' from Lunden

The star of ABC's Good Morning America for 17 years, sunny Joan Lunden has probably helped more Americans out of bed in the morning than any other TV star. Now she's on to a book, by the title of Wake-Up Calls: Making the Most Out of Every Day (Regardless of What Life Throws You), a portmanteau collection of favorite quotes, recollections and inspirational insights. It was acquired, for publication as soon as next October, by McGraw-Hill executive editor Nancy Mikhail as part of what trade publisher Philip Ruppel described as "an aggressive expansion" of the publisher's self-help program. Al Lowman at Authors and Artists was the agent; although no sum was mentioned for the world English rights deal, McGraw-Hill's print order (150,000) and $200,000 promotional budget suggest a significant six figures.

Tales of Two Irish Mobsters

James "Whitey" Bulger is one of the two leading characters in Public Affairs' Black Mass: The Irish Mob, the FBI and a Devil's Deal by two Boston Globe reporters, Dick Lehr and Gerald O'Neill, which is the tale of how a longtime buddy in the FBI gave Bulger carte blanche for his crimes in Boston in return for information about the Mafia. Agented for world rights by Esmond Harmsworth of the Zachary & Shuster agency and edited by Geoff Shandler, the book has now been moved up to June. Meanwhile, Miramax has bought movie rights, HarperCollins has taken paperback and audio rights (for a sum that, with bonuses, could reach seven figures), Talk magazine has first serial and a sale has been made to Kadokawo in Japan.

Now comes word of a related project at another house, involving another Boston Irish gangster who was in fact Whitey Bulger's enforcer (or "legbreaker"). It's a book called The Redemption of Eddie Macke by Edward McKenzie with Phyllis Karas, which Harper executive editor Mauro DiPreta (who has just moved over to the Morrow imprint) preempted, also for world rights. The agent was another Bostonian, Helen Rees. DiPreta said a sale had already been made to Harper in the U.K., and there is movie interest. The book tells of Eddie's hard life as a child in foster homes, as a boxer and martial arts practitioner, as a marine and finally as a petty criminal and minor mobster who turned against his boss.

Short Takes

Sally Kim at Harper outbid three other houses in a best-bid auction for Yell-Oh Girls: Writing About Culture, Identity and Growing Up, edited by 24-year-old Vickie Nam, a collection of essays, stories and p ms by Asian-American teenage girls--and aimed at just that market. The agent, who sold world rights for delivery of a book in October, was Faye Bender at the Doris Michaels agency....One of the largest recent auctions, involving 10 houses, ended in a win for Norton's Starling Lawrence with an "aggressive" six-figure offer for Icebound: A Story of Men, Dogs, Courage and the Race to Save an Arctic Town by two female cousins, Gay and Laney Salisbury, a former publisher (at Pantheon and Basic) and a Reuters reporter, respectively. The tale is of a dogsled race against time and weather to get desperately needed anti-diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska, in 1925. Agent Susan Rabiner sold world rights.
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