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John F. Baker -- 5/8/00

Knopf's "Venetian Affair"

An account of a passionate romance in 18th-century Venice between a nobleman and a beautiful woman from the lower classes, based on a cache of recently discovered letters between them, has been bought by Sonny Mehta at Knopf for what is understood to be a sum in the very high six figures. Mehta's was the highest bid when agent Michael Carlisle at Carlisle & Company sent the proposal around to just one editor at each of the half-dozen major groups. The book, to be titled The Venetian Affair, will be written by Andrea Robliant, an Italian journalist who discovered the letters among his family papers. The correspondence also involves Casanova, who knew the family and was in fact thrown in jail at the instigation of one of Robliant's forebears. Carlisle knew Robliant, a bureau chief for Milan's La Stampa newspaper, from the time they roomed together at Columbia. Knopf has only North American rights, and Carlisle has been busy making other foreign sales.

The Men Who "Wrote" the Bible

The team of English translators who put together the immortal King James version of the Bible created a great literary work, yet comparatively little is known about them. A book that HarperCollins's Larry Ashmead has just signed will put them in the spotlight at last. Titled God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, it was hatched by agent Scott Waxman and Ashmead together. Waxman had the idea for the book, and the editor helped find the right writer: Adam Nicolson, son of Nigel,and scion of a famous literary family. He was brought in by his London agent, Caroline Daunay, who has also sold the project to Harper in London (both sales were for six figures, in dollars here, pounds there). Waxman says the book, due for delivery in December 2001, will paint a vivid picture of 17th-century England as well as of the team who created "a book of great beauty." All involved are hoping for a repeat of the kind of success enjoyed last year by Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman, about the creation of another English monument: the Oxford Dictionary. Danny Baror is handling foreign rights.

The Man Who Wasn't Houdini

In the 1920s, heyday of the magician as superstar, there was someone besides the famous Houdini whose reputation as an actual magician was even greater: Charles Carter,also known as Carter the Great. He is now the subject of a first novel by a Californian essayist, Glen David Gold,which agent Susan Golomb has just sold, for a major six figures, to Hyperion's Martha Levin and Leigh Haber at auction. The book is titled Carter Beats the Devil and is a mix of fact and fiction that brings together a number of real people--including Carter, Houdini himself and President Warren Harding--for an amazing adventure in San Francisco. The sale was of world rights, except for Germany and the U.K., and Hyperion, which took the floor in the auction, ended by topping.

The Fight to End Slavery

Adam Hochschild, whose King Leopold's Ghost won a slew of awards last year, has signed with his previous editor, Eric Chinski,at Houghton Mifflin, for his next. The First Human Rights Movement will be a study of the struggle, by a group of English reformers in the early years of the 19th century, to end slavery. Agent Georges Borchardt sold the proposal for what he called a substantial six figures (North American only) and has also sold the book to Macmillan in the U.K. Another recent signing by Chinski is a decidedly offbeat one: a book titled, simply, C, which describes the artistic and political battles in history over the significance of the musical note middle C, and enlisting the likes of Pavarotti, Dr. G bbels and Johannes Kepler. The author is Russ Rymer, whose last two books, Genie and American Beach,were published at HarperCollins. The agent for this deal, also a North American one, was Melanie Jackson.

Short Takes

Among new movie deals, Offline Entertainment has optioned Woody, Cisco and Me, a memoir by Jim Longhi that tells of his dangerous life in the wartime Merchant Marines with famous folk musicians Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston. The book was published by the University of Illinois Press, and William Morris's Bill Contardi made the deal.... Doubleday's Bill Thomas preempted for world rights on a book by historian Edward Renehan Jr.,tentatively titled The Kennedys at War,about the wartime life of the family. He paid six figures to agent Chris Calhoun at Sterling Lord Literistic.... Ann Rule's next true crime book for editor Fred Hills at Simon & Schuster will be on the case of Texan millionaire Allen Blackthorn, accused of having his former wife, Sheila (who had later become the mother of quadruplets), slain by contract killers in Florida. Agents were J and Joan Foley of the Foley agency.
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