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John F. Baker -- 1/1/01

Jokey New Year for Dubya
The president-elect is unique in that shortly after his inauguration he will be greeted with at least two joke books impugning his qualifications for his exalted position. One is by the folks who run the humor Web site Modern Humorist, who have been gnawing away at George W. Bush's credentials for some months. They have come up with something they call My First Presidentiary, and Steve Ross, editorial director at Crown, signed it for North American rights for the house's Three Rivers Press. The deal was made with agent Kim Witherspoon, for a book to be edited by Pete Fornatale. The president-elect is quoted (possibly spuriously) as saying of the book: "With this book, the American people will know I'm a writer not a divider." Such is their practice at illuminating the more juvenile side of Dubya's persona (the book will take the form of a third-grader's school notebook) that the Modern Humorist writers promise to have their book in the stores by mid-February.

Meanwhile, another collective authorship, this time consisting of screenwriter (and New York University professor) D.B. Gilles and playwright Sheldon Woodbury, has come up with something called W: The First 100 Days: A White House Journal, which Chris Schillig at Andrews McMeel bought, also for North American rights, within 24 hours of receiving the proposal from Jane Dystel at Jane Dystel Literary Management. This, too, is scheduled to appear within days of the inauguration.

Combination from Down Under
An Australian former lawyer is a new agent at the Arthur Pine agency, and has just sold, in her first deal there, a book by a fellow countrywoman. She is Catherine Drayton, and the book she sold, to Pocket Books' Tracy Behar, was A Better Woman by novelist and journalist Susan Johnson. The latter recently had a child after a difficult birth, and her book reflects at length on the resulting transformations in her life and work. It was a bestseller when published in Australia last year, and recently appeared to strong reviews in London. Behar, who preempted, got North American rights only (Pine retains translation), and plans to publish the book as the house's lead title for Mother's Day 2002.

The Third Side Heard From
A book by Bill Hillsman, who has served as chief media campaign representative for such contrarian candidates as Sen. Paul Wellstone, Gov. Jesse Ventura and, most recently, for Ralph Nader and his Green Party in the presidential election just concluded, has been bought by Dominick Anfuso at the Free Press. It is tentatively titled The System Ain't Working: Memoirs of a Rebel Politician, and will offer Hillsman's views, based on his experiences in the past decade, that U.S. politics are currently influenced far too strongly by the media and the two chief parties, and do not offer a genuine choice to the American voter. The book, sold for an undisclosed sum just before the holidays, was jointly represented by Jonathon Lazear and John Peter Larson, and the deal was actually closed by Christi Cardenas of the Lazear agency.

Short Takes
Candace Bushnell
, whose "Sex and the City" column in the New York Observer became the basis of a successful book with Grove Atlantic, and then was developed into a hit HBO TV series, made a two-book deal, for an undisclosed sum, for a pair of novels to be written for senior editor Leigh Haber at Hyperion. No titles or subjects yet, but it's a safe bet they will be set on Bushnell's familiar turf. This was a North American rights deal signed with Heather Schr der at ICM.... Merrill Mark , who made a name as the former head writer for the David Letterman Show, has signed to do her first novel, for Villard editorial director Bruce Tracy; it is said to be a series of diary entries by a woman with overbearing parents and a nonexistent romantic life. Tracy preempted from agent Melanie Jackson for North American rights and plans to publish in early 2002.... Fred Ramey and Greg Michalson, whose MacMurray & Beck published Daniel Akst's first novel four years ago, have now preempted his second, The Webster Chronicle, for their new BlueHen imprint at Penguin Putnam. They bought world rights from agent Sloan Harris at ICM, and will publish next fall.... Jantel Hill at Doubleday preempted, for a low six figures for world rights, a first-novel saga of African-American women, covering six generations from the slave ships to the present. It is Sapphire's Grave by black lawyer Hilda Gurley-Highgate, and was sold by West Coast agent JodieRhodes.... Darrin Bastfield knew the late rap king Tupac Shakur when both were teenagers in Baltimore, and has written a memoir about his friend in those days; Wendy Sherman made the North American rights sale to Anita Diggs for her One World imprint at Ballantine, and she plans to publish in February next year.