Indu Sundaresan: The Twentieth Wife

Pocket Books (Feb.)

Throughout her childhood, Indu Sundaresan's father, a fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force, delighted her with bedtime stories—tales from Hindu mythology and an ongoing saga of his own creation that featured Silver the Horse and Jumbo the Elephant. Each night, he would stop the story at a moment of high drama, leaving his daughter eagerly awaiting the next installment.

While Sundaresan credits her father and grandfather with giving her a love of storytelling, she never imagined herself becoming a writer. Instead, she came to the U.S. in 1989 and entered graduate school at the University of Delaware. She left four years later with degrees in economics and operations research—and a husband bound for a job in Seattle.

The couple was barely settled into their new home when Sundaresan decided to put economics aside and carry on the family tradition as a storyteller. "It was something that had obviously been percolating in my mind. So I sat down and wrote a novel. And then I wrote another." When she decided that neither book was commercial, she began yet another, The Twentieth Wife. Sundaresan based this novel on the true story of Mehrunnisa, the daughter of a Persian refugee who became the 20th—and most beloved—wife of Jahangir, an Emperor in 17th-century Mughal India. "Even though she never produced an heir," says Sundaresan, "Mehrunnisa became the most powerful woman in the dynasty that built the Taj Mahal."

To transport herself back to steamy 17th-century India in the midst of cold rainy Washington winters, Sundaresan would crank up the thermostat in her home and settle in to write in shorts and a T-shirt—"but then the phone would ring and I would be back in Seattle." Sometimes, she would set the novel aside to indulge in other creative passions, like building sets for a community theater production of an all female Odd Couple.

She began sending out the first 50 pages of her novel in 1996. "The early rejections were 'Dear Author," then 'Dear Ms. Sundaresan.' When I finally got a 'Dear Indu,' I knew I was getting somewhere. Then last year, people began asking to see the entire novel."

"This is not an easy career," says Sundaresan, who is working on a second novel that will continue Mehrunnisa's story until the time of her death. "And I think the storytelling comes far easier than the writing." One thing does come easily—like her father, Sundaresan made certain that each chapter would leave readers eagerly anticipating what would come next.

—Lucinda Dyer

Sales Tips: "The market hasn't seen a big historical novel set in India since The Far Pavilions," says Pocket publisher Judith Curr. "Indu has created a wonderful, sweeping story of love, betrayal and the building of the Taj Mahal." The Twentieth Wife has been optioned by Gaea Films for a TV mini-series and Sundaresan will hit the road next winter for a West Coast promotional tour.

William Norris: Snapshots

Riverhead (Sept.)

Writing a book about family relationships may not be a, well, novel idea, but it seemed to be expedient for William Norris. "I think family is fascinating, but I didn't particularly want to write about it because I wanted to be original," he explains. "But it's what I had. I was 23 when I wrote the first story using these characters and I didn't know anything else. I don't know that I do now."

Now 28, Norris planned to be a lawyer while in college but came to the realization in his senior year that it wasn't for him. After a stay in England, where he tended bar, Norris joined "Participation 2000," a campaign run by Bill Bradley that sent staff members to Democratic candidates around the country. He also began writing fiction and decided to apply to graduate programs. He was accepted to Sarah Lawrence College and on the first day was asked to submit a short story for the following week's class; it was the genesis of Snapshots. Eventually, says Norris, he used the piece as his graduate thesis. "It was the first story I did that wasn't filled with adolescent angst. The characters stuck around in my head so I thought, 'If they're gonna stay around, I should do something about it.' "

Snapshots is the story of the Mahoneys, a seemingly perfect, Irish Catholic family living in an affluent New Jersey suburb. The novel begins when the four siblings make their way to the family's Jersey Shore beach house for Christmas. From there, the story goes back in time, through 25 years of the Mahoneys' lives, tracing the routes that made these characters who they are. Norris uses alternating narrative voices as he explores the weighty topics of homosexuality, mental illness and alcoholism. He originally wrote much of the novel in first person but was encouraged to change it to third person by author Linsey Abrams, a professor at Sarah Lawrence.

"A family is composed of more than one person. If a father is treating a child in a way that seems unjust to the child, I think it's important to consider why the father's doing it," says Norris. "The ability to jump in and out of the characters' heads became really liberating for me and allowed me to write something more honest, particularly in instances where the genesis came from real-life experiences." The change paid off. After finishing Snapshots, Norris queried six literary agencies. Only one—ICM—agreed to take him on as a client, but it was a serendipitous move: less then two months later, Riverhead Books bought the novel.

The fledgling author's already at work on novel number two, while he's teaching creative writing courses at Hofstra University and being the curator of the Emerging Voices Reading Series at New York's KGB literary bar. Not surprisingly, Norris hopes that readers will identify with his book and its universal themes. "I gave my mom a copy of the manuscript a year ago and she wrote me this beautiful letter. I thought, 'That's so great, she read it and she got it.' Now I just hope other people do the same."

—Michael Archer

Sales Tips: Cindy Spiegel, Riverhead co-editorial director, who acquired Snapshots with editor Wendy Carlton, was struck immediately, she says, by the novel's "wonderful and unusual" qualities. "Not only is the writing exceptional, but Norris tells his story in the same way that we meet people—in a sense, backwards. Just as the Mahoneys go from adulthood back to their younger incarnations, we meet people as adults and then slowly uncover parts of their earlier lives." Because of his ability to peel back layers of the affluent suburban life, Riverhead is promoting Norris as writing in the tradition of John Cheever and Rick Moody.

Elizabeth Rosner: The Speed of Light

Ballantine (Sept.)

Elizabeth Rosner named her first computer Virginia in honor of Virginia Woolf. "I particularly admire her ability to explore the interior lives of her characters, allowing that to propel her narrative," she says. "Since I had always loved the way Virginia Woolf used floating narration to move us from consciousness to consciousness, I realized that the characters in my novel could take turns narrating without waiting for a self-contained chapter. This gave me a chance as a writer to let the story unfold from several angles at once."

Two of the three principal characters in The Speed of Light are Julian, an anxiety-ridden scientist, and his initially buoyant sister, Paula, an aspiring opera singer. Both reside in the same apartment building in Berkeley, Calif. The third pivotal presence is Sola, a refugee from an unspecified Central American country. All three have been afflicted by terrible trauma, although with the siblings, being offspring of Holocaust survivors, their painful experiences might seem more at a remove than those of Sola, the sole survivor of a political massacre in her native village. Ballantine executive editor Dan Smetanka, who acquired The Speed of Light, remarks, "It's the first novel I've read in which the Holocaust is presented as past family history. It's a stylized book; you feel that Liz is a poet in every line. Her poetic imagery helps take people through very difficult subject matter."

Rosner, 41, explains that the novel is an outgrowth of her more emphatically autobiographical poetry. "Although I'm reluctant to categorize myself, I would say that being a child of Holocaust survivors has shaped me not only as an artist but as a human being. We are only just beginning to hear from the so-called Second Generation. The category of Holocaust literature must extend itself to include non-survivors who weren't alive during World War II," she contends. "I felt compelled to explore the effects of inherited grief."

A key element in The Speed of Light is Julian and Paula's deceased father's inability to address the horrifying circumstances of his detention in Auschwitz. "The point is that the father chose silence as the only possible response to the pain of his experience, even though both he and his children ultimately pay another price for that silence," explains the author. "Sola is a reminder to me that terrible suffering and loss continue to occur all over the world."

—Charles Hix

Sales Tips: Smetanka states categorically that the novel belongs in the genre of literary fiction—"We took the manuscript to the Frankfurt Book Fair, and we accepted preempts from the most literary houses in Europe. We sold it to France, Germany (where the subject matter has great resonance; an editor at Bertelsmann said she has been waiting 10 years to read a book like this), Holland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Denmark." He notes that Borders has accepted the book in its Original Voices program. Declining to liken Rosner's novel to any other, Smetanka says, "People will talk about how incredibly powerful it is. They will make their own comparisons."

Brock Clarke: The Ordinary White Boy

Harcourt (Sept.)

Considering the hero of Brock Clarke's debut novel—20-something Lamar Kerry Jr., who returns home after college to avoid being extraordinary—it's not surprising that Clarke wasn't one of those overachievers who started writing early. "At age 12, I was watching baseball and picking my teeth," says the self-acknowledged "smart-ass."

In fact, it wasn't until Clarke was in graduate school that he began writing fiction. "I was about half-way through the Ph.D. program in literature at Rochester before I decided I wanted to do both—critical and creative writing." As a result, he maintained a somewhat schizophrenic writing schedule. He completed the novel and wrote many of the stories in his award-winning short-story collection, What We Won't Do (to be published by Sarabande next spring), while completing his dissertation on politics in the literature of writers like Grace Paley, E.L. Doctorow and William Kennedy.

Despite the laugh-out-loud humor in The Ordinary White Boy, much of it surrounding Lamar's job as a part-time newspaper reporter-cum-plagiarizer for the Valley News, Clarke regards the novel as a political work in the same vein as the fiction of many of the writers he studied for his dissertation. "Political writers are people who have political concerns," he observes. "People think they're humorless. But they don't have to be." One of Clarke's goals in writing a novel about race—much of the action concerns the town's only Hispanic, who is missing—was to break out of the confines of what he regards as "the To Kill a Mockingbird pattern. It seemed to me that the notions and facts of race have changed in the last 30-odd years, and yet we still talk about race the same way."

Clarke deliberately chose to set the novel in Little Falls, N.Y., where he himself grew up. "It offered me a chance to write about a world that is beautiful and ugly both, smart and dumb, not easily praised for its natural beauty. I haven't seen many books where the small town setting isn't either romanticized or demonized." In addition, he views Little Falls as a metaphor for "the frustrations in our lives. In one way people are defined by a place, and they're confined by it."

Hopefully Clarke's second novel, which he is in the midst of writing, has no autobiographical elements. He claims it's merely coincidence that after he began An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, the Thomas Wolfe house was torched.

—Judith Rosen

Sales Tips: Harcourt executive editor Ann Patty characterizes Clarke's novel as "the populist antidote to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It's about being a regular guy, not being a genius." Even though Patty only publishes five books a year, she was ready to buy The Ordinary White Boy after reading just two pages. "First of all, I loved the title. He has a voice from the get-go. I rarely see a novel with such an assured voice."

Sue Monk Kidd: The Secret Life of Bees

Viking (Jan.)

It began the evening Sue Monk Kidd and her husband were comparing "how I met my future in-laws" stories with friends. Sandy Kidd won hands down with his recounting of the first night he spent in the Monk family home in Georgia—the night he was attacked by bees. "The bees," recalls Sue Monk Kidd, "visited us regularly for years. They lived in a back bedroom and actually made honey inside the wall. Now and then it would leak out through the cracks and create a mess on the floor. No one ever considered exterminating them—as my mother said, 'What kind of terrible people kill honeybees?' "

The incident provided the genesis for a short story, but from the beginning Kidd always intended to develop it into a novel. Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees is the story of young Lily Owens, who runs away with her fierce-hearted nanny, Rosaleen, and is taken in by an eccentric trio of beekeeping black sisters named May, June and August.

Kidd dreamed of becoming a writer, but studied nursing in college—a choice she puts down to coming of age in the pre-Women's Movement South and watching far too many episodes of Dr. Kildare. But her talent as a writer was hard to miss. "For the love of God," pleaded one of her English professors, "why are you a nursing major? You're a born writer." The conversation, remembers Kidd, "sent me into a mini crisis. But even with that affirmation, I still couldn't take the plunge. I became a nurse."

Kidd's "hunger for the world of stories" never dissipated. She began publishing personal experience articles and essays, became a contributing editor at Guideposts magazine, and published three successful "spiritual memoirs" with Harper San Francisco. But Kidd never resigned herself to life as a nonfiction writer. "I always used fiction techniques in my books and I never lost my passion for narrative and the power of the story." At 42, she finally took the plunge into fiction. "It was a longing I couldn't ignore. It was very scary; I couldn't imagine having any success."

The Secret Life of Bees grew, says Kidd "out of my Southern background and my intimacy with the racial wounds and tensions of the 1960s. I needed to do something with my memories of that time, to psychologically and spiritually digest those experiences and put them into a narrative." Midway through the novel, Kidd realized that she had no idea how it should end. Then, August, one of the beekeeping sisters, appeared to her in a dream. "She was complaining about my ideas for an ending. They were all wrong, she said. Then she proceed to tell me the ending. I've always had a great dream life," laughs Kidd, "but that's never happened again!"

—Lucinda Dyer

Sales Tips: According to executive editor Pamela Dorman, "This is the kind of book that women talk to each other about, that a mother will give to a daughter."Kidd's work has already won praise from Anita Shreve as "reminiscent of Reynolds Price in its ability to create a truly original voice." Viking plans an eight-city tour and Hollywood has come calling: Lauren Shuler Donner, whose films include You've Got Mail and X-Men, has optioned the book for Winchester Films.

Owen West: Sharkman Six

Simon & Schuster (Oct.)

West, an ROTC Harvard grad who spent six years in the Marines, penned a military novel, he says, to fill the gap left by existing books in that genre. "I loved all the techno-thrillers when I was younger, but when I was in the Marines, I didn't think they quite reflected my experience. They were great books, but technology and an interesting Cold War plot didn't reflect the modern experience of the grunt, or the good soldier. You need to talk about how the face of war has changed, even though its nature never will."

The 31-year-old author began working on his novel after his stint in the Armed Forces, while attending Harvard Business School. "I was in my Business French class, which is a course you take when you don't want to go to class or work. That's when I wrote the plot outline. I thought that a modern '911 brushfire war'—we don't even call them wars anymore, we call them operations—would be a good setting."

Simon & Schuster has likened his book to Joseph Heller's Catch-22 in its wickedly revealing insider's view of military life, rife with inherent conflict. "The narrator's questioning himself," West tells PW. "He's questioning the rules under which he has to operate. He's forced to have a cutting sense of humor, otherwise he might go crazy."

West further explains, "In all the 'brushfire wars' in the '90s—Panama, Somalia and the Serbian crisis—the rules of war were very strange. You saw the old conflict arising between what the military wants to do and what they're allowed to do. In Serbia, they had a ceiling that the planes couldn't fly under, because it would put the pilots at risk of being shot down by anti-aircraft missiles. But conversely, it's very hard to do effective bombing from such a high altitude. So what you're saying is, we want to go to these wars, but we don't want to have any casualties."

Another aspect of Marine experience included in West's novel is the irreverent language that's part and parcel of military life. According to the author, "I didn't even notice that when I was writing, because that's just the way Marines talk. If you look at old war novels, except for Norman Mailer, no one really swears. Now, even generals like my book, but they don't feel they can endorse it, even though they agree that Marines do talk this way.

"In the end it's just a story," he continues, "but I did want to give a view into a modern infantry platoon—how it functions and how the restrictive rules of war affect those men who are actually out there carrying rifles on the tip of the spear."

—Hilary S. Kayle

Sales Tips: According to senior editor Marysue Rucci, "Owen set out to be a 'Gen X Tom Clancy.' What he succeeds at is combining his personal experience and the experiences of his grandfather and father—this military background—with a sensibility that's very modern. His audience is broader than Gen X, but it is a younger audience." As for the profanity, Rucci reasons, "It is a raw book; that's part of its allure. There's always the danger of turning people off when you have that verisimilitude. But it's important to Owen that he portrays the reality."

Doug Marlette: The Bridge

HarperCollins (Oct.)

A funny thing happened to Doug Marlette on his way to becoming a novelist—he won the Pulitzer Prize. He won the esteemed award with his "day job" hat on—as a cartoonist. His incendiary political cartoons, drawn for newspapers throughout the country, along with his comic strip, Kudzu, have made the North Carolinian a well-known name in publishing circles and attracted a legion of fans. But Marlette never thought of himself as a novelist.

"The title character in my comic strip, which was based on growing up in a small town in the South, wanted to be a writer," Marlette tells PW. "I didn't realize it was my aspiration, too. It wasn't conscious but it may have been coming out in the strips."

The transition to novelist seemed to be a gradual process for Marlette. On the heels of his political cartoons came Kudzu, which required more character development and dialogue, and then Marlette wrote a musical. "It seems like I was moving toward a novel. It was a bit like a salmon swimming upstream. While the whole world seems to be going more toward images, I was crawling back to words." It wasn't an easy crawl, though, as Marlette readily admits. "Cartoonists are notoriously illiterate; we consider words a crutch. The wordless cartoon is the ideal. I was stunned that I could write anything more than a caption. It totally crept up on me."

The idea for The Bridge originated when Marlette moved from New York City to Hillsborough, in his native North Carolina. (He was born in Greensboro, but had relocated to New York to work for New York Newsday.) He found he had deep family roots in Hillsborough, as his grandparents had met and married there while working in the cotton mills. Marlette soon began hearing colorful tales about Mama Lucy, his feisty, snuff-dipping grandmother who had been bayoneted by a national guardsman in the General Textile Strike of 1934 (she survived the incident, in the largest walkout in American labor history to that time).

Picking up those threads, Marlette tells in The Bridge the story of Pick Cantell, a successful newspaper cartoonist whose career has hit the skids. He gets fired from his job in New York and returns with his wife and son to Eno, N.C., where he begins renovating an old home and putting his life back together. In the process, he discovers his family's ties to the Southern city and the fact that one of his grandparents had led a "secret life" that Pick had known nothing about. The novel is, in Marlette's words, "a tale of love and betrayal, forbidden passions and long-buried secrets, and one man's struggle with his heritage and with himself." And HC executive editor Carolyn Marino tells PW, "Like Doug, I'm a North Carolinian and was drawn to a story that took place near where I grew up, but what particularly intrigued and charmed me was the novel itself, especially the story within a story." For its vivid characterizations and evocative sense of place, Marino likens The Bridge to the work of another Southerner, Pat Conroy.

So will Marlette repeat the novel-writing process? "It was a pleasure to do, but incredibly difficult. I want to do it again, though. A cartoon is like a slam dunk, a novel is like a whole season."

—Michael Archer

Sales Tips: The Bridge has already received extensive media coverage—Liz Smith's column noted that the publishing industry is calling it "the best first novel out of the state of North Carolina since Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel." Other advance praise has come from such noted authors as Pat Conroy, Kaye Gibbons, Joe Klein and Studs Terkel. HC's extensive promotional campaign will include a seven-city tour.

Tess Uriza Holthe: When the Elephants Dance

Crown (Jan.)

Tess Uriza Holthe, 34, couldn't be more cheerful as she talks about the ease with which her novel, When the Elephants Dance, happened. An accountant by training, Holthe, who lives in the Bay Area, had enrolled in a creative writing workshop at the Book Passage in nearby Corte Madera. "The class was given an exercise to write about a myth in the family," she says. "I did a list—I'm a lister—and after 10 minutes I had 10 myths. I was so excited. I thought, I could write a book! It hit a vein with me."

A year and a half later, her novel, a WWII story set in the Philippines, was finished. "I would write at night after work, for two hours," she says. "Even if it was just one word—just for the continuity of it. I was possessed. All these myths just came out." A few weeks after attending the Maui Writers Conference at the suggestion of a friend, she had not only an agent but a contract with Crown. "After the writing class, I felt as if someone had said to me, 'Go play now, go play.' It's so weird that I found writing so late in my life. I'm so glad that I did."

Holthe's parents, Filipino immigrants, expected their children to follow respectable careers—nothing "artsy" like being a writer. But their own lives were filled with stories and storytelling, and these took hold in their youngest child. "Three things were always going on in my family," Holthe says. "My father is cooking in the kitchen; there's a marathon mahjong game going on in the living room; and my grandmother and father are telling stories. I grew up surrounded by wonderful stories. I would hear them endlessly."

In the novel, a group of Filipino civilians, hiding out from Japanese soldiers as the battle for possession of the Philippines rages in the street, regale each other with stories to help the time go by. Outside is hunger, rape, torture; inside is all fantastic narrative. Five of their stories are interspersed with scenes from the war, seen from shifting points of view: that of a 12-year-old boy, his 17-year-old sister and their neighbor, a guerrilla warrior.

"The opening is based on something that happened to my father, but I researched the rest," Holthe says. It was this history that made the book difficult, she adds, as reading about the wartime atrocities would bring tears to her eyes. By contrast, "The mythical stories just flew. I really felt there were spirits in the room when I was writing. I felt as if my grandmother was in the room."

—Suzanne Mantell

Sales Tips: Executive editor Kristin Kiser compares Holthe's book to One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Joy Luck Club but describes it, too, as "like nothing you've ever read before. She takes you into this harsh world with babies dead in the road and then transforms it in the next few pages with magic realism. She transforms worlds large and small." Crown has announced a first printing of 75,000 copies, with ARCs going out and an eight-city tour planned.

Bill Roorbach: The Smallest Color

Counterpoint (Oct.)

Readers of Harper's, the Atlantic and other periodicals may be familiar with Bill Roorbach's warm, energetic and finely wrought short stories and essays, which have popped up in print regularly over the past decade. Earlier this year, his story collection from U. of Georgia Press, Big Bend, won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Roorbach is also the author of an acclaimed memoir, Summers with Juliet, and a how-to book about transforming experience into readable and meaningful form, Writing Life Stories. The appearance of The Smallest Color marks his first claim to the term "novelist"—a claim that has taken more than 10 years to realize.

The book tells the story of Coop Henry, a successful, middle-aged man whose older brother, Hodge, has been missing for 30 years. Coop knows Hodge's secret and has guarded it since he disappeared, but then it starts to ruin his life. "Coop has got to come clean, and in order to do that he has to lose everything he's got," Roorbach says. "Everything he has stems from the secret."

Roorbach, 47, knew as a child that he'd become a writer. When he was five, he asked his parents for a desk for Christmas, to sit at to compose his thoughts. "Fiction was my first love," he explains. "I just wrote stories all along." But he also played the piano and, for a while, "music won out." After college in Ithaca, N.Y., Roorbach joined a band, hewed to a musician's peripatetic life and supplemented his income with odd jobs, including bartender, plumber and handyman. In retrospect it was all preparation and fodder, though at the time it was a lot of fun.

At graduate school at Columbia, at age 33, he was steered toward nonfiction: "It was faster, easier, a great way to start." But The Smallest Color had its inception even then. "I wrote the book piece by piece, with long pauses between drafts," he says, emphasizing that there were many, many drafts.

One of the biggest challenges of The Smallest Color, according to Roorbach, was owning up to its deepest truth. "I had been afraid to make the brother as bad as he is. But he really is bad. The last step was to admit how bad. It was like breaking the sound barrier. It's so much harder than nonfiction. In journalism or memoirs, the story is there for you—the art is in structuring it. With fiction, you have to find out where the story is."

This past spring, Roorbach gave up a tenured teaching position at Ohio State and, with his wife and 10-month-old daughter, moved to Maine ("It's what Connecticut was like when I was growing up there in the '50s"). He plans to devote full time to writing, with a bit of teaching thrown in. On the calendar for next spring is a book of nature essays, with another novel to come out some time after that. "I could probably do a novel now in three years, but I will probably use breaks, writing other things in between," he says. "Fiction and nonfiction don't get in each other's way for me. The voices are different."

—Suzanne Mantell

Sales Tips: Quotes from Colin Harrison and Richard Russo accompany what senior editor Dawn Seferian calls "a literary thriller. It's not a murder mystery, but it's that kind of thing. I was hooked from the first sentence." Counterpoint has acquired paperback rights for Big Bend and will bring it out at the same time as the paper edition of The Smallest Color.

Glen David Gold: Carter Beats the Devil

Hyperion (Sept.)

Do you believe in magic? Glen David Gold does, or at least he believes in magicians. His novel, Carter Beats the Devil, is the tale of Charles Carter, a real magician who lived in San Francisco and, as Carter the Great, was widely known for his skill as an illusionist in the 1920s. During the five years it took Gold to research and write the novel he developed a lot of affection for Carter and his ilk. "What kind of a guy rolls out of bed, has his coffee, and says, 'I'm going to think of a new way to saw someone in half?' " asks Gold. "A magician has a personality not unlike that of a writer, because he's trying to manipulate reality."

Or, in Gold's case, manipulate history. Carter Beats the Devil is an addition to a family of historical fiction that includes Darin Strauss's Chang and Eng and Lauren Belfer's City of Light (not to mention E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime)—all novels that aspire to recreate an era through less-remembered historical figures who were legendary in their time. Like those authors, Gold aims to use historical fiction to transport rather than to educate didactically. Says the author, "What you want is to be able to imagine yourself back there, and it's fun to try to get the real personalities of people we think we know."

Gold began the novel as a student in the creative writing program at the University of California at Irvine. Pressed to meet a deadline, he hammered out the first chapter while living in a rococo Oakland, Calif., apartment building complete with hidden staircases—"It was a place I imagined Carter would have lived in himself."

Before enrolling in graduate school, Gold wrote for TV and movies, but had trouble getting a foothold. He wrote a script ("a romantic comedy about lesbian biker chicks and the men who love them") that made the rounds and eventually landed him a job as a staff writer for 101 Dalmatians (go figure). Gold held that position for all of eight hours before his department was let go. In the end, his sole television writing credit was for an episode of the Nickelodeon cartoon Hey Arnold!—an episode in which Arnold performs a magic act.

No magic was involved in acquiring Gold's debut, however, says Hyperion senior editor Leigh Haber: "There are times when you get a manuscript and a light goes on, not only because you love the novel, but because you instinctively feel that it's a great fit with the publishing house. That was definitely the case with Glen's novel."

—Natalie Danford

Sales Tips: Set for a 75,000-copy first printing, Carter will be backed by a $100,000 marketing campaign that includes national print advertising and a tour of the West Coast. It will be excerpted in the August issue of—what else?— Magic magazine. Along with its four-color illustrations the novel sports an exceptionally eye-catching cover, taken from an actual Charles Carter poster. Years ago, Gold received a copy of the poster from his father as a birthday gift.