There's still money out there for a first novel that strikes a chord with an editor (and the marketing department), and a pair of them were preempted for six-figure sums last week. A supernatural romantic puzzle called The Mercy of Thin Air by award-winning Louisiana short story writer Ronlyn Domingue caught the fancy of Sarah Branham at Atria, who pounced on world rights from Jandy Nelson at Manus & Associates on the Coast. It's the tale of a woman, deep in a profound affair, who is killed in an accident and then becomes involved, from her spot in an otherworld called Between, in the life of a young couple 70 years later.

Claire Wachtel at Morrow was the eager buyer of the second debut,

The Madonnas of Leningrad by

Debra Dean, described as a spare and elegant tale that counterpoints the WWII siege of Leningrad with the assault on the mind of an elderly Alzheimer's disease sufferer living in the U.S. 60 years later. Wachtel got world rights (minus Germany) from agent

Marly Rusoff. Author Dean, who has also won awards for her stories, teaches creative writing in Seattle.