The latest publishing deals that Texas authors have made concern murders both fictional and real.
This spring, East Texas author Joe R. Lansdale won the Edgar for best novel of 2000 (The Bottoms), and now he's moving on to a new publisher. When it came time to renew his contract with Mysterious Press, an imprint of Warner Books that has been publishing Lansdale for some time, Lansdale and his agent James Vines weren't entirely pleased with the offer that Mysterious made. Then Alfred A. Knopf made a better offer. In a two-book deal, Knopf will publish Sunset and Sawdust in 2003; it's a crime novel set in East Texas during the Depression, "about a woman who kills her abusive sheriff husband in self-defense, then takes over his job and is faced with a murder that points to her." The other book is untitled as of yet. "By moving to Knopf, this frees me up from being just purely thought of as writing for a press that publishes all mysteries," Lansdale told me. "I loved Mysterious Press, they're a good press, but I felt that I needed to expand my wings a little bit." Sonny Mehta will be Lansdale's editor In September, 1998, Statesman features writer Patrick Beach went to Northern California to write an article about the death of David Nathan "Gypsy" Chain, who was an Earth First! activist and Austin resident. Chain felt that he had finally found his calling by going to the redwood forests 300 miles north of San Francisco to protest logging by the Pacific Lumber Co., and -- like many saints and fools, depending on whom you ask -- he died for his passion after a logger, irate at the activities of the protesters, yelled "Get outta here! Otherwise I'll make sure I got a tree comin' this way!" An hour later, a tree did fall, and then one of the protesters asked, "Where's Gypsy?," who had died instantly. That's from Beach's Oct. 4, 1998, story in the Statesman, which impressed Chain's mother, Coldspring resident Cindy Allsbrooks. Several months ago, because she was afraid that another death would occur, Allsbrooks called Beach, who is now the Statesman's acting book editor, to ask him if he knew anyone in the media who could cover the ongoing debacle. "And I thought about it for several days," Beach says, "and called her back and disappointed her and said, 'I'm afraid I don't know anybody but I think what we might be talking about is a book here.' And she said, 'Well let me think about it.'" She did: A Good Forest for Dying: Earth First! vs. Big Lumber in the Pacific Northwest is scheduled for publication by Doubleday in June 2003; Jim Hornfischer agented. "I don't know who's right here, I really don't," Beach says. "I don't expect to come to some thunderous pronouncement at the end where I say that we should all stop living in wood houses." True crime veteran (and Chronicle book reviewer) Suzy Spencer (Wasted, Wages of Sin) has nabbed the story of the nation's most sickening recent murder, the vicious diminution of the seven-member Yates family by five when Clear Lake mother Andrea Yates killed all of her children in June. It's a new publisher for Spencer -- St. Martin's -- but the same rules apply: When she told me about the book (working title: Breaking Point), she was racing around Clear Lake saying "Gotta go!" so she could take another call, crossing her fingers it was a new source, just what you'd expect from a true crime writer whose book is due in November.
Gourmet Editor Ruth Reichl (Comfort Me With Apples) is coming to the Texas Book Festival, Nov. 15-18. So is David McCullough (Truman, John Adams), the man with the enviable ability to spark national historical crazes in a single book.
Joe R. Lansdale, James Vines, The Vines Agency, Sonny Mehta, Sunset and Sawdust, Jim Hornfischer, Patrick Beach, David Nathan Gypsy Chain, Cindy Allsbrooks, Suzy Spencer, Ruth Reichl, Comfort Me With Apples, Tender at the Bone, David McCullough, Truman, John Adams