LIT PICKS

Self’s in-flight smack

As newspaper columnist and author Will Self’s latest novel, “Great Apes,” makes its way to producers this week, the scribe has garnered a steady stream of coverage himself for his recent behavior aboard the Brit version of Air Force One.

Self, a self-professed “former” drug addict, admitted snorting heroin in the john of outgoing Prime Minister John Major’s campaign plane.

Self initially denied the accusations, but once he ‘fessed up, he was reportedly unapologetic about flying the smack-friendly skies. “So I was smacked-out on the prime minister’s jet, big deal. I’d recently been under stress for personal reasons and had fallen into a trough of using heroin again.”

Self, the author of “The Quantity Theory of Insanity” and “Junk Mail,” later was canned by his paper, the Observer. But within two days, he had a new job writing for the Independent.

In September, Grove/Atlantic will publish “Great Apes,” which details the strange experiences of a man who, after a hard night partying in London’s West End clubs, wakes up the next day to a world inhabited by chimpanzees.

Novice notches ‘nother deal

Who says the current literary marketplace discourages entrepreneurs?

Agenting newcomer John McGregor has inked his second publishing deal since establishing his Freeport, N.Y.-based literary agency, JMG Books, last year. McGregor, 27, has sold the North American rights for “Stigmata” — the first novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Phyllis Alesia Perry — to Scribner.

The story is set in a small Southern town, where a young woman is graphically confronted with the ghosts of the past after sleeping under an old quilt — which was made by her great-great-grandmother, a former slave who documented her life experiences on the quilt.

While foreign scouts and film interest is said to be heating up, McGregor says the novel is significant because it breaks new ground in African-American fiction by exploring mental illness. Scribner plans to publish “Stigmata” in the spring of 1998.

McGregor logged his first publishing deal in November when he sold, again to Scribner, the rights to “Wrapped in Rainbows,” an upcoming biography of literary icon Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd.

Weisbach makes his bow

Rob Weisbach launches his eponymous, William Morrow-based imprint, on May 14 with the release of Brad Meltzer’s legal thriller “The Tenth Justice.”

Meltzer is a 26-year-old Columbia Law School grad who initially embarked on the thriller for credit in law school. The book — optioned by Fox 2000 — is billed as a Gen X legal thriller dealing with a young Supreme Court clerk who inadvertently slips the confidential outcome of an upcoming decision to a blackmailer.

To promote the book, Weisbach will rely on reviews and media coverage rather than a huge print ad campaign. He has, however, recruited a film company to shoot a live-action TV spot to run during “The X-Files” and “Late Show With David Letterman.”

Weisbach has attracted the media spotlight since making his bones by initiating such celeb books as Jerry Seinfeld’s “SeinLanguage” and Ellen DeGeneres’ “My Point … and I Do Have One” as a cub editor at Bantam.

Parlaying the success of those books into his own imprint at 31 years of age, Weisbach admits the pressure is on to overcome the “Wonder Boy” label he has received from the press. “It’s important now for the books to speak for themselves. I think we’ve put together a catalog of fun, interesting reads. Hopefully, readers will agree.”

Weisbach often is singled out as propagating the huge advances celebs now expect for their books. He paid Paul Reiser $5 million for the rights to his second book, “Babyhood,” set to be published in August; and he shelled out a reported $6 million for Whoopi Goldberg’s autobiography, due in October.

Among Weisbach’s other upcoming releases are a collection of short stories by CBS development exec Eugene Stein; a book on the musical “Rent”; and helmer Tim Burton’s “The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories,” an illustrated book about misunderstood outcasts.

Pages in preview

“Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood”

Todd McCarthy (Grove) Pub date: June

McCarthy, Variety’s chief film critic, provides film director Hawks (“Red River,” “Bringing Up Baby”) with the major biography he deserves — exhaustively researched, judiciously written and full of wonderful stories. A vivid portrait of the man emerges in his work and in his working methods. This biography is essential for anyone interested in the history of movies.

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