LIT PICKS

Gossip columnist tells all

Hyperion Books has inked a seven-figure deal with gossip columnist Liz Smith to write her memoirs. The as-yet-untitled tome will span Smith’s career, beginning in the Walter Winchell era, when she worked as a news producer for Mike Wallace’s radio show, and including the inside scoop on stories she has covered.

The book, due in fall ’98, was brought into Hyperion by senior editor Maureen O’Brien. Smith’s deal was brokered by Joni Evans of the William Morris Agency.

Texaco suit fuels tome

Avon Books has acquired Bari-Ellen Roberts’ account of the Texaco racial discrimination suit. Roberts spear-headed the multimillion-dollar class-action suit, covering 1,400 African-American Texaco employees, that led to a $176 million dollar settlement — the largest ever for a corporate discrimination case.

The as-yet-untitled book will tell the story of the headline-making case from the plaintiffs’ point of view, beginning with Roberts’ arrival at Texaco in 1990 and including info banned from pretrial documents.

Roberts’ deal was negotiated by her agent, Faith Childs, with Avon Books editor Charlotte Abbott.

The six-figure, hard-soft deal includes world, first serial and audio rights. The book is tentatively scheduled for fall ’98.

New campaign for Morris

This week, former White House strategist Dick Morris unveils his $2.5 million, three-month literary effort, “Behind the Oval Office: Winning the Presidency in the Nineties” (Random House).

The Morris tome, a Book of the Month Club selection, has a 150,000-copy first printing. Random House execs have more faith in Morris than his wife does: They’ve made sure there is an immediate supply of paper on hand for another 100,000 copies of the book.

Morris also launches a publicity tour worthy of an O.J. trial literary figure, with appearances on “PrimeTime Live,” “Good Morning, America” and the “Today” show scheduled for coming days.

De La Beckwith bio back

During lensing on “The Ghosts of Mississippi,” James Woods reportedly relied on a 1994 biography of the infamous racist Byron De La Beckwith. The book, “Portrait of a Racist: The Man Who Killed Medgar Evers,” was penned by Reed Massengill, De La Beckwith’s nephew.

St. Martin’s Press will reissue the book later this month, with an update by the author.

When the notorious De La Beckwith heard his nephew was writing the book, he threatened Massengill: “If word gets around that you do indeed have things of value related to me, then you could very easily become a target — no foolin’!”

Picks and previews

The following is a selection of upcoming books according to pre-publication lists supplied by Publishers Weekly.

Two books due out in time for Valentine’s Day should please bloodsucking vampire fans. In “The Anne Rice Reader” (Ballantine), Katharine Ramsland collects entries by scholars, journalists and fans, topped off with two previously unpublished short stories by Rice.

Meanwhile, John Richard Stephens collects classic pieces from Kipling, Byron, Turgenev, Voltaire, Keats, Dumas, Baudelaire and Rice in “Vampires, Wine and Roses” (Berkley) .

*

Andrew Dougan has written “Untouchable: A Biography of Robert De Niro” (Thunder’s Mouth) due in February In the book, Dougan draws on interviews with the star’s family, friends and colleagues, as well as with De Niro.

*

“The Right Man for the Job”

Mike Magnuson (HarperCollins) Pub date: March

Gunnar Lund finds himself in difficult terrain. In his job as a repo man, repossessing furniture in Columbus, Ohio’s, poorest neighborhood, he faces shotgun blasts, vicious Rottweilers and the unenviable task of taking peo-ple’s last belongings.

Rights: available

“Naked Came the Manatee”

Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard et al. (Putnam) Pub date: February

In late 1995, this mystery novel was serialized for 13 weeks in the Miami Herald’s Tropic magazine. Each chapter was written by an author with South Florida connections. The convoluted plot involves an astonishing number of characters, coincidences, murders and Fidel Castro heads — with and without bodies attached. The authors’ profits will be donated to charity.

“Capo”

Peter Watson (Richard Cohen Books, Trafalgar Square dist.) Pub date: February

Watson gives Mario Puzo a run for his money with this stunning tale of the Sicilian Mafia’s roots and burgeoning power in New Orleans. Set in the late 19th century, “Capo” follows the life and criminal education of orphan Syl-vano (Silvio) Randazzo.

Rights: available

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