Author’s work an acquired taste for H’wood

Publishers and booksellers have had a long-standing love affair with Carl Hiaasen, but for Hollywood, he’s been more of an acquired taste.

Overshadowed by another bestselling author of gonzo South Florida crime capers — Elmore Leonard — and tainted by the lackluster Demi Moore vehicle “Striptease,” Hiaasen has been slow to break out as a bankable Hollywood commodity.

But he’s lately begun to resemble a multimedia franchise.

U.K. film shingle Seminal Films just optioned “Double Whammy,” his 1987 novel set at a big-money Florida bass tournament.

Seminal Films was formed by Ruth Hodgson, former head of development at Michael Winterbottom’s Revolution Films.

This comes as Stanley Jaffe’s Jaffilms is shopping Hiaasen’s 1997 novel, “Lucky You,” to writers. Jaffilms holds the option in turnaround from Columbia.

Knopf will publish Hiaasen’s next novel, “Basket Case,” in January. It’s about a newspaper obit writer who stumbles upon the suspicious death of a rock star in the Bahamas – the lead singer of a fictitious band called Jimmy and the Slut Puppies.

In what may be a publishing first, rock crooner Warren Zevon has recorded a song Hiaasen wrote for the Slut Puppies called “Basket Case.” It will appear on Zevon’s next album, “My Ride’s Here,” due from Artemis Records next year. The publisher and the label are now exploring cross-promotional possibilities.

Hiaasen is also writing a young adult book for Doubleday, developing a one-hour series for Carsey-Werner-Mandabach and holding down a day job at the Miami Herald — writing three columns a week.

Like Elmore Leonard, Hiaasen is that rare hybrid: a crime writer who’s also a critics’ darling. His high-concept, highly comedic novels may have their quirks (a recurring character is a former Florida governor named Skink who eats roadkill), but they also seem ready-made for the screen.

“They’ve all been optioned,” ICM agent Esther Newberg said. “Only one, tragically, was made.”

Newberg points out that most of Hiaasen’s projects call for ensemble casts, which makes them harder to develop.

It also can’t help that Hiaasen has a personal animus for at least one entertainment conglom. In 1998, Ballantine published his muckraking screed, “Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World.”

WITH “IRON MONKEY” HIGH-KICKING its way into theaters, could the chopsockey craze be catching on among book publishers? Earlier this year, Simon & Schuster paid six figures for English-language rights to the Crane-Iron Pentalogy, a series of 1930s Chinese epics by Wang Dulu that were optioned by Ang Lee as the basis for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which was based on book four of the series. Lee has agreed to direct a prequel, based on one of the previous three. It’s unclear whether he’ll choose “Frightening Crane of Mt. Kunlun,” “Precious Sword, Gold Hairpin” or “Sword Force, Pearl Treasure.” The late Dulu, whose work is repped by ICM, wrote close to 40 books, none of which appear to have been previously translated. Next year, Random House will publish Da Chen’s young adult novel “Wandering Warrior,” about a boy raised by a 19th century Monk whose mortal enemy turns out to be his father. Writers & Artists, which is shopping the book in behalf of agent Elaine Koster, is calling it “Harry Potter” meets “Kung Fu.” Talk Miramax Books has no plans to publish an “Iron Monkey” book. But in January, the imprint will bring out “Yellow Peril: The ’70s Kung Fu Film Explosion,” by producer Stephen Chin. It’s an illustrated guide to the heyday of chopsockey cinema timed to coincide with the release of a kung fu film docu directed by Chin and produced by IFC/Bravo.

THOUGH SEVERAL BOOKS EMERGE from a trade show like the Frankfurt Book Fair with a wealth of foreign rights deals, publishers and agents still cling to the notion that one book was the book of the fair. If any book lays claim to that title at Frankfurt this year, it could be Daniel Philippe Mason’s “The Piano Tuner.” There’s a time-honored formula for capturing the attention of foreign buyers — sell the book to an American house for a steep advance days before the Fair. That’s precisely what Mason’s agents, Christy Fletcher and Don Lamm at Carlisle & Co., did, inking a $1.2 million North American rights deal with Knopf two weeks ago. They’ve since recorded $3 million in world rights deals, including the Knopf deal, with several foreign territories still unsold. Few first novels reach those numbers. And film rights, repped by AMG, are still available. It also helps that the author, a 25-year-old medical student, is a phenomenon. And the novel, about a 19th century London piano tuner who gets embroiled in the Anglo-Burmese war, was a balance of zeitgeist and historical fantasy that seems to have struck a chord with buyers around the world.

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