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‘Cedars’ author’s new novel charms Knopf

“SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS” FAILED to spark much interest among filmgoers last winter, eking out a meager $14 million in domestic B.O. But the 1994 novel by David Guterson was a publishing landmark: a novel with serious literary ambitions by an unknown writer that flourished in a market dominated by brand names.

Though published initially in hardcover by Harcourt Brace, it was the trade paperback from Vintage, an imprint of the Knopf Publishing Group, issued a year later that propelled the author to international stardom, selling close to three million copies after more than a year on bestseller lists.

In a deal that reunites author David Guterson with the Knopf Group, Vintage head Martin Asher has bought hardcover and paperback rights to Guterson’s new as-yet untitled novel for seven figures after seeing just 50 pages of it.

A source at Harcourt Brace, which also published his “Cedars” follow-up, “East of the Mountains” — a 200,000-copy seller in hardcover — told Daily Variety that the house passed on the project, noting “We read the proposal and didn’t see the book as something for us.”

Dramatic rights to “East of the Mountains” didn’t find a buyer. But Guterson’s West Coast agent, Ken Sherman of Ken Sherman &Associates, who set up “Cedars” at Universal, hopes to have something to shop in the spring of 2001 with Guterson’s latest effort.

Guterson’s publishing interests are handled by the Georges Borchardt Literary Agency.

THE UTA BOOKS DIVISION has struck two major TV deals, one for novelist Tony Early, a chronicler of small-town Southern life, whose career gained momentum recently after being chosen by the New Yorker as a young writer to watch.

Early’s second novel, “Jim The Boy,” published last June by Little, Brown has just been purchased outright for a solid six figures by Hallmark Hall of Fame. It will be adapted under production executive Richard Welsh as a film to air on CBS as part of a Hallmark/CBS deal,

The other deal is for the thriller “Sharkman Six” by Owen West, an author whose vita, at age 31, would put most world leaders to shame. A former member of Harvard ROTC, Goldman-Sachs bond trader, captain of a Marines special ops unit, Stanford Business School grad and a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he’s spending this month racing with Team Playboy Extreme, in the company of three former Playboy playmates, in the Eco Challenge in Bornio, Malaysia, an event produced by “Survivor’s” Mark Burnett.

The novel, which portrays the captain of a special ops unit in Somalia, will be an HBO movie produced by Baltimore/Spring Creek Pictures. Writers Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard (“Motor City”) are attached.

Early is repped by UTA and New York agent Gordon Kato; West is repped by UTA and New York agent Dan Mandel of Sanford Greenburger Associates.

AMY GRAY, a former editorial assistant at Pantheon and Anchor, has sold lit and and dramatic rights to “Spygirl,” a memoir of her stint as an investigator of white collar crime for a Gotham detective agency

Villard Books paid a healthy six figures for the story, which agent Betsy Lerner at the Gernert Company pegs as ” ‘Sex and the City’ meets ‘Harriet the Spy,’ ” interspersing tales of life as a single woman in New York with cases of disappearing dot.com financing and drug-related surveillance.

Gray was profiled in the New York Post earlier this summer as one of a new breed of female, Ivy-League-educated private investigators.

Warner Bros. has optioned the project to develop as a TV series.

At Villard, where Gray’s editor is Kate Niedzwiecki, the author joins a list of what Villard head Bruce Tracy calls “personal narratives of unconventional lives.” It’s a genre that includes other nonfiction books in the pipeline like “Shutterbabe,” by former combat photojournalist Deborah Copaken Kogan; “The Boxer’s Heart” by pugilist Kate Sekules; and “The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power,” by Travis Hugh Culley, a bike messenger from Chicago.

That program has helped make Villard an imprint worth watching. Founded in 1983, Villard languished in recent years as a dumping ground for Princeton Review books and titles from editors at other imprints. There were even rumors after Random House’s acquisition by Bertelsmann that the imprint might fold, but that gossip has since disappeared. “It’s a small list,” concedes Bruce Tracey, “But we’ve positioned ourselves as as serious a list.”

Gray is repped by Lerner and Sylvie Rabineau.

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