Miramax, WB share ‘Secret’; slush shoveled

Nearly 10 years after Donna Tartt burst onto the bestseller lists with gothic town-and-gown thriller, “The Secret History,” the book may finally be headed to the screen.

Miramax has reached an agreement to develop the project with Warner Bros., which has held the option for several years. Gwyneth Paltrow has come on board to produce, and her brother Jake Paltrow is attached to helm in what would be his feature directorial debut.

Tartt, who’s largely been missing in action since “History” appeared, has also finally delivered a first draft of her long-awaited second novel to editor Gary Fisketjon at Knopf. The book, the subject of great speculation at last month’s Frankfurt Book Fair, is yet to be titled. Knopf is likely to publish it next fall.

Tartt first made waves when she sold “History” to Knopf, via ICM, for close to $500,000. The book, a story of classics students at a Vermont college who murder a classmate in a Dionysian ritual, was optioned by Alan Pakula before publication.

Interest in the author has remained so high over the years that Knopf still fields a dozen queries a week from readers wondering when it will publish her next book.

But the buzz surrounding “History” failed to catapult it into production. It’s been through development hell. Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne were originally scheduled to adapt it for Pakula. Rafael Yglesias then wrote a draft for Scott Hicks to direct and Denise Di Novi to produce. Christopher Hampton also wrote a draft for Warner Bros.

The long delays, says ICM’s Ron Bernstein, who reps Tartt for film, shows that “if you don’t make the right deal for a book early on, it’s going to set you back a long time.”

The involvement of Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein is likely to lend it some momentum. “This is a fabulous project that I fell in love with as soon as I read it,” said Weinstein.

The project could also lead to future Warner-Miramax co-productions. Warner prexy of worldwide production Lorenzo di Bonaventura said the book “provides the perfect opportunity for us to ally with Harvey’s expertise and Miramax’s excellent pedigree for producing and marketing provocative, high-quality films.”

At Miramax, production co-prexy Bob Osher and creative affairs veep Jennifer Wachtel will oversee the project.

FEARING ANTHRAX-TAINTED MAIL, several publishers are taking a long hard look at the slush.

Norton has temporarily discontinued its slush pile — the mountain of unsolicited submissions typically rejected with a form letter.

Walker & Co. has, for now, stopped opening packages from unknown addresses. The New York Times and the New Yorker aren’t opening unsolicited queries.

Slush isn’t likely to disappear altogether. Some of it has moved online.

IPublish, the e-books arm of Time Warner Trade Publishing, has just signed three new writers culled from the 3,000 submissions it has received since launching last April. Their work will be sold as e-books at Barnesandnoble.com, Amazon.com and other e-book retailers.

Slush has long been the bane of editorial assistants, creating hours of fruitless reading. But it’s yielded some real blockbusters over the years, from Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook” to James Finn Garner’s million seller, “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories.”

Norton editor-in-chief Starling Lawrence fished Richard North Patterson’s first novel out of the slush. Unsolicited submissions, he said, have yielded a trove of strong sellers for Norton.

“I’ve always thought that, mortal danger aside, it was stupid not to say you weren’t going to look at this stuff,” he said. “It’s a slap in the face to say to somebody I’m sorry we won’t read anything.”

IN A MOVE THAT CONTINUES TO SHORE up top management in the wake of publisher Phyllis Grann’s departure, Penguin Putnam named Carole Baron prexy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, the marquee imprint of the Penguin Putnam group.

Baron, who exited Random House in 1999 to run Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Putnam, is a 25-year publishing vet who’s worked with an array of name-brand authors, such as John Grisham, Danielle Steel and Thomas Harris.

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