T. Boone Pickens
HOW DO YOU GET to be Boone Pickens' literary agent? The legendary Texas oilman and takeover artist, perhaps with an eye on Lee Iacocca's smashing success as an author, recently signed with Houghton Mifflin for a book to be published in the spring of 1987. Assisting Pickens in choosing exactly the right words will be Joseph Nocera, a senior editor at Texas Monthly. The choice of Nocera didn't surprise anybody in the publishing world -- he had written several pieces on Pickens -- but the choice of a literary agent did.
The person Pickens picked was Robert Lescher of the New York firm of Lescher & Lescher. L & L is known for its very literary clients (such as Isaac Bashevis Singer and Edna O'Brien) and its food and wine writers (such as Calvin Trillin and Alexis Bespaloff), but not as the kind of firm a financial heavy hitter would be likely to choose. The story of how it happened is fascinating and gives an insight into how Boone Pickens works. Flamboyant he may be in some ways, but this particular operation was carried out with meticulous precision.
Pickens first consulted a leading New York literary lawyer and got from him a list of about a half-dozen top agents. He then dispatched one of his aides to New York, who spent several days interviewing the candidates. She reported back to Pickens and a short list was made, which included Lescher. Then Pickens himself came to town to talk to the finalists. Lescher emerged the winner.
From that point on, it was easy. Lescher arranged meetings with seven publishers over two days in New York. Pickens jetted up again, and Houghton Mifflin got the book for an advance of $1.5 million.
"He is an extraordinarily gifted man," Lescher says of his client. "Bright, retentive, with a great sense of humor. It was a pleasure to see him in those meetings with the publishers, responding and relating to them. I've never enjoyed anything so much in my life." Of course, it is a little hard to feel depressed when a fee of 200 grand or so is about to grace your wallet. The Music of Time
EVERYWHERE I go in America, I find fellow aficionados of Anthony Powell (pronounced Pole), the British writer whose most notable achievement is the Proustian series of novels called A Dance to the Music of Time. Perhaps Powell's leading admirer in the District of Columbia is former Rep. John S. Monagan, who served Connecticut in Congress for 14 years. He wrote Powell a fan letter two decades ago and the pair became friends. Monagan has visited Powell in England three times and keeps up a regular correspondence with him.
Here's the latest news from over the seas. Powell, who will be 80 years old on Dec. 21, has just finished a new novel to be called The Fisher King, and he has signed a contract with the British Broadcasting Corporation for a TV adaptation of the first six books of A Dance to the Music of Time.
But Monagan himself has also taken up the pen. His first book, Horace, has just been published by Georgetown University Press. No, it's not about the Roman poet. It is a biography of the Rev. Horace McKenna S.J., the Washington inner-city priest who died three years ago. Literary Biography
ALL ACROSS the country, there are major publishing projects under way of which the layman often hears very little. They involve the gathering of papers of historically important figures, the preparation of bibliographies in a variety of fields and the compilation of what will become standard reference works. From time to time, Book Report will take a look at a project and tell you how it is proceeding.
When the Dictionary of Literary Biography is finally complete, it will come to about 130 volumes. Just recently off the press is Volume 41 -- Afro-American Poets Since 1945 -- and scholarly work has been completed on Volume 45 -- American Poets: 1900-1945, which is the first of three volumes devoted to that subject. The series began in 1978 with The American Renaissance in New England and has continued since then with such titles as American Humorists: 1800-1950 (Volume 11) and American Screenwriters (Volume 26).
The DLB is published by the Gale Research Company of Detroit but all the scholarly work is done at a rather amazing brain factory in Columbia, S.C. called Bruccoli- Clark where every editor has a Ph.D. in the humanities. In addition to doing projects for companies like Gale, Bruccoli-Clark publishes numerous titles of its own, including Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures on Literature (with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich).
The Bruccoli of the firm's title is Prof. Matthew Bruccoli of the University of South Carolina, a reigning expert on Scott Fitzgerald and much else. The Clark is C. E. Frazer Clark Jr., a marketing man from Detroit who knocks off Nathaniel Hawthorne bibliographies in his spare time. Editorial directors of the DLB are Bruccoli and Richard Layman, whose Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett was published in 1981 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
The volumes of the DLB are encyclopedia- size and run about 350 pages each. If you are eager enough to want to buy one, it will cost you $92 a volume, unless of course you are a library, in which case you get a discount. Poetry Competition
ANN DARR and Barbara Lefcowitz are winners of the 1985 poetry competition of the Washington Writers' Publishing House, and therein lies a tale. The Publishing House was established about a decade ago as the result of a similar competition. Over the years, its board of directors and contest judges have been made up almost exclusively of previous winners of the competition and hus far its sole task has been to print the volumes of competition victors. The philosophy is summed up by the organization's current president, Elisavietta Ritchie: "Nobody's going to help poets unless they help themselves."
In past years, contest winners have often been unpublished. This year, both winners have had volumes in print. It will be the fifth volume of poetry for Ann Darr, who lives in Chevy Chase and teaches at American Universit. Barbara Lefcowitz, who lives in Bethesda and is professor of English at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, has published two poetry volumes, as well as fiction, criticism and scholarly articles.
Poets who would like to know more about the Washington Writers' Publishing House competition can write the organization at P. O. Box 50068, Washington, D.C. 20004. In the Margin
BETTY FORD has signed with Doubleday for a second book. Doubleday did Mrs. Ford's first book, The Times of My Life, in 1978. The new volume will deal with Mrs. Ford's life since her days as First Lady, including her recovery from addiction to alcohol and prescription-drug dependency. Chris Chase, who wrote The Times of My Life with Mrs. Ford, will also work with her on the new book. Mrs. Ford is president of the Betty Ford Center at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Ranch Mirage, Calif. Her book is scheduled for spring of 1987.