Hart of the Matter

GARY HART'S avowal to Ted Koppel on Nightline that he still wants a say in the nation's public policy debate wasn't enough to revive One Man's Luck, a book partially designed to illustrate Hart's "ideals and goals on crucial issues facing American society" -- as it was billed by the publisher. The ex-candidate's comments did, however, make his paperback publisher considerably more hopeful.

The softcover version of The Strategies of Zeus, Hart's second novel, is coming out in March from Harlequin/Worldwide Library. Randall Toye, an editorial director at Harlequin, says that while "it certainly helped having an author whose name is quite current in the media, we didn't buy it because he was a candidate." Nevertheless, Toye adds, now that Hart has indicated "he intends to be in the center of the issues . . . I think that will keep the book in a fairly prominent place."

One Man's Luck, originally scheduled to be published by Morrow this fall, was killed after Hart pulled out of the campaign. "It can't exist. It's like a companion to a TV show. It's a companion to a campaign," says Maria Guarnaschelli, Hart's editor. "It's not a real 'book' book. It's a book we couldn't really sell unless he were running for president."

Meanwhile, Bill Adler, Hart's agent, says that "to my knowledge, Gary is not writing any books" -- be they novels, examinations of the issues, or autobiography.

Down to the Sea

IT'S A publishing truism that a big success for a small publisher means eventual bad news. The distinguished Judaica specialist Schocken Books provided a recent example when, several years after going to the bank with Masquerade and When Bad Things Happen to Good People, it was recently forced to sell out to Random House. The large amount of cash those two bestsellers brought in caused the firm to become over-ambitious and over-extended.

The Naval Institute Press, the book publishing imprint of the non-profit U.S. Naval Institute, scored a big triumph exactly three years ago with its first original novel, Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October. That title sold 365,000 hardcover copies and established Clancy as a superstar. Last year, the press had a similar success with its second novel, Stephen Coonts' Flight of the Intruder, which has sold 235,000 copies. Not bad for any publisher, let alone one that primarily issues specialized works in editions of 5,000.

But representatives of this Annapolis firm says they're aware of the potential pitfalls. "Success hasn't gone to our heads and brought us to the brink of ruination," says director Tom Epley. "We have a philosophy which we haven't veered from: to only publish a novel that meets our standards. It may be five years before we find another that meets our requirements." Many writers are hoping they'll be that lucky one. Since the Clancy appeared, the press has been deluged with "hundreds and hundreds" of manuscripts.

Both Clancy and Coonts have gone on to mainstream New York publishers. The partings were amicable in both cases, and Epley professes no regrets: "I recognize that if we have a best-selling novelist, it's very likely he's not going to stay with us. That may mean that we're destined to only publish first novelists." If, that is, Naval Institute publishes any novels at all.

Say It With Pictures

IF YOU TOOK MTV, Seventeen magazine, Miami Vice and a teen romance, combined them all and served up the resulting mixture in comic-book format, you'd have something like Pink Flamingos, a new graphic novel series from Simon and Schuster. The first volume, Bring Down the Night, tells of a group of hip, fashion-conscious Palm Beach teen-aged girls, and involves -- in a reasonably plausible way -- money laundering and evil men. The publisher, in an assertion that will probably get some flak from parents, is advertising the series for a relatively old age group: females from 12 to 22.

"You don't have to read a very thick, serious book all the time," says Anne Greenberg, the project's editor. "Sometimes reading is for pleasure. This is just one kind of reading experience -- it provides variety, and encourages a certain visual sophistication. These aren't just little pictures in boxes."

Pink Flamingos -- the name comes from a character's joke that the birds remind her of what it's like to be a teen-ager: "pretty, elegant, flashy, awkward, and earthbound all at once" -- is told as if the art were movie or television storyboards, with ironic commentary from "the director" in little green boxes. Yet despite all the hipness and high incomes, there's no drugs or drinking, and only one of the girls smokes cigarettes. As for casual sex, that's something only the bad characters do.

"If you really want to look for a moral in all this," says Greenberg, "it shows kids making positive, healthy choices without being complete creeps."

Moral Conundrums

QUESTION number nine in Gregory Stock's Book of Questions goes like this: "Would you accept $1,000,000 to leave the country and never set foot in it again?"

Stock once thought he knew the answer: He'd take the money and run. Now, after he's considered a bit, he's changed his mind. "When I thought what it would mean to be excluded from the United States forever," he says, "I realized there was no way I would do that."

Of course, Stock managed to acquire his boodle without ever departing these shores. The Book of Questions, published in early May in somewhat tentative fashion by Workman, quickly took off and spent the summer leading the best-seller lists. Questions, in fact, has been selling even faster than Workman's smash of a few years ago, The Preppie Handbook, which must indicate some sort of cultural shift.

An earlier version of Questions had been successfully self-published, so Stock knew he would have an audience for his 267 moral conundrums. But even he didn't think there would be 550,000 copies in print in four months. Part of the appeal, he speculates, stems from the fact that the book "creates, in a light-hearted format, a dynamic where people have the opportunity to talk about things that are important to them -- to express their opinions, to ask awkward questions."

Tricky moral questions have been posed in fictional form at least since Dostoevski, but Stock's book was made particularly timely by its appearance in the midst of such major brouhahas as the PTL and Iran-contra scandals and the Wall Street insider trading cases. "It's a sort of an organic social phenomenon," says the 37-year-old author, who was trained as a biophysicist.

It took about two years for Stock to completely formulate his questions. The challenge, he says, "was to come up with things that don't end up leading to an abstract discussion. We can debate, for instance, whether the ends justify the means, but for me it's at a philosophical level that is pedantic. But to say, 'Would you murder someone to end hunger in the world?' -- that's something that is very graphic, because it has emotional content to it."

In the Margin

JOHN UPDIKE'S new novel, coming out from Knopf in March, is called simply S. Why S? Because that's how the main character, Sarah P. Worth, signs her mail. Sarah has moved west to an ashram, leaving behind a husband and daughter; the story is told through her letters. That device has been out of fashion since the 18th century, which didn't stop the Book-of-the-Month Club from snatching S up for $250,000.

It used to be the writer's job to make the reader visualize the characters, but Sweetie Baby Cookie Honey, Freddie Gershon's novel about the underside of the music business, has a helping hand in its paperback edition: glossy full-page photos of the four main characters. Says a Ballantine spokeswoman: "We wanted to drive home the point that it's about four friends whose lives are interwoven."

Argentine journalist Jacobo Timerman's new book, Chile: Death in the South, is being rushed for December publication by Knopf. The author of Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number here takes on Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet.

Another entry in the campaign biography beat: American Dreams, a joint effort by Robert and Elizabeth Dole. Written with Washington biographer Richard Norton Smith, the book will be published by Simon and Schuster in February.

Panache Press, a new imprint at Random House, is issuing as its first publication next month a set of cat books by Andy Warhol. Both the volumes have somewhat odd titles: 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy and Holy Cats by Andy Warhol's Mother. The spelling flaw in the first is courtesy of Warhol's mother Julia, who did the calligraphy when the books were privately printed 30 years ago. Her grasp of English was apparently none too secure. As for the second title, Panache president Geraldine Stutz explains that there are some opinions that the drawings were actually done by Julia. On the other hand, if Andy really did them, the title may just have been an inside joke.

David Streitfeld is a reporter for the Style Plus section of The Washington Post.