Chris Willman
December 12, 2003 AT 05:00 AM EST

1 Dan Brown

The author of ”The Da Vinci Code” is 45 minutes away from disappearing for a year. ”This is the last interview,” promises Brown, on the cusp of a self-imposed media ”hibernation.” ”I’ve got to go write a book!” Wish him luck, since it will have to follow up ‘Da Vinci,’ a word-of-mouth supernova whose 4.2 million copies in print have turned this former musician and English teacher into the next Grisham-level megawriter. A hurricane-ferocious thriller stuffed with art-history puzzles and ancient church conspiracy theories, Brown’s breakout fourth novel inspired a can-it-be-true? ABC News special and untold numbers of googly-eyed cocktail conversations about obscure stuff like phi, ”the sacred feminine,” and the mystery lady at the Last Supper. ”I like fiction that teaches,” says Brown, 39. Speaking of, let’s hear about the new book! ”Da Vinci”’s symbology-professor hero Robert Langdon is headed to D.C., and ”it deals with another secret society, the oldest brotherhood still in existence on earth today.” Brown is hoping to write it in roughly a year so he can start the next one. ”There’s no shortage of secrets and adventures for Robert Langdon. I have ideas for about 12 books.” ”Da Vinci” groupies, your Holy Grail runneth over.

2 Mark Haddon

The murder victim is a poodle; the sleuth and narrator of Haddon’s ”The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is an autistic teen; the author is a Brit — ish children’s book vet who crafted 2003’s most successful and innovative literary debut.

3 Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

”A lot of doors have opened because of this book,” understates Valdes-Rodriguez, referring to ”The Dirty Girls Social Club,” her contagiously fun novel about six Latina twentysomethings. Suddenly she’s writing a sitcom pilot for NBC about a Cuban-American family, and soon she’ll tackle the script for the ”Dirty Girls” movie — with J. Lo producing.


This year’s success was actually Freudenberger’s second breakout moment — the first came in 2001, when ”The New Yorker” debuted her story ”Lucky Girls.” Trouble was, she had no publishable stories ready for her encore — not a one. ”It was really scary to have all that attention without feeling like I had anything in reserve,” she says. So she shipped herself to a writers’ colony, ”kind of had a panic attack,” but eventually started churning out the four additional stories that became this year’s ”Lucky Girls,” a far-reaching collection featuring far-flung locales and young female protagonists that belies its quiet author’s 28 years.

5 Christopher Paolini

Take a college scholarship or stay at home and polish off your 528-page fantasy novel? A couple of years ago, Paolini, now 20, opted to stick around the Montana homestead. A successful gambit: Originally self-published, ”Eragon” (the first in a projected trilogy) outsold four of the five ”Harry Potter” novels this year and was optioned by Fox 2000. ”I did treat myself,” he says. ”I bought a sword.”

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