Thomas Harris, Terry McMillian, and Patricia Cornwell are some of the folks we like

By EW Staff
Updated June 26, 1992 at 04:00 AM EDT

Cool Picture Book
You could call it a history of fashion, but it’s much more than that. On the Edge: Images From 100 Years of Vogue is a sumptuous cultural safari through the last century, as shot by the likes of Horst, Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Bruce Weber, and Richard Avedon. There’s Marilyn, wrapped in a diaphanous scarf (she marked the photo with an X herself); Matisse in bed, snipping away for his paper collages; Nastassia Kinski, nude, wrapped in a boa constrictor. At auction most of these photos would command a small fortune — but at $50, the book itself is a bargain.

Cool Literary Recluse
”Dr. Lecter’s eyes are maroon and they reflect the light redly in tiny points. He is a small, lithe man. Very neat….There (is) a curious grace about him, even in restraints.” That description, from the 1981 novel Red Dragon, introduced millions of readers to the most mesmerizing villain in contemporary literature, and its tantalizingly elusive nature — a very brief peek behind a very dark curtain — is well suited to Hannibal the Cannibal’s creator.

Thomas Harris is extremely polite (he recently took out an ad in The New York Times congratulating the adapters of his novel The Silence of the Lambs on their Oscar sweep) and utterly unapproachable. He does not do interviews. He does not do autograph signings, or book tours, or crime-buff conventions, or Good Morning America. What he does is write thrillers that pulse with an intuitive understanding that less is more.

Harris, 51, has been spectacularly stingy with Lecter (who appears on just 11 pages of Red Dragon and 76 of The Silence of the Lambs), with his novels (three in 20 years, which probably total fewer pages than Stephen King’s latest tax return), and with his own public statements (”I think really everything I know is in my books,” he said back in 1989, in an uncharacteristic burst of loquacity).

Harris, who is divorced and has a grown daughter, is a former Associated Press crime reporter who now lives in New York and Florida. According to those who know him, he is not a hermit of the Howard Hughes how-long-can-I-grow-my- fingernails variety, but rather a man who enjoys travel, fine dining (one can only muse about his taste for sweetbreads), and privacy. And, one presumes, writing: Harris is currently finishing a novel for Dell, which in 1988 reportedly signed him to a two-book, $5 million contract that looks more like a bargain with every paperback printing of Lambs (47 and counting).

Even though the manuscript isn’t expected to be delivered until 1993, a nasty legal battle over the movie rights is brewing in Hollywood, with Universal Pictures and producer Dino DeLaurentiis both trying to get in on the hundreds of millions of dollars that a sequel might spawn. Such is Hollywood’s faith in Harris’ dark artistry that Silence Oscar winners Jonathan Demme, Anthony Hopkins, and Jodie Foster have all expressed their eagerness to make a , sequel, which leads to the obvious question: Does the new book include a place at the table for Dr. Lecter? Rumor has it that the answer is yes, but not a word on the subject has come from Harris, who knows better than anyone the value of letting silence speak for itself.
Mark Harris

Cool Book Jacket
”I wanted it to shout off the shelves,” says Michael Schwab of the book jacket he designed for I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots. In strong, vivid slashes of color, the jacket distills the indomitable spirit of Marietta, the novel’s main character, and evokes the setting, the low country of South Carolina.
Tina Jordan

Cool Beach Read
Right in the middle of writing Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan, 40, lost her edge. ”I was having one hell of a time concentrating,” she says. ”And I’m not a depressive, reclusive writer. Things don’t have to be screwed up for me to write.” Then she figured out the problem: ”I went to the store and bought a pack of Kools.” Once she inhaled, Exhale got finished in record time.

Just published by Viking, McMillan’s third novel is a sassy, salty, funny book about black women in the ’90s. Savannah, Gloria, Robin, and Bernadine — four friends in Phoenix — turn to each other for help in coping with families, careers, diets, clothes, and men (especially men). It sounds like the stuff of everyday life, but McMillan spins it into a riveting tale. ”Fiction should be intense, because life is intense,” she says. ”I don’t want you to put me down on the bathroom floor and leave me there.”

Not a chance. In fact, you’ll probably devour Exhale in a single gulp, so pack plenty of sunscreen in your beach bag. ”I wrote the kind of story I’d want to read,” McMillan says. ”I relate to these women. That’s what writing is all about for me. I cry a lot when I write, and sometimes I laugh so hard — especially during the sex scenes — that I have to get up and walk down the hall.”

She admits to being a little nervous about Exhale‘s critical reception. ”It’s like having a baby,” she says. ”You may know it’s cute, but you need other people to confirm it for you. I’m waiting to hear that my baby is cute.” She can relax — the baby’s downright gorgeous.
Tina Jordan

Cool Thriller Writer
Patricia Cornwell began her life of crime as a police-reporter in Charlotte, N.C. Then came several years in the Richmond medical examiner’s office, where she assisted as a ”scribe,” writing down knife-wound measurements and organ weights during autopsies of murder victims. Afterward, she’d head for her favorite Chinese eatery and order — no joke — hacked chicken. ”You can’t look at the fruits of so much carnage,” she admits, ”and remain unchanged.”

But now Cornwell’s imagination has taken its revenge, and her writing no longer requires her to don rubber gloves. Two years ago her first novel, Postmortem, introduced readers to the smart, unflinching Kay Scarpetta, Richmond medical examiner, and swept every major crime-novel award. The best-selling Body of Evidence followed, and August will bring the tough, relentless All that Remains, Cornwell’s third Scarpetta thriller. ”I think when readers feel the surprise and freneticism in the books, that’s because I feel it too,” she says. ”By the end, I’m writing faster than I can type.”

Cornwell, 36, first approached morgue work as a tool for her research and wrote three unpublished mysteries featuring a male detective before letting Scarpetta, then a minor character, seize the scalpel in Postmortem. Her years as a clinician are one reason the brutality in her novels comes in after-the- fact reconstructions rather than blow-by-blow descriptions.

”One medical detail can make the horror of a crime fill the room,” she says, beginning a discourse on stomach contents better left unprinted. ”There are some things worse than death — things I’ll never show. You don’t need to see them, and I don’t want to write them.” But she will write more Scarpetta novels; books four, five, and six are already mapped out. ”I love her quiet intelligence,” she says of Scarpetta. ”She’s so formidable. You wouldn’t want to corner her, and God help anyone who sexually harasses her.”

Or Cornwell, for that matter. On a recent publicity tour, she was talking to a group of book shippers when one of them suggested that she take him into a back room and ”convince” him of her talents. ”If you want me to share my wares,” she replied, ”I’ll be happy to perform an autopsy on any of you.”
Mark Harris

Cool Cartoonist
Cartoonist Daniel Clowes specializes in stylized moroseness — he makes abject despair funny. ”A lot of my attitude is a reaction to other comics,” he says. ”They’re so stupid, all that superhero stuff that looks like it’s turned out by a corporate machine.”

Clowes’ drawing has a crisp rigor that reminds some of early-’60s advertising art — it’s realistic and surreal at the same time, quiet yet intense. ”I like to mix moods, to make comics that are both funny and angry, to throw readers off just when they think they’ve figured out which way the story is going.”

Clowes has a growing following for Eightball, an anthology of unnerving stories he calls ”deeply wacky but rooted in reality.” Some of Clowes’ best Eightball stories have been collected in the new book Lout Rampage. The Chicago artist, 31, is contemplating a move to L.A.: ”It seems like the most hideous place in the country, so it ought to inspire some good art.”
Ken Tucker

Cool Retro Book
It’s a classic collector’s story: 33-year-old Rick Polizzi used to have board games as a kid in New Orleans. But he grew up, threw them out, moved to L.A. Then he saw one in a thrift store three years ago, and his whole childhood swam in front of his eyes. So he began picking up old games for a buck or two each. Now he has 1,000 — and he and cowriter Fred Schaefer have produced Spin Again, a classily designed, essence-of-stuff-in-the-attic book about board games from the ’50s and ’60s to remind you of what you, too, stupidly tossed. Your turn.
Lisa Schwarbaum

Cool Book List
Cool Title
I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional, a deft skewering of the self-help movement from Wendy Kaminer.

Cool Sales Gimmick
The essay contest sponsored by Poseidon Press, publishers of The First Wives Club: Describe, in 1,000 words or less, what a cad your ex-husband is. (The winner got a $1,500 Cartier gift certificate.)

Cool Curmudgeon
Patrick O’Neil, the disagreeably charming antihero of Stephen McCauley’s novel The Easy Way Out.

Coolest Idea In This Election Year
The Women’s 1992 Voting Guide. An inspired book showing who stands where.

Cool Kids’ Book
Up North at the Cabin. Evocative text (by Marsha Wilson Chall) and beautiful paintings (by Steve Johnson) capture the timeless pleasures of a summer at the lake.

Cool Character
Barrett Rossignol, the oh-so-slippery seducer in Diana Hammond’s The Impersonator.