''Star Wars'' books and Robert James Waller made news the week of October 3, 1997

SPACE CADETS: Here’s one way publishers can save money: pay writers a flat fee instead of the usual advance plus royalties, which is what Bantam Books is now doing with its mega-best-selling Star Wars books. ”We’re not stupid: These books earn considerably more [for writers] at the royalty rate,” says Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America prez Michael Capobianco, who went public with the group’s complaints after Bantam refused to back down. He adds that some veteran SW authors have announced they won’t work under the new terms ($60,000 for hardcovers and $40,000 for paperbacks). Insisting that the fee equals what most authors make in royalties — and gets the money to them faster — Bantam pub Irwyn Applebaum counters that despite the mini-boycott, ”we have a more varied list of authors than ever before.”

BURNED BRIDGES: Robert James Waller seems to be taking a page out of his very own The Bridges of Madison County. His wife of 36 years, Georgia, has filed for divorce, reportedly because hubby, 58, had an affair with a 30ish ranch hand. Court papers reveal a temporary mutual restraining order. ”When somebody says [Waller] is dallying with his 30-year-old whatever, I can’t comment,” says his agent, Aaron Priest. ”If someone gets divorced, they get divorced for their own reasons, and in most cases it’s a relatively mutual thing. Now, if you want to know if he’s got a new manuscript…” Sure, why not? ”He’s got several ideas that he’s working on; we don’t have anything that we’re ready to show.” Oh, okay.

GOING, GOING, GONE: Rather than twiddle her thumbs waiting for Madonna to exercise her film option on first novel Going Down, author Jennifer Belle is getting busy with her second, High Maintenance, which will draw upon her experiences in the real estate biz. Riverhead senior editor Julie Grau, despite having seen only seven pages of the manuscript, is coughing up between $200,000 and $300,000 to secure it. Going Down, about an NYU student-turned-call girl, has gone back to press eight times, with over 40,000 copies printed since its 1996 release. Belle and the Material Mom were revising the screenplay together as late as April, but the latter’s new CD apparently kept her busy through the summer.