The inside scoop on the book world

‘BIRD’ IN HAND Janice Graham, a 49-year-old high school French teacher and single mom in Wichita, Kan., has sold her first novel, an epic love story called Fire Bird, to Putnam Berkley as part of a $1 million, three-book deal. Not only did Putnam peddle foreign rights to eight countries for over $1 million, but the Literary Guild has bought all three books as well. ”I find comparisons dangerous, but [Fire Bird] had that emotional pull and compulsive readability that we found in The Horse Whisperer,” says Penguin Putnam president Phyllis Grann. Fire Bird comes at a good time for Putnam, which is losing one of its mainstays of women’s fiction, LaVyrle Spencer (Small Town Girl), who has announced she is retiring next year.

FEVER PITCH Writer Richard Preston knows something about hot zones, but he must have really been wiping the sweat from his brow after a recent slugfest for the screen rights to his first and still unpublished novel, The Cobra Event. Fox 2000 capped the auction with a bid in the ballpark of $3 million — not the record $8 mil that John Grisham picked up last year for The Runaway Jury, but the largest amount so far this year. The book, in which a genetically engineered virus menaces Manhattan, breaks out from Random House next month.

THE MOTHER MYTH Naomi Wolf is switching publishers — and subjects. The writer, whose most recent book, Promiscuities (Random House), explored the sexual lives of young women, is now tackling motherhood. Wolf, a new mom herself, wants to look at how childbirth and mothering aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. ”Her proposal provoked an enormous amount of conversation and controversy,” says Martha Levin, publisher of Anchor, who snapped up the proposal for $515,000. Though neither Wolf’s agent, John Brockman, nor her Random House editor, Ann Godoff, would comment about Wolf’s departure from Random House, an editor involved in the auction of the new book says, ”No one was happy on either side with the publication of Promiscuities,” which sources say has not sold well.