June 26, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

CHRISTINA BARTOLOMEO
New Beat Generator

Age 36 Why her? Cupid & Diana—her fetching first novel about a vintage clothing-store proprietor torn between two lovers—is a thinking woman’s romance, a breathtakingly refreshing spin on an otherwise stale genre. Work habits Steals snippets of time to write (“like women in the 1800s”) in between penning campaign literature for the American Federation of Teachers; works in old boxer shorts and sips Coca-Cola (“Fitzgerald drank it”). Next? Writing an “edgier” novel about a couple in their mid-30s.

SHERMAN ALEXIE
Native Son

Age 31 Why him? A Coeur d’Alene Indian who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, this filmmaker/author is breaking new ground and old stereotypes spinning tales of Native America. Explosively productive, he’s cranked out nine books and a screenplay that became Smoke Signals, a tender indie that took home top prizes at Sundance this year. Alexie claims that a sense of “injustice” fuels his creative engine, but it’s his disarming sense of humor (and passion for trash TV) that keeps him from looking like a PC “spokesman.” Consider this crack about being an Indian among Hollywood’s cowboys: “Every time I’m in a meeting with anybody from Hollywood, I hear cavalry bugles,” Alexie laughs. “We grew up as Indians. We’ve been dealing with evil white bastards for a long time. So we can spot ’em a long ways away!” Work habits He writes in the basement of his Seattle digs, next to a bulletin board plastered with phrases from books, poems, and movies—clips that range from Charles Dickens to Taxi Driver. “I’m a recovering alcoholic, so I write like I used to drink,” Alexie says. “I’m a binge writer. I work 16 hours a day for two or three weeks. Then I don’t work for a couple of weeks.” Influences “My grandmother and her traditional stories, my father and his nontraditional stories, John Steinbeck, Stephen King, and The Brady Bunch.” Next? Along with penning a new mystery novel, he’s writing, directing, and producing a big-screen version of his ’96 novel Indian Killer.

ROSEMARY MAHONEY
Storyteller

Age 37 Why her? After taking on Catholicism, patriarchy, and hard drinking in the surprise critical success Whoredom in Kimmage: Irish Women Coming of Age, she joins the memoir club this October with A Likely Story: One Summer With Lillian Hellman, which chronicles the disastrous months Mahoney spent as a summer domestic aid, waiting hand and foot on the irascible old writer. Weirdest career moment “Being in the Today greenroom with The Isley Brothers and Miss America—they thought I was the janitor.” Next? She is currently starting work on a new novel, which will be fiction.

FRANK MULLER
The Golden Throat

Age 47 Why him? Meet the Leonardo DiCaprio of liter-acy. With more than 140 titles to his name, from The Horse Whisperer to The Hunt for Red October, Muller is the king of the booming world of books on tape. Once a less-than-successful stage actor, his syrupy come-hither voice has helped elevate audio books into a $1.7 billion business. Work habits “It’s a supreme acting task. I’m playing all the characters. When I acted on stage, I used to think, How does a character walk? Now, I sit differently for each character. And I always use a plastic chair, because they never squeak.” Weirdest career moment “Doing a 7,000-year-old computer voice, from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. That was a monumental undertaking—the series is, like, 27 hours long.” Next? “I’m currently recording Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. That’s my latest pet project.”

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