Plus Gary M. Pomerantz and the inside scoop on the book world

PRISON FARE After sating himself on America’s craving for fast food, Eric Schlosser, best-selling author of Fast Food Nation, will turn his attention to a very different subject: prisons. His as-yet-untitled examination of the penal system (to be released in fall 2003 by Houghton Mifflin) will detail ”what prison has done to the black community, and how the trappings and twisted mores of prison [life] have swamped our youth culture—from music and fashion to bigotry and misogyny,” according to the publisher.

MARKETING CRASH ”When people would ask what I was writing a book about,” says author Gary M. Pomerantz, ”I’d say, ‘Well, it has to do with a commuter plane crash.’ And I would see people recoil.” Pomerantz originally documented the 1995 tragedy and its aftermath in a seven-part series for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. When he decided to expand his research into a book, which is kicked off by a bracing minute-by-minute account of ASA flight 529’s 18,000-foot plummet en route from Atlanta to Gulfport, Miss., his proposal spawned a contentious two-day auction that ended in a low- to mid-six-figure deal with Crown Publishers. And now that Nine Minutes, Twenty Seconds is finally coming out, Crown is dealing with that ”recoil” problem: How do you sell a book that deals with the realization of many people’s worst fears? By going full throttle, according to Crown’s publicity director Tina Constable: ”We knew this was subject matter that was difficult, and that people might pause before picking up the book.” To fuel readers’ interest, the publisher produced 3,500 advance review copies, hustled author endorsements (which flowed in from the likes of Dominick Dunne and aviation-thriller scribe John J. Nance), and lavished special attention on the airline industry and (gulp) its bookstores. ”Some airport booksellers just looked at us like, Are you crazy? Are you kidding?” says Crown editorial director Steve Ross. While Mike Irwin, comanager of Powell’s Bookstore at Portland International Airport, predicts the book will be a best-seller, it will remain buried on his store’s back shelves. ”I know there is a percentage of air travelers this doesn’t bother, this type of grim, second-by-second bodily function kind of stuff,” says Irwin. ”But for the general public, it would just be in poor taste to promote this.”