Latin American author Oscar Hijuelos, who has struggled to replicate the success he enjoyed with his 1989 novel Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, is close to finalizing two separate book deals with two separate publishers, one of them for a novel and the other for a memoir.
The novel, according to editors who read the proposal, follows a character named Maria, who first appeared in Mambo Kings, a best seller that won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and in 1992 was turned into a hit movie starring Antonio Banderas.
According to sources at several publishing houses who saw proposals for both books, Mr. Hijuelos’s literary agent, Jennifer Lyons, was seeking half a million dollars for each. Although Ms. Lyons submitted the two books together, sources said, she made it clear that she was willing to sell them off separately.
Ms. Lyons, who runs her own eponymous agency, confirmed that she sold the novel to one publisher and the memoir to another—a rather unusual move, according to several editors and agents—but declined to specify where either of the books ended up because the contracts have not been finalized.
Several knowledgeable sources said that one likely buyer is Gotham Books, an imprint of Penguin Group whose publisher, William Shinker, is said to be a friend of Mr. Hijuelos’s.
Asked last week whether he had acquired one of the books, Mr. Shinker said, “No deal has been made,” and declined to comment on whether Ms. Lyons had submitted the proposals to him for consideration.
One house that definitely did not get a look at Mr. Hijuelos’s new projects is Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which published Mambo Kings and its 1993 follow-up, The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien.
According to FSG editor in chief Jonathan Galassi, Fourteen Sisters did not match the success of Mambo Kings, which prompted Mr. Hijuelos’s decision to move to HarperCollins in 1993.
“I think he was disappointed in how we had performed with Fourteen Sisters,” Mr. Galassi said. “It didn’t sell terribly well and he blamed us—that’s what publishers exist for.”
(According to a New York Times article that reported Mr. Hijuelos’s departure from FSG, one of the reasons he chose HarperCollins was that the company had published Mambo Kings in paperback and had been “extremely successful.”)
Mr. Hijuelos went on to write three books for HarperCollins: The first two were edited by Robert S. Jones, who died in 2001 at the age of 47, and the third, 2002’s A Simple Habana Melody, by Daniel Halpern, editor in chief of the HarperCollins imprint Ecco.
According to Mr. Halpern, Simple Habana Melody “did not do all that well,” leading Mr. Hijuelos to once again look for a new publisher.
“I think he probably felt that he wanted to have a fresh start,” Mr. Halpern said.
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