Publish or Terrorist? Random House and Scribner in Violent-Novel Smackdown

american subversive cover Publish or Terrorist? Random House and Scribner in Violent Novel SmackdownOn Tuesday, April 20, Scribner released David Goodwillie’s debut novel, American Subversive, whose title and premise–a normal American drifts toward terrorism–have striking similarities to Pearl Abraham’s fourth novel, American Taliban, in bookstores a week earlier.

Everyone involved is being very polite about this.

“The word ‘American’ has appeared in quite a few titles,” said Ms. Abraham by phone last week. She only recently heard of American Subversive, and isn’t worried about it. “I heard that it was more of a thriller thing,” she said. Her editor, David Ebershoff, added that he has “heard good things” about Mr. Goodwillie’s book, and dismissed the near-simultaneity as “a coincidence.”

Ms. Abraham’s hero is a John Walker Lindh type whose quest for spiritual fulfillment carries him from the beaches of South Carolina to the caves of Afghanistan, PowerBars in his rucksack all the while. American Subversive is about a jaded blogger–his page-view-obsessed boss a pitch-perfect version of Gawker Media’s Nick Denton–on the trail of a Kentucky eco-terrorist who recently planted a bomb in Barneys.

Mr. Ebershoff called Ms. Abraham “prescient,” and said he bought the novel knowing that homegrown terrorism was in the zeitgeist. “I’m not surprised that another novelist was thinking along these lines,” he said.

Mr. Goodwillie started American Subversive in 2006, a year before Ms. Abraham started hers, and Scribner bought his book months before Random House picked up American Taliban.

His editor, Paul Whitlatch, said he’s been aware of the situation for months–does Scribner have a better intelligence service than Random House?–but insisted it hasn’t affected his publicity campaign, which includes launching a blog called Roorback.com, based on the one at the center of the book. “The cover design for each novel is very distinct,” he said, “and a quick glance at the jacket copy would reveal that they are wholly different stories.”

Ms. Abraham, meanwhile, is focusing on her own promotional tour and, like her surfer-turned-enemy combatant, remaining Zen. “A book has its life,” she said. “Maybe the two books will help each other.”