THR’s 5 Book Deals of the Week: World War II Adventure, NFL Football, Memoirs and a Debut Novel

10:05 PM PST 12/19/2011 by Andy Lewis
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Former Miami Dolphin Quarterback Bob Griese

The week's top deals include a story about nurses rescued from Nazis, an inside look at the NFL's only perfect season, memoirs from Jane Fonda's adopted daughter and a woman who ran a refugee camp, and a hot debut novel.

The roundup of pre-holiday book deals with Hollywood potential includes a pair of fantastic memoirs—one from Jane Fonda’s adopted daughter and the other about an American woman who ran a refugee camp in Africa, a harrowing World War II story, a debut novel reminiscent of A. S. Byatt’s Possession and the definitive history of the Miami Dolphins' magical undefeated season.

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The most interesting deal of the week follows in the wake of two World War II survival stories that climbed the bestseller lists in 2011-- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand and Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff. The Secret Rescue by Cate Lineberry tells the nearly forgotten tale of a group of Army nurses and medics who were rescued from behind enemy lines when their plane crashed. Nurses, Nazis, commandoes, action and adventure—this story has all the ingredients of a hit.

Two potentially fascinating memoirs also snagged publication deals. First, the story of Mary Williams, whose parents were members of the Oakland Black Panthers but through a strange twist of fate ended up becoming the adopted daughter of Jane Fonda (and Ted Turner’s stepdaughter). Just recently, after more than 30 years of separation, Williams reconnected with her biological mother and sisters. She previewed this story in Oprah Winfrey’s magazine in February 2011 and if the book fulfills the promise of the article it will be great. Second, Jessica Alexander’s memoir covers from her childhood in suburban Connecticut to running a camp that housed more than 20,000 refugees caught up in the civil war in Darfur.

Lastly, Perfection, a history of the Miami Dolphins' magical undefeated season, will make waves when it hits bookstores in autumn 2012 for the 40th anniversary of the feat. The Dolphins' perfect season — the only one in NFL history — is reason enough for a book, but this story offers much more in its promise to explore the combustible mix of race, money, and ambition that lurked just below the surface. Plus, the NFL, despite being the most popular professional sport in the U.S., lacks the literary tradition of baseball. The 1972 Dolphins’ season is a great subject to break that pattern. If Perfection can tap into the universal human drama of the story like classic football movies such as North Dallas Forty and Friday Night Lights, it could be one of those books about sports that crosses over to a broader audience.

The Hollywood Reporter's rundown of the week’s top five deals:

1. The Secret Rescue: A World War II Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Europe by Cate Lineberry sold to Little Brown by Ellen Geiger at Frances Goldin Literary Agency.

True-life World War II survival stories have been hot buys lately and this one is a doozy: A group of American nurses and medics are trapped in Nazi territory after their plane crashes. The book follows the group through their attempts to survive, the efforts by Allied forces and the Resistance to rescue them (successfully), and how the story captivated the American public and President Franklin Roosevelt. Lineberry stumbled on this forgotten story researching something else about the war and decided this was a tale worth telling. One survivor is still alive—an 89-year-old former medic who was just 21 when this story took place—and Lineberry has interviewed him for the book. Publication is scheduled for autumn 2013.

2. Perfection by Bob Griese and Dave Hyde sold to Wiley by Shari Walker at SLW Literary Agency.

The New England Patriots came within a few minutes, the Green Bay Packers' streak ended at 13 last weekend, but only the Miami Dolphins remained undefeated. The 40th anniversary of the Miami Dolphins' perfect season—the only one in NFL history—is sure to attract lots of attention in the autumn of 2012. This oral history of the team that includes the recollections not only of Griese, the star quarterback who was injured most of the season, but many of his teammates is sure to be at the center of most discussions. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the rise of football as America’s favorite game, this promises to be more than a sports book. Exploring racism, ambition, economics, and the pursuit of perfection, this is the kind of universal human drama that could attract a wide audience. 

3. The Lost Daughter by Mary Williams to Blue Rider Press by Edward Orloff at McCormick & Williams Literary Agency.

Williams’ story about a childhood that went from parents who were members of the Black Panthers in Oakland to being adopted by Jane Fonda promises to be one of the most fascinating memoirs of 2013. Lost Daughter, which started as a feature in O, The Oprah Magazine, traces these to two very different childhoods and follows Williams as she reconnects with her biological family 30 years after she left the poverty of Oakland for the privilege of Fonda’s life in Los Angeles.

4. The House Girl by Tara Conklin to William Morrow by Michelle Brower at Folio Literary Management.

Conklin’s debut novel tells the intertwined stories of a New York corporate lawyer looking for the ideal client to launch a slavery reparations lawsuit and a runaway slave woman whose beautiful paintings are mistakenly attributed to her owner. 

5. Welcome Back to Civilization by Jessica Alexander sold to Crown by Jane Dystel at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

The Darfur conflict provides the setting for the memoir of a middle-class young woman from Connecticut who ends up running a 24,000-person refugee camp in the war-torn African country. Alexander spent more than a decade as a human rights crusader and even testified at the war crimes trial of Charles Taylor of Sierra Leone. Now she’s getting a doctorate at the renowned London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. If Alexander can pull off an action adventure version of Samantha Power’s "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide, she could have a big hit on her hands.

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