Whitney Pastorek
December 20, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

Last April, a small New Orleans publisher released Judy Conner’s Southern Fried Divorce, the true and terrific tale of her attempt to break up with ”that ex-husband,” his nearly human brown dog, and the chaos of life in the Big Easy (plus: recipes!). Before long, the 58-year-old added another story to her repertoire: the Cinderella kind.

The buzz started, she says, with a book party thrown by ”that nephew” (another character in the book) at New Orleans’ legendary F&M Patio Bar. ”It’s a sleazy bar that’s been there a long time,” she says. ”People like to dance on the pool table, so they came.” Strong sales landed Divorce on ”some little old list” — the Southeast Booksellers Association best-seller list — and New York agent Janis Donnaud recognized a good thing. ”She called me up and said, ‘Would you like to go to the ball?’ And I said, ‘Yes! Me and my big feet would like to go to the ball!’ So we did.”

A division of Penguin Group swooped in with an offer to take Divorce nationwide. ”We’ve found that women love this book,” explains Gotham publisher Bill Shinker. ”At the root of it is the fact that divorce does not just end a relationship.” And what would ”that X” think of the book’s success? ”I know without a doubt that it would not have mattered if I bashed him from here to kingdom come,” Conner says, ”as long as it was about him.”

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