In 2002, much to his chagrin, Charles Frazier made the crawl on CNN. ”Cold Mountain Author Gets $8M” is how the Associated Press headline put it, and for a couple of days it was big news in publishing. On the basis of a one-page proposal, so the story went, Random House would pay $8.25 million for the right to publish Frazier’s second novel — his follow-up to Mountain, the runaway 1997 literary best-seller and award-winning Civil War tale — while producer Scott Rudin forked over $3 million for the movie rights. Four years later, that follow-up novel is here, a historical epic about the Cherokee Indians called Thirteen Moons, and its author — sitting in the front yard over his mountaintop home, which commands panoramic views of the hazy hills and valleys around Asheville, N.C. — would rather talk about the book, not the money.
”I’d still like to know who the hell —” he starts, meaning to finish that thought with something like ”leaked those dollar figures to the press,” but Frazier is shy, and temperamentally unsuited to bluster. Normally the Southern lilt to his voice is soft enough to put babies to sleep, and if this is as close as he gets to a grumble, he still sounds awfully sweet. He starts over. ”It was very clear that the proposal was just supposed to go to these six editors, and that’s it, and the next thing I know, people are calling who’ve got copies of it, and all that.” He’s quiet for a moment; he really doesn’t like talking about this kind of stuff. ”Lots of writers succeed in getting a new contract without it being on the crawl on CNN….It’s not exactly the way I wanted the whole thing to take place. I’d looove to know,” he says, chuckling, ”where to lay the blame for that.”
It certainly did him no favors. ”I hope that what people talk about is the book,” says his editor, Kate Medina. ”I think in the end that’s what’s going to matter.” But that $8 million advance is going to be hard for industry watchers to ignore: It’s believed to be the heftiest ever paid for a single novel (in comparison, Bill Clinton reportedly earned $10 million for his memoir My Life). So the pressure is on for Thirteen Moons to soar off the shelves. The first sales figures for the book, which was officially released Oct. 3, look shaky; ask Frazier a few weeks before the pub date if he’s worried about managing expectations, and his answer is an uncharacteristically quick ”Yeah.”
And he immediately modifies that. ”I mean, I worried about it in the writing of it,” Frazier says. ”First of all, the way I see it, it’s my job to write it. At this point, it’s [Random House’s] job to sell it….If you worry too much about that kind of stuff, you’d never get a book written.”
Frazier knows that from experience.