William Tester calls his first novel, Darling, a coming-of-age story, which is true as far as it goes: Tester's yarn hinges on a carnal courtship of the family cow and other things that would make Holden Caulfield blush. ''It's all true....And it's all not true,'' the author says of his novel, a sad, strange story powered by evocative detail. Born of ''God-conjuring mystical hillbillies,'' the 31-year-old Tester grew up among the scrub and swamps of Florida. He says he had virtually no primary education and got into Columbia University's undergraduate writing program in 1978 by submitting an essay about being chased by a ball peen hammer. And at Columbia, he met novelist Gordon Lish, who ''pulled the novel out of me.'' Its creation took five years, during which Tester survived in Greenwich Village with the help of a National Endowment for the Arts grant and by modeling and selling his blood. ''I hope the NEA doesn't chase me down over the book,'' he says earnestly. ''God, it is bestiality.'' Tester is nervous about what to expect from more than the NEA when Knopf publishes Darling, arriving in bookstores now. ''It's a tough bucket to carry. I just hope it's read by people who would read this kind of book.'' And just what kind of people would they be? ''Not farm boys,'' he says.
Novelist and screenwriter Peter Lefcourt asked himself: ''What could possibly happen that would shock this country the way the Dreyfus affair and its violent anti-Semitism shocked France a century ago?'' His answer: A major league shortstop kissing his team's second baseman in a Neiman Marcus dressing room. So goes Lefcourt's second novel, The Dreyfus Affair: A Love Story, which Random House is betting will be a hit on sports pages this baseball season. Lefcourt, 49, who splits his time between Paris and Los Angeles, acquired his curve-ball flair for drama in Hollywood, where he has been a scriptwriter and playwright since the early 1970s. (In 1984, he won an Emmy as a writer-producer of Cagney & Lacey.) Last year he turned to fiction with a hilarious satire on Hollywood called The Deal, which was No. 1 in Century City. His new novel, about a superstar shortstop named Randy Dreyfus, takes on the country itself by playing the sanctity of America's national pastime off rampant homophobia. ''The book is an attack against intolerant people,'' says Lefcourt. ''I don't mean to imply that it's a political diatribe. It's a comedy. It has a sweet, nice, romantic ending.'' A made-for-Hollywood grand slam?
Judith Van Gieson
''I was reading a lot of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett,'' says Judith Van Gieson, ''and I thought, someone should be writing these kinds of books with women in them.'' So she set out to do it. After three rather quiet mysteries featuring a tough-talking, female Albuquerque lawyer, name of Neil Hamel, Van Gieson finally hits her stride with HarperCollins' February publication of The Wolf Path. Set amid the tumbleweed and cacti of the Southwest, like her others, The Wolf Path is Van Gieson's best book yet crisp, taut, and utterly compelling. Van Gieson, 50, turned to writing after her 1978 divorce. She sold her Vermont real estate business, packed her bags, and moved to San Miguel de Allende, an artists' and writers' colony in Mexico. Inspired by the stark beauty of that country and of Santa Fe, where she lived next Van Gieson began writing her fiction. She cites Tony Hillerman as an inspiration, and is wary about natural comparisons to mystery writers Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton. ''The things I write about are different,'' says Van Gieson, who divides her time between Albuquerque and Warren, Vt. ''I work an environmental issue into each book'' in this one, the plight of the Mexican gray wolf. And although Neil Hamel may be related to such fictional female sleuths as V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone, Van Gieson says it's a distant kinship: ''For starters, she's the only one with a steady man in her life.''