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Books Forecast 2003

Advance word on the most promising new tomes of the year

Amy Sedaris Wigs Out

THE ''STRANGERS WITH CANDY'' STAR POPULATES A BIZARRE TOWN

Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, and Paul Dinello, authors of ''Wigfield'' (Hyperion), recently endured a ''Once-in-a-Lifetime Evening With Jerry Lewis'' at the Learning Annex. Over lunch at a New York City Greek restaurant, Dinello carefully hands out their Certificates of Completion. ''Yay!'' says Sedaris (sister of humorist David). ''I have laminating sheets in my bag!'' Bread plates are pushed aside, stray hairs and air bubbles cursed.

Colbert informs Sedaris of her kind mention in the morning Times' review of ''Maid in Manhattan.'' (Sedaris plays a snotty socialite who abuses Jennifer Lopez's maid.) ''Hilarious and underused'' quickly degenerates into ''hilariously underused!''

Friends and collaborators since they met in 1988 on Chicago's Second City sketch-comedy stage, the three tag-team rather than converse. Their creative chemistry fueled two Comedy Central series, ''Exit 57'' and the afterschool-special spoof ''Strangers With Candy,'' as well as the upcoming book. They'll each have the fish.

''Wigfield'' ''is sort of a novel in a series of monologues with photographs'' by fashion designer Todd Oldham, says Colbert. ''It's a compendium,'' says Dinello. ''It's a rubric!'' builds Colbert. ''An omnibus! Concavinations and vaginations of sentences...'' ''You forgot machinations!'' reminds Sedaris. ''And crenellations for the butter to collect in! It's much like 'Ulysses' by James Joyce.''

The three originally pitched a book inspired by a worm on one of Sedaris' old handbags. ''There were about 12 people in suits at a really big conference table,'' remembers Dinello. ''So I'm like, 'Yeah, there's this worm, we don't know what kind of worm it is, it's a dark children's book.''' ''Ha!'' says Colbert. '''It's a dark children's book.' It's for refugee children.'' Sensing Hyperion's waning interest, Sedaris stepped in: ''Growing up, my family used to decorate the top of the piano and call it Wigfield...''

As imagined in the book, Wigfield is a two-mile stretch of strip mall, filled with porno houses, used-auto-parts shops, and a handful of batty characters (Sedaris dressed up in maniacal garb). The plot, for lack of a better word, involves a hack journalist (based loosely on Colbert's bit as ''The Daily Show'''s blowhard correspondent) writing about the town's efforts to save its dam. Colbert describes the collaboration process as ''long, inert silences punctuated by bursts of monologues for each other.'' ''Eight hours for 20 minutes of work!'' Sedaris says.

But whither the worm? ''He's okay,'' Sedaris assures. ''He'll resurface somewhere. 'My Big Fat Greek Worm!''' (May)

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