It's enough to make Harvey Weinstein's toes curl: The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters, the crackling debut novel by former Hollywood exec Elisabeth Robinson, has already generated advance raves. Told through letters and e-mails, Adventures follows struggling producer Olivia Hunt as her film version of Don Quixote starring Robin Williams and John Cleese gets green-lit...just as her spunky younger sister Madeleine is diagnosed with leukemia.
So is Adventures a thinly veiled roman a clef? ''You have to draw on your own experiences,'' concedes Robinson, 40, who says a decade in the film biz (her credits include Braveheart and Last Orders) provided plenty of material. ''But if I start parsing out what's real and what's not, it takes the fun out of it for readers.... I did work briefly on a Don Quixote [with Williams and Cleese] that didn't get off the ground, [but] Robin Williams wouldn't know who I am.'' She also hasn't heard from any of the other celebs -- such as Mel Gibson and Danny DeVito -- who make cameos in the book.
The one character Robinson didn't fictionalize was Madeleine, based on her own sister Laurie, who died in 1998 of leukemia. ''I really wanted to pay tribute to her,'' she says. ''I needed to understand how she maintained her enthusiasm in the midst of uncertainty, and I thought by writing about it I could hopefully learn from it.... I was definitely a more skeptical and pessimistic person.''
But not so pessimistic as to turn her back on the film industry altogether. In addition to working on a second book, she's writing a comedy script for Columbia -- which may provide more fodder for her fiction. ''I sometimes think that looking at [Hollywood],'' she says, ''is more fun than being in it.''