Garth Risk Hallberg's debut novel City on Fire, an unpublished opus set in 1970's New York, was purchased for nearly $2 million after a massive bidding war between publishers. Hallberg is a writing teacher at Sarah Lawrence college, and has contributed to The New York Times Book Review and The Millions. Apparently, the bidding war won by Knopf began after publishers flew through the nearly 900-page manuscript, attracting at least 10 bids over a million dollars in just two days. Oh, and Scott Rudin purchased the unpublished book's movie rights in late October. That deal, at the very least, could not have hurt the book's winning bid.
The New York Times broke the news of the incredible deal. There's not a ton known about the plot, but it's apparently an ensemble piece. According to Hallberg's agent Chris Parris-Lamb, here's the outline of the plot provided to the Times and to publishers interested in purchasing it:
"[the events] revolve around a central mystery: what exactly is going on behind the locked steel doors of a derelict townhouse in the East Village, and what might it have to do with the shooting in Central Park in the novel’s opening act?”
A book deal in the neighborhood of $2 million, it should be noted, is approaching celebrity memoir territory. Dick Cheney's deal was a little over that figure (about the same as that signed by Demi Moore), while Lena Dunham's much-discussed deal was over 3 million dollars. But City on Fire is not by a famous writer. It's 900 pages long, its ambitious, and its not something people will pick up because of the familiar face on the cover — unless James Franco stars in its film adaptation, of course.
Hallberg, 34, is a first-time novelist, though he has published a book before: A Field Guide to the North American Family, an illustrated novella. There is not a set publishing date for City on Fire.