Ballantine Pays $3.75 Million for a Literary Novelist's Vampire Trilogy?

Justin Cronin, a.k.a. Jordan Ainsley Photo: Courtesy of Random House

Last week, we hear, agent Ellen Levine at Trident Media closed a deal for a postapocalyptic vampire trilogy with editor Mark Tavani at Ballantine. Now, if we reported on every postapocalyptic vampire trilogy out there, we'd never have time to write anything else. But this postapocalyptic vampire trilogy sold, we hear, for a whopping $3.75 million for North American rights. Impressively, the deal was made off a 400-page partial manuscript. And even more impressively — given how cynical most of the people we know in the book world are — everyone seems to really like the book.

"Usually I hate this stuff, and I love it!" we hear one scout told her colleagues. Another publishing insider gushed to us, "It is totally awesome," while a third suggested that comparisons to Michael Crichton and Stephen King were appropriate, given the likelihood of this book being "a big best-seller." Who's the writer? Jordan Ainsley is the name on the manuscript, but we've been told that's a pseudonym for Justin Cronin, a literary novelist whose book of stories Mary and O'Neil won the Pen/Hemingway Award.

The story, set in 2016, revolves around a U.S. government project gone awry that affects a group of experimental subjects — condemned inmates plucked from death row — turning them into highly infectious vampires. Meanwhile, an orphan named Amy discovers that she has unusual powers, seemingly related to the crisis that quickly overtakes civilized society. It's pretty dark, though not completely without humor — the governor of Texas in 2016, for example, is Jenna Bush.

Now eyes turn toward Hollywood, where CAA is representing the book for film. Will it sell? One source is worried about the glut of similar material out there: postapocalyptic projects like World War Z, vampire projects like The Historian, postapocalyptic vampire projects like I Am Legend. Another source in the film world agrees but thinks it may not matter. "Everyone is tentative, because everyone has a nominally competing project," he told us. "But it's good, it sold for big money, and it's about vampires. Vampires are perennials."