Mikulski has writer's bloc Publishing: The senator lures the bigwigs of politics and the press to introduce her novel at the news-starved convention.

August 28, 1996|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF

Memo to aspiring mystery writers. 1) Get elected to the U.S. Senate. 2) Choose a connected co-author whose husband happens to be a well-known media consultant. 3) Throw a book party at a national political convention.

Baltimore's own Barbara Mikulski was the belle of what proved to be an A-list breakfast at the Democratic National Convention yesterday, as politicos and press gathered to celebrate publication of her first book, "Capitol Offense."

Written with former Los Angeles Times society columnist Marylouise Oates, the book centers on a newly appointed senator, Norie Gorzack of Pennsylvania, and any similarities to real Capitol Hill types are completely coincidental.

Except when it comes to the hair. Oates let it slip that former congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro's hair was appropriated for Norie. "She may be an Italian-American, but she has Polish-American hair," Oates said.

"After all it's the best hair in Washington, what can they do?" said Ferraro, fluffing her trademark short, blond hair.

If Ferraro wins for best hair, then Sen. Edward Kennedy may qualify as best fan. The Massachusetts senator not only blurbed the book, but made a show of buying two when he arrived midway through the event.

"I've got a customer, I've got a customer," Mikulski yelled, leading the senator by the hand to the tables piled high with books -- 3,000 in all, and all signed by the authors during a weekend in the office of Oates' husband, Robert Shrum.

"We wanted to get here early because they said they're going fast," Kennedy countered, paying in cash.

Who knew that so many politicians love a good mystery? Those spotted at the party included former Texas governor Ann Richards, former Sen. George McGovern, Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, California Sen. Barbara Boxer, Washington Sen. Patty Murray, Virginia Sen. Charles Robb and wife Lynda, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, political consultant James Carville and comedian Al Franken. Journalists such as Robert Novak and Jeff Greenfield also were munching down on the Polish crust pastries.

Want to know how big this thing was? Even Maryland Sen. Paul Sarbanes put in an appearance.

Of course, almost no one has read the book yet, given that its official publication date is in September. But they all just know they're going to love it.

"I like John Le Carre," said McGovern, a copy of "Capitol Offense" tucked under his arm. "But I'm sure Barbara's book will be good. What I'd really like is to see her write a book on policy." Typical McGovern, always with an eye to what the mass market wants.

Maryland officials tended to be overlooked in the Hyatt Regency ballroom, although not by Mikulski. When she posed with Gov. Parris Glendening and his wife, Frances, a Chicagoan wondered: "Is that Tom Daschle?" (Hey, can you pick Illinois' governor out of a lineup?) Dutton officials watched in happy amazement. The typical first-time mystery writer is lucky to get a review in the hometown newspaper. Mikulski and Oates, by launching their book at an event with 15,000 news-starved journalists, ended up with national coverage. And the authors can claim credit for the marketing strategy.

Whatever one thinks of their writing, the two are obviously a formidable team. Oates, who claimed to have cooked dinner for half of those in attendance, worked the ballroom, while Mikulski spent most of the time on a riser in a corner of the ballroom. ("We had to put her up there because of her height," confided Dutton publicist Elizabeth Shreve. "She gets lost in the crowd.")

And it was Oates' connections that have landed a possible TV-movie deal for the pair. Judith Light, best known for her years on 'Who's the Boss?" was at the breakfast with her husband and managers. But in this crowd, her autograph was less sought after than, say, James Carville's.

For Mikulski, the morning was like launching a campaign, albeit one for her taller alter ego. "The New York Times, that was an exit poll," she said, referring to a glowing review. "Now they're doing a final count, and I think we won. Norie Gorzack won."

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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