10.08.09

Palin Editor's Double Life

The Daily Beast has learned that a top HarperCollins editor who worked on Sarah Palin's new memoir helped write another book about her: sophomoric send-up Terminatrix.

Sarah Palin might have a bone to pick with Adam Bellow, the veteran HarperCollins editor who toiled on her blockbuster autobiography, which is already a bestseller in advance of its Nov. 17 release.

Last October, at the height of Palin’s memorable vice-presidential run, Bellow was the anonymous co-author of a quickie paperback satire of the then-governor of Alaska.

Terminatrix: The Sarah Palin Chronicles—which has a cover featuring a Photoshopped governor in skin-tight leather and brandishing an automatic weapon—is a sophomoric send-up of Palin and her family, featuring digitally altered images and derisive captions, and packaged in a 5-by-7-inch, 96-page trade paperback. A representative gag: Palin’s face superimposed on a painting of Joan of Arc, with the mocking commentary: “In between junior high and high school, Sarah heard God's call to save France.”

Another doctored photo—with the caption "Sarah Palin won the Miss Wasilla Pageant in 1984, while in college"—has her head grafted onto a dog's body, with a blue ribbon hanging from her neck. In yet another, she's wearing a white butcher's coat and standing in front of animal carcasses hanging from hooks in a meat locker. "This is our walk-in fridge at home. It isn't easy killing enough game to feed a family of seven. Half of these critters are protected species!" In short, Terminatrix portrays Palin as every blue-blooded Manhattanite's flyover nightmare.

A representative Terminatrix gag: Palin’s face superimposed on a painting of Joan of Arc, with the mocking commentary: “In between junior high and high school, Sarah heard God's call to save France.”

The famously elusive Palin, who was paid an undisclosed multimillion dollar advance for Going Rogue: An American Life, could not be reached. My guess is that, like Queen Victoria, she will not be amused.

Twenty thousand copies of Terminatrix were shipped by the now-defunct Collins Books, a HarperCollins imprint for which Bellow worked as executive editor. The book carries the humorous credit line, “Compiled by the Editors of the Wasilla Iron Dog Gazette.”

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"Sarah Palin won the Miss Wasilla Pageant in 1984, while college."—image and caption from Terminatrix: The Sarah Palin Chronicles.

Informed sources tell me that the mysterious Wasilla compilers are actually the fortysomething Bellow, son of the late Nobel Prize-winning novelist Saul Bellow, and his former HarperCollins colleague Bruce Nichols, who today is editor-in-chief of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

A Publishers Weekly item last fall quoted Nichols as describing a feverish, weeklong process from “brainstorming meeting” to “going full blast,” and cheekily identified Bellow and Nichols as “speaking on behalf of the authors.”

But when I reached Bellow at HarperCollins Wednesday afternoon, he wasn’t much interested in speaking on behalf of anybody.

“You’re kidding, right?” the editor said with a nervous giggle when I asked if his famous author was aware of his extracurricular activities. “I’m sorry, I can’t talk to the press about this. You’re going to have to talk to our publicity director.”

HarperCollins PR honcho Tina Andreadis was equally enigmatic: “Publishers publish a wide range of books on a wide variety of topics. We are thrilled to be publishing Governor Palin's book."

Nichols, meanwhile, archly advised: “The authorship of The Sarah Palin Chronicles has never been publicly disclosed. The editors of the Wasilla Iron Dog Gazette have not been revealed. I cannot comment on their behalf.” Nichols added with a laugh: “Try Adam.”

Palin’s literary agent, high-powered Washington attorney Robert Barnett, offered a terse “no comment” and Lee Hough, the Colorado Springs-based agent who represents Palin’s collaborator on the biography, Lynn Vincent, emailed me : “Lynn is under a very strick [sic] confidentiality agreement and cannot engage on this. Sorry about that.”

Neither Bellow nor Nichols were persuaded by arguments that they should publicly take credit for the Palin satire and hitch their wagon to her star: After all, today’s Amazon.com ranking for Going Rogue is No. 2. And Terminatrix is in the rankings' abyss at No. 273,139.

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Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for The Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.