Newsmakers

EGGERS GOES IT ALONE

Dave Eggers's debut memoir, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," sat on the best-seller list for 14 weeks and made him a celebrity. But something about the experience riled him, because he fired his agent and left his publisher. This time he's doing it his way. "You Shall Know Our Velocity," Eggers's second book and first novel, concerns a Chicago guy trying to fly around the world in a week with a buddy so he can give away $32,000 he lucked into but doesn't feel he deserves. "Y.S.K.O.V." is being published by Eggers's own company, McSweeney's. It will be sold only on the McSweeney's Web site and at independent bookstores. No Amazon. No chain stores. And Eggers won't do interviews or book tours.

Agent Chris Calhoun--and others--estimate that Eggers could have gotten an advance "well north of $3 million." "But then, you've got him to deal with," says another agent, referring to the author's often contrary behavior. Others are more sanguine. "As annoying as he can be sometimes, I applaud him," says Dan Frank, editor in chief at Pantheon, who points out that publishing is increasingly beholden to "the chains, who are interested in product, in what moves. Eggers is saying he's on the side of the underdogs." Can he succeed? "Heartbreaking Work" sold 185,000 copies. Can a book with a first printing in the low five figures, produced in Iceland to save money and bearing a shabby-chic gray cardboard cover, hope to do as well? "If you care about your writing, then you care about how it makes its way into the world," Eggers has said. "But we'll see. It could all go horribly, horribly wrong."

Wolfgang Puck

For 20 years, Wolfgang Puck's Spago has been Hollywood's eatery of choice. Lately all America has sampled his cuisine: in the past year we ate 5 million frozen and airport Puck pizzas, and in one weekend bought $3 million worth of his pots and pans on the Home Shopping Network. Last week Puck hosted the 20th annual Meals on Wheels fund-raiser, raised more than $1 million--and let NEWSWEEK's Tara Weingarten grill him.

You've been around forever--no offense. What accounts for your popularity?

If I had just had Spago for 20 years, it would be different, but now I've got the show on the Food Network. All of this keeps us in the limelight. Plus it's great to be in Hollywood. Everyone at the restaurant can people-watch and say, "Oh, there's Sidney Poitier."

Or maybe they just think you're adorable.

(Laughs) You know what it is? I love what I do. So it's easy for me to be nice to people. If I can make a wiener schnitzel, I'm just as happy as when I work with white truffles.

I often see you in Spago schmoozing with celebrities. But how often do you get into the kitchen?

I love going to the tables to talk. It makes people happy. They say, "Oh, Wolfgang, come over and say hello to us." I spend a couple of hours in the kitchen. Do I have to work on the fish station all night? No, I'm too old for that.

It was a coup to get other famous chefs, like Paul Prudhomme, to help with your fund-raiser.

I want to make it exciting for the customers who come. And with the money we raise we can serve maybe 250,000 meals to people who otherwise wouldn't get a nutritious meal.

Your show on the Food Network just won an Emmy. What's next? A sitcom? Puck for president?

No! I'm not interested in politics. And I'm not interested in becoming an actor, although people say to me they think I should play myself on television. When I did "Frasier," I saw how professional these people were, like Kelsey Grammer. For me to say that I'm going to do something that I might never get good at--it would be silly. I'm here in Los Angeles, so I know there are enough bad actors who don't make a living.

Still Summer Lovin'

Oh, no, they're doing that creepy 'look into each other's eyes and smile as we sing' routine! Ack! Yes, it's John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, reunited after 24 years after 'Grease,' at a Paramount gala celebrating the release of 'Six All-Time Musical Favorites' on DVD.

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