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Searching For The Next Puzo

Random House is making an offer it hopes a worthy author won't refuse: Resurrecting "The Godfather" characters immortalized by Mario Puzo.

"I love 'The Godfather,' and just kept thinking about those characters. I wanted to see more," Jonathan Karp, a vice president and executive editor at Random House, said Tuesday.

In an e-mail sent to literary agents last week, Karp wrote that he was looking for "someone who is in roughly the same place in life Mario Puzo was when he wrote 'The Godfather' - at mid-career, with two acclaimed literary novels to his credit, who writes in a commanding and darkly comic omniscient voice."

Puzo, who died in 1999, was $20,000 in debt and supporting a wife and five children when he sat down to write "The Godfather," which came out in 1969. "It was really time to grow up and sell out," the author later said.

"The Godfather" has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide and led to a pair of classic American films that collected nine Academy Awards. Puzo, who collaborated on the screenplays, won two Oscars.

Many consider the movie versions superior to the book, but Karp's message emphasizes that "the original Puzo novel - not the films - are the basis for this sequel. The author can either create a story that occurs after the events in the novel or concurrent with them."

Random House and the Puzo estate will choose an author based on a 5-10 page outline, for which the deadline is Nov. 4. Karp says submissions should be sent to agents, not to the publisher.

Numerous fictional characters, from James Bond to Scarlett O'Hara, have been perpetuated after the author's death. There have been notable commercial successes, such as Alexandra Ripley's "Scarlett," but few would call the posthumous books worthy of the originals.

"We're never going to match what Mario Puzo accomplished with 'The Godfather,'" Karp said. "But we take this very seriously. We understand these are mythic characters with a mass following, and we will do justice to this."

By Hillel Italie