by Campbell Geeslin

Our military mess in Afghanistan waved a flag that helped sell 38 million copies of Khaled Hosseini's two novels, providing readers with background on a mysterious land.

The author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, now 48, told The Guardian, “I think if I were to write my first book now it would be a different book, and it may not be a book everyone wants to read. If I were given a red pen now and I went back . . . I’d take that thing apart.”

Instead, Hosseini has written a third novel, The Mountains Beyond. Part of it is set in Afghanistan too.

Hosseini, who trained as a doctor, was the cover subject for the June Writer’s Digest. In it, he said, “One of the things I really love about writing is all the spontaneous moments, all the surprises, all the unforeseen developments that pop up and give you an insight into how different things might be conducted . . . which would make for much more interesting storytelling.”

In Kite Runner, the fictional narrator says that there is an “Afghan tendency to exaggerate—sadly, almost a national affliction.” I remember back when anyone who fibbed was called a storyteller. Hosseini lives in California, but he was born an Afghan storyteller.TWINS: Curtis Sittenfeld knows about bestsellers.  All three of her novels—Prep, American Wife and The Man of My Dreams— made the lists.

Her new novel is Sisterland.  It’s about identical twins with ESP. Publication is in June.

In a PW interview, Sittenfeld said, “Good fiction offers an unvarnished view into what it’s like to be a person. And it’s entertaining.”

EARLY EIGHT: Eight novels written by Michael Crichton when he was a student at Harvard will return as e-books on July 23.  All thrillers, the early works were sold under the pen name of John Lange and paid Crichton’s way through medical school. The Guardian said that Crichton, who died in 2008, could write 10,000 words a day.

His books usually got harsh notices. Martin Amis once wrote, “Out there, beyond the foliage, you see herds of clichés, roaming free.”

Clichés intact, Crichton’s books have sold 150 million copies.

CAFFEINE HELPS: “Could an unknown 21-year-old Oxford student named Samantha Shannon be the next J. K. Rowling?” asked Liesl Schillinger in The New York Times.

Shannon’s first novel, The Bone Season, will be published in August, and six more in the series are promised. The narrative is set in the year 2059 and the heroine is a clairvoyant.

Shannon has been paid a six-figure sum for the first three novels. She is in her final year at college and is working on the second book.  She said, “I had to cut down on going out with my friends so I could squeeze in writing chapters. There was a lot of coffee involved.”

ROAD TRIP:  Taking its cue from rockers, taco artists and Good Humor, Penguin has dispatched a bright orange truck and matching New York style pushcart to peddle its wares across the country. The 27-foot Penguin book truck, carrying 1,000 books, will make appearances at New York's Shakespeare in the Park festival, "Tom Sawyer Day" in Hartford, CT, and the American Library Association Conference in Chicago before heading south to Oklahoma, from which it will retrace the Joad family's route to California, marking the 75th anniversary of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Erica Glass, a spokeswoman for Penguin, told The New York Times Book Review, “We hope it keeps going forever to festivals, bookstores and other events.”

REPORT: In its first five days, Dan Brown’s Inferno sold 1 million copies (print and digital) in the U.S. and Canada. The audio version was No.1 among audio bestsellers.

FOLLOW-UP: When Jonah Lehrer was caught fabricating quotes and plagiarizing himself, he had to resign from The New Yorker. It looked as if his writing days were over.

But last week, Simon & Schuster announced that Lehrer was going to write a book about that experience. The New York Times got a copy of the 65-page book proposal. Describing the moment he learned he'd been caught, Lehrer wrote: “I have been found out. I puke into a recycling bin. And then I start to cry.”

Ben Loehnen, an S&S editor, was quoted, “The wisdom and the skill on the page are apparent, and all too rare.” Delivery date is 2014.

ABOUT TIME: This fall, Ring Lardner will join Herman Melville, Walt Whitman and other literary titans as the star of one of Library of America’s fat, black volumes, “printed on lightweight, acid-free paper that will not turn yellow or brittle with age.”

“This is about as overdue as it could be," commented Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post, "but it corrects a long-standing injustice, and it underscores the ways in which writing about sports has contributed so much to our literature.”

MORE FUN: Clive James is one of the reasons that literary criticism in Great Britain is more fun than its American equivalent.  James, a critic and poet, is an Australian who makes his home in London.

“America does polite literary criticism well enough," Clive wrote in a New York Times opinionator column, "but America can’t do the bitchery of British book reviewing and literary commentary.”  In Britain, “Ripping somebody’s reputation is recognized blood sport. Shredding a new book is a kind of fox hunting that is still legal today.”

A straight diet of U.S. book reviews is more like eating too much fudge.

SEX PAYS: Ellora’s Cave publishes erotic romance fiction. The Akron, Ohio, firm turns out about 10 e-books a week and sells nearly 200,000 copies per month. There is no advance, but authors are paid a 40% royalty on the list price of titles sold through the company’s Web site and a 45% royalty on books sold by vendors. Ellora’s Cave sends out about 800 royalty checks a month, PW reported.

The main imprint, Romantica, offers a blend of love, hot sex and happy endings. The publisher said, “We combine hardcore erotic language—no euphemisms—with romance the soft touch and the love aspect.”

One author, Laurann Dohner, will make $1 million this year, the publisher said. Her next book is entitled Lacey and Lethal with a cover photo of a woman’s hand unbuttoning the fly of a bare-chested male. Nothing euphemistic about that. Kindle will publish it on July 23.

A few male authors use female pen names because they sell better.

PLUGGING: Stephen King was billed as “The King of Summer Reading” on TV’s Today Show last week. He was there to promote his 44th book, Joyland.  He’s been publishing bestsellers for 40 years and has 300 million books in print.

King told host Willie Geist that he got the idea for this new book 20 years ago and asked, “Why have I waited so long to do an amusement park?” He explained: “Books are found things.  It’s like having a fossil in the sand. You dig it out and brush off the dirt.”

PRADA REDUX: Lauren Weisberger, whose first novel, ten years ago, was The Devil Wears Prada, was interviewed on the Today Show and featured as one of their’ “Sizzling Summer Reads.” Her new novel, Revenge Wears Prada, is a sequel, and she said, “So much happens in a decade. It’s exciting for me to revisit these characters.”

Unlike some writers who have had their novels turned into films, Weisberger said she loved the movie version of The Devil with Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. The author is hoping there will be a movie version of Revenge.

On her TV appearance, Weisberger was outfitted in a scarlet blazer and high heels the same hot color.

SELLING: Rick Atkinson has been highly visible and vocal promoting The Guns at Last Light, the last volume of his trilogy about World War II.

He spent an afternoon on C-Span’s Book-TV answering a lot calls from  readers. He also appeared on MSNBC and NPR’s Morning Edition.

Holt’s publicist told PW that Atkinson, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes, will write next about the Revolutionary War.  The historian called it our Aeneid.

Atkinson has said that history is bottomless and he’s “more than willing to keep pouring myself into it.”

TWO GENRES: Jack Vance, 96, died June 2 in Oakland, Calif. He was the author of 60 books. He won an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America and was named a grand master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Last year he was interviewed by a young woman on Focus, the Web site of a science fiction and fantasy magazine. He said, “I wrote as fast as I could. I don’t glorify my writing at all. For some reason I have the knack. I can’t take any credit for it, any more than you can take credit for being a beautiful girl.”