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Washington mystery writer and former Jack Anderson muckraker Jim Grady suddenly is a hot property in Hollywood. After years of devastating reviews—including one in the Washington Post that compared reading his book Steeltown to getting a root canal—the mild-mannered, long-suffering Grady has sold an original screenplay and an unpublished novel to film studios in recent months. This is his first big score since Three Days of the Condor, Grady’s first novel, was turned into a Faye Dunaway-Robert Redford thriller in the early ’70s.

“The confident thing to say is that I’m a better writer now,” Grady said recently, pondering his sudden change of fortunes after a long drought. “But the real answer is that I’m lucky.”

Grady has hooked up with Hong Kong action-film director John Woo on a project for Twentieth Century Fox tentatively titled Tong. The plot involves a Chinese gang war that breaks out in Butte, Mont., and engulfs America. Don’t laugh. The screenplay is based on an actual 1922 incident in Big Sky country, where Grady hails from. The Takoma Park resident says it took him five years to come up with the right screenplay after his agent at William Morris suggested that Woo’s style would be a good fit for Grady’s writing. The idea came to him while watching this year’s Academy Awards show.

“I have no idea what triggered it,” he says. “Most really good art comes from those involuntary moments of epiphany, and this was one of those. I remember turning to my wife and saying, “I’ve got my John Woo movie.’ ”

Earlier this year, Grady’s unpublished novel, White Flame, was snatched up by TriStar as a vehicle for Danny Glover. “Once I got the book done and it hit Hollywood, it took three weeks and I had a deal,” Grady says. “I thought the way to approach a political novel was to create someone worth killing who embodied what is going on out there in the country that is being ignored by the media,” Grady says. “I basically created a black Ross Perot.”