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A plot about a plot is one of many at St. Louis Jewish Book Festival

A plot about a plot is one of many at St. Louis Jewish Book Festival

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Author Jean Hanff Korelitz likes to meet her readers, and she has a lot more of them with this year’s success of her novel “The Plot.”

Just don’t tell her about that terrific idea for a book that you’ve been pondering for years. Nothing good will result.

Korelitz, who is one of several bestselling authors featured at this year’s St. Louis Jewish Book Festival, scored big with “The Plot,” about a struggling writer who takes a teaching job when his career stalls. There, he meets a brash student who brags about a surefire plot that he knows will shoot him to the top of the literary world.

When the teacher later learns that his former student has died, and no book with the can’t-miss plot has ever appeared, he decides to write the story as his own. It earns all of the praise and sales that the student had predicted, but it also plunges the teacher into a horrific situation when an anonymous threat looms to expose him as a plagiarist and a fraud.

The plot in “The Plot” is gripping. But what the writer did can be seen as part of a long tradition, where stories and plots build on a storehouse of what has gone before. Korelitz says that’s the way literature works.

“There will be no books if we clear away all the books not connected to experience of the writers,” she said in an interview. “If we start saying this happened to me, I lived it and you stole it, that’s a very slippery slope. Writers don’t want to go down there, and readers don’t want to either. It’s not about where you start. It’s about what you do with where you start.

“The classic thing people say to authors is that ‘I have a great idea, you write it and we’ll split the money.’ That’s assuming that there is money to be had, but that’s not always the case. I think you’d have to be a major fool to accept an offer like that.”

“The Plot” is one of a number of recent novels dealing with books and authors, a situation that runs counter to a long-held belief in publishing, says Korelitz, 60, who lives in New York with her husband, poet Paul Muldoon.

“The conventional wisdom is that readers don’t like to read about writers and what they are obsessed about,” she said. “When reviews of ‘The Plot’ started to come out, I was surprised and delighted to read that people said they love reading about writers and books.”

Two of Korelitz’s previous novels have been adapted for the screen — the film “Admission” with Tina Fey and the TV miniseries “The Undoing” with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. “The Plot” is headed for similar treatment, Korelitz said, though she couldn’t release details. She wasn’t involved in creating either of the previous projects, but she plans on being on the writing team next time.

“At my age,” she said, “I’m glad to be able to learn something new, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”

One of the nicer touches in “The Plot” is the epigraph: “Good writers borrow, great writers steal. — T.S. Eliot (but possibly stolen from Oscar Wilde)”

Korelitz said she was delighted with what she found about a saying she thought she knew.

“I went to look up the quote,” she said, “because I knew I wanted to use it at the beginning of the book. I had always heard it was T.S. Eliot, but I wanted to be sure. To see that there was some doubt about it, that was icing on the cake.”

The St. Louis Jewish Book Festival begins at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 with keynote speaker Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet prisoner whose book “Never Alone” tells how his experiences led to political activism. His co-author, Gil Troy, will join him. Tickets for the event are $45.

Korelitz will appear at the festival at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 15. Tickets for her event are $20.

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