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Picks and Pans Main: Bytes

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JUST WILD ABOUT BARRY

After self-publishing her first novel—a romance titled Chat written entirely in e-mail—Nan McCarthy couldn’t find it in half the bookstores she visited. But she was seeing a lot of someone else’s book. “Everywhere I went, I saw Dave Barry’s face,” says McCarthy, 35. “Dave Barry in Cyberspace had been published around the same time as Chat, and every store I went into had pyramids of his book. I know this guy’s a great writer, but it wasn’t fair!” Last fall the Grayslake, Ill., mother of two—who had already sent copies of her novel to Bill Gates, Oprah and the White House—wrote to the humorist, lamenting her plight in Barry’s goofball style. (Sample: “I know there isn’t a sitcom modeled after my incredibly interesting life called Nan’s World…”)

Barry replied via postcard, telling McCarthy, “Good luck and hang in there.” But his own legions of online fans picked up the ball when McCarthy posted the same missive on a few Internet humor news groups. “My mailbox began to be flooded with e-mail from people wanting to know where they could buy the book,” she says. After she sold all 2,500 copies of her first edition, a computer-book publisher signed on to print 20,000 more. McCarthy is now offering a sequel, Connect, through her Web site (www.rainwater.com), and she’s working on making it a trilogy. But she still can’t resist checking out her bookstore treatment. “My 6-year-old points them out for me,” McCarthy notes. “He says, ‘Mommy, there’s a bookstore! Wanna go in?’ ”

PALACE INTRIGUE

Anyone who can’t afford a flight on the Concorde should welcome the chance to take a virtual visit to Versailles, the opulent palace built by France’s Louis XIV. But Versailles 1685, a CD-ROM from the French company Cryo Interactive Entertainment, offers more than a point-and-click tour. Something is rotten in the court of the Sun King, and it’s up to you to unravel a bomb conspiracy that threatens to turn the royal family into French toast. How? By exploring the palace, learning its protocols and chatting up historical figures brought to life from their portraits. “When you visit the chateau today, you have a hard time imagining how people lived in an everyday way,” says palace curator Béatrix Saule (through a translator), who helped the CD-ROM makers reconstruct Versailles as Louis XIV saw it. By taking players beyond the main attractions, she says, the game will show that “Versailles is more than the Hall of Mirrors.”

STAR GAZING

Plug the name of any Web celeb into a search engine, and you wind up with scores of sites to visit. To save time, fans may want to try CelebSite (www.celebsite.com), a new spinoff of the pop-culture venture Mr. Showbiz that offers news, bios and links to choice Web shrines for each of 500-plus famous folks. (One find: a Lois & Clark fan’s “Definitive Guide to Clark Kent’s Ties.”) Says editor Susan Mulcahy: “If there is such a thing as too much information, this is it.”