Author and Rice University Professor Justin Cronin, who had previously written literary fiction, wrote one of this year's most anticipated books, The Passage, in answer to his daughter's request that he write a book where a girl saves the world. Cronin's response was a 766-page science fiction novel set in the postapocalyptic near future. A military experiment that was meant to extend the human lifespan has instead created immortal killing machines that have a ravenous thirst for blood (read: vampires), and the fate of humankind is in the hands of one little girl who might be the key to a cure. Before Cronin was done with the book, a bidding war broke out among publishers, with Ballantine eventually winning the rights for a three-book deal for about $3.7 million. Filmmaker Ridley Scott ponied up another $1.75 for film rights, and suddenly Cronin was sitting on almost $5.5 million in advances for a book no one had even seen yet. So while there's no question that Justin Cronin richly deserves the nod as best local author, we do have one inquiry for him: Dude, you're a millionaire, why are you still working?