SAY YOU'RE AN EDITOR AT A BIG publishing house. And one of your authors sends in 694 pages of stuff like this—as Collins did in September 1991. Do you think, "Hey, Joan's got another bestseller on her hands here, just like her Prime Time and Love & Desire & Hate"? Or do you say, "Ugh, this isn't the kind of good-bad writing that people wallow in at the beach; this is just bad-bad. We want our money back!" If you guessed the latter, you're thinking like Random House, which last week took Collins, 62, to court in Manhattan, where the company is suing to recover $1.3 million it advanced the British actress in 1990 to write two novels. "I'm just one small individual fighting for vindication of my writing career," Collins says. "I feel it's a David and Goliath situation."

Technically, the tempest over The Ruling Passion and the second novel Collins submitted, Hell Hath No Fury, concerns whether she fulfilled her contract to deliver "complete manuscripts." Joni Evans, Collins's former editor at Random House, described the drafts she received as "over the top, dated [and] melodramatic"—yet somehow different from Collins's previous work. Such criticism is irrelevant, says Collins's lawyer, who claims that, according to the contract, "complete" means, essentially, finished. Random House, he says, must pay up as long as the manuscripts are "in the English language" and don't "defame anybody." Collins is countersuing for the $2.7 million balance on what was a $4 million deal.

Whatever happens next, the tiff has provided good theater during a slow season on Broadway. On Feb. 6, Collins showed up in court in a sleek black Donna Karan suit and black leather boots, exuding an air of total confidence recalling her Dynasty character, Alexis Carrington Colby. Editor Evans, she told PEOPLE, "pursued me like a lover" when signing her to the deal—then neglected her in favor of fellow celeb author Michael Caine. "They didn't even edit my books," Collins says angrily. "I don't think they even read them." Random House, apparently, only wishes it hadn't.