LIFE IN THE BONUS ROUND

When Steve Schalchlin started keeping an online diary in March 1996, the composer-lyricist, struggling with AIDS, intended to keep his family and friends informed of his condition. "I was never a letter-writer," he says. Instead, the Web site became a chronicle of his remarkable rebound—and a lucky charm for his musical The Last Session.

Schalchlin, 43, used his site (www.geocities.com/Broadway/1173) to humorously recount the indignities of IVs, diarrhea and other AIDS-related woes. Then, in May 1996, he began taking newly developed AIDS drugs and "responded immediately," he says. So did readers. "Support groups told me they were printing out entries and giving them to people to say, 'Look, there is hope.' "

One reader became The Last Session's first angel. After a fall L.A. run-through of the soft-rock musical about a songwriter with AIDS, Don Kirkpatrick, a salesman for an El Paso radio station, gave Schalchlin and partner Jim Brochu (who wrote the play's book) $10,000 to help bring it to New York City. Playing since May 8 at the tiny Currican Theater, the show will move this fall to a larger Broadway or Off-Broadway venue, producers say.

The son of a Baptist preacher and a nurse (who are "not crazy about the gay thing" but "totally supportive," he says), Schalchlin draws 250 Web readers a day. Upbeat through the worst of times, he plans to stay that way. As he puts it in his diary, he's "living in the bonus round."

BATTLE OF THE BOOKS

You can't get an iced cappuccino online, but that hasn't stopped bookseller Amazon.com from becoming one of the Web's top merchants. Now bookstore chain (and café pioneer) Barnes & Noble, which unveiled its own site (www.barnesandnoble.com) in May, wants in on the action.

For bookworms the showdown is a boon. Amazon.com now offers 40 percent off the price of many top-sellers, undercutting B & N's 30 percent hardcover discount. While B & N touts faster delivery and author cyberchats, Amazon.com lists more hard-to-find titles. Overall, though, B & N has catching up to do. "It's all in the details," says Jeff Bezos, 33, CEO of 2-year-old, Seattle-based Amazon.com. Search for a book, and "we'll have blurbs from half a dozen reviewers, a synopsis and 10 pages of customer comments," he says. (B & N's descriptions are short and bland.) But is Amazon.com, which projects sales of $64 million this year, just a speed bump to its retail rival? "We're not out to smash anyone else," says Susan Boster, B & N's Web marketing director. "But we're confident we will dominate the market."

>STARS OF SUMMER

WITH HOLLYWOOD'S HOTTEST SEASON AT FULL BLAST, HERE are the Web's most searched-for summer-movie actors, as judged by requests at search site Lycos. Fun fact: Cameron Diaz outranks My Best Friend's Wedding rival Julia Roberts.

1 Alicia Silverstone (Batman & Robin) 2 Demi Moore (G.I. Jane) 3 Sandra Bullock (Speed 2) 4 George Clooney (B&R) 5 Cameron Diaz (Wedding) 6 Uma Thurman (B&R) 7 Julia Roberts (Wedding) 8 Jennifer Aniston (Picture Perfect) 9 Meg Ryan (Addicted to Love) 10 Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element)

6/16 TO 6/29 LYCOS: WWW.LYCOS.COM

  • Contributors:
  • Anne Longley,
  • Samantha Miller.