EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures Entertainment has begun deal talks with Steve Zaillian to adapt The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second installment of the Millennium Trilogy of crime novels written by Stieg Larsson. Zaillian adapted The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which SPE puts into production this fall after director David Fincher and producer Scott Rudin end the well-publicized search for an actress to play the troubled genius computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. Like Daniel Craig, that actress will sign a deal with two options covering The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. Craig is playing journalist Mikael Blomkvist.

While Zaillian continues to hone the script for the first film (he is also exec producer), the studio wants  him to  move right on to The Girl Who Played With Fire. SPE wants to move quickly into production on the sequel, though start dates will have to be  scheduled around Craig’s commitments to the James Bond franchise, and a potential sequel to Cowboys And Aliens.

The studio and filmmakers have reason to feel bullish: the pace of book sales of Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy has become a phenomenon reminiscent of book-to-movie blockbusters like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The trilogy Larsson completed before dying of a heart attack at age 50 has sold over 27 million copies in 40 countries but has really taken off this summer in America. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo recently became the first book to pass the million mark for Amazon’s Kindle device, and Larsson’s trilogy–published in the U.S. by Knopf– holds all three top spots on Amazon’s current bestseller list. The books have so far sold 7 million copies in the U.S.–not including e-books–and show no sign of tailing off. The filmmakers are confident an audience of rabid readers will show up when SPE releases the first film December 21, 2011, a major reason there is little concern over the  previously released subtitled Swedish adaptation of Larsson’s books.

It makes sense that SPE wants the Oscar-winning scribe Zaillian back for an encore. Both Potter and Twilight have been able to balance quality with speed by having the same screenwriter from start to finish. Steve Kloves has scripted all but one of the Harry Potter films for Warner Bros, while Melissa Rosenberg has scripted all five Twilight Saga films for Summit Entertainment. WME is making Zaillian’s deal.