Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Tribute to Nelson DeMille, a real writer I am related to

Reading books is one of my favorite forms of entertainment.  The fact that you might learn something is a bonus. The fact that the process is healthier mentally than passively watching tv is incidental.  A good book takes your attention away from the rest of the world and after you are finished there is a deep satisfaction that you seek to repeat.  Such has been my experience with Nelson DeMille.


When I married I didn't realize I was marrying into a family that contained a soon to be famous writer.  My first encounter with a Nelson DeMille book was really a family obligation.

Sometime in my earliest days of awareness my father on the occasion of my grandmother's funeral asked me to do a family tree.  Ordinarily my interest would have been minimal, but unknown to him my wife was pregnant and the idea had strong appeal to me.  I spent all kinds of hours starting with my family, but realized my child had another set of ancestors.  My wife's father was Ukrainian and her mother was Italian.  Makes for a lot of good food and good times.

My mother in law never knew her father as he died shortly after she was born.  An interesting story in himself, but he did leave behind some family.  I talked to a sister, known to me as Aunt Mary Di Paulo who gave me an interesting story of the family (I am not quite ready to get into it publicly). Another brother, Huron had left for the states, marrying down there and fathering Nelson and living in Long Island, New York.

I met Nelson with his first wife at a family gathering (it was 1976 during the Canadian Olympics and his wife shared my interest).  I  hadn't realized he had written a few books at this stage, but I had been told that he had been in the army in Vietnam.  The first book I was aware of was a Book of the Month Club selection.   I belonged to the Book of the Month Club, but opted not to buy it as I was short of cash.  I thought I could easily order it the next month, but was caught off guard as it was not listed in their catalogue.  I speculated that the topic had gotten too controversial as it was set in Israel, but I persisted and got it anyway.   I learned later he wrote it partially in deference to his Jewish wife's interest in Israel. Although initially motivated as a family obligation, surprisingly I quite enjoyed it.

A year or so later I read "Cathedral" which further got me hooked.  Recently on my first trip to New York City, Saint Patrick's Cathedral was pointed out to me, reminding me of the book.  Another year I read "Word of Honor" which is still one of my favorite novels by anybody.  His books tend to be about 18 months apart and I now eagerly look forward to them and give some of them as gifts.

At a family wedding  in Hamilton, Ontario he showed up.  His Aunt Mary's youngest daughter (of 16) was getting married.  I took a photo of Nelson and he had to put up with probably the 20th person telling him how much they loved his books.  I also took a very opportune photo of the 80 year old father dancing with his youngest daughter.  Another relative joked that I probably didn't even have film in the camera.  His words were prophetic in that I did suffer a camera mishap with nothing to show for my efforts.

I joined a crowd at one of his book signings in Burlington Ontario and he joked that the large crowd was all relatives.  There were a lot of us there, but a lot of other fans too.  I guess all writers start with the base of family and friends and being Italian meant it was a substantial beginning.

I had one other encounter in that I wrote directly to him regarding family trees and was referred to his father.  I talked to another cousin of his who was also interested in family trees.  Although relatively young she died very unexpectedly cutting off a line of query.

I get his newsletter emailed which is a funny read in itself and recently joined a facebook group.  I am realizing this phenomenon has grown over the years and there are far more people I can talk to about the joy of reading Nelson's books.

I have found and encouraged other readers for Nelson's books.  A fellow we deal with regularly at the local Farmer's Market expressed an interest when the subject came up and we loaned him a book.  He went through all the ones we had on hand (about ten).  He didn't bother waiting for a recent new issue and read it before I did.

A few points about how Nelson writes.  He is a great believer in research.  In many of his books you can tell he has been there (or at least read in depth about it).  In one book, "The Lion",  written before 9/11 he anticipated a major terrorist strike against the States.  Talking to a friend who read the book he commented his wife was impressed at why the Libyans would hate the Americans.  "The Lion" is interesting in its format.  He runs alternating chapters between the hunter and the hunted.

Many of his books are told in the first person.  This is where clever sarcasm is given full reign often with unexpressed thoughts.  You also get to understand the protagonist's doubts and fears.

Another book that is noteworthy is "Plum Island", a masterpiece of mis-direction.  That is already too big a hint.  The ending will leave most of us flabbergasted that we were so easily fooled.

He has developed what I call a breezy style of dialogue that is hard not to read without laughing in admiration at the wit.  His characters are like celebrities. When he announces a book many fans want to know who the lead character is. John Cory is a favorite of my wife.  Another is Paul Brenner.

Like some other authors Nelson has used names of successful auction bidders at fund raising events for his fictional characters.  It is an honour (Canadian spelling) to have your name used even as one of the bad guys.

A new book is on its way.  The "Panther" bringing back Paul Brenner is due for release October 2012.  It has a Yemen background which caused Nelson to claim he had some research difficulties.

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