By Suzi Brozman / firstname.lastname@example.org
Was “Radiant Angel” ripped from the headlines?
Not quite. But Nelson DeMille, set to speak at the Marcus Jewish Community Center on Thursday, June 4, has that rare combination of a prescient, observing mind and a facility for storytelling and the delicious use of language that keeps your eyes glued to the pages of his novels.
He’s back, and with him is John Corey, the hero of previous thrillers, focusing this time on Russians out to revive the Cold War. How could he have known about Russia’s rebirth as a nuclear power, controlling much of America’s uranium output? Read the book and pray he’s writing fiction, not prognosticating our future.
He was a Navy brat who grew up to enlist in the Army and fight in Vietnam in the late 1960s. “I was looking for adventure. I was young and naive and joined the Army to join the infantry. My dad was Navy and patriotic. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
The greeting he received on his homecoming was bad. He wasn’t spat on, but it wasn’t pleasant. “People kept asking me, ‘Why did you go?’ I spent some time being angry, but eventually I put it behind me. The military is held in higher regard today.”
He wrote “Work of Honor” in 1986 as his war novel. “People came back and wanted to write the war novel. Those written after World War II did well, but after Vietnam, nobody wanted to read them. There was lots of anti-war feeling, but by the ’80s, when I wrote about the war’s aftermath, it was a big seller. I’m glad I waited. It gave me perspective.”
How does he write his brand of fiction? “It’s the ability to tell a story. There used to be storytellers, but not so many today in our age dominated by electronics. Some people can’t tell a story. Lots of books today are best sellers written by people not that comfortable with the English language but good stories anyway. I love language, and I can tell stories. I sit back and think, ‘What would people do in this situation?’ ”
He finds it easy to create characters. “I watch people all the time and pick up on their language, their regional accents, how their occupation is reflected in their work usage. You have to have a good ear for dialogue, to understand the differences between sexes, people, regions.”
DeMille said feelings such as passion, jealousy and hate affect the plot.
“When I think of excellent writing, I always think of Stephen King,” he said. “He’s a natural-born storyteller and an expert on the English language. Years ago we had Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. You wanted to read them and follow the story. But we’re getting away from that. We watch too much TV.”
DeMille misses the days when people read because there was nothing else to do. “Last summer I read Somerset Maugham. His works were long and complex. People don’t have the attention span anymore.”
In response, he cut “Radiant Angel” to a tight 320 pages with a linear plot to see the effect on sales.
“It’s a Cold War return, the resurgence of Russia,” DeMille said. “This is a topic that needs to be addressed in fiction form. John Corey usually gets involved with Islam. Here he’s left the FBI and is following a Russian diplomat who, like all his bad guys, is up to no good.”
Next up for DeMille is a book about Cuba, which he plans to visit just after Labor Day.
He does follow the headlines, but with the lag time from coming up with an idea, writing in longhand and having assistants type up the work, the world changes, so he has to focus on big-picture issues.
He tries to stay out of politics, but he said two books, Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and George Orwell’s “1984,” altered his outlook. “I’m a Libertarian, anti-dictatorship but socially liberal. We have to have a strong country.”
Who: Nelson DeMille in conversation with Dana Barrett
Where: Marcus JCC, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 4
Tickets: $8 for members, $13 for others; www.atlantajcc.org/bookfestival or 678-812-4002