Thrill-master Nelson DeMille—the author of 20 novels, including 17 major national bestsellers, seven of which have hit the #1 spot on various lists—has been keeping readers up nights for four decades now. Under contract with Simon & Schuster to write a coauthored book, he interviewed many possible collaborators and eventually found the perfect partner in his own son, award-winning screenwriter (for the science fiction short The Absence) Alex DeMille.
The two have come together to create two new characters, Scott Brodie and Maggie Taylor, of the Army Criminal Investigation Division, in The Deserter (Simon & Schuster, Oct.). This is the first of a planned trilogy featuring Brodie and Taylor. In the novel, when a Delta Force member disappears from his post in Afghanistan and is spotted a year later amid the hotbed of Venezuelan unrest, Brodie and Taylor are sent by top military brass to bring him back—dead or alive.
A parent–adult child writing team could be a dicey proposition, eliciting a lot of tension and headbutting. However, the DeMilles reveal that it all went swimmingly, claiming it was an “interesting fusion of different methods of storytelling.” Nelson, who still writes all his manuscripts in longhand, using #1 pencils and legal pads, was delighted to have Alex on board to cut what he admits are his writerly excesses. “I tend to slightly overwrite. You have a lot of leeway in novels, but in a screenplay, you are limited to no more than a certain number of pages. I knew that Alex could tighten the dialogue and the narrative,” he says.
Alex, for his part, told himself to check his ego at the door before he even began: “My father has had a long successful career; he knows what he is doing, and this was a chance to learn. I saw it as a way to flex my creative muscles.”
Usually Nelson visits the place he is writing about for research, but the violent events in Venezuela made that a nonstarter. “I chose Venezuela because I find strongmen and the cult of personality fascinating,” he says. “It raises the stakes. But when I was thinking about going there, I spoke with some ex-pats, who said that would not be a good idea.” Instead, the duo looked at satellite photos, read many books, and interviewed people who are involved in the dissident movement. Nelson, who once served in the Army in Vietnam, brought in the military part—the language, protocol, and rank structure.
The other challenge was the constantly changing events in Venezuela. “We were constantly chasing the news,” Alex says. “We had to freeze time at some point. This is set in the events of last summer.” The second installment will be set in Berlin. “I’ll happily go there for research!” Alex says, with relief.
Today, 3–4 p.m. Nelson and Alex DeMille will be signing at the S&S booth (1838).