Nelson DeMille stepped off the plane from Saigon into John F. Kennedy International Airport. It was a sea of bright lights, vibrant colors and long sideburns. Anti-war sentiments were in the air.
The date was November 1968. The U.S. Army 1st Calvary Division first lieutenant expected that America had changed over his last year spent in Vietnam. But he never expected anything like the scene before him.
He quickly realized he was not returning home as a hero. And he couldn’t wait to get out of his uniform.
Five months later, Mr. DeMille started to regain his footing. The weather was getting warmer; vacation time beckoned. So, when eight of his friends decided to rent a house in North Sea, he couldn’t say no—especially because he was the only man.
“They were all girls. They wanted one guy in the house, and I was it,” the thriller-writing novelist chuckled during a telephone interview last week from his third-floor writing space above the Garden City Library. “I had just come out of the service, so that was a good summer for me. Perfect, perfect place to be.”
Mr. DeMille didn’t say goodbye to the Hamptons after the summer of 1969. For the past nine years, he has participated in East Hampton Library’s Authors Night, the annual book lover’s paradise to be held this year on Saturday, August 10, under a white tent at Gardiner Farm in East Hampton.
The massive, meet-and-greet book-signing fundraiser was founded by Barbara Goldsmith—a fixture of the original artists and writers colony on the East End—and actor Alec Baldwin, whom Mr. DeMille expects will visit his table, as he does every year, while making the rounds to this year’s 104 participating writers. Last year, the event raked in approximately $200,000 for the library.
“Authors Night proves that people are interested in reading, in falling into a narrative,” Ms. Goldsmith said last week during a telephone interview from her home in East Hampton. “They’re not just glued to their iPhones the way they’re depicted. When you see them going home with these shopping bags full of books, after meeting their favorite authors, it’s my ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’”
Every year, participating writer Dava Sobel looks forward to meeting new Authors Night participants and seeing more experienced, familiar faces. Last summer, one who made the jump from Ms. Sobel’s first list to her second was Dr. Ruth Westheimer, whose books and speaking engagements about sexuality brought her pop culture icon status in the 1980s.
Ms. Sobel, who writes about astronomy, stumbled upon her wheelhouse in 1974. She was in her early 20s and had decided to attend a lecture at Cornell University by the late Carl Sagan—before he launched into stardom as one of the country’s most popular and esteemed astronomers.
His talk on the likelihood of discovering planets around other stars, which later was documented in the 1990s, changed Ms. Sobel’s life, she recalled last week during a telephone interview from her home in East Hampton.
“I thought, ‘This is the most interesting thing I have ever heard,’” said Ms. Sobel, who plans to bring copies of her most recent novel, “A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos,” to Authors Night. “I get excited about those subjects. And you need to be excited about what you’re writing about because it’s a long time to sit alone in a room.”
Had it not been for Vietnam, Mr. DeMille is unsure whether he would have begun writing in the first place. He started by jotting down his feelings and daily occurrences—from the throes of combat to daily soldier life—while they were still fresh.
Later, the author used those journals to reconstruct his memories into flashbacks—first for “Word of Honor,” his fifth major novel published nearly 20 years after he left Vietnam, and “Up Country.”
“I don’t think there is any more to say about Vietnam,” Mr. DeMille said, “unless someone can convince me otherwise.”
At the moment, the author is preparing for the release of his newest stand-alone novel, “The Quest,” while working on the last book of his John Corey series contract, slated to hit shelves next fall. The Anti-Terrorist Task Force agent will return to Manhattan, which is where it all began in 2000 with “The Lion’s Game.”
John Corey’s latest adventures brought him to Yemen in Mr. DeMille’s most recent book, “The Panther,” which will accompany him to Authors Night this weekend. But whether he’s working on a series or a stand-alone book, each novel begins the same way: on a white legal pad with No. 2 pencil.
The reason is simple, Mr. DeMille said. He can’t type. Or not well, anyway.
“We all learn how to write with a pencil when we’re in first grade, so it’s an easy process for me,” he said. “A lot of time, I’ll be looking through a reference book with my left hand while writing with my right hand. I enjoy the handwritten process. You’re composing the way an artist may sketch out an oil painting.”
He is known to work late into the night, fueled on at least 16 cups of coffee during his writing days. His personal record for staying up to write is 4 a.m., he reported, though there always comes a point when he has to stop; when what sounds brilliant in the moment just isn’t the next morning, he said.
Even with nearly 30 books written, the 69-year-old author isn’t showing any signs of stopping. But he did hint at a change on the horizon.
“I think in this business, you can reinvent yourself anytime you want, any way you want,” he said. “Writing is all psychological, anyway. Sitting in a room all day, by yourself, telling yourself stories.”
The ninth annual East Hampton Library Authors Night will be held on Saturday, August 10, beginning at 5 p.m. at Gardiner Farm in East Hampton. Participating authors include: Lidia Bastianich, Katie Beers, Kelly Killoren Bensimon, Robert A. Caro, Margaret I. Cuomo, MD, Clive Davis, Sylvia Day, Nelson DeMille, Eric Fischl, Kathy Freston, Charles Graeber, Katherine Holabird, A.M. Homes, Susan Isaacs, Kitty Kelley, Lily Koppel, Padma Lakshmi, Robert Lipsyte, Robert K. Massie, Mark Mazzetti, Jay McInerney, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marisha Pessl, Kitty Pilgrim, Nile Rodgers, Marcus Samuelsson, Lynn Sherr, Dava Sobel, Jessica Soffer, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and more. Tickets are $100. Author dinners will follow at various locations. Tickets range from $250 to $2,500 for the private dinners. For more information, call 324-0222 or visit authorsnight.org.