What’s it like to collaborate on an espionage novel when your writing partner is Garden City legend Nelson DeMille, the bestselling author of 22 thrillers and – plot twist! – your father?
As their second book, Blood Lines (Scribner, $29.99) debuts Oct. 10, Alex DeMille told Newsday with a rush of relief that “it has ended up being great,” despite his initial reluctance based on his own inexperience and regard for family ties.
“I’d never written a book before,” said Alex, a Yale and UCLA film school grad who’s carved a career out of directing and editing movies. “I did not want to be in a position where I wasn’t up to the task or screwed up our relationship.”
Neither came to pass. “Blood Lines” is the follow-up to the DeMilles’ 2019 bestseller “The Deserter,” which introduced Army CID Agents Scott Brodie and Maggie Taylor. The duo's latest assignment to track down a colleague’s killer explodes into a complex drama of global impact.
The story’s GPS is Germany, and the real estate mantra – location, location, location – applies to crafting thrillers. Before Alex wrote a word, he knew he wanted to set it in Berlin.
“I honestly started with the location. I’ve always wanted to set something in Berlin,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite cities, and I’ve been there four times. The first time was in 1999. I was 19 years old. So when the wall came down, I was 9.”
That the past bleeds into the present is one takeaway of the novel. As brash Brodie and even-tempered Taylor work the assassination case, they’re drawn into a giant jagged puzzle with pieces that involve Cold War vestiges, Arab refugee issues, neo-Nazi rumblings and the Stasi secret police. There will be blood, and a body count.
“Blood Lines” flows with a you-are-there vibe as investigators comb the borough of Neukölln in search of leads at hookah bars, cafes, galleries, mosques, parks and beyond. Some high-def details come courtesy of the internet.
“Alex is a very good researcher,” Nelson told Newsday. He needed to be. The novel was pitched at the end of 2019 and was written during the pandemic, when travel restrictions were the way of the world.
“I intended to go to Berlin for the book, but couldn’t,” said Alex. So he turned to the web and interviewed key sources to inform the local color and various avenues of intrigue.
Alex, who grew up in Garden City, lives in Brooklyn with his wife and their 5-year-old daughter. He wrote most of “Blood Lines” at his in-laws’ home in the Hudson Valley. He staked out the unfinished attic, which was “kind of creepy and but also kind of inspiring,” as his work space.
Continuing a process begun with “The Deserter,” Alex wrote the first draft. He’d complete a number of chapters and then email them to his co-author. Nelson printed out the pages and typically returned them within 48 hours with changes marked up in his trusty soft-leaded No. 1 pencil. He’d type up larger edits and revisions. They’d call and Zoom to discuss the structure and plot.
They relied on each others’ strengths, including Nelson’s vast experience and flair for lean chapters and taut action scenes. Alex offered a keen eye for character and instinct for pacing, a skill honed from editing such films as the 2018 Oscar-nominated short "My Nephew Emmett" about the murder of Emmett Till.
“Most of the characters I write are in their 40s. I’m not in my 40s,” said Nelson, who turned 80 in August. “The fact that Alex is in his early 40s lent authenticity in terms of what Brodie and Taylor say — and don’t say.
The most valuable lesson from the first book was “navigating sexual and gender politics,” said Alex, adding that sexist comments were on his radar. “I put my own instincts more into play when it comes to the male-female dynamic.”
Alex acknowledged that tag-teaming with Nelson has afforded him “a rarefied position” most beginning authors don’t get — in terms of resources and perks. “I’m very fortunate.”
A proposal is in the works for the third Brodie and Taylor novel, which is planned to be a domestic drama. That means more adventures for them – and more collaboration for the DeMilles, who’ve grown closer working together.
“Just on a practical level, we ended up talking more than usual — not just about the novel,” Alex said. “I grew up with my father writing books, and I was also doing creative stuff.”
“On some level, I understood what he did. But you don’t really know what it is until you do it yourself,” he added. “I definitely gained more respect and understanding of what he’d been doing for his whole professional life.”
MEET THE DEMILLES
Alex and Nelson DeMille will discuss "Blood Lines" at events around Long Island. Here's where to catch them.
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Oct. 10, Barnes & Noble, 91 Old Country Rd., Carle Place
INFO Free; 516-741-9850, stores.barnesandnoble.com
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Oct. 11, Long Island University with Theodore’s Books hosts the authors in conversation with Peter King, Interfaith Center, 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville
INFO $43.53 (includes a copy of the book); 516-636-5550 theodoresbooks.com
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Oct. 13, Madison Theatre at Molloy University, 1000 Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre
INFO $35 (includes a signed copy of the book); 516-323-4444, madisontheatreny.org
WHEN | WHERE 2 p.m. Oct. 21, Locust Valley Bookstore, 8 Birch Hill Rd., Carle Place
INFO Free; 516-676-1313, locustvalleybookstore.com