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November 26, 2012

Nelson DeMille on Bonding with a Young Fan

Posted by tom

Nelson DeMille, whose latest novel, THE PANTHER, is his sixth thriller featuring Anti-Terrorist Task Force agent John Corey, kicks off this year’s Holiday Author Blogs. In this heartwarming first piece, Nelson talks about a very special fan of his --- a young man who, as a teenager nine years ago, had quite a memorable holiday season thanks to Nelson’s kindness and generosity.


I generally resist the temptation to give one of my own novels as a Christmas gift. I mean, it could be construed as egotistical, self-serving, cheap (though I do buy them from the publisher, albeit at a discount) or just tacky, like giving out signed photos of myself.

If, however, someone asks for a signed book as a gift for Christmas, Hanukkah, or some other occasion, I will certainly accommodate the request. I’m flattered to be asked, though, to be honest, I’m not always sure I owe the person a gift. Perhaps they should buy the book, and the gift is my autograph.

But that’s the way it is: authors get asked for their books. This Christmas maybe I should go to my local deli and ask for a ham sandwich (on rye with mustard) or ask my dentist for a free cleaning. It’s Christmas. Right?

Aside from friends and family, some of these requests for free books come from prisoners. Apparently prison libraries are not well stocked. Good to know, though, that men doing time read me. And yes, I do usually send a book or two to anyone behind bars who asks. I do not, however, sign books to prisoners who are serving time for forgery. You understand why.

This is all preamble to a more serious and hopefully touching story about book-giving for the holidays.

About nine years ago, I received a letter from a woman in England who was writing on behalf of her teenage son, who I’ll call Andrew. This woman, who wrote beautifully and from the heart, told me of Andrew’s severe physical disabilities and of her difficult financial circumstances. Andrew had read one of my novels and wished to read more, but she (there was no father mentioned) was not able to afford the hardcover editions that Andrew preferred. Andrew’s disabilities, she explained, kept him from physical activity and books had become his life and his world, and if I could be so kind as to send one or two of my novels, signed to Andrew for Christmas, she would be most grateful.

I re-read the letter twice, and there was a world of mother’s love in each word and each sentence. I thought of my own children who have been blessed with financial security and good health --- and like Andrew, lots of parental love.

I write for a living, but it took me a while to draft a reply that would do justice to this wonderful woman’s letter.

I inscribed a half dozen hardcovers to Andrew, wishing him a Merry Christmas. In one book I wrote, “And a happy and healthy New Year” because that was my wish, though not Andrew’s reality. I also included a Christmas card to Andrew.

I received a lovely letter from Andrew’s mother, saying the books had arrived and would be wrapped and given to Andrew at Christmas. She was most thankful for my generosity, and especially thankful for the Christmas card.

Good deeds make you feel good, then you move on. But these letters from Andrew’s mother stayed on my mind.

I photocopied her letters and sent them to my U.K. editor at Little, Brown, asking if they could send a few books to Andrew that would be appropriate for his age and perhaps his interest in adventure novels. Or maybe some nice holiday books, or books about people who overcame adversity.

My editor responded immediately and assured me that a whole carton (or two) of well-chosen books were on their way to Andrew.

A week or so before Christmas, I received another thank you letter from Andrew’s mother, saying how happy and surprised she was to receive all the books from my publisher, which she immediately gave to Andrew. My signed books would be given to him on Christmas morning.

A week or so after Christmas, Andrew sent me a very nice Christmas card and thank you note, which I still have. Every year since, we’ve exchanged cards and I send him my latest novel if I have one that year, or another book I think he’ll enjoy.

Andrew must be in his mid-20s by now, and his holiday messages to me show a fine writer, like his mother. I don’t know much more about his personal life or medical condition than I did nine years go, but I’m happy to see that Andrew still enjoys reading and that books continue to enrich his life.

Merry Christmas, Andrew, and Merry Christmas to all.