The Ink Penn

The months of September and October are turning into the season for culture. I’ve written about our local theater, Stage Door Players and Fine Art Month. This week, I’m sharing my experience at the Marcus Jewish Community Center, where I heard Nelson DeMille and Alan P. Gross.

The evening was a Prologue to the November Book Festival of the MJCCA. As a mystery and thriller lover, I’ve long been a Nelson DeMille fan. You may recall “The General’s Daughter” which became a movie starring John Travolta. If not that one, perhaps you’ve read one of the seven books that describe the exploits of John Corey.

If you’re new to Nelson DeMille, you’re just in time to read “The Cuban Affair” featuring a new character. I had to smile as Mr. DeMille described Simon & Schuster suggesting he create a new and younger character, a 35-year-old. Since John Corey first appeared in 1997, he’s aged and likely not as much into derring-do as he once was. Time for new blood.

“The Cuban Affair” introduces Mac McCormick—a 35-year-old, of course—a college graduate and US Army combat veteran. DeMille hinted that there could be a second book about Mac.

I found it interesting that DeMille writes his books longhand with a #1 pencil and a legal pad. In his humorous style, he told us he took typing in high school because there were more girls in the class than guys, but he never was good at it. These days, he has two assistants who type up his longhand.

DeMille extensively researches his books and visited Cuba in 2015 to gather background for this one, his twentieth. Both he and Alan Gross describe the Cuban people in glowing terms.

And, you may ask, “Who is Alan Gross and why did he partner with DeMille in this presentation?” Alan Gross is a humanitarian who was arrested by Cuban authorities in 2009, accused of working for American intelligence services, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He lost 114 pounds, five teeth, and some vision during his five-year imprisonment. On December 17, 2014, the first day of Hannukah, he was released in a humanitarian prisoner exchange.

Despite his ordeal, he too describes the Cuban people in positive terms: kind, warm, generous and innovative. Gross explained that it’s uncanny how DeMille captures the essence of Cuba. Both men are easily able to separate the Cuban people from the Cuban government, and Gross describes the people as having been enslaved by their government for 60 years.

In an interesting twist, the connection between these two men goes further than how they see Cuba. Upon Gross’s release, he gave a nod to DeMille’s character John Corey by quoting his words: “It’s good to be home.” DeMille says he got numerous emails and letters letting him know and wanted to reach out. As you’d expect, Mr. Gross was not immediately available.

There’s yet another interesting twist: Bea and Bob Grossman attended DeMille’s last MJCCA book signing for “Radiant Angel.” As they spoke with DeMille, they mentioned that their friend Alan Gross had used the “Good to be home” line, and together they thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to connect Gross and DeMille.” Fast forward a few years, and there the two were, sitting on a stage at the MJCCA telling their stories.

If the November Book Festival events are half as entertaining and informative as the one I attended, we’re all in for a treat. Visit atlantajcc.org/interior-pages/arts-and-culture-book-festival-preview/ to learn more and purchase tickets.

Kathy Manos Penn is a Sandy Springs resident now happily retired from corporate America. Find her latest book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” locally at Angela Michael, the Enchanted Forest, Mary’s Nails, the Village Animal Clinic, & Amy’s Hallmark or online at www.theinkpenn.com. Contact Kathy at inkpenn119@gmail.com.

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