Interview with Dr. Clive Cussler
by Marc Levesque
Replicated with the author’s permission; this article appeared on the Time2watch Web site.
Over the years I have been very fortunate to have reviewed some of the finest wristwatches in the world, but nothing has given me as much pleasure as the opportunity to interview one of my favorite authors. At the time of this interview, I had only read one of his books, six months later I’m almost half way through his collection and I’m starting to wonder what I am going to read once I’m finished.
I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
T2W: Dr. Cussler, could you please tell us how Dirk Pitt’s world all got started?
CC: When I first started writing, I was in advertising at the time, I was doing most of my writing on weekends. I had studied most of the other series heroes and I figured it would be fun for mine to be different and put him in and around water. So I dreamed up Dirk Pitt. In the first novel, Admiral Sandecker invites Dirk Pitt to leave the Air Force and come with him in order to start the National Underwater Marine Agency in Washington, DC, which Pitt does. All of the other books deal with Pitt’s involvement with NUMA, his adventures and the mischief he gets into.
That was in 1965. Then in 1979 during an expedition, where I was searching for John Paul Jones’ ship, the Bonhomme Richard an Austin attorney who was a volunteer suggested that I should incorporate as a non-profit organization rather than just write the checks out of my own bank account. So that is what I did and that is how NUMA became a non-profit organization in Texas. Therefore, yes Virginia, there really is a NUMA! (laughing) And that was the basis for the non-fiction NUMA, which has been the umbrella for all the expeditions and all of the shipwrecks we’ve found.
As for the DOXA watch, when I was beginning my second book, I was the creative director for a big ad agency in L.A. My wife said jokingly, why don ‘t you apply for this job? It was a $400/month job as a clerk in a Dive shop, perfect for writing underwater books. Well, I was just considering switching agencies and I thought what the hell! She had a nifty job working nights at the local police department, which worked out very well. She had the kids during the day and I would have them at night. That way they were never alone. I would put the kids to bed, and then I had nothing to do and nobody to talk to, so I would write.
I applied for the job. They had three stores and they were shocked! They said that I was a little over qualified, but they hired me anyway. (laughing) And after two weeks, the guy said that there was nothing they could teach me. Hell I’ve been diving since 1952 in Hawaii while I was in the service. So I ran the store in Santa Ana, California. I’d come up in the morning with my portable typewriter and when business was slow, I would write.
U.S. Diver then was the distributor for the DOXA Dive watch, the 300T. The “in” color was Orange, but they also had silver and black, but you were “big-time” if you had an Orange watch. So, when I left the store I had finished my book, I shook hands with the guys and as a present they gave me the Orange DOXA dive watch. When I continued writing, I just had Dirk wear one too.
T2W: What are the qualities that attract you to this watch?
CC: At the time, this watch had a huge steel band, which most watches didn’t have in those days. We’re going back, boy; I’ve had that piece since ’69, 32 years. (laughing) It was a heavy watch, very massive and masculine looking. People would always remark about the thing. It was one of those you had to shake to keep it running. I’ve worn it many times diving in the past and it has never corroded or had any problems. There was a place called House of Clocks in L.A. where every ten years I would send my watch and they would rebuild it.
T2W: So I understand you still have that watch?
CC: Oh, sure.
T2W: Is this the same watch you are wearing on the rear cover of your latest book?
CC: That¹s it!
T2W: Do you feel at all responsible for the excitement the re-issue is generating?
CC: I guess indirectly I am (laughing), with Dirk Pitt, NUMA and all wearing a DOXA watch. I guess if it weren’t for that, they probably wouldn’t be re-issuing. I couldn’t believe it when I was told they were going to manufacture 1000 and that they were practically all sold already. Ever since Pitt was wearing one, collectors were dumbfounded; they were saying that it wasn’t an expensive watch, what’s all the fuss about. I understand the prices have been driven up since then; people are even paying $1000 for them. I’ve met people that tell me that they spent two years looking for one.
T2W: You stated that you used this watch while diving. In your opinion, what makes it a good dive watch?
CC: The bezel is very useful to time your dives and the orange face, surprisingly enough is VERY easy to read 30-40-50 down. It was just a good solid dive watch. I even have a US Diver’s logo on mine, the distributors at the time.
T2W: I have noticed that product description plays a large part in your books. I understand that Production of the movie Sahara will begin sometime in 2002. Will Dirk be wearing an Orange DOXA Diver in the movie?
CC: I don¹t know why not, he should.
T2W: I know that Omega has a lot to do with which watch James Bond has been wearing lately. Will DOXA be doing any product placement?
CC: Funny you should talk about product placement and advertising. My agent once had lunch with the advertising manager for Rolex; they had gone to school together. He asked him, how come you’ve used all these other people in the dive industry in your ads, but never thought of using Cussler? The advertising manager turned and said, who’s Cussler and what’s he ever done? (laughing) In this other book I had a guy with a Rolex that didn’t work so he smashed it on a rock. Every time I tell that story, I laugh. I find that Rolex watches are vastly overrated compared to the some of the more exotic watches that are available today. It’s still the “in” watch, because of the advertising or whatever.
T2W: Any additional comments on your upcoming movie?
CC: Not much to comment on, because they made a botch of Raise the Titanic 20 years ago. I wouldn’t sell to Hollywood. Finally they gave me script, director and casting approval, that’s when I sold.
T2W: Any idea who will be cast to play Dirk, Al and the others?
CC: Dirk is supposed top be played by Hugh Jackman*. He’s a real comer, he fits Pitt’s image perfectly. The rest of the casting will not start until January 2002. Right now everything is just status quo. The director is going to be Rob Bowman of X-Files fame.
T2W: You are considered one of the premier action/adventure writers. One of the keys to your writing is your incredible suspenseful timing. What can you say about timing and how does it play a role in your writing?
CC: I guess the books are kind of like the old Saturday afternoon matinee serials. Most of them were westerns in those days. Where the hero is going off the cliff in a car filled with dynamite and that’s were it would end, until you came back the following Saturday to find out what happened. The books are laid out that way, you would end a chapter on some kind cliffhanger and then “oh my god” what happens next? So you turn the page and start the next chapter.
T2W: I have to admit your books have been the cause of quite a number of sleepless nights. I just had to keep reading.
CC: (laughing) Sometimes my plot lines are so convoluted, I get calls from friends at 3 am saying; you SOB, you’ll never pull this one off.
T2W: As a matter of fact, yesterday evening while reading Atlantis Found, I noticed you had written yourself into your book! I must admit I got quite a laugh out of it. How did it come about?
CC: It was a couple of books back, where Pitt was at a classic car club meet. He parked his old car next to this guy, an older man with gray hair and a gray beard. Pitt walks up and says hi my name is Dirk Pitt and before I knew it I had typed in hello my name is Clive Cussler. I stopped and looked around and said, gee, why did I do that. Then I got to joking around and had them look at each other. Then Pitt says, you know the name sounds familiar, but I just can’t place the face. (laughing) So I just left it in as a joke, figured the readers would get a laugh out of it. I thought that was going to be the end of it, but then I got 300-400 letters saying how everybody liked it. So now I have to do a Hitchcock walk on and people are waiting to see where I come in.
T2W: On that note, can we expect to see you in the motion picture?
CC: Yes, I will be in SAHARA. In the book I was a prospector, but in the movie, I will be driving an old beat-up truck and rescuing Pitt and Giordino out in the Sahara.
T2W: In your opinion, what do you find most exciting about deep sea diving and exploration?
CC: It’s always the thrill of the unknown. Everybody dives in the Grand Cayman or Bermuda. I don’t dive in those places anymore, after 50 years the thrill just isn’t there. I always tell everybody, go where nobody goes! Go up into Canada or Alaska, sure it’s cold water, but you’ll be seeing things nobody has seen before! Go into the colder waters, from Vancouver up to Anchorage, my gosh, all the sounds and all that. Nobody ever dove there before. It’s colder than hell, but if you get a dry suit, it isn’t so bad.
T2W: You have found many shipwrecks, can you tell us which one the most important/impressive?
CC: Oh. There have been so many. Right now the one that is the big deal is the confederate submarine, the Hunley, which we found in Charleston. The first submarine to sink a warship, but never came back. We found it, raised and brought it to a laboratory where we will be excavating it. They will be preserving it so that someday it can go on display.
This year was pretty good, we found the Carpathia, Which of course rescued the Titanic survivors only to be torpedoed 6 years later off the coast of Ireland. And the Marie Celeste, Which was the famous ghost ship they found floating with nobody on board.
T2W: You have been writing Dirk Pitt novels for nearly 30 years now, is it getting more difficult as you go along or has it become easier as the character develops?
CC: I’ve used so many plots in my books that it’s getting hard to be original. That’s the trouble with a series, I’m writing away when I realize I used that same line of dialog six books back. It’s become very difficult to be original.
T2W: Are there any plans for another novel after this latest one?
CC: I have to write at least one more, because of the wild ending on Valhalla Rising, so I have to continue that one.
T2W: You recently published your first non-fiction work, could you tell us why you decided to take that direction?
CC: So many people use to tell me that I should write about all the shipwrecks I’ve found. At the time I was busy with the Pitt books, so I worked with a fellow named Craig Dirgo. He did a lot of the easy stuff for me, I would write the historical part, and then he would go through it and write some more for me. Then I would write in where NUMA came in the picture to look for the shipwreck and what have you.
It was an interesting story on The Sea Hunters. When my agent went to “pitch” it to my publisher, they just weren’t interested. They literally said that nobody reads shipwreck books. My agent insisted, well Cussler’s got a name and a following. When he came back to me, he was quite upset; he asked what should we do? So I said, let’s go to another publisher! Well obviously my publisher said that they couldn’t have that, me going to another publisher. So they gave in and said OK, we’ll print it, but only 50,000 copies. The sales department said no way; we know we can sell at least 250,000. Well the hardcover went #2 on the New York Time’s bestsellers list and the paperback went #1! We must have sold over 1 million some odd copies! (laughing) We always laugh and called it the book that nobody wanted.
T2W: It is my understanding that it is going to become a televised series?
CC: Yes, it’s going to be called The Sea Hunters and it will be filmed up in Nova Scotia. It will run internationally, but I’m not certain if it will run domestically. I will be like Arthur C. Clark; I will open and close each episode.
T2W: Of all of your books, which is your favorite so far?
CC: I like them all for different reasons. Night Probe was one of my better plots, Raise the Titanic was probably my best concept. People often ask me which car do you like in your collection? I like them all for different reasons.
T2W: How about explorers? Who is your favorite?
CC: The one that always intrigued me was Magellan, who circled around the world and Drake who did it the second time. I’m a history buff, I have a PHD in maritime history, so for me it’s just fun to follow. History is just not being taught in schools like it used to be. Kids today have no grasp. It is really unfortunate.
T2W: Thank you very much for this opportunity Dr. Cussler. This interview has been the highlight of my career so far.
CC: (Laughing)You’re welcome, Mr. Levesque. I’m sure you will have much bigger highlights in the future.
All in all, it was a very charming and warm interview. I could have gone on for hours and I got the impression that he would have gone along with me. What an incredibly humble and sincere person. As I told him, this definitely was the highlight of my writing career. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Carole Bartholomeaux for all of her help with this interview. Her firm is responsible for all of Clive Cussler’s and NUMA’s public relations as well as maintaining and editing the NUMA.net website.
Thanks for reading,
* Hugh Jackman was originally cast for the role of Dirk Pitt, unfortunately due to a scheduling conflict M. Jackman cannot play the part.
DOXA has just announced that they will be donating ten percent of the purchase price of each DOXA SEAHUNTER watch to NUMA. For more information please visit www.doxawatches.com.