Cussler, Clive (Eric) 1931-
CUSSLER, Clive (Eric) 1931-
PERSONAL: Born July 15, 1931, in Aurora, IL; son of Eric E. and Amy (Hunnewell) Cussler; married Barbara Knight, August 28, 1955; children: Teri, Dirk, Dayna. Education: Attended Pasadena City College,
1949-50, and Orange Coast College. Politics: "Non-partisan." Hobbies and other interests: Collecting automobiles, searching for historic shipwrecks.
ADDRESSES: Home—Telluride, CO, and Paradise Valley, AZ. Agent—Peter Lampack, The Lampack Agency, 551 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10017.
CAREER: Bestgen and Cussler Advertising, Newport Beach, CA, owner, 1961-65; Darcy Advertising, Hollywood, CA, creative director, 1965-68; Mefford, Wolff and Weir Advertising, Denver, CO, vice president and creative director of broadcast, 1970-75; Aquatic Marine Dive Equipment, Newport Beach, CA, member of sales staff; National Underwater and Marine Agency, founder and chair. Discoverer of more than sixty shipwrecks. Worked for a supermarket and a gas station. Military service: U.S. Air Force, 1950-54; served as aircraft mechanic, became sergeant.
MEMBER: National Society of Oceanographers (fellow), Classic Car Club of America, Royal Geographic Society (London, England; fellow), Explorers Club of New York (fellow).
AWARDS, HONORS: Ford Foundation Consumer Award, 1965-66, for best promotional campaign; first prize, Chicago Film Festival, 1966, for best thirty-second live action commercial; International Broadcasting Awards, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1973, for year's best radio and TV commercials; first place award, Venice Film Festival, 1972, for sixty-second live commercial; Clio Awards, 1972, 1973, 1974, for TV and radio commercials; Lowell Thomas Award, Explorers Club of New York, for underwater exploration; numerous honors for work in shipwreck discoveries and marine archaeology, including NUMA's receiving a Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for outstanding contribution to education in the field of marine archaeology and historic preservation.
"dirk pitt" adventure novels
The Mediterranean Caper, Pyramid (New York, NY), 1973, also published as May Day.
Iceberg, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1975.
Raise the Titanic, Viking (New York, NY), 1976.
Vixen 03, Viking (New York, NY), 1978.
Night Probe, illustrations by Errol Beauchamp, Bantam (New York, NY), 1981.
Pacific Vortex!, Bantam (New York, NY), 1983.
Deep Six, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1984.
Cyclops, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1986.
Treasure, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1988.
Dragon, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1990.
Sahara, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1992.
Inca Gold, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.
Shock Wave, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
Flood Tide, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
Atlantis Found, Putnam (New York, NY), 1999.
Valhalla Rising, Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.
Two Complete Novels (contains Cyclops and Flood Tide), Wings Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Trojan Odyssey, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.
"kurt austin" series
(With Paul Kemprecos) Serpent: A Novel from the NUMA Files, Pocket (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Paul Kemprecos) Blue Gold: A Novel from the NUMA Files, Pocket (New York, NY), 2000.
(With Paul Kemprecos) Fire Ice, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
(With Paul Kemprecos) White Death, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.
"oregon files" series
(With Craig Dirgo) Golden Buddha, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Craig Dirgo) The Sea Hunters: True Adventures with Famous Shipwrecks, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
(With Craig Dirgo) Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed, Pocket (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Craig Dirgo) The Sea Hunters II: Diving the World's Seas for Famous Shipwrecks, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Some novels adapted for young adult audiences beginning 1999.
ADAPTATIONS: Raise the Titanic, based on Cussler's novel and starring Jason Robards and Richard Jordan as Dirk Pitt, was released by Associated Film Distribution in 1980; Eco-Nova (Halifax, Canada) and National Geographic documentary series, "Clive Cussler's 'The Sea Hunters'"; Sahara was adapted into a screenplay for a movie starring Matthew McConaughey, released in 2004; Cussler's books are available on audiotape.
SIDELIGHTS: Clive Cussler began writing novels to while away the time when his wife took a night-time job, but earned his living writing award-winning advertising copy until the success of his underwater adventure novels featuring his hero, Dirk Pitt, enabled him to leave the business world and pursue his writing interests full time. Since then, his adventure tales have sold over seventy million copies in more than forty languages and a hundred countries. Some sources cite the best-selling author as having more than ninety million fans, a number of which eagerly attend his book-signings and ask for his "famous" "personalized inscription[s]," wrote Daisy Maryles in a 1999 Publishers Weekly article recognizing the remarkable initial demand for Cussler's fifteenth Dirk Pitt novel, Atlantis Found. In a People review of that book, J. D. Reed described Cussler's writing—that it has twodimensional characters, predictable story-lines, and "dialogue as sticky as Mississippi mud." "Still," qualified Reed, "we can't put down a Cussler Opus." Noting that Cussler "typically [exerts a] make-noapologies enthusiasm," a Publishers Weekly critic declared: "For muscle-flexing, flag-waving, belief-suspending fare, [Cussler] has no equal." The Publishers Weekly critic's review specifically referred to Atlantis Found as "another wickedly engrossing yet predictably scripted tale of bravery against all odds."
"There are many things I'd rather be doing than writing a book," Cussler once said, according to Rebecca Ascher-Walsh in a 1997 Entertainment Weekly article. Acquiring cars and discovering shipwrecks are among his passions. Cussler has built a premier collection of over eighty-five classic and vintage automobiles. From European classic body styles to American town cars to 1950s convertibles, they are all carefully restored by Cussler and his crew of experts to concours d'elegance condition.
Cussler lives almost the same sort of adventurous life as his best-selling protagonist, Dirk Pitt: tramping the Southwest deserts and mountains in search of lost gold mines and ghost towns, as well as funding and leading more than thirty expeditions in search of lost ships and aircraft. He and his team of NUMA scientists and engineers (his fictional National Underwater and Marine Agency became a reality) have discovered and surveyed nearly seventy historically significant shipwrecks around the world, including the long-lost Confederate submarine Hunley, the German submarine U-20 which sank the Lusitania, the famous Confederate raider Florida, the Navy dirigible Akron which crashed at sea during a storm in 1933, the troop transport Leopoldville which was torpedoed on Christmas Eve of 1944 off the coast of Cherbourg, France, killing over eight hundred American soldiers, and the Carpathia, which braved icebergs to rescue passengers of the Titanic. Cussler has donated all of his recovered artifacts from the archaeological sites to museums and universities.
Cussler's chosen genre, his avocations, and even his entry into publishing reveal his willingness to take risks. Almost thirty years ago, after his first manuscript received numerous rejections, the author created a clever ploy to promote his second work: he printed up stationery with the name of a fabricated West Coast literary agent and used it to send recommendations for his books to major New York agencies. Within a month he had a contract, and has remained with the same (real) agent, Peter Lampack, ever since. After Flood Tide, his fourteenth Dirk Pitt adventure, however, he split with his longtime publisher Simon & Schuster. The Phoenix, Arizona, Business Journal reported that he left his former publisher in hopes of getting more respect through his new contract with G. P. Putnam and Sons: "Cussler would joke that Simon & Schuster executives lavished their attention on Mary Higgins Clark…. Cussler said. 'I get less respect than Rod ney Dangerfield.'"
Cussler's widely read "Dirk Pitt" novels relate the adventures of a handsome, witty, courageous, devil-may-care character who, like his creator, collects classic cars and searches for lost ships. Armchair Detective reviewer Ronald C. Miller offered this description: "Dirk Pitt has the archeological background of Indiana Jones and the boldness of James Bond. He is as skilled and comfortable underwater as Jacques Cousteau, and, like Chuck Yeager, he can fly anything with wings." Yet Pitt is far from superhuman, Chicago's Tribune Books contributor David E. Jones observed: "Cussler has created a caring, cared-about, flesh and blood human being" who takes wrong turns and suffers from lapses in judgment, but who "also thinks faster on his feet than most and has an uncanny ability to turn negative situations into positive ones." This combination has proved to be tremendously appealing to readers, even though reviewers have often faulted Cussler's writing style and his improbable story lines. New York Times Book Review critic Newgate Callendar cited Cussler as "the cliche expert nonpareil" in a review of Raise the Titanic and asserted that "Cussler has revived the cliche and batters his reader with choice specimens: 'the cold touch of fear'; 'a set look of determination in the deep green eyes'; 'before death swept over him'; 'narrow brush with death.'" Best Sellers contributor Ralph A. Sperry dismissed the author's prose in Cyclops as "the prosaic in the service of the implausible."
Cussler shrugs off negative responses to his work. "Because I was locked in for eighteen years writing the short, snappy ad copy, I could never sit down and write a Fitzgerald-Hemingway-Bellow-type Great American Novel," he once told CA. "But [that experience] did prepare me to write easy, understandable prose, and also to look at writing and publishing from a marketing angle."
Cussler once recalled to CA that at the beginning of his writing career, "blood and guts adventure" was not universally accepted in the publishing field. Initially he was told that his adventures would never sell and that critical opinion was against him, but these views have softened with the growth of the author's popular appeal. When Cussler complained to his agent, Peter Lampack, about negative reviews, Lampack, Cussler said, "came back with a classic statement: 'Listen, when we start getting good literary reviews, we're in big trouble.'"
While early reviews of Cussler may have been dismissive, reviews of his later works have recognized his stories as full of action, fun to read—and extremely popular, while nonetheless pointing out the incredibility of his plots. Discussing Dragon, the author's 1990 release, Publishers Weekly critic Sybil Steinberg admitted that although the story line was "improbable," Cussler had still come up with "a page-turning romp that achieves a level of fast-paced action and derring-do that … practitioners of modern pulp fiction might well envy." Peter L. Robertson, in his Tribune Books review of Treasure, placed Cussler's stories "in the tradition of Ian Fleming's James Bond," and added, "Cussler has developed and patented a vibrant, rollicking narrative style that seldom shows signs of relenting." Inca Gold, which finds Pitt in the Amazonian jungles on a quest to thwart a group of smugglers, is "pure escapist adventure, with a wry touch of humor and a certain self-referential glee (Cussler himself makes a cameo appearance)," a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, "but the entertainment value meets the gold standard." Booklist reviewer Joe Collins noted that the author's fans "are already familiar with his gift for hyperbole," and recommended that new readers take Cussler's "breathless approach with a grain of salt and just relax and enjoy the adventures of Pitt and company" in Inca Gold.
In 1997's Flood Tide Pitt's vacation plans go by the wayside as he uncovers a Chinese immigrant smuggling ring in waters near Seattle—an operation that is linked, through its leader, Qin Shang, to an attempt to cause "ecological and economic destruction from New Orleans to eastern Texas," related a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who also noted Cussler was tapping into "right-wing fears of a flood tide of nonwhite immigrants." The Publishers Weekly reviewer, as well as many other critics, determined that Flood Tide will please Cussler's fans. As Gilbert Taylor concluded in Booklist, "This bombastically scripted tale will satisfy Cussler faithfuls." The story is "packed with meticulous research and wonderfully quirky characters," remarked People contributor Cynthia Sanz, judging Flood Tide to be "as fun as it is formulaic." "Cussler's story is entertaining, but suspending disbelief may be a problem," asserted Ray Vignovich in a Library Journal assessment of an audiobook edition of the novel.
In an interview with Connie Lauerman in the Chicago Tribune, Cussler reflected on his work. "I look upon myself more as an entertainer than merely a writer. It's my job to entertain the reader in such a manner that he or she feels that they received their money's worth when they reach the end of the book." Cussler also considers the impact of his books on young adults. "I have quite a large following of young people," he once told CA. "That's why I don't believe in using four-letter words, and any sex is simply alluded to, never detailed. I've had letters from kids as young as eight who enjoy Pitt and his adventures. And because I try to write my stories in a simple, forward manner, I'm especially pleased by letters from mothers and school teachers, who tell me their children and students had refused to read before they were given one of my books. Now they read everything in sight and are hooked on reading."
Cussler found that his readers enjoy the pictures of Pitt's cars included on the backs of his book jackets. Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt Revealed provides a guide to the world of Pitt, including summaries of each novel of the Dirk Pitt series as well as details on weapons, vehicles, and locations from the writings. Cussler also once told CA that he has great fun with his cameo appearances. He and Pitt always meet up, with Cussler often supplying his hero with vital information before sending him on his way to subdue the villains. While his stories may seem tailor-made for Hollywood, Cussler emphasized that he refuses to sell them for adaptation until he can be assured of a quality production.
Asked how he comes up with his intricate plots, the author once told CA: "First comes the overall concept. This is, of course, the old cut-and-dried, time-tested What-if. What if, for example, they raise the Titanic? In Night Probe, what if Canada and the United States became one country? I also use a prologue that describes something in the past that sets up the plots in the present. Then I end with an epilogue that sews all the corners together. My plots are pretty convoluted; I usually juggle one main plot and as many as four subplots. Then the trick is to thread the needle in the end and give the readers a satisfying conclusion." Cussler has continually succeeded in giving readers a plot to escape in—even with his fifteenth "Dirk Pitt" adventure, published in 1999, twenty-three years after the series debut. Of Atlantis Found, Ronnie H. Terpening proclaimed in Library Journal: "Brilliantly conceived and boldly plotted…. his most imaginative yet. … A fascinating story … backed by meticu lous research."
After Atlantis Found, Cussler continued with two more novels in the Dirk Pitt series but, as Mark Graham in the Rocky Mountain News noted, he decided to add a couple of younger figures in a spinoff series planned by Cussler, written by Paul Kemprecos, and revised by Cussler, the "Kurt Austin" series which began publication in 1999: "Clive Cussler's James Bondesque undersea hero Dirk Pitt has starred in sixteen novels over the last four decades. And although Pitt is still capable of amazing feats, his bones are starting to creak, and he isn't quite as quick as he once was. If Pitt's National Underwater Marine Agency is going to keep up with the times, it obviously needs new blood. Recognizing this, the prolific Colorado author has not only taken on a partner (Paul Kemprecos, a Shamus Award-winning author of undersea thrillers in his own right), but created a new protagonist. Kurt Austin takes over as the 21st century Dirk Pitt clone." Finding—with four novels in the series at the top of charts immediately on publication—that this formula for success worked well, in 2003, Cussler added another series, the "Oregon Files," written by the man who coauthored the two volumes of The Sea Hunters with him, Craig Dirgo, and starring "cool, brainy Chairman" of "the Corporation," Juan Cabrillo. Graham found himself disappointed that "the only differences between Dirk Pitt and Kurt Austin are their names and ages" but acknowledged that "the key word here is fun. Like most of Dirk Pitt novels, what happens in Fire Ice is almost ludicrous in its improbability. Yet watching Cussler and Kemprecos maneuver around possible pitfalls (pun intended) in plot, action and setting makes for enjoyable light reading."
Serpent: A Novel from the NUMA Files tells of the adventures of Kurt Austin and his NUMA colleague Joe Zavala. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described the duo as "two young bucks without the seasoning and panache of Pitt but worthy successors, nonetheless." The coauthors used "the 1956 sinking of the Andrea Doria as the springboard for [this] thriller," stated Roland Green in Booklist. In Serpent, Austin and Zavala "are trying to find out why top archeologists are being killed, some of them butchered, at dig sites," recounted the writer for Publishers Weekly who judged the novel to be "great fun, if not a little top-heavy at times from flabby subplots and excessive detail." In the fourth adventure, White Death, as a Publishers Weekly reviewer stated, "All the villains have satanic smiles and pitiless eyes, and snarl their dialogue. If it all sounds highly preposterous, it is, but Cussler manages with his usual aplomb, impressively juggling his plots and bringing everyone home in an action-fueled, rip-roaring finale in which evil doers are soundly defeated and swashbuckling heroes reign supreme."
Rave reviews by avid readers are balanced by others who take a more jaundiced view of Cussler's productions. A Publishers Weekly reviewer of White Death, noted the way in which some of the villains are described, such as "swarthy, black-clad, facially tattooed Eskimos of the evil Kiolya tribe who guard the company's many operations." A. D. Sullivan in Scrap Paper Review, remarked of Flood Tide, that "Cussler waves the American flag so often one questions whether this is a novel or a bullfight. His facts—inserted to raise the peril of Japanese sovereignty over America—are often wrong or distorted, and his villains simplistic and cruel without attempt at understanding the complexity of America's addiction to foreign money." Cussler does, however, also slate a megalomaniac U.S. oil baron among his villains, as in Valhalla Rising.
Cussler's enormous popularity worldwide as a writer of American patriotic adventure stories is not to be denied. A Publishers Weekly review of Golden Buddha quotes from the book's hero, Juan Cabrillo: "We [the Corporation] were formed to make a profit, that's for sure, but as much as we like the money, we are also cognizant of the chances that arise for us to somehow right the wrongs of others." The reviewer added, "They've been secretly hired by the U.S. government to find and acquire an ancient statue known as the Golden Buddha, stolen from the Dalai Lama upon his ouster from Tibet by the Chinese in 1959. An intricate plan is then set in motion culminating in the defeat of the Chinese in Tibet and the ascension of the Dalai Lama to his rightful place as the leader of the country. The list of characters, both good and evil, is long and sometimes confusing, but a useful directory is supplied. Cabrillo and crew are adept at high finance and diplomacy, playing the Russians off against the Chinese and winning over the United Nations." The "good guys" are certainly most often Americans and the "bad guys" as often not.
Cussler held off on selling movie rights to Hollywood after, as he described it to BookReporter.com's interviewer Ann Bruns, "They made such a botch of [Raise the Titanic]." He sold the movie rights to the Dirk Pitt novels in 2001 after, as he says, Hollywood "finally … gave me script and casting approval. So that's why I'm reading the script the screenwriter came up with. If it fails this time, it's my fault." The first movie to be produced will be Sahara.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Valero, Wayne, The Collector's Guide to Clive Cussler, 2000.
Americana, September-October, 1987, p. 10.
Armchair Detective, fall, 1994, p. 496.
Best Sellers, August, 1981; May, 1986.
Booklist, April 1, 1992, p. 1411; April 1, 1994, p. 1404; December 15, 1995, p. 667; August, 1997, p. 1846; June 1, 1999, p. 1741; November 15, 1999, p. 579; June 1, 2001, p. 1796; April 1, 2002, p. 1282; June 1, 2003, p. 1710; September 1, 2003, George Cohen, review of Golden Buddha, p. 53; November 1, 2003, David Pitt, review of Trojan Odyssey, p. 458.
Books and Bookmen, May, 1984.
Buffalo News, April 23, 2000, p. F6.
Business Journal (Phoenix, AZ), December, 1999, p. 8.
Chicago Tribune, February 10, 1980; August 13, 1984.
Christian Science Monitor, October 10, 1996, p. 10.
Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Australia), February 1, 2003, p. M07.
Critic, summer, 1977.
Defense Week, August 14, 2000, p. 4.
Denver Business Journal, May 27, 1994, p.14A.
Entertainment Weekly, October 17, 1997, p. 66; September 7, 2001, p. 158; November 28, 2003, Jennifer Reese, review of Trojan Odyssey, p. 128.
Far Eastern Economic Review, December 18, 1997, p. 47.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 10, 1985.
Grand Rapids Press, September 22, 2002, p. J5.
Inside Books, November, 1988, pp. 31-34.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2003, review of Trojan Odyssey, p. 1239.
Library Journal, July, 1981, p. 1442; June 1, 1984, p. 1144; October 15, 1990, p. 116; November 1, 1990, p. 139; April 15, 1994, p. 111; April 1, 1995, p. 142; February 1, 1996, p. 97; September 1, 1996, p. 229; November 1, 1997, p. 130; November 15, 1999, p. 97; July 2001, p. 121; May 1, 2002, p. 132; September 15, 2003, Jeff Ayers, review of Golden Buddha, p. 90.
Los Angeles Magazine, September, 1990, p. 183; September, 1981, p. 259.
Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1979; September 25, 1981; March 21, 1986.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 5, 1984; March 20, 1988.
New Choices for the Best Years, March, 1991, p. 58.
New Yorker, June 27, 1994, p. 87.
New York Times Book Review, December 19, 1976; September 25, 1977; October 18, 1981, p. 46; February 16, 1986, p. 16; May 29, 1988, p. 14; June 17, 1990, p. 19; May 22, 1994, p. 39; January 21, 1996, p. 21.
Observer (London, England), July 20, 2003, p. 17.
People, July 2, 1984, p. 61; July 27, 1992, p. 25; September 21, 1992, p. 93; December 16, 1996, p. 36; November 10, 1997, p. 41; March 20, 2000, p. 47.
Playboy, April, 1986, p. 32.
PR Newswire, November 27, 2000, p. 4806; May 10, 2002.
Publishers Weekly, August 23, 1976; June 12, 1981, p. 46; February 26, 1982, p. 146; November 12, 1982, p. 64; April 13, 1984, p. 50; August 31, 1984, p. 312; January 3, 1986, p. 41; January 15, 1988, p. 69; March 18, 1988, p. 71; September 2, 1988, p. 71; May 4, 1990, p. 51; July 6, 1990, p. 46; April 13, 1992, p. 40; August 3, 1992, p. 26; March 28, 1994, p. 80; July 11, 1994, p. 58; September 19, 1994, p. 11; October 9, 1995, p. 18; December 18, 1995, p. 42; May 20, 1996, p. 37; August 26, 1996, p. 87; August 25, 1997, p. 46; March 16, 1998, p. 10; September 28, 1998, p. 20; March 1, 1999, p. 14; May 31, 1999, p. 65; November 22, 1999, p. 44; December 20, 1999, p. 17; July 30, 2001, p. 61; August 21, 2000, p. 24; August 27, 2001, p. 17; May 13, 2002, p. 50; June 17, 2002, p. 18; May 12, 2003, p. 40; June 30, 2003, p. 15; August 25, 2003, p. 37; October 27, 2003, review of Trojan Odyssey, p. 44.
Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), August 17, 2001, p. 25D; July 12, 2002, p. 30D.
School Library Journal, October, 1981, p. 160; October, 1990, p. 150; March, 1997, p. 217; December, 1997, p. 150; April, 1999, p. 130; May, 2000, p. 192.
Skin Diver, November, 1984, p. 20; May, 1987, p. 151.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), February 2, 2003, p. 18F.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 20, 1988; June 21, 1992, p. 6; May 22, 1994, p. 6.
U.S. News and World Report, August 27, 1984, p. 45.
Washington Post, October 24, 1978; August 10, 1981; June 22, 1984; April 11, 1988.
Washington Post Book World, March 2, 1986; June 7, 1992, p. 8.
Writer, September, 1996, p. 15.
Writer's Digest, April, 1988, p. 31.
BookReporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (September 11, 2001), interview with Cussler.
Scrap Paper Review, http://www.hourwolf.com/ (January 1998), "Clive Cussler's Japan."*