Dillon, Patrick 1945-
DILLON, Patrick 1945-
PERSONAL: Born 1945; married Anne Dowie (a photographer); children: two.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House/Bantam Dell Publishing Group, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Writer and journalist. Former editor and columnist for San Jose Mercury News.
Dangerous Waters, Dial Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Lost at Sea: An American Tragedy, Dial Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Author of columns and essays for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Fast Company.
SIDELIGHTS: Patrick Dillon's first book, The Last Best Thing: A Classic Tale of Greed, Deception, and Mayhem in Silicon Valley, was first serialized in the San Jose Mercury News and on an interactive Web site. The story takes place in the mid-1990s during the rapid growth of companies in the Silicon Valley region of California. The satire focuses on a start-up company run by J. P. McCorwin, who wants to cash in the hightech boom. As noted by Edward Rothstein, writing in the New York Times, "the satire of business can become thick with absurdity." McCorwin, an outcast from big business, sees the potential to make a fortune by manipulating the market and the press without actually producing a product. McCorwin's employees and investors are swayed by the tycoon's charisma and promise of riches. The novel's many twists and turns include a company laptop blowing up in the hands of one of the employees as he conducts an online affair, and an FBI investigation of a tip that Microsoft founder Bill Gates may be the Unabomber. Some reviewers found that the book did not translate well from a serial format into a complete novel. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, M. G. Lord commented, "Stripped of its on-screen packaging and the suspense inherent in a serial format, it is a struggle to follow and not all that funny." Lord did note, however, that Dillon "writes clearly about technology." A Publishers Weekly contributor found similar faults with the book, noting that "the deliberately silly plot becomes tiresome and the characters unconvincing." Nevertheless, the reviewer went on to note, "Dillon's trenchant depictions of high-tech players … are entertaining and dead-on." Patricia Curthoys, writing in Library Journal, called the novel "a timely and entertaining look at Silicon Valley" and found it to be "a fast-flowing, hard-to-put-down" novel.
In Lost at Sea: An American Tragedy, Dillon turns from satiric fiction to the tragic true story of two fishing boats, the Americus and the Altair. In February 1983, at the height of crabbing season, fourteen crew members set out from their home port of Anacortes, Washington, on these two state-of-the-art vessels, both of which carried the latest in lifesaving equipment. Within two weeks, the Americus was found adrift in the sea without its seven-man crew, and the Altair had disappeared completely. The mystery was further compounded by the fact that they disappeared in relatively good weather and made no distress calls. The disaster represented one of the worst in U.S. commercial fishing history. According to Dillon, writing on the Morrill Books Web site, he grew up on an island in the Puget Sound and was long familiar with the dangers of commercial fishing and the trials and tribulations of the crews. "I had heard of a disaster in the Bering Sea in 1983," Dillon noted, adding, "I was determined to investigate the events leading up to this disaster … and to try to understand the element of fatalism that seems to pervade most small fishing communities."
In the book, Dillon traces the history of the king crab industry's rise in the 1960s and the numerous events that contributed to the disaster, including the unregulated working conditions and the inherent dangers of the Bering Sea. He examines the tragedy's impact on the local fishing community and the industry as a whole. Dillon conducted numerous interviews with the families of the victims and others connected with the fishing industry. He also drew on his own experience working on a crab boat in the Bering Sea.
Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Michael Parfit found fault with Dillon's overuse of clichés and thought that the author "doesn't seem to have … empathy" with the reasons why fishermen are willing to risk their lives in a highly dangerous profession. But other reviewers found Dillon's effort to be more successful. Jerry Fraser, writing in the National Fisherman, compared the book to Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm and noted: "Dillon has done a masterful job of organizing a mountain of material into a book every bit as dramatic as Junger's." He also noted that Dillon "understands that tragedy is as much about people as it is events, and his kinship for the fishing community is manifest." Booklist contributor Gilbert Taylor commented, "With acute prose, Dillon reconstructs the … fatalism of the fishing culture."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 1, 1998, Gilbert Taylor, review of Lost at Sea: An American Tragedy, p. 466.
Library Journal, October 15, 1996, Patricia Curthoys, review of The Last Best Thing: A Classic Tale of Greed, Deception, and Mayhem in Silicon Valley, p. 89; November 15, 1998, Harold N. Boyer, review of Lost at Sea, p. 76.
National Fisherman, July, 2001, Jerry Fraser, review of Lost at Sea, p. 9.
New York Times, March 31, 1997, Edward Rothstein, "Heroes in Quest of a Genre Seek Their Fortunes in a New Mythological Kingdom: Silicon Valley," p. 5.
New York Times Book Review, December 1, 1996, M. G. Lord, review of The Last Best Thing, p. 11; February 14, 1999, Michael Parfit, review of Lost at Sea, p. p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, September 16, 1996, review of The Last Best Thing, pp. 70-71; October 19, 1998, review of Lost at Sea, p. 65.
Morrill Books Web site, http://www.morrill.org/ (September 6, 2004), Patrick Dillon, "On Writing Lost at Sea."*