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
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
T2W: So I understand you still have that
CC: Oh, sure.
T2W: Is this the same watch you are wearing on
the rear cover of your latest book?
CC: Thatąs 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
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
CC: I donąt 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
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
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
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
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
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
T2W: How about explorers? Who is your
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
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
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,