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Interview: November 19, 2021

THE DEVIL’S SEA is the 26th novel starring National Underwater and Marine Agency Director Dirk Pitt and the first written solely by Dirk Cussler, who worked with his father, the late great Clive Cussler, on eight previous adventures in the series. In this interview conducted by Michael Barson, Senior Publicity Executive at Melville House (and Clive’s former publicist), Dirk talks about collaborating with his dad on these books and how the writing process has changed, if at all, now that he is doing 100% of the writing. He also touches on the plot of this latest thriller and if it has any connection to his own real-life NUMA explorations; reveals his all-time favorite novelist, who happened to be a major influence on his father; and offers his thoughts on Dirk Pitt possibly resurfacing in a film or miniseries.

Question: THE DEVIL’S SEA is the 26th novel to star Dirk Pitt, and the ninth either written or cowritten by you. When you were working with your dad on one of those eight previous Pitt books, how often would you typically exchange notes while developing a story?

Dirk Cussler: Most of our closest work was done on the front end, developing concepts and plot ideas together. I would form a rough outline, and then go off and do the actual writing. For those first two or three books, I lived just a couple of blocks away from him, so we'd have constant discussions throughout the course of completing the books. That tapered off after I left Arizona and he became involved with editing multiple series, but we'd still formulate the initial concepts together. I would then send him sections of the manuscript to review as I progressed until we worked through to the end.

Q: This is your first solo Pitt endeavor. Now that 100% of the writing has fallen to you, has your writing process changed at all from when you began as Clive’s coauthor on BLACK WIND in 2004?

DC: The basic writing process is very much the same. The creative portion is certainly more challenging without my father's input. He had such a great imagination and a way of visualizing a story, so it was always fun to work through the conceptual parts of the books with him. But as far as my own process goes, nothing has really changed. I still scribble my way through a few scenes each day on pen and paper, guided by the same type of rough outlines as I did at the start.

Q: The plot of THE DEVIL’S SEA revolves around a forgotten plane crash in the Philippine Sea whose discovery sheds light on a key Buddhist artifact that went missing back in 1959. Does the plane crash invoked here have a connection to any of your own actual NUMA explorations for lost ships and planes over the years?

DC: The real-life NUMA has previously searched for a DC-4 (Northwest Flight 2501) that crashed into Lake Michigan in 1950 while flying in poor weather. It was the worst commercial airline disaster in the U.S. at the time. The plane was of the same era and of similar size to the Avro Lancastrian that Pitt discovers in the Philippines. While Pitt has an unblemished record in locating lost shipwrecks and aircraft, I'm afraid we haven't been as fortunate. The DC-4 remains missing to this day.

Q: Since you, Dirk Cussler, preceded your dad’s creation of the fictional Dirk back in the late ’60s, it’s only fitting that you’re now giving Dirk 2 his marching orders. Was there ever a development in a Dirk Pitt novel from the years before you became involved in the writing that gave you pause?

DC: Your question touches on what may be Clive’s most controversial ending. In VALHALLA RISING, Pitt is confronted for the first time by the appearance of his twin grown children, Summer and Dirk Jr. Some fans refer to their emergence as a literary immaculate conception, as Pitt only had a brief contact with their mother in his first novel, PACIFIC VORTEX. Their entrance obviously created a new family dynamic in the series. I can't say if I would have done the same, but there is no question it has created a new trajectory for all the subsequent books in the series.

Q: Before you began writing fiction yourself, which novelists did you used to read for enjoyment? Do you have an all-time favorite?

DC: I loved the Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald when I was young. Tom Robbins, Donald Hamilton and Larry McMurtry were some other early favorites. If I had to pick one favorite author, though, it would probably be Alistair MacLean. He was a big influence on my father, and for good reason. He had a great sense of intrigue, and was maybe the first adventure writer to place many of his stories around the sea. I still go back and reread some of his early thrillers, and I think they hold up quite well.

Q: For many years, the Dirk Pitt series was the only one that Clive used to write. Then, around 20 years ago, the NUMA series with Kurt Austin appeared. Three additional series debuted over the following years. If you ever had the time (ha!), which of the other four Cussler series might you have a hankering to write, if only temporarily?

DC: Dirk Pitt does keep my plate full, but if I ventured into another series, it would definitely be the Isaac Bell books. I love the early-20th-century era in which the books take place. They require a great deal of historical research, which is part of the writing process that I love. And wouldn't it be nice to write about adventure characters not tethered to cell phones, computers and GPS tracking devices?

Q: Your dad was famously dissatisfied with the efforts of Hollywood to adapt his Pitt novels, in the form of the films Raise the Titanic and Sahara. But if a top director came calling one day, surrounded by prime talent, would you ever consider letting Dirk Pitt appear in another film or HBO-style miniseries?

DC: I think we'd all like to see the Dirk Pitt adventures on film. The trick is developing them in a quality manner that doesn't diminish the characters or the books. My father was right to be disappointed in the earlier film attempts, and that only raises the bar higher for future efforts. I'm hopeful we'll get there some day, but for now, I'm focused on making the books as entertaining as they can be.