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May 29, 2013

Ever since I discovered Raise The Titanic in Hangar Six at Torrejon Air Base, I’ve been a hard-core Clive Cussler fan. During Desert Storm, Torrejon was a support base for troops heading to the theater. Our flight line made room at the end hangar (Hangar Six), two buildings down from the 401st AGE shop where I worked. My wife and daughters volunteered down there to serve coffee and snacks to the soldiers, seamen, marines and even airman as they rested between transport planes coming in and out of that nasty place (mostly burning oil fields in Kuwait).

During lunch breaks, I used to go over there, say hi to them and intermingle with the personnel, and get the latest on what was going on. It wasn’t long before I spotted the growing library of paperbacks, hardbacks and magazines volunteers had set up. In fact, we subsequently added a chunk of our own books and magazines to that library. One day, I spotted the word Titanic in a book title. That was all it took. My lifelong fascination with that ship was enough incentive to grab that book, regardless of genre and I spent every spare moment at home reading it. I’d vaguely heard of Clive Cussler but never tried any of his works. I finished the book in two days and returned it to the rack. Funny, it sat there the rest of the war (or conflict or operation) and nobody even moved it from that spot. I never saw another Cussler novel on the rack or probably would’ve grabbed it also. I was surprised nobody took an interest in it as it was a great story. Then again, most of the troops were not there long enough to read a full novel, and probably didn’t have room in their gear to take a paperback, let alone a hardback with them.

Since that was near the end of our final tour at Torrejon, I wasn’t buying new books at the Stars & Stripes bookstore though I noted a few Cussler novels on the shelves. Once we returned to the states, I devoured every one of his books I could get my hands on, usually from the local Hastings in Altus, Oklahoma or at the book section in the base exchange. They came along at an excruciatingly slow pace.

When I prepared to start my third novel, I’d already developed some writing chops, though looking back, they were still woefully inadequate. However, the basic ability to write a structured novel was there and that’s all I needed. I loved the Dirk Pitt (Cussler’s main hero at the time) adventures enough to start my own series which are to this day called the Gold series. Lusitania Gold started as a nugget of inspiration from Clive’s Raise The Titanic along with his action/adventure sensibility. However, at the time since I’d just finished my first icky bug, The Greenhouse, I wrote in a more adult vein like most of the other thrillers of the day. Clive wrote clean (and still does) and I didn’t hold anything back. Funny enough, when I was already halfway through it, it had eerie parallels (at least in my mind) to a Cussler book that came out called Sahara. I took off early from work and drove down to Fort Worth to meet him one day. I won’t divulge the parallel, but I’d already started writing the path with that thread and was well on the way there when I read Sahara and got to the point in the book where I discovered a vaguely similar twist!

Did it make me go back and change anything? Not at all! Though similar in concept, my story had completely different settings. There’s no doubt the series was inspired by Mr. Cussler, it’s my own, not his. These are my stories not Dirk Pitt adventures! One thing I eventually did, again, partially influenced by Cussler was to clean up the language. That came about for marketability. I wanted all ages and genders to be able to read my stories without parents banning the books because of language, at least in these action/adventure (now called adventure/thriller) novels.

I’m not the only writer inspired or influenced by Clive Cussler. There are plenty of other thriller writers out there with similar styles but with their own unique stories. I’m not afraid of being accused as a clone. There are plenty ahead of me to take the heat.

With so much background, I have to get into why I admire his writing so much. He writes solid third person. He writes easy and fast-moving prose that doesn’t get bogged down in mind-numbing narration. His plots involve the fantastic, bordering on science fiction and barely possible (if not impossible). In other words, you have to suspend your disbelief, but in a fun way. He has lots of likeable characters. His stories are just plain fun.

The downside is that he tends to get corny, he sometimes over-describes his characters and makes them too good to be true. His plots get to be samey. While he stretches boundaries in one way, he writes the same old stuff in another way. He’s like AC/DC in being accused of recording the same album over and over again. He writes the same book over and over again. To me, when I pick up a Clive Cussler novel, I know what I’m going to get. I’ve rarely been disappointed, except occasionally when he’s used one of his co-authors. It’s usually the co-author’s style leaking in that causes that disappointment.

To this day, I still hold him up there as one of my favorite authors of all time. Despite any flaws the man may have, he writes a fun read and I always look forward to his next book.

That’s the mark of a great author.

Next week, I’ll talk about another author that has helped and inspired me. What about you?

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