Back when I started writing the series, I used an antique manual typewriter and later, a Mac computer with a screen the size of a cocktail napkin. I could never have dreamed that books would some day be printed electronically so they could be plucked from the air by tablets such as the Kindle or the Nook.
I suppose that it’s always possible, given the right circumstances, that I might take a crack at another Soc book. I just don’t know. But I’d be totally remiss as a writer if I didn’t take advantage of this technology to make my old books available to readers old and new.
In reading over the electronic version of Cool Blue Tomb, I was struck at how much has changed over a comparatively short period of time. Soc pursues the bad guys without benefit of cell phone, GPS or lap-top computer. But I was happy to discover that the age-old passions of vengeance, avarice, lust and greed defy time.
I hope readers of Cool Blue Tomb and the books to come will arrive at the same conclusion.
February 8, 2011
Pardon the vanishing act!
I did not borrow Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility nor was I abducted by a UFO. I have been here, for the most part, on olde Cape Cod, afflicted by an acute case of procrastinitis extremis.
But over dinner the other night, my dear wife Christi gently reminded me that I hadn’t been in touch with any of my old pals since last October, when we had a terrific get-together at El Charro in Tucson. Don’t forget, she said: out of sight out of mind.
So here I am, in the flesh. (More of it around the waist than I would like.) Aside from that interesting tidbit, I thought it was about time that I wrote a letter to all the nice people who were so encouraging while I was cranking out the NUMA® Files and who gave their support after my writing partnership with Clive came to an end last July.
I’m pretty proud of the NF, which began at Simon and Schuster where someone had the idea of what they called “extending the Cussler franchise,” in essence, using the familiarity of his name on a spin-off of his popular Dirk Pitt novels. As Clive explained it over the phone, it would be like Star Trek, the Second Generation, using the same high-seas adventure concept with a different crew and answering the question of what the other scientists at NUMA® were up to while Pitt and Giardino were off saving the world.
Clive sent me brief biographies for the four main characters of the NUMA® Special Assignments Team and it was up to me to breathe life into them and get Kurt Austin and his friends off and running. I was the first choice to write the series, although at the time, I had done nothing approaching it in complexity and wasn’t sure whether I could take on the job.
Tom Clancy had come out with his Op-Center paperbacks, but we were among the first writers in the business to collaborate on a popular fiction series, and there was a lot at stake. Clive’s publisher must have thought he was crazy asking someone who had written regional mysteries to take on the job. A number of times during the course of our collaboration, Clive would chuckle with amazement at how I had made the switch from first-person, relatively simple line stories to narratives with multiple points of view and loads of technical stuff.
It was a great run! The NUMA® Files was successful far beyond our expectations. When Clive moved over to Putnam, our new editor, Neil Nyren, thought that the trade paperback series was ready for hard cover. I think the NUMA® Files brought a new vitality into the Cussler books. We kept most of his hard-core readers, picked up new ones and regained some who had drifted away. Every one of the NF was a New York Times best-seller. Polar Shift was the only Cussler book to reach number one spot during that period, temporarily dumping Dan Brown, who had hogged the slot for a couple of years with the long-running DaVinci Code. Based on the success of the NF, Clive took on more writers, so in time there were five of us writing under the Cussler brand. All the books have been best-sellers.
All good things come to an end. The task of turning out eight fat books in about ten years was catching up to me. We churned out the first three or four books at the rate of one a year.
The pressure of coming up with a fresh concept, then writing the book under a stiff deadline, was beginning to tell and my stress level was getting higher.
In order to keep the books interesting, to me and my readers, I tried pushing the formula. Action sells, but I was also interested in developing character. In Polar Shift, in which a Tesla-like scientist comes up with something that can destroy the world, I used the relationship between the scientist’s granddaughter and her godfather to try to bring a human slant to a wild story. At the same time, I had great fun with crazy stuff, like red pygmy mammoths living in a luminous city within a dead volcano. Having pushed the word destruction plot about as far as it could go, I moved back to a treasure hunt theme with The Navigator. The plot went back to King Solomon’s gold mines and a female character related to the Queen of Sheba and a villain whose ancestor had been a murderous rival of Sheba.
After wrapping up a book, I would be sure I failed in the attempt, only to hear from readers who said they liked what I was doing. Never ask a writer to judge his own work, I guess.
I am happy to say that I am working on a new book, whose working title is The Emerald Scepter. Like the NUMA ® Files it uses a team approach, with the leader an ex-Navy SEAL, now an undersea robotics engineer at Woods Hole. His name is Matinicus Hawkins and he is recruited for a secret mission to find the lost treasure of the Legendary King Prester John, whose recovery has world-wide implications. The team includes Matt’s ex-wife, an old comrade-in-arms, and a brilliant but oddball computer whiz.
I’m about half-way through the first draft, which means the Scepter is several rewrites away from being a finished manuscript. The next step will be to find a publisher. And as usual, I am fretting over the slow pace of production, and tussling with many questions. Is there enough action and adventure? Is it original enough? Does the damned thing make sense?
It’s a little scary being back on my own, but liberating at the same time. I will try to be better at keeping my friends posted on my progress, either at this site or Facebook.
In the meantime, the best to all my NUMA ® Files pals!