July 9, 2012
The Story Behind Neptune's Eye
There's a story behind the story of NEPTUNE's EYE, which will be available as an e-book on July 9 . I had finished COOL BLUE TOMB and was about to start the second in the Aristotle "Soc" Socarides series. In my original proposal to the my editor, I had written a single paragraph saying that I wanted to set the new book in Woods Hole.
It seemed to me that this tiny Cape Cod village brimmed with possibilities. It was home to the world-famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the prestigious Marine Biological Laboratory, the Northeast Fisheries Center and had dozens of high tech companies in the area.
The institution has a historic connection with the Navy that goes back before World War II when they collaborated on secret technology that helped lead to victory. It was that link that would result in the discovery of the Titanic by Woods Hole associate Dr. Robert Ballard.
At the same time it was a fishing village with deep roots in Cape Cods seafaring history. I was intrigued by the contrast. And for a mystery writer, the pea-soup fogs that cloak the village in the spring were pure gold. The colorful bar known as The Captain Kidd provided a setting for scenes and a resting place while doing research. I was particularly interested in the work being done on undersea robots.
My editor suggested that I have my detective encounter something from his complicated past to spice up the story. I settled on that reminder in the person of John Flagg, a Wampanoag Indian Soc met in Vietnam where they became fast friends, then enemies over a misunderstanding. Later, Flagg went on to become a CIA spook. I thought it would be fun to have them working on a case together in a tense and uneasy alliance. For years there had been rumors of a sunken German U-boat in Cape waters, so I used that as well. Then there was the sub-plot where Soc is called upon in the middle of his case to resolve a complicated family situation stirred up by his sister Chloe.
The story starts when Soc is hired to look for the missing daughter of a mysterious tycoon. That allowed me to work in industrial espionage and arms dealing to give the book greater scope than it would have as a regional mystery.
In my research I visited a company that developed underwater vehicles, talked to a Wampanoag Indian whose insights helped me form the persona of Flagg, visited the marine biological lab library where I set a murder, and poked my nose into every Woods Hole nook and cranny, including the Captain Kidd.
Neptune's Eye is a fun book with lots of action and humor and stuff for tekkies. I think you'll enjoy it. It is being issued by Suspense Publishing and will be available whereever e-books are sold.
February 23, 2012
I’m pleased to announce that a digital version of Cool Blue Tomb, my first book ever, will be available to readers on March 20, 2012. The book is being published in e-book form by John and Shannon Raab, the nice folks who run Suspense Magazine. The other five out-of- print books in the series will be published at intervals in the months to follow.
Cool Blue Tomb has been out-of-print in the U. S. since shortly after its publication in 1991. After I started writing the NUMA Files with Clive Cussler, there was some interest from foreign publishers in my old stuff. Books from the series were translated into French, Italian and Greek. The last one, Bluefin Blues, was even pirated by a Turkish publisher not once, but twice!
CBT was printed in paperback only, and the print runs were miniscule, so copies are hard to come by today. Those that escaped the shredder have been scoffed up by collectors. Copies can be found on the internet at sometimes ridiculous prices. I get nothing from those sales, but I wish I had a nickel for every time someone came up to me and asked when I was going to write another in the series. I was deeply involved in the NUMA Files at the time and except for the foreign publishers, there was no interest in continuing the series. Publishing was moving from a genteel business that nurtured new writers into the mega-hit phase with the lists dominated by a few top-sellers.
Apparently, many people who read the books were intrigued by the adventures of my protagonist, a quirky part-time fisherman, diver and private detective named Aristotle “Soc” Socarides. Soc is an ex-cop and a Vietnam vet who takes on cases that interest him. Invariably, he is drawn into complex plots that take him into dangerous waters.
To name a few: in CBT he becomes tangled in a search for a long-lost treasure ship. Neptune’s Eye drew him into the high-tech underwater scene at Woods Hole. Death in Deep Water had him trying to clear a killer whale of a murder charge. Soc’s exploits caught Clive’s eye. He gave me two stellar jacket blurbs and when he was looking for someone to do the NUMA Files I was the first writer he called. But that’s another story.
Cool Blue Tomb won a Shamus award from the Private Eye Writers of America for best original paperback but that didn’t prevent it from going out of print, to be followed into publication oblivion by the other books in the series.
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!
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Kill Zone Interview - Collaborating with Cussler
Our guest today is New York Times bestselling author, Paul Kemprecos. Paul is the co-author with Clive Cussler of eight NUMA
Files books. Before collaborating with Cussler, he had written six underwater private detective books set on Cape Cod. His first
book won a Shamus Award for best original paperback. He and his wife live on Cape Cod.
People often ask me about the nuts and bolts of my collaboration with Clive Cussler. I must admit I’m as
mystified about the process as when we started writing the NUMA Files series around ten years ago at a time
only a few fiction writers were working together. Clive still kids me about making the jump from a regional Cape
Cod private eye to world-wide thriller-adventure novels but at the time it was a daunting proposition. And still is.
I decided from the first not try to be another Cussler. The Grandmaster of Adventure is several inches taller than I am, so there was no way I could fill his shoes. And we had differing backgrounds and styles of writing. I would simply write the best adventure story I could, keeping the tone--whatever that is--similar to that of the Pitt novels.
Clive sent me the bios of the NUMA Special Assignments Team and it was up to me to flesh them out as believable characters. Then we were off and running on the book that would become Serpent.
With a cast of characters in place, next there had to be a story line. Clive suggested having the lost continent of Atlantis
found under Antarctic ice. I gathered some material and was digging through the pile when he called and said he was going
to use his suggested story line in the Dirk Pitt novel that would become Atlantis Found. He had another idea: a conspiracy to
keep secret contact with America that pre-dated Columbus. It was pretty sketchy, but I said I would see what I could do. I
said I had been thinking of using the Andrea Doria sinking in one of my PI novels and thought that the collision with the
Stockholm that led to the sinking of the Italian luxury liner might be a good way to start a NUMA File. The collision could
have been a deliberate act I suggested. He thought that was a good idea and suggested that the ship was sunk to hide an
object on board that would unravel the conspiracy. Start writing, he said.
I sat down with some books and a diagram of the Doria and the prologue turned out surprisingly well. Clive said it was great and told me to keep going. I knocked off another hundred pages. This time Clive called to say the second batch of pages I had sent kinda stunk. I agreed with him, and said I was badly in need of some guidance. A few weeks later I flew out to Scottsdale, Arizon where Cussler lives. I was convinced that I had gotten in over my head with the NUMA Files, but we spent a couple of days going back and forth and carved out the plot and characters that would put Serpent on the best-seller lists.
This is pretty much the template we have followed in our collaboration, right down to our latest book, Medusa. I run some
concepts by him. He says yes, no or maybe and offers suggestions. I start writing, get into trouble about half way through
the manuscript, then I fly out to have a story conference that sets things straight and head home to write the rest of the
book. He hasn’t called recently to say something stinks, usually saying it indirectly by hinting I might want to come at
something a different way. We’ve worked together long enough for me to pick up on his suggestions, however subtle they
may be. I’ve learned to trust his instincts even if they run counter to my own. When he keeps returning to a subject it usually
means this is a good thing to keep in the story.
Every writing duo comes at the task in its own way. Some write alternating chapters. Or one person works on story while the other does the actual writing and they meet somewhere in the middle. James Patterson said at a Thrillerfest talk that he writes long outlines for others who do the actual writing.
I think that whatever way works is the right way. Clive and I have a loose arrangement, but we are on the same creative wavelength. I will never be the story-teller Clive is. And he says I’m a better writer than he is. Even so, when we get into our Good-Guy, Bad-Guy discussions, we are talking the same language.
I guess it works. Medusa was scheduled to come in at number two today, June 2, on The New York Times bestseller list.
Have you ever collaborated with another author, and if so, how do you approach the task? If you haven’t, do you think you could? And as a reader, how do you feel about books written by two writers as opposed to single authors?
VOLUME 13 NUMBER 3 APRIL/MAY 1994
Mystery Writing 101 Can Ease the Pain
by Paul Kemprecos
I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I wrote my first mystery novel, Cool Blue Tomb. My fiction experience consisted of some Christmas stories for a weekly newspaper. The only mystery writers I had read were Raymond Chandler and Conan Doyle. Whodunits turned me off; I could never figure out who done it.
Like others, I got into mystery writing after saying, "I could do better than that." With audacity borne of ignorance, I wrote sample chapters and a proposal for a series book based on a treasure-hunting story I’d tried unsuccessfully to market as nonfiction. Meg Ruley at the Jane Rotrosen Agency in New York saw the possibilities. Bantam signed me to a two-book contract. Now all I had to do was write the rest of the book.
Almost immediately I hit the mental and physical barrier athletes call, "the wall." I remember staring with glazed eyes at the blank screen of my Mac, my mind in total confusion. I didn’t have the foggiest notion what to do next. Terminal self doubt set in. What a fool I’d been to attempt this. I had no business writing fiction. I’d have to pay the advance back. The whole weight of the Bantam/Doubleday/Dell publishing empire rested on my tired and unworthy shoulders.
Fortunately, I couldn’t return to my old job, so I had to go on. I stretched out on the sofa and thought about the book. Still horizontal, I made a list of all my characters. Bingo! Killing off a minor character named Geetch freed the creative logjam. A few months later, with some misgivings, I sent the manuscript off to new York.
Kate Miciak, my editor at Bantam, must have worn down a gross of number two pencils editing the manuscript. She had major problems with a few minor details such as plot, character and setting. With a big knot in my stomach, I reread her letter and discovered that she was offering some encouraging suggestions which she elaborated on during a long telephone conversation. Don’t try to write Magnum. Don’t try to write Philip Marlowe. Be yourself. It as excellent advice. I took a legal pad to the beach and sketched out the suggested changes. After a few more rewrites, I got a call from Kate who said the book was great.
To my surprise, the Private Eye Writers of America agreed. The PWA awarded Cool Blue Tomb a Shamus as the best original paperback published in 1991. Sue Grafton made the announcement at a Bouchercon. (Even more thrilling, she shook my hand and winked at me.) Pretty heady stuff for a first-time author.
I have written four books since Cool Blue Tomb. And I still lie down on the sofa when my mind goes into neutral. While writing does not get any easier, I hope that it is getting better. I’d be the first to admit on-the-job writing does work. You simply don’t forget margin comments like: "Show Don’t Tell!." "Yuck" "Ugh!" Or, "Dull, dull, dull!" Similarly memorable are those times an editor writes: "I love it!" Heck, you’ve done something that works.
But this can be tough on the fragile ego of even battle-scarred writers. Last year, with my own painful fumblings in mind, I taught a mystery writing course at a local community college, hoping to spare new writers some of the headaches I went through.
A couple of fellow members of the New England MWA chapter were teaching mystery writing courses in and around Boston. I wondered if similar interest existed in my area and proposed a course for the continuing education division of Cape Cod Community College. The college has a fiction writing course, but the adult ed class coordinator had read my books and thought the course would be a great idea.
One fall evening, I walked into a classroom, drew a skull and crossbones on the blackboard, under it wrote "Mystery Writing 101, and nervously awaited my students. I had put a limit of twelve students. The college had signed up fifteen. The eventual class size was thirteen. Cape Cod has a big retirement population, and I expected the class to include mostly older people who read a lot, but weren’t serious about writing. There was only one retiree, though, and he turned out to be a pretty good writer. Most were working people in their thirties and forties, split more or less evenly between male and female. A few people lived a good distance away.
Released November 22, 2013 as an e-book and trade paperback. Along with the entire "Soc" series.
Released May 21, 2013 as an
e-book and trade paperback.
Released July 2012 as an e-book
Their interests ranged from British type cozies to hard-boiled private eye. One woman wanted to write like Carl Hiassen. (Well, so do I). Another was into romantic suspense.
Competing with the Teutonic declamations from the German class in the next room, I did a quick recap fo the history of the mystery to show how the genre had evolved and subdivided from Dame Agatha’s day. I brought in some show and tell: cover art, bound galley, contract, and described how I came to be published. The main thing I tried to get across in the first session was: if I could get published, they could too.
I talked to Karin McQuillan, author of the Jazz Jasper series, who had taught a similar class in Boston, and to Peter Abrahams, a writer of thrillers who lives of Cape Cod. J. Dayne Lamb, who taught in Boston, generously shared her class outline. Out of their suggestions came a loose format.
Generally, I started with a lecture on the basics: beginnings, middles and endings. Dialogue. Plotting. Character. I read from many writers (including myself) to illustrate what I was talking about. Then we discussed works in progress. Some students bravely circulated chapters for criticism. Often comments were quite perceptive. The class demanded homework, so I gave out exercises in dialogue and description, explaining these were the problems a working author deals with everyday. I made copies of edited pages of my own stuff to show them what an editor liked and didn’t. I brought in a quest speaker, Sally Gunning, who writes more in the cozy style, and they peppered her with questions.
I tried to get the class to participate. One student whose own middle-class background was insulted from the sleazier aspects of like was having trouble describing a call girl. So we "built" a prostitute, starting with birth. I threw out the "whys" and the "wheres" and before long we had a living, breathing hooker.
To show the class where to get ideas, I read news briefs from The Boston Globe. I singled out a feature story about a cyberspace Lothario in California who’d been using the computer networks to meet women. His bed-hopping habits came up during a women’s electronic discussion group, and his name went out over their modems with a warning to other women. I was impressed by a quote which said people reveal more about themselves over the computers than they would face to face. I posed a possibility. Suppose a serial killer was using the electronic boards to track down victims. Within half an hour, we had a pretty good plot going.
A question I heard often was whether to write an outline. I told them to do whatever works, but advised sketching out their stories, and brought in the proposal for my second book so they could see how it was done. They were fascinated by the business aspects of publishing. They loved the hand-outs I gave them from mystery newsletters.
They were intensely interested in nuts and bolts issues, such as how to get an agent. My own agent had suggested that one way was to find a mentor. It didn’t take the class long to start calling me, "Mentor."
The class was incredibly faithful about attendance. Often they were reluctant to take a break.
In the last session, I advised them to think about the mystery’s conventions as guidelines rather than rules, not to use their outlines as a crutch, and to let their imaginations soar. Only in this way would they come up with the uniqueness they would need to sell their work in a world where real life is so much more bizarre than any fiction.
I may have gotten as much from the class as my students did. Teaching focused my mind on things I had done instinctively before.
The course apparently motivated as well as showed how. Ex-students formed a writing group that meets every Wednesday at a local Burger King. One writer is two thirds of the way through her book. Another scrapped a manuscript we discussed in class and is going great guns on a fresh book.
I’ve scheduled another class for this semester. Obviously, it can only be a question of time before I go to the book-signing and have someone dedicate their work to "Professor Paul."
OFFICIAL AUTHOR WEBSITE
Released March 2012 as an audio book read by Barry Campbell.
Released as an e-book.