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Interview: November 16, 2023

National Underwater and Marine Agency Director Dirk Pitt must unravel an enduring historical mystery in Dirk Cussler’s THE CORSICAN SHADOW, the latest installment in the beloved New York Times bestselling series created by the “grand master of adventure,” Clive Cussler. In this interview conducted by Michael Barson, Senior Publicity Executive at Melville House and Clive’s primary publicist at G.P. Putnam’s Sons from 1999 to 2015, Dirk explains how he became a coauthor with his late father on this series, gives us insight into his writing process, reveals his favorite Dirt Pitt book written entirely by Clive, and offers his thoughts on the 50th anniversary of the intrepid adventurer’s debut.

Question: THE CORSICAN SHADOW is the 10th Dirk Pitt novel you’ve either written entirely or coauthored with your late father, Clive. Can you recall the first time Clive suggested you become his coauthor on his flagship Pitt series? That would have been for BLACK WIND in 2004.

Dirk Cussler: Back in 2002, Clive had two coauthored series in the works (The NUMA Files and The Oregon Files), in addition to the Pitt series. He was ready to ease back on the demands of full-time writing in order to manage the various series at a top level, and asked me if I'd like to take a shot at writing a Pitt book with him. It was a startling offer, but I naturally jumped at the chance. I lived just a few blocks away from him at the time, so it was easy to spend hours with him learning the process and picking his brain. BLACK WIND seemed to come together without effort, and it was probably the most fun I had on a book, as it was the one we collaborated on most closely.

Q: Prior to BLACK WIND, had you aided and abetted Clive on any of the previous novels in a material way? If so, how did that process work?

DC: I had worked a bit with Craig Dirgo, Clive's first coauthor, on the Oregon Files series in developing plot ideas. Craig and I also had a historical writing project that we had worked on together. But to that point, I had not really been intimately involved in my father's writing.

Q: You write a Dirk Pitt novel every two years. How much of that time would you say is spent on plotting and research before the actual writing begins?

DC: It usually takes me two or three months to complete the initial research and develop a rough outline. The stories typically contain a key historical element, and I particularly enjoy that portion of the research. From there, I work at a tortoise pace. I still write my initial draft in longhand, and it takes me about a year to complete the actual manuscript. My writing velocity is not something I am particularly proud of.

Q: This may be an impossible question to answer. But can you name the Dirk Pitt book written entirely by your dad that has always been your favorite, and why?

DC: A tough call, but I really like SAHARA. It just has a great blend of all the elements that his stories are best known for: compelling action, exotic locations and a historical hook. Clive expands on the legend of the lost gold of the Confederacy by audaciously placing a Civil War ironclad in the deserts of North Africa. There's romance, a global health threat, the requisite classic car chase, and a clever demise of the villain in the end. It goes without saying that the book is far better than the movie.

Q: Now that you’ve written your 10th Dirk Pitt book, which would you identify as the one that proved to be the hardest to write, and why?

DC: If you asked me that question at every publication time, I would always say the most recent book was the hardest to write. That's because the mental anguish at trying to make the latest book as good as possible is always freshest in mind. But beyond that point, THE DEVIL’S SEA was a challenge, as my father passed during its writing and I felt the absence of his usual graceful review at completion.

Q: Do you have an ongoing NUMA operation at the moment in which you’ve been participating? If not, what would one of your next target sites be?

DC: The John Paul Jones revolutionary warship Bonhomme Richard has been a target of NUMA's for many years. It sank in the North Sea in 1779 after an epic fight at the Battle of Flamborough Head, and I led a search team there last year without success. It's a real needle-in-a-haystack vessel to locate, but it represents an important artifact in America's naval history. She’s at the top of NUMA's list, and hopefully we'll get another crack at her next year.

Q: 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of Dirk Pitt in THE MEDITERRANEAN CAPER, a paperback original from 1973. It must give you great satisfaction to now be the face of such a historically long-running, enormously successful series.

DC: It's difficult to fathom that Pitt has been around for 50 years and is still going strong. I never could have imagined when I read THE MEDITERRANEAN CAPER as a 12-year-old that I would be writing about Pitt five decades later. It remains a thrill that fans still value Dirk Pitt's ongoing adventures, and that this little corner of the literary world my father created lives on beyond him.