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Interview: May 9, 2024

Detective Isaac Bell faces an attack on the Federal Reserve in THE HEIST, Jack Du Brul’s all-new adventure in the #1 New York Times bestselling series created by Clive Cussler. In this interview conducted by Michael Barson, Senior Publicity Executive at Melville House and Cussler’s primary publicist at G.P. Putnam’s Sons from 1999 to 2015, Du Brul explains how he first began collaborating with Cussler, what surprised him the most about Cussler as a writing partner, the importance of incorporating details into historical fiction, and what the future looks like for his protagonist.

Question: When did you first begin collaborating with the late Clive Cussler? Had you ever read any of his novels before that time?

Jack Du Brul: It was the spring of 2003 when I got a call out of the blue from Clive. We had spoken once before when he'd given me a blurb for my first book, VULCAN’S FORGE, and so I initially thought it was just a friendly check-in. Little did I know he'd tapped me to be a co-writer. Of course I had been reading his books for years. I first read RAISE THE TITANIC! even before high school. That set off a lifelong passion for reading that eventually led me to believe I could write a book myself. So, in many ways, I am an author because of Clive. So the opportunity to come full circle --- from fan to author to collaborator --- was one I couldn't pass up.

Q: What was the biggest surprise for you in having Clive as a writing partner in those first years? Was his process unique in some respects?

JDB: I think what surprised me most for the first couple of books was Clive's accessibility. It was just so weird for me to have the famous Clive Cussler on speed dial and that I could call him at any time if I had a question or ran into a plot problem. Clive was always available and loved to talk shop, so to speak. He had several series going at the time but knew the plot of each book and where each author was in the writing process. I'd tell him I was at a certain scene and had a question. He would know exactly what was happening, what information needed to be conveyed to the reader and exactly what was needed next. Not many authors are effective editors. It is a completely different skill set, but Clive was a master of both.

Q: Clive launched the Isaac Bell historical adventure series in 2007. When you were asked to take it on four books ago, following his death, did you find it more challenging to write than the Oregon Files series had been?

JDB: In fact, Clive was alive when I wrote my first Isaac Bell adventure, THE TITANIC SECRET, and only passed away when I was halfway through THE SABOTEURS. I recall that when he first approached me about writing the Bell books, I wasn't interested. It was only after giving it a couple days' thought that I developed the idea of introducing Bell into a prologue of RAISE THE TITANIC! that I became excited about the prospect. Clive was actually a little mad that he hadn't come up with that plot himself. In terms of writing the Bell books, the challenge comes from the research, which touches on your next question.

Q: THE HEIST is set in 1914, over a hundred years ago. What are your favorite sources for the historical information you need to weave into your Bell stories to keep them realistic?

JDB: Historical fiction is a worldbuilding exercise where anyone with internet access can fact-check you. Details are important, so if you can't track down a fact, you have to keep details vague. However, the more vague the writing, the less interest your readers will have in the story. Therefore, it is critical to give as much detail as possible --- about language, technology of the day, fashion, cuisine or anything else. It's a challenge that I have come to love the most about writing the Bell books.

Q: Did you have favorite adventure fiction authors when you were growing up? Are there any contemporary authors whom you like reading today?

JDB: Apart from Clive's books, I have always been a huge fan of South African author Wilbur Smith. Sadly he passed about the same time as Cussler, but like Clive, he has left behind a stable of writers who continue his tradition of writing the most descriptive adventure novels on the scene today. Add to that list writers like Ludlum, Morrell, Clancy and any of the other 1980s thriller authors. I don't read as much as I used to, unfortunately, but I will take time out of my day when a new book by Doug Preston and Lincoln Child drops, or Jim Rollins or Lee Child.

Q: Is there a particular period or historical event that you are especially looking forward to incorporating into a future Isaac Bell novel?

JDB: I've been building up for the past four novels to send Isaac Bell into Europe just as the United States is about to enter World War I. I had the idea of writing a technothriller about the Great War for many, many years, and now's my time to finally write it. Clive set the Bell books as America was emerging onto the world stage, and my latest will see Isaac Bell in the midst of a conflict we didn't want to fight but had no other alternative. I have always seen him not as a reluctant hero, but as a man who knew his duty no matter the cost or consequence.