LOWE: You have a degree in maritime history, yet you
worked in advertising, then in a dive shop on a lark,
where you started writing. This was what, the mid-60s?
CUSSLER: Yes, that would have been the mid-60s.
But I got the degree, though, in 1999 or 2000. Sometime
How long had you been diving before NUMA?
Started diving when I was in the Air Force. We were
in Hickam Field in Hawaii for a while in 1951, and
my friend Don Spencer and I sent for a dive tank and
regulator from Cousteau in France, who’d started
manufacturing them. I think we might have had the
first tank in Hawaii, and I remember we went into
the hanger and filled it up with a couple hundred
pounds of stale air out of a compressor, and just
ran into the water. So I would have started diving
Finding lost shipwrecks isn’t easy, is it?
Oh, no. Sometimes you get lucky, but I would say most
of the time it’s difficult. The ghost ship Marie
Celeste, we found that in the first hour. The Civil
War submarine Hunley took me fifteen years.
Is it the location that makes it difficult? Do the
wrecks shift or drift?
No, it’s just that the records aren’t
good. I always give the example that, say, a plane
crashed in your neighborhood. . . you could come back
in two hundred years to find that site, but of course
everything has changed, and you don’t know where
to begin. Maybe they gave you a street, but maybe
the streets not there. And they didn’t say it
crashed two hundred yards from the old rock, you know?
So you can see how difficult it is to find the exact
spot. That’s the same way it is with shipwrecks.
Nobody puts a big marker up and says here it is. So
when you come by later, there’s no GPS coordinates.
Like in the story The Gold Bug by Poe, where
they drop the line through the skull to find the treasure.
Yes, but even then they had a ball park.
How many expeditions have you mounted by now?
Oh my, there must be a hundred or more.
The two Sea Hunters books outline some amazing successes,
like the Hunley, Carpathia, Marie Celeste. Is there
a ship still out there that beckons you, though, or
still nags at you?
For sure. John Paul Jones, the Bon Homme Richard.
I tried for that four times, haven’t found it
Where did that sink?
In the North Sea off Yorkshire.
How goes SEA HUNTERS TV series? Will it air here?
I don’t know. It’s under National Geographic,
and airs internationally. What’s so funny with
Geographic, I narrate the program overseas, but here
they run a few of them under Mysteries of the Sea
or something, and I’m cut out of it. (laughs)
So you don’t know what’s going on?
Well, somebody told me, and I don’t know how
true it is, but they didn’t want to upset Bob
Ballard, who found the Titanic.
Your novels have been wildly successful, I think,
due as much to the research behind them as the pacing
and characters. Are you doing research for some lost
shipwreck when it occurs to you that Dirk Pitt might
Not really. I haven’t really combined the two.
I had Pitt looking for a Pharaohs barge in the Nile
one time, but we really haven’t crossed paths.
I don’t know why. I think it’s just because
the storyline doesn’t work as far as following
anything I’ve done.
Are there any more Pitt adventures in the works?
Yes, I’m about two thirds through the next one.
Really? I thought you were just continuing with Kurt
No, those are just spinoff series. I come up with
most of the plotting and they’ll start the writing,
and I’ll edit, that sort of thing.
So you switch off with Craig Dirgo and others.
Right. Together we just finished a fiction book which
has nothing to do with NUMA or Pitt or anything. In
one book, Flood Tide, I had this ship that looked
like an old beat up tramp steamer, had all the exotic
gear, and people who ran it were like corporate mercenaries,
they go around the world, like a Mission Impossible
Where did the name Dirk Pitt come from?
My son’s name. He was six months old when I
started writing. His name is Dirk, and I used it for
fun, really. I was looking through an encyclopedia
about the British prime ministers during the Revolutionary
war, Pitt the younger and Pitt the elder. So I thought,
well, that works, because I wanted a one syllable
I was thinking, you know, like one letter less than
James Bond, and easier to type than Brandon Tartikoff
(laughs) Well, that’s it. It’s easier
to say Pitt jumped over the wall than that. I think
that’s why Fleming wanted a simple name. James
Bond. There was an ornithologist by that name too.
What does your writing schedule look like these days?
Do you work nonstop on a project?
Pretty much, but I get so many interruptions. I mean,
an expedition, or I have to go out to L.A. to fight
over the screenplay or the movie. Or I have to speak
here. There’s always something. But I try to
work nine to six. Some nights now too.
You know what would be great is a full cast and sound
audiobook of a Pitt or Austin book.
Yes, it would.
Do you ever get fan mail from people about your audiobooks?
Yes, I do.
Have you ever been on the Tonight Show? Leno’s
a car buff.
No, I never have, but I remember I talked to him at
Pebble Beach one time and I asked him: “How
come you don’t have more cars on the show?”
And he said he had Carroll Shelby on one time, and
the audience just had no connection with him. So producers
got after him, and other than a brief bit with him
in a car now and then, that’s about it
Who are your own favorite authors?
When I started out the one I leaned on the most was
Alister McLean. And then Hammond Innes, in his eighties
now and still writing. I like Nelson DeMille. But
I don’t have time to read. I had lunch one time
with James Michener, and just for fun I said, “Have
you read any good books lately, Jim?” And he
laughed and said “I don’t read,”
then clarified it by saying he doesn’t read
fiction because he’s always working. I gave
a quote endorsement for The Hunt for Red October
Really? Tom Clancy? That’s amazing.
If you ever find an original, those things sell for
about a thousand bucks. And then there’s Stephen
Coonts, for Flight
of the Intruder. Tells you how long I’ve
been around, doesn’t it?