Seafaring Author Clive Cussler

By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated October 17, 1997 at 04:00 AM EDT

It’s not easy to find an author who makes $10 million a book, but then, a dilapidated 15-foot diving boat floating down the middle of New York City’s East River isn’t the most obvious place to look. Unless the search happens to be for Clive Cussler, creator of Dirk Pitt, the seafaring adventurer who has starred in 14 of Cussler’s best-selling books, the most recent of which, Flood Tide (Simon & Schuster, $26), has hit No. 1. To locate Cussler, simply scour the nearest shipwreck site.

A week of trawling the river has turned up several wrecked barges, dozens of 55-gallon oil drums, but alas, not the desired prototype submarine that sank off Whitestone Point in 1883, which, if it’s found, will be handed over to New York’s Maritime College Museum. ”I’m not a dedicated writer in the sense of Stephen King,” Cussler says, explaining why he happily pays $100,000 plus to put together these expeditions. This marks Cussler’s umpteenth such adventure, all paid for out of his own pocket. ”Either you’ve got the bug or you haven’t,” he says of his hobby. ”There are many things I’d rather be doing than writing a book.”

He’s done most of them: The 66-year-old, who lives in Arizona and Colorado with Barbara, his wife of 42 years, worked for a gas station, a supermarket, and an advertising firm before writing the seminal Pitt novel, 1976’s Raise the Titanic! ”I was almost on unemployment, and my wife was working as a secretary,” he recalls. ”When the first check came in, we bought a fridge and a used sports car.”

Cussler has since added more than 85 cars to his collection, classics that are housed in a warehouse outside of Denver and are tended to by two full-time mechanics. ”This is not the passion of an ordinary person,” admits his agent, Peter Lampack. ”But aside from that, he leads a very quiet life.”

And that means no more Hollywood deals, thanks to Cussler’s disappointment with Titanic!‘s disastrous 1980 film adaptation, starring Jason Robards. ”I have been offered $50 million for the Pitt material, but it’s all about the art of the deal instead of the art of the picture,” he says. ”I want cast and script approval. I keep hoping a director who has read the books will sit down and talk with me. Then I’d probably sell.” And that, no doubt, would be enough to keep him in the driver’s seat.