The Cussler Letter

“So what writer did you once like that you stopped reading? – And Why?” – A question I’ve been asked several times while on various panels at different conventions over the last few years. My answer always seems to revolve around  a story about thriller writer Clive Cussler and a letter he wrote to me many years ago.

I’ve also used the same anecdote when appearing on panels about writer/fan interactions, and similar subjects.

While sorting out my office over the holiday period I came across the letter. It was pretty much exactly as I remembered it. For those friends, and convention attendees, who’ve heard me tell the story numerous times I thought I’d post the actual source here.

First off, an acknowledgement that from a published author success perspective, I’m not anywhere close to where Mr. Cussler was, or continues to be. He has a very large dedicated audience who enjoy his work, and I wish him every success in continuing to build and satisfy that audience.

OK, on to a little background to put things into perspective. Back in the early to mid-nineties I was one of those who read every book that Clive Cussler wrote. I loved his stuff, in particular for the blend of historical research, and modern technology and adventure. Sometime in 1994 I picked up the latest adventure, (not sure which one, possibly Inca Gold) and was little put off by what I saw as a trend of the two lead characters, Dirk Pitt & Al Giordino, away from being explorer/adventurers and more towards being vigilante type crime-fighters going after the bad-guys.  Not that I’ve got anything against vigilante crime-fighters (as my long time Batman obsession shows), but it wasn’t what I read the Dirk Pitt novels for.

But what brought my enjoyment to a crashing halt was a passage in the book where Cussler described an Airbus aircraft that had been converted to a cargo plane. It was all wrong.  Big deal – what did it matter? Well it mattered to me. As I said one of the reasons I enjoyed the Cussler books was for how well they were researched.  The thing was a few years earlier I’d headed the technical documentation group at the Airbus Division of British Aerospace – at that stage I literally knew that aircraft inside out. Sure you could convert the aircraft for cargo use (in fact Airbus now sell cargo versions) but the way it was described in the book was technically impossible, it would have compromised the airframe. – So I thought I’d be a helpful reader and write my favorite author and politley inform him of this research oversight. – This is the letter I received in reply.

CusslerPg1 CusslerPg2

Here’s the text:

10-94 – Cussler’s address down the side (removed for privacy)

Sorry Porter,

I thought I wrote fiction. So the Airbus can’t have a cargo door, so what? As long as my other 59,999,999 readers could care less, I won’t lose any sleep over it.

As to Pitt & Giordino turning into vigilantes, you should live in the US. Leaving the villains to the authorities won’t work anymore, the hoods are back on the streets in hours.

If you want action heroes who walk the fine line, stick with the old timers like McLean and Innes.

I appreciate the fact that you like my books, but the world is no longer a nice place to live in.


Clive Cussler.”

I haven’t read a Clive Cussler book since.


1 thought on “The Cussler Letter

  1. I think what you may have realized at that point was that Cussler was not the great writer that you had considered him to be, but merely a man who hacked out work like any other person. Of course, in typical Cussler fashion, he was unable to respond to your letter without being a jerk about it. I love the shred of McLean’s work – a writer with a pretty similar path to his own.

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