When Clive Cussler invited me to collaborate on a sequel to The Chase—a western detective novel featuring a brand new character named Isaac Bell—I decided there were two reasons to accept. Obviously, collaborating with a mega-bestselling writer offered the opportunity to clamber aboard the New York Times bestseller list. Collaborating also promised a sort of mid-course correction, where I would learn writing tricks beyond those I had taught myself in the course of twenty-nine books. I had done very well for myself, but when it came to selling lots and lots of books, he had done it better.
See Justin Scott on Collaborating with Clive Cussler. Video courtesy Hudson West
Looking ahead to my next twenty-nine, I hoped that working with an “Old Master” would be like winning a fellowship to do graduate work at an Ivy League University. And that is exactly how it worked out. He is one of a handful of writers with a natural narrative gift—he knows, either by instinct or learning (I don’t know which, probably a combination of both) how never to be boring—even for one sentence. Every sentence must serve the story and nothing but the story. This is easily said and harder to do; if it weren’t, the bestseller lists would be more crowded. In going through a scene he identifies what Georges Simenon used to call “the beautiful sentences” and, like the Frenchman, skewers them ruthlessly. Entire scenes must also prove their right to exist, as must asides, writer’s observations, mental dithering, and authorial thinking out loud. If they serve the story they stay, if they don’t, they’re out.
What I had not expected out of collaborating was the fun. I have never had more fun working on a book than I have on The Wrecker, The Spy, The Race, and The Thief. Now, as we embark on a fifth in the series, I realize that I am more collegial than I thought, and less the gnarly lone wolf I fancied myself to be. It’s fun to work with somebody. Looking back on the early days of my career I realize that in the days when editors were still at the center of publishing there was a lot of collaboration in the writing of books. Clive has revived that atmosphere of making things together and for that I am grateful.