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Book Talk: Clive Cussler probes coal country, strikes in new book

Author Clive Cussler is shown in a 2012 handout photo taken at his home in Paradise Valley, Arizona. REUTERS/photosbyleanna/Handout
Author Clive Cussler is shown in a 2012 handout photo taken at his home in Paradise Valley, Arizona. REUTERS/photosbyleanna/Handout

By Billy Cheung

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Best-selling adventure author Clive Cussler, who published his first book 40 years ago, is still entertaining fans. His newest novel, "The Striker," released this month, has already sold thousands of copies.

"The Striker," Cussler's 55th book, follows detective Isaac Bell's investigation into union strikes in early 1900s coal country.

It contains many of the hallmarks of his earlier work. The story pits young Bell against another detective and his ruthless sponsor, both bent on fomenting violence between miners and industrialists. Bell does his best not to take sides as he has roughly a week to thwart a potentially bloody uprising.

Cussler, who writes with a co-author, said he will be producing more books, including one for The Fargo Adventure series, another for the underwater exploration series The NUMA Files, and a third for The Oregon Files about Juan Cabrillo and a special U.S. government sponsored group called the Corporation.

The 81-year-old author spoke to Reuters about the newest book, his method of writing and future plans.

Q: Your latest book, which is the sixth in the Isaac Bell character series, chronicles his early days as a detective at the Van Dorn agency. Why did you choose to go back in time for "The Striker"?

A: I had always wanted to do a western, just for fun. I didn't want to do one with stagecoaches, bandits and horses, and all that. So I moved it up to 1906 to get in old cars and old motorcycles, which I collect. The publisher asked me if I could continue the series because people quite like the hero Isaac Bell, which led me to write about railroads and mining for this book.

Q: The plot of the story includes great details about shipyards and coal mining. What inspired you to use this backdrop?

A: I wanted to get back to the early 1900s, when steamboats were still running on the various rivers pushing coal barges. This was an era that included the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies, who were heavily involved in coal. Coal was and remains a pretty big deal, and the more research I did on the subject, the more fascinating it became. I looked into the Pullman strikes and strikes around Telluride, which is where I also own a house. This is really the only series that takes place around that time.

Q: The conflict between unions and corporate owners has been longstanding. It seems that the main protagonist, Isaac Bell, who comes from a privileged background, appeared more partial to the plight of the working man. Was this intentional?

A: I thought we were probably closer to 50/50. There were crooks on both sides, and I guess there still are.

Q: Can you provide a preview of what comes next in the Isaac Bell series? Do you plan to focus more on his younger days or do you see yourself reverting back to the more established version of the character?

A: We have fun moving him around. In the next book, we are going to have him get involved in Prohibition and bootlegging. That era, of course, comes in a little later.

Q: You have four books coming out this year, including this one, that involve several of the ongoing characters. How did you conceive them and what are your plans for new characters? Any plans to slow down?

A: I should slow down since I am 81. Dirk Pitt was the series that started it all, and the publishers asked if I could develop other characters given the success of that series. The Oregon came from one of the Pitt books and we began developing a storyline around mercenaries that go around the world like Mission Impossible and the captain of that ship, Juan Cabrillo.

Isaac Bell came up because the original book, "The Chase," did very well. The publishers mentioned that there are very few husband-and-wife series out there, and so I came up with a couple that looks for treasure in The Fargo series. This is as far as I am going to go with new characters, though.

Q: Can you discuss the creative process behind your books?

A: I usually sit down with my co-author, say Jack (Du Brul), for The Oregon Files and come up with the plot. When I start a book, I often have the ending in mind but not always the middle, and we work toward filling it out.

I love to do the research - it's one of my favorite things about writing. He'll start writing, say 100 pages, and I'll pump him the information. I get the pages back to do some re-writes, and that's the process. As he gets back to writing, I may start working on another book. I wish I could retire but they won't let me.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Philip Barbara)

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