Storm Track was
the first novel of suspense that I had published, but not
the first one I wrote.
What motivated you to write
in that genre?
At the time—this was in
the early 80s—I'd just finished graduate school and was teaching
at Loyola University of Chicago. I'd written a couple of
literary novels and hadn't had much success in the marketplace.
I read two books that were very influential on the course
of my writing. The first was Dean Koontz's How to Write
Best Selling Fiction. The second book wasn't published
until several years later, but I recall finding it very useful.
That was Lawrence Block's Write
for Your Life. Koontz's book stresses writing what you
like to read and doing a lot of reading. Well, I was already
doing the latter, but not the former. He also has a list
of popular authors at the back of the book and I started
making sure I was reading more of their works. And I made
a conscious decision to write spy thrillers. I enjoyed reading
suspense, so why not try to write it?
What was your first of this
My first suspense novel
was a thriller called CLOUD COVER. I did the research for
this largely in the Chicago Public Library. At the time they
were storing their books in a warehouse in the Loop. The
stacks were crowded, but I spent quite a few hours there
and enjoyed every minute. It's one of the many libraries
in my life that I owe a debt of gratitude to. And the work
was quite a change from the my other research hours, which
were spent on academic topics, mostly in the Newberry Library,
where I was also working on a bibliographic team, and in
the library of the University of Chicago.
For CLOUD COVER, I also
took a trip to Yugoslavia, since the novel is set in what
today is Slovenia and Croatia. I learned some Serbo-Croatian
ahead of time, picked up a visa in Trieste, and took the
night train to Ljubljana and later went on to Zagreb. I had
also read a paper at an international conference in Belgrade
back in 1979, where I saw Marshall Tito, by the way. He came
to the conference center, surrounded by his entourage of
bodyguards. Maybe that visit was one of the reasons I chose
Yugoslavia as a setting for that novel. To a certain extent,
the plot was prescient, since it deals in part with events
that prefigured the eventual breakup of the country.
And what happened with the novel
The novel got me my first
agent, Jay Garon, now deceased. He was a so-called "superagent."
Elizabeth Gage was one of his best-selling authors
at the time, and not long afterwards he picked up a fellow
by the name of John Grisham. He did a lot better for Grisham
than he did for me! Or I should say, Grisham did a lot more
for him than I could. In time, after Garon kept calling each
new manuscript I sent him "terrific" with blockbuster potential
and tremendous commercial appeal, and kept saying how
he was sure he could get a "hard\soft" deal with one of the
top publishers—and then did nothing, I gave up on him and
severed the relationship. I've gone on through two other
agents, but CLOUD COVER, unfortunately, lost its timeliness!
Wait another decade and maybe
it'll be an historical thriller.
Yeah, right. There's always
hope, isn't there.
Back to Storm Track,
what about its history?
It wasn't one of
the novels Garon called "terrific." In fact, he told me to
put it on the shelf until he sold CLOUD COVER, which he thought
was a better novel, and then we'd see about finding a publisher.
I was too impatient and decided to send it out on my own.
I eventually sold it to Walker & Company and then had Garon
do the contract. But he may have been have been right. I
might have been better off leaving that one in the drawer.
Why do you say that?
Well, there are some things
I like about the novel, some set pieces, the use of certain
settings, the background of the protagonist, who is a commercial
oil-field diver, but I think the plot's more complicated
than it needs to be. My first editor merely said my mind
is byzantine, but I wish I could have simplified things a
bit. My advice to the reader is to try not worry about all
the different theories as to who might be behind the events
that are taking place and to just enjoy the action and the
You mentioned the research you
did for CLOUD COVER, what did you do for Storm Track?
I had fun with Storm
Track. I had already visited some of the settings
as an undergraduate in Italy, when I hitch-hiked through
the country, including around Sicily. But I had to do location
research on Tunisia and Malta, in particular, and I also
became a certified diver, which is no big deal, but it
did provide for what I hope is greater authenticity for
the dive scenes. I remember simple things like the shape
of the air bubbles as they rose to the surface from fairly
Where did you do your training?
By this time I was living
in Tucson, teaching at the University of Arizona, and our
divemaster took us to San Carlos on the
Sea of Cortez, about 325 miles south of Tucson. I said the
research was fun, but that was a rough trip for me. I came
down with a migraine on the bus trip, missed dinner the first
night, didn't take any Bonine the first day we dove thinking
I'd never been seasick before so why now? But we had some
strong waves. I dove sick and barely got through the first
of the two test dives. Then, on the second day, I had a defective
regulator and ran out of air when we happened to be deeper
than we were supposed to be. I had to surface on my own,
had to manually blow up my vest, which didn't have an auto-inflator
like most of the others. I was out of breath, struggling
to stay on the surface, and barely had enough wind to inflate it, and then on the swim back to the boat by myself
my dive belt slipped off. I was too tired and didn't have
the air to go down for it, so I swam in place over the belt
for a half-hour until some other divers came along and were
kind enough to get it for me. So all told that was a mini-disaster,
but a good learning experience! My protagonist, Derek Stone,
is a bit more proficient than I was!
But he suffers from headaches,
Yeah, I think
I was trying to write them out of my system.
Did it work?
of an Interview conducted August 25, 1993 by Miles Henderson.
May be freely used.