There is an age-old saying we all know and that’s, “You are what you eat.” But long ago, I took the saying and reimagined it to fit a moment in time when I needed a friend and advice but found it hard to turn to anyone. That is how “You are what you read” came to be a pivotal mental exercise in my life.
Way back when I was a little man of about 10-13, I was a lost soul. I was the black sheep of my family and always beat to my own drum. I never cared to be part of the mainstream and always enjoyed being left alone to my own devices, mainly books. At an early age, I was looking for adventure in a mundane world, a world that I felt was suffocating me. I remember clearly when I was six, I was sitting in the back of an old burgundy Volvo station wagon and two friends of mine were making fun of me because I was having difficulty reading words on advertisements as we drove by. The pain I felt as a little kid was excruciating, and I vowed I would learn to read well. Six years later, my science teacher (of all people), changed my life. I had seen a book on his desk titled Raise the Titanic by Clive Cussler. My teacher knew I loved to read and told me about the swashbuckling adventures that Mr. Cussler would write about. By that point, I was already reading Crichton, Grisham, and other authors (Yes, I bugged the hell out of my parents to explain a lot).
Clive Cussler’s protagonist, Dirk Pitt, became and still is my role model. Imagine James Bond meets Indiana Jones, with a large dose of old school masculinity. A man who can wrestle with alligators and save the world by day and then take his beautiful woman for a night on the town. Dirk Pitt was the man’s man. A true gentleman of the highest order who defined good vs evil and never thought of the dark side. In other words, the truest sense of a hero. I became, in my mind at least, Dirk Pitt. Honor, integrity, loyalty and becoming a gentleman became a priority. It shaped my life because I wanted to be Dirk Pitt. I needed to be Dirk Pitt. I found a home in his novels and began to research history as a whole. I transported myself too far off lands! I was rescuing damsels in distress, flying with the greatest pilots of WWII, searching for treasure across the globe, trying to get Lincoln back from the confederacy, and doing so because it was the right thing to do. I found my home and I never wanted to leave my alternate lifestyle.
7 years after reading my first Clive Cussler novel, I found myself fully engrossed in Holocaust studies, mainly Jewish resistance. How cool, I thought to myself, would it be if I would write a screenplay, merging countless WWII/Holocaust stories to devise the ultimate story. Well, 120 pages later and 1.5 years, I finished it.
Man, did I feel accomplished, but something was missing. I needed the green light from the mentor I never met. I needed to send my lengthy screenplay to Mr. Cussler….and I did. I was 20 years old by this point and I can honestly tell you, I have no idea how long it took CC to write back to me. Hell, I didn’t think he would. What famous author wants to take a look at a 120-page screenplay sent to him by somebody he didn’t know. Fat chance. But he did.
I remember very clearly that my hands were shaking as I opened the envelope. What if he ended up being an absolute jerk? What if he told me to quit writing because I sucked? How could I take rejection like that from someone who inspired me to pursue writing but more importantly, shaped the man I had become.
Here is the letter I received from Clive Cussler and why it cemented my devotion to him as a fan.
Why I looked up to him as an inspiration as well as a way to keep myself grounded is embedded in his words to me.
I am now an author of six books and a seventh on the way. Why? Because I was told my Mr. Cussler, "Never, never give up. Hang in through the rejections and improve your work after each turn down. Improve, improve and learn to cut the deadwood and make your work concise."
I will forever be devoted to Clive Cussler. I will forever be a fan. I will forever remember the way he treated me when I was down and how he inspired me to become the best man I could be. I will attribute my wild imagination to his writings. I can say without a doubt that Clive Cussler is the best friend I never met.
Whenever we meet, Sir, the tequila is on me.