Clive Cussler authored and co-authored 80+ international bestsellers. He died in 2020 at 88.
I’ve been Clive's photographer and his fan for 35+ years.
It has been my privilege and honor to photograph Cussler and his family for decades. It’s no exaggeration to mention that millions of his printed novels feature my photographs.
Two of his novels were adapted for the big screen—most notably Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, and Penélope Cruz.
When I was shopping for used books in 1983, the cover art on a worn paperback titled Vixen 03 grabbed my attention. When I bought that book, I never could have guessed that twenty years later I would become Clive Cussler’s official photographer.
I’m a book collector with a library of 3000+ first editions—many of them signed.
Years ago, in addition to collecting Clive Cussler’s first editions, I also sought other printings. Those variants included UK editions, book club editions, large print editions, collector’s editions, and foreign language editions.
I prefer owning signed books. But I couldn’t ask Clive to sign every edition in my collection. If I did, I’d need his signature on hundreds of books.
But then I had a crazy idea.
NUMA is a fictional government agency featured in many Cussler novels. It’s also a real-life non-profit organization founded by Cussler credited with discovering more than 60 shipwrecks around the world.
The real-life NUMA organization had a website. And as a dotcom veteran, I knew how to build websites. I came up with the insane idea that if I offered a NUMA website redesign, I’d be in a great position to ask Cussler to sign my books.
After dozens of e-mails and phone calls with Clive’s public relations agency, I was accepted as the new NUMA webmaster. I loved the idea of promoting shipwreck conservation. And I loved doing website work for my favorite author. I served as the NUMA webmaster until 2017.
After I redesigned the NUMA website, I joined Cussler on his next book tour. Putnam arranged for an exclusive Amtrak-based signing as Cussler traveled from Houston to San Francisco.
I boarded the train with two huge suitcases—both heavy with books. Other collectors brought similar quantities. Cussler generously agreed to sign everything for every collector. Ironically, I then realized that Clive would have signed all my books even if I hadn’t worked on the NUMA website.
I first visited Clive’s Scottsdale, Arizona home in 2004. I was a newly minted professional photographer and I hoped to create a nice portrait for the NUMA website. But I was nervous, inexperienced, and I didn’t know how to light or direct a book-world celebrity whom I admired. My photography that day was disappointing.
In 2006, I returned as a better photographer. On this visit I brought several Profoto studio lights, a 10’ wide black-cloth background, and an assistant named Morgan Yeates—also a Cussler fan.
This my most personally embarrassing story as professional photographer.
Without enough room for studio lights and a large background inside, we created an impromptu outdoor studio on Clive’s back patio. The one thing I didn’t consider was that wind can be an issue for outdoor photography—especially when you’re not using sandbags.
Naturally, almost as soon as we began the photography a gust of wind blew the cloth background down, covering Clive completely. After we pulled the background off, Clive was unfazed and laughed at the mishap. I was incredibly grateful for his graciousness. But my embarrassment and horror were deeply real.
One portrait from this session appeared on seven G.P. Putnam's Sons titles including:
I photographed Clive and Dirk Cussler at Wilshire Beverly Hills Hotel before their signing at The Mystery Bookstore in November 2008. They were there promoting their latest Dirk Pitt novel, Arctic Drift.
These publicity photos were never used.
My third visit to Cussler’s Arizona home was in 2009. On that trip I created a natural light portrait that later appeared on nine G.P. Putnam's Sons titles including:
My early Cussler portraits only appeared on co-authored series titles from The NUMA Files, The Oregon Files, Isaac Bell Adventures, and Fargo Adventures. Those portraits never appeared on Dirk Pitt® series novels. As Dirk Pitt is Cussler’s best known, most-beloved character, that’s an important distinction.
Except for a few early titles, every Dirk Pitt novel features a photo of Cussler alongside an automobile from his personal classic car collection. Each car also has a starring role in the book. The best photographs were by Paul Peregrine.
I couldn’t have been more thrilled when Dirk Cussler called and asked me to fly to Colorado so I could create the dust jacket photograph for Clive Cussler’s and Dirk Cussler’s novel, Poseidon’s Arrow.
This photograph was created when I was raised high above the car on a battery-operated scissor lift.
After creating the dust jacket photograph, I also photographed headshots for Clive, Dirk, and the entire Cussler Museum staff.
One of the photos from this session appears posthumously on The Devil's Sea (Nov 2021) dust jacket.
I was again asked to visit Denver so I could photograph Clive Cussler’s and Dirk Cussler’s for their latest Dirk Pitt adventure, Celtic Empire.
I created this dust jacket cover photograph standing on a ladder precariously positioned in the bed of a lifted pickup truck owned by Clive’s grandson.
Unlike my previous visit, the grass was no longer green. It was winter and the grass was dead, brown, and patchy. However, taking inspiration from older Cussler jacket photos, I contacted my favorite retoucher and we used the magic of Adobe Photoshop to add our own snow.
After we created the cover photo, I photographed the Cussler family around the Cussler Car Museum and created a few natural light headshots for Clive and Dirk.
In 2008, I was holding a party at my photography studio, then located in downtown Los Angeles. I had invited Clive’s daughter Dayna to the party. She was having trouble locating my studio and suggested that I meet her outside. Imagine my surprise when she arrived and her passenger was Clive Cussler!
I invited them inside and I promptly forgot my other guests. I showed him around our 4000 square foot studio. During that tour Clive said, “This looks just like Dirk Pitt’s hangar.” That was one of the greatest and most thrilling complements that I've ever received. I still get tingly inside when I think about that day.
Dirk Cussler wrote me into The Devil's Sea (Nov 2021). He describes me as a "robust version of Billy Bob Thornton" and introduces me as the owner of a Tibetean museum that doubles as a bar. I'm later shot in the arm by a bad guy. My cameo begins on page 204 of the hardcover and continues for a few chapters.
Photographing Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler has been a huge honor. And to have my photographs appear on millions of books around the world has been an amazing experience. But to have my name forever associated with Cussler novels, even in this small way, is a dream come true. I’m truly grateful and humbled.
I love you Clive. You’ll be missed.
If you’d like to use my Cussler photographs for editorial or commercial purposes, please contact me for further information. I’d love to hear from you.
Using these copyrighted photos without my written permission is strictly prohibited.
After authoring 18 books on his own, in 1999 Cussler began a co-writing career with other authors including Dirk Cussler (his son), Grant Blackwood, Russell Blake, Graham Brown, Jack Du Brul, Robin Burcell, Craig Dirgo, Paul Kemprecos, Boyd Morrison, Thomas Perry, and Justin Scott.
Cussler’s novels and non-fiction works include:
* book titles featuring author photographs by Rob Greer
‡ author photograph misattributed to Robert Greer
Before I was Clive's photographer, I collected his books. Here's one of my stories.
Like a few other lucky Clive Cussler fans, I booked passage on the December 4th Amtrak Trojan Odyssey Book Tour train trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I had met Cussler earlier in the week at a book signing at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, California. That experience was fabulous, but paled in comparison with the one-on-one access I had on the Amtrak.
To set the stage, imagine a 13-hour train trip up the California coast with an international best-selling author, his publicist, his publisher's publicist, a vice president for Amtrak, a few cops in riot gear, and a small group of rabid Dirk Pitt fans (some of whom had traveled from as far away as Perth, Australia). Toss in a few martinis, a wine tasting, two book signings, bewildered travelers who'd never heard of Clive Cussler, and intimate conversation with the master of seafaring adventure, and you have the trip of a lifetime.
I booked a sleeper cabin with my then girlfriend, Lucretia, selling her on the idea that we were taking a romantic trip to San Francisco. I'm certain I didn't mention the two suitcases of books we'd have to lug along with our other baggage. But beggars can't be choosers can they?
We boarded the train around 10:00AM and were underway shortly thereafter. Shortly after we passed the first few whistle stops, Cussler began his first signing. As a collector of his books, this schedule event was one of the main highlights of my trip. I hoisted my first suitcase of books over my shoulder and made my way back to the last car on the train. I waited about thirty minutes until all the other fans had taken their turn and then brought my books forward. A very sweet woman helped organize and hand me books as I placed them under Cussler's blazing pen. In addition to my books, I also had Cussler inscribe one of my antique Ford Tri-motor photos. He inscribed it with "Dirk's Ford Tri-motor Airplane" and signed underneath. That cinched an undeniably unique item for my collection.
After Cussler finished signing my books and had made his way forward, I spent the next five minutes trying to fit the books back into my suitcase. It's funny how nothing ever fits back into a suitcase quite like at home. Finishing up, I made my way back to our cabin where I stowed the luggage safely away. I wasn't going to leave the suitcase in regular baggage; the temptation would have been too much for some fans.
While I was away at the first signing, Lucretia had taken a great seat in the first class lounge. She had spent her time watching the coast speed by the large bay windows of the lounge. However, she was unable to save a seat for me, so I just stood against the wall near her chair and spent some time with other fans—all of us bragging about our collections and the great finds we've had over the years.
Cussler appeared mid-afternoon for a wine tasting being held for the first class passengers. When he arrived in the room, one of the fans sitting next to Lucretia offered his chair to Cussler. You can imagine how happy I was that I was FORCED to stand next to Lucretia's chair to keep her company.
Cussler drank a few glasses of wine (I won't be the one to say how many), regaling us with stories and answering a slew of questions from fans. He chatted for at least an hour before he decided it was time to start his second signing. Of course, that meant I was off for my second suitcase of books. I again waited until everyone else had a chance go get their books signed and then presented my second set of books. Perhaps my I was getting better at the process, but the second batch of books went rather quickly. I was particularly happy when I handed Cussler my copy of Bizarre Colorado. A chapter from this trade paperback provides details and photos chronicling Cussler's search for the Lost Locomotive of Kiowa Creek. Now my copy bears his signature.
During the second signing, Cussler mentioned how he thought Lucretia was very attractive. He also said I should "hang on to that one." In the end, I didn't, but his small bit of envy made me feel pretty great. Ok, perhaps I'm projecting. As I had mentioned, Lucretia sat patiently and quietly next to Cussler all afternoon. She didn't read fiction and had never heard of Cussler before we had started dating. Near the end of the signing session, after I was done and Cussler was signing some bookstore copies for VJ Books, she mentioned aloud, "I really should read one of his books." That was all I needed to hear. I ran back to our cabin, grabbed my reading copy of Trojan Odyssey, and brought it back to her. I dragged her to where Cussler was signing bookstore copies for VJ Books. When Cussler had a short break, I prompted Lucretia to ask him for a signature. With a big smile on his face, he motioned for her to take a seat next to him, took the book, and wrote a very nice inscription about her beauty and nice dimples. I couldn't have been happier!
After the second signing concluded, Cussler bolted for his own cabin where he retired for a short time until dinner. I'm certain he had his fill of book signing and fan adoration for one day. At dinner, we saw he was seated with three lucky fans that had flown from the east coast, just to attend the Amtrak trip. The last time I saw Cussler was when we had finished eating and were leaving the dining car. He was still sitting there, chatting with fans, and enjoying a nice glass of wine. Or was it Tequila? Or Cutty Sark? My memory fades with time.
After sharing the details of this trip and the excitement I felt both then and now, some people might accuse me of being Cussler's biggest fan. And they'd probably be right.