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“Compelling and visionary. DiMercurio’s characters run as deep as his submarines themselves!”
--Joe Buff, author of Crush Depth and Thunder in the Deep

"DiMercurio really knows his subs...his characters step right off the sub deck and onto his pages."
--Larry Bond

"A Master Rivaling Tom Clancy."
--Publishers Weekly

"Terrific."
--San Francisco Examiner

"Thrilling."
--Associated Press

"Superb storytelling."
--Virginia-Pilot/Ledger Star

Frequently Asked Questions
(Updated 08-15-00)

I want to read your entire series. Should I start with the first one, Voyage of the Devilfish? What order should I read your books in?

What do you think of Blind Man's Bluff? Did Sherry Sontag capture the correct ideas? Is it really like her version? And what about Clancy's stories - are they realistic?

How have your novels changed with time?

Pacino seems to have suffered so much trauma, that it begs the question - did the author suffer similarly? What have you gone through to make Pacino so gloomy?

How would you compare Michael Pacino to Clancy's Jack Ryan? Do people like Pacino exist in real life?

What about the code of the Silent Service? Is anything of your writing classified?

The way you write about political situations may seem to some to be exaggerated. Could these scenarios really happen? And would President Warner really continue to make the mistake of failing to listen to Pacino?

How can I get my book signed?

How did you begin writing? Did you set out to be an author? Or did it just happen?

How do you go about getting a manuscript sold?

What kinds of books do you like to read?

What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

Could you describe the mundane details of writing: how many hours a day do you devote to writing? Do you write a draft on paper or at a keyboard (typewriter or computer)? Do you have a favorite location or time of day (or night) for writing? What do you do to avoid--or seek!--distractions?

Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions, or similar events? Do you interact with your readers electronically through Email or other online forums?

Will any of your books be made into movies?

How do you feel about other technothriller writers, such as Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, Larry Bond, Clive Cussler or Stephen Coonts?

But how do you compare your writing to your competitors? What do you have to offer that they do not?

Do you feel that your work competes with Tom Clancy's?

What do you think about the old saying, "write about what you know?" Is it true? If so, does that limit your writing to exactly what you know (how do you write about a woman's point of view?) or is there a way to go beyond what you know?

What is the best way to do research? Is it difficult?

Some of the technology featured in your novels -- like DNA processor-controlled computers, WritePad computers, orbiting web servers, plutonium-dust warheads and 300 knot underwater missiles -- doesn't exist yet. How did you come up with those things?

What about deadlines? Are they difficult?

How would you look back on your writing career? If you had it to do over, would you? And what would you do differently?

Any final advice to prospective writers?

I want to read your entire series. Should I start with the first one, Voyage of the Devilfish? What order should I read your books in?

My usual answer is to read the latest first, because I'm getting better as I get older, and the current book is probably the novel with which I'm most satisfied. So, read Piranha Firing Point first.

At this point, my advice is to go back to number two, Attack of the Seawolf, then on to the next in the series, Phoenix Sub Zero, then Barracuda Final Bearing, and only then return to the first, Voyage of the Devilfish.

Why? I've had good luck directing readers to do this because the latest book sets the stage for who the characters are today, and then the earlier novels become satisfying prequels, leading you back to the present, and you save the first book in the Pacino series for last, so when you put the series down, you've ended where the series began, with Pacino a submarine captain engaged in single combat against the Russian Republic's supersub.

What do you think of Blind Man's Bluff? Did Sherry Sontag capture the correct ideas? Is it really like her version? And what about Clancy's stories - are they realistic?

Let me first say I'm a great admirer of the book Blind Man's Bluff. Like some of Clancy's early work, it told the world how hard we worked out there. But unlike Ms. Sontag, I personally spent a few months a couple hundred feet from a pier in Libya with an antenna poking out of the sea and a bunch of NSA spooks onboard, spooks who locked me out of my own radio room (they locked out the captain, too). As with any penetration operation (see Attack of the Seawolf), we got a top secret codeword message authorizing us, by order of President Reagan, to penetrate the 12 mile territorial limit of Libya. That was the same run we spent weeks submerged under the Russian battlecruiser Kirov, when she was at anchor blasting active sonar (we called it the deathray since that's what it sounded like) and watched at periscope depth as the Soviet Victor sub crew shut the hatch and weighed anchor and got underway. For the next 40 days and 40 nights we were within 200 feet of Ivan as he shadowed a U.S. carrier battle group. We had two torpedo tube doors open, weapons powered up, and a solution locked in 24 hours a day on that guy. He never knew. As for Sherry, I admire her work, but the trouble with sea stories is that they don't age well. None of mine are exaggerated, I can promise you, but I personally did detect 2 Soviet SSGNs and an SSN while on midwatch as officer of the deck. Or as they say, I've spent more time on the crapper at test depth than Sherry has spent on a submarine. Or Mr. Clancy, for that matter. But the fact that Sherry Sontag shows up on television talking about being an expert on subs makes one's dolphins tarnish. I think mine tarnished long ago when an insurance salesman named Clancy made a fortune writing about submarines and is touted as a sub expert. Until he's run out of food on a 104-day Med run with sixty days in trail and been so exhausted he hallucinates about hearing female voices in the passageway behind him, in my book, he's no submarine expert.

How have your novels changed with time?

I've grown as a writer, but in addition to that, in the beginning I was handed by Publisher Don Fine of Donald I. Fine Inc. over to the Penguin editor Joe Pittman, and Don passed away in 97. Don and I had a lot of battles about my work. For example, Don cut every sex scene and he absolutely refused to allow a main character to cry. If you notice when Pacino reads Donchez's last message in Piranha Firing Point, he later suffers from swollen and scratchy eyes, but never is it mentioned he cried. Some of Don's schooling has stayed with me, but Don wanted Pacino to be happy-go-lucky where I wanted him to be a dark soul. He started out in the middle, but only in Barracuda and Piranha is this coming more to my true style. Don had other issues -- he hated exercises that fooled the reader. In the beginning of Voyage of the Devilfish, the initial scene with Pacino was supposed to make the reader believe he was actually shooting a Russian, and only after Allentown surfaced was the reader to see it was an exercise. Instead Don wrote in all this "rehearsal for a reprise" crap. Same again in Barracuda Final Bearing, when Phillips was in the attack simulator, that was supposed to seem real. Not for Don.

With my new editor Joe Pittman, the philosophy is: the story is the author's (thanks, Joe). So it's only now that editors and publishers let me do what I've wanted to do all along, with some credit to Don and others that what I wanted to do may have been off.

The balance of technology against character development has been a key issue also. Don deleted so much about Pacino that I had to sneak it back in - Don was a bigger fan of the gun than the gunslinger, and I was more into characters. I only convinced him when we got slammed by a review saying something about cardboard characters. I used it to prove my case, and he screamed, "don't listen to that guy, he's a fag!" I laughed so hard I thought I hurt myself. But Don relented, finally. Still, he cut a scene from Barracuda Final Bearing where Pacino was being ordered by Watson to withdraw, and he disobeyed by telling White and Kane about how in 1801 Admiral Nelson disobeyed his fleet commander. It was very cool. Not for Don. Cut!

Pacino seems to have suffered so much trauma, that it begs the question - did the author suffer similarly? What have you gone through to make Pacino so gloomy?

I think the background of my novels is darkness, and the reason Pacino is a hero to me is that he labors through the losses and misery anyway. In Voyage of the Devilfish he was cocky and almost arrogant until Adm. Donchez tells him the real story of his father's death on the ill-fated Stingray, presumed lost in mid-Atlantic from an accident but torpedoed by the Russian Northern Fleet in retaliation for a collision loss. By book's end he's nearly paralyzed with pain, which is how Attack of the Seawolf opens, and in the rescue of the Tampa he begins to get his sealegs back (Seawolf is really an allegory of something that happened to me -- all that stuff they taught in English Lit about themes and the underlying meaning -- it's true), but in Phoenix Sub Zero the loss of the USS Seawolf and the beginning of Pacino's failing marriage are too much and the book ends with him in a hospital, unconscious. Look at the dedication in Phoenix -- "To every man who's gone down into the darkness." Leaves no doubt about the author's state of mind. In Barracuda Final Bearing Pacino has to face fighting a limited war against Japan while having no idea what he's doing, only guts and instinct helping, but he finds some measure of success and happiness. But in Piranha Firing Point again, he's down a few touchdowns. And the way he wins is to go back to the past, to a time before the trauma, and find who he used to be, much as I had to in my own struggles.

How would you compare Michael Pacino to Clancy's Jack Ryan? Do people like Pacino exist in real life?

Pacino's no Jack Ryan, perfect and self-assured. He's a dark soul living in a dangerous world. But as to whether this would happen in real life, if you imagine what Admiral Nelson would have been like as a submarine admiral, or what George Patton would be like as a sub commander, then it's not so hard to imagine they would prevail, and perhaps even demand, "What do I get if I win?"

What about the code of the Silent Service? Is anything of your writing classified?

This stuff gets less and less classified every day, witness some prominent Navy sub skippers and Royal Navy guys going on record on Nova's subs and spies program. The only thing the RN captain failed to answer was when asked if he'd violate the territorial limits of another country when in trail, and he got red and said the interviewer would have to guess.

Point of fact, the Navy declassified reams of information trying to get Seawolf program approval, and it failed. Now the Department of the Navy puts out so much information on the Internet I can barely believe my eyes. But they figure good PR on this stuff sells Congress (congressmen watch TV too, and have kids who say, "Dad, aren't subs cool?").

The way you write about political situations may seem to some to be exaggerated. Could these scenarios really happen? And would President Warner really continue to make the mistake of failing to listen to Pacino?

If in 1984, you were handed a book that fictionally laid out the events of 1997-99 with regard to Clinton, what would you think? I've become convinced that in the Oval Office, that there is an inverse relationship between power and sense. Those with power rely on those with sense, who don't have power. And when there's a disconnect, as when Warner doesn't listen to Pacino, you get exactly what happens in Piranha Firing Point. It happened in the 60s -- an article I read about the longest day of the war when Johnson disregarded the advice of all his advisors to get out of Vietnam. And that's not all. Warner could have had entirely different results, and she would have credited her skill rather than luck.

How can I get my book signed?

Contact Michael for special arrangements.

How did you begin writing?
Did you set out to be an author?
Or did it just happen?

When I was 19 I began a journal about being a midshipman at the Naval Academy, the disastrous dates, getting dumped by girlfriends, roommates starting food fights, practical jokes against the officers, stealing monuments, raiding local colleges, and summer cruises, complete with rides in jet trainers doing barrel rolls, diving to test depth in nuclear submarines, invading a ridge with black face paint and an M16 rifle. The journal got longer and longer, exceeding 5000 pages. The long and detailed date tales became the subjects of command performances, combining three thrills in one - writing, rereading and having someone else love what was written. I spent so much time on it that the other mids called it, "the book written by DiMercurio's favorite author." On a fast attack submarine cruise I was strongly cautioned not to write about submarines (what else could I write about? I was submerged for ten weeks!) because this was, after all, the Silent Service. When I was at MIT a date scoffed, saying grad school was so hard that I would neglect the writing and it would peter out. Wrong. My grades suffered, but the writing about the bad grades came first. But writing a journal missed the point - having someone else read (and perhaps even like) the words was missing. On my first day aboard the USS Hammerhead, I fantasized about writing a novel and a movie about a U.S. nuclear submarine doing single combat against a Russian nuke, both under the polar icecap where no one can see or help or know. That was 1982, during the heart of the Cold War.

By 1988 I was out of the Navy and missing the fun of driving the submarine. I thought about writing the story of the American and Russian subs, struggling with the question of how to make it credible. I began writing, each time the story becoming a false start. Discouraged but determined, I kept on, the project much more difficult than I would ever have expected. Even after I connected with an agent, who made the sale, the false starts increased. It seemed nothing was good enough. I was working a job as an engineer and writing furiously around the clock. I had never wanted anything as much in my life. Finally, one rewrite after another, the final page proofs of Voyage of the Devilfish came in, and a few months later, the first hardback arrived. But the real thrill was reading favorable reviews and getting fan notes. After the rejection letters and the all-nighters, that made it all worth it.

How do you go about getting a manuscript sold?

Make friends with an agent. Then get ready for a maddening chicken-or-egg tailchase. The writer must have a sample, an outline and pro forma sample chapters to show the agent what the concept is, and to show the writer's style, but the agent does not want a completed manuscript, desiring instead to alter the concept in the embryo stage, the agent knowing that tossing an entire manuscript is painful and few writers can take doing it. And yet, the agent wants to see a completed manuscript, so that he can tell that this person will actually reach the end of a 120,000 word work (since so many get to page 100 and quit).

The story of my writing career is the story of throwing away hundreds of pages, each one labored over, to try again. An agent wants to see that the writer can take criticism and change as a result. Once the agent and author connect, and the agent is satisfied that the work has commercial value, the sale process begins. And either a sale is made and the story continues, or the writer's career stops there. Often the writing is good, the plot interesting, the story gripping, but the publishers cannot see a way to make the work sell. Determining the market for a story is a black art. But if one agent can't make a sale, perhaps another can.

But never submit a manuscript without an agent. All that does is generate rejection letters.

What kinds of books do you like to read?

I love everything. In a bookstore, I'm a kid in a candy store.

What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

Everyone. Perhaps Faulkner gave me permission to have my own style. But in terms of influence, the greatest influences on me were my parents. The influence on my writing was greatest from my high school English teachers, who truly cared (see the acknowledgements in Attack of the Seawolf). After that, my agent and my publisher. Don Fine, who first published me under Donald I. Fine, Inc., was a giant. I can still hear him in my head, even though he passed away in 1997. In many ways he was to me what Admiral Dick Donchez was to young Commander Michael Pacino in my submarine novels.

Could you describe the mundane details of writing: how many hours a day do you devote to writing? Do you write a draft on paper or at a keyboard (typewriter or computer)? Do you have a favorite location or time of day (or night) for writing? What do you do to avoid--or seek!--distractions?

If writing is deciding what comes next, what the scene does, what the characters say, what their moods are, writing is done anywhere but at the computer. On a long drive, on a five mile run, wrestling with the dog, standing on a pier and staring out to sea. Or perhaps most of all, in your sleep.

The mind wrestles with the impossible problems - how will the USS Phoenix evade the Hegira, the Islamic supersub armed to the teeth, when Phoenix is mortally wounded and cornered? - and the solutions may come at four in the morning. Sometimes writer's block kicks in, which is truly the mind at work plotting the action. In the middle of Phoenix Sub Zero I hit a brick wall for a month, trying to work out how the good guys could even survive, much less win.

What happens at the computer could be called transcription. The poetry of the prose happens there, the translation of the mind's vision to words that paint the picture just so. For me, that can happen anytime. The last 200 pages of anything I've written are done in a single zombie session lasting several sleepless days. When Barracuda Final Bearing was due on a Monday, I was to deliver the manuscript in New York. But Friday night, at home in Princeton, I had 150 pages to go with no idea what would happen next. In the most mysterious process I can imagine, I sat at the machine and the words flew out, and I wasn't just writing, I was there. I stood on the periscope stand watching my characters fight the battle, and by Monday morning the final page came out of the printer and I bundled the pages up, got on the train to the city and collapsed in a coma until we hit Penn Station. An hour later, publisher Don Fine smiled at me. "How did it end?" he asked, unable to wait. "Don," I said, "I have no idea." When I reread it I had virtually no memory of writing it, but it was great. Episodes like that make the writer wonder - who is really writing? Where do the words really come from?

Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions, or similar events? Do you interact with your readers electronically through Email or other online forums?

The Internet - as significant an invention as the light bulb or the automobile - now makes it possible to reach a writer in an instant. There's nothing like the feeling of getting an Email from a reader. The website terminalrun.com now makes it possible for me to do much more of this.

Will any of your books be made into movies?

Eventually, I hope. The process of making a book into a movie makes the process of going from an unknown to a bestseller look easy. And the goal isn't just to make a movie, the goal is to make a great movie that is a commercial success, a critical success and entertains people. It also helps to have a good time doing it. The master of the technothriller, Mr. Tom Clancy, is correct that creative control can make the difference between a success and a bomb. If it is worth doing, it will happen.

How do you feel about other technothriller writers, such as Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, Larry Bond, Clive Cussler or Stephen Coonts?

These writers are heroes. I admire them all. They've made a market that puts food on my table.

But how do you compare your writing to your competitors? What do you have to offer that they do not?

I spent some time recently during my usual "eclipse" -- the period of writer's block that sets in between submission of a manuscript and hearing back from my editor, during which I die a thousand deaths -- reading up on the competition, including Larry Bond, Dale Brown, and Patrick Robinson. I find all of them talented in the extreme, to the point that I feel like I'm unworthy to sit at this desk and presume to write a word.

But one thing I realize, from the perspective that a wonderful wife like Patti (Colleen O'Shaughnessy in "Piranha Firing Point") can give, is that my style and approach are so completely different from anyone out there as to make my writing unique. I say that with all humility, because my point of view is that of someone who has been deeply disappointed by machinery, deeply wounded by military relationships, exhausted at sea to the point of hospitalization, and confronted with my own mortality and my own limits. On two occassions at 600 feet beneath the vast Atlantic I thought I would never see the surface again -- we call it "seeing God" -- with one near meltdown and one flooding accident, and I'm not afraid to admit that both times I hurried to change my boxers.

I don't write stories about perfect secret agents with squared away lives like Mr. Clancy's Jack Ryan, or even Dale Brown's self-possessed Patrick McLanahan, but of Bruce Phillips, so distraught over losing his fiance that he drinks himself into a stupor and wakes up 1000 miles at sea in his stateroom when the ship was mobilized in an emergency, and of Michael Pacino, a naval officer haunted by the loss of his father, who tries hourly to measure up to the old man despite moutainous self-doubt, whose actions cause more than one of his ships to hit the bottom and stay there. He's a man who has faced death and depression and the limits of his own talent and survived. The background of my novels is not the perfect blipping control rooms of Patrick Robinson with starchy uniformed naval officers with quaint accents, it is the dirty and half-functional control rooms of my youth, stale cigar smoke hanging in the air, coffee drinking chiefs glaring at young rumpled lieutenants, a sonar contact that can't seem to be classified, an enemy out there in the depths that the crew can't find because (not even Clancy grasped this) the sonar suite can't deal with submarines that have not been recorded, analyzed, and preloaded into the computer, and a new ship on sea trials might as well be invisible until the torpedo comes screaming out of nowhere.

In my world presidents and admirals are as confused and lost as they are in real life, the day's battle dictated as much by the morning's fight with the wife as it is by the chart and tide and sonar screen. In short, when you open my pages, you are aboard the sub with the smell of ozone and sewage and stale coveralls, missing three nights of sleep and faced with an impossible mission during a time when all you can think about is what is going on with the kids at home until the flooding starts in engineroom lower level and all hell breaks loose and sonar reports a torpedo in the water and the firecontrol system shuts down and the lights go out and the surface and survival are seven hundred feet overhead and the ocean bottom is five miles beneath your sneakers. It's a slice of how life really is, revolving around the men -- the heroes -- who may not have washboard abs but who fight the battles and die trying and do it all for $40 a week in hazardous duty pay.

And that is what I have to offer for the cover price, and it's what I swear no one else out there can do or write. When you put down one of mine, you'll feel like you just pulled back into Norfolk from the run from hell, but with your dolphin pin gleaming on your chest.

As a famous submariner once said, "Take her down."

Do you feel that your work competes with Tom Clancy's?

While Mr. Clancy and I write in the same genre, no one would ever confuse The Hunt for Red October with Voyage of the Devilfish. The voice is different, the characters are different, the plot different, and perhaps only the submarines and the background of tension the same. And the key to the difference is the difference in the writers. I read The Hunt for Red October, written by a talented insurance salesman, while submerged on the fast attack submarine Hammerhead in trail of a Russian Victor II attack sub. It would be akin to an attorney reading The Firm while fighting the mob himself.

But despite our differences, I greeted Clancy's work with enthusiasm, because he explained to the world what we were doing out there, and in a way he made all submariners heroes. We told everyone we knew to read The Hunt for Red October. I even have a first edition signed personally by Mr. Clancy (don't Email me offering to buy it!). Some would say that I compete with Mr. Clancy, but it is not true.

What do you think about the old saying, "write about what you know?" Is it true? If so, does that limit your writing to exactly what you know (how do you write about a woman's point of view?) or is there a way to go beyond what you know?

The advice to write what you know is true. As a starting point. Eventually the writer will have to go beyond writing what he knows, which leads to research.

As to the woman's point of view, there are female writers who, if the cover page were ripped off, people would claim were men, and there are male writers who, given the blind taste test, readers would swear are female. I can hear my wife's voice in my head as clearly as my own (she's the model for DynaCorp vice president Colleen O'Shaughnessy in Piranha Firing Point), and if I wanted to write a chapter from her point of view, I guarantee a reader would think it written by a woman. If you listen and think and feel, if you can empathize, you can do that. I learned the most valuable lesson when writing Voyage of the Devilfish when publisher Don Fine said my writing about the Russians was one-dimensional. Write, he commanded, so that the readers will root for the Russians when they are reading those chapters. Put yourself in the combat boots of the Russians, and then this will be a decent novel. It took me weeks and months. I sweated, I had nightmares and I almost couldn't do it, but my desire to be a writer was bigger than my conviction that the Russians were hateful and dreadful enemies. I wrote a chapter that day that made me see the Russians as human as the Americans, and that day I not only became a better writer, I became a whole person.

What is the best way to do research? Is it difficult?

It's generally so much fun that I have to remember that I had a purpose doing the research in the first place. But while we have new research tools, like the Internet, the best way to do research is to have a beer with the person who knows what you want to know. My research "sea story" is the time during the writing of Attack of the Seawolf, when I needed to know how to start a jet helicopter. I researched it for days while I had a call in to an Annapolis classmate who flew choppers. The result of the research was that I thought I had figured it out. The pilot clicked a circuit breaker, waited for RPM to climb, then selected fuel injection, hit the throttle, then engaged the clutch while turning a lever with one hand, twisting a knob with his teeth and pushing buttons with his toe on the starter console. Finally my classmate called in when the dozen pages were written and laboriously proofed. I said, "let me read this to you. Tell me if it's accurate." And I read the detailed procedure to start the chopper. "What do you think?" "Well," he said, "technically, you're right on the mark. For a chopper of the 1950s. Today, to start a jet-powered helicopter, we generally just push the red button marked 'start.' "

Moral of the story - never research for a week what you can find out with a phone call. The result will be much more accurate than the data pulled out of a dusty book. Particularly with technology.

Some of the technology featured in your novels -- like DNA processor-controlled computers, WritePad computers, orbiting web servers, plutonium-dust warheads and 300 knot underwater missiles -- doesn't exist yet. How did you come up with those things?

Some of the ideas are common expectations, some are extrapolations of existing technology. I have been blessed with an eye for this that I can't explain. When I wrote Attack of the Seawolf, I imagined a Russian sale of a carrier to the Chinese. Three months after the novel was "in the can," a headline came out that the Russians had sold one of their front-line aircraft carriers to the Chinese, and I sat back and smirked, thinking to myself that I had called it. And the solid rocket-fueled torpedo is a production weapon produced by the Russian Republic, but when I wrote about it, it was scoffed at. And yet, there's really nothing magical about the depiction of more advanced technology, but what is unique in my work is that the new technology, miraculous as it is, is dirty, works half the time, and generates as many problems as solutions. Just like present-day technology. Until you've been in trail of a Russian fast attack submarine, with two torpedo tube doors open, two torpedoes with power applied and a firecontrol solution locked in, thinking your advanced sonar system has him nailed, and heard the sonar chief scream, "loss of sonar!" and the firecontrol chief sigh, "loss of firecontrol," you don't know the bittersweet taste of technology. Even the ultimate new weapon system is the "the girl with the curl; when she's good she's very very good; when she is bad she is horrid." The sonar panel of 2033 in one of my books will invariably have a grease stain on it and short out in flames in its moment of need. Just like the real thing today.

What about deadlines? Are they difficult?

There's a reason they call them deadlines. If I'm ahead of schedule, I can write like the wind. But let me get behind with the editor making calls twice a day, I am miserable. But an admiral named Kinnaird McKee once said something to the Atlantic Fleet's submarine officers in 1984. It was so profound I jotted it down on my notepad to savor later, to enter into my journal. He said:

"Gentlemen, one thing I've learned at sea is that the procedure manuals are written by people who have never been at the business end of a torpedo with the plant crashing around them, with the captain shouting for power, where a second's delay can mean death. The meaning of being an officer in our Navy is knowing more than those operation manuals, knowing how to play when you're hurt, when the ship is going down and you need to keep shooting anyway. That's really it, isn't it men? The ability to play hurt. That's the only way we'll ever win a war. And in fact, that's the only way you can live your lives. Do that for me, guys. Learn to play hurt."

Ever since I've realized what McKee was saying, I've tried to think that, to hear it in my head, and I try to write as well under severe pressure at three in the morning as I do when out on the deck smoking a cigar and grilling hamburgers on a Saturday afternoon a year from the deadline.

How would you look back on your writing career?
If you had it to do over, would you? And what would you do differently?

I've loved it. I've hated it. If I had it to do over, I'd change everything, and yet perhaps nothing. It's too early to say.

Any final advice to prospective writers?

Hear what the masters have to say. Read Michener's The Novel. Read every book by authors in the genre that you want break into. Get in touch with agents. If necessary, get your work in front of a consultant editor who will critique the work (for a fee). Read what Stephen Coonts has to say in his website about writing. Ditto Dale Brown. Read the author interviews in Amazon.com to see what they say about writing. Take writing classes. Go to an author's reading and ask questions. But most of all, write. Reread your work the same day, then the next day, a week later, and a month later. If the work still looks good a month after you wrote it, it's probably okay. If it stinks, keep working. If it brings tears to your eyes two months after the ink's dry, it's ready to be read by others. Then work on the thickness of your skin. Get ready for endless "ugly baby" comments. It won't sell. It is disjointed. It has wooden dialogue. The characters are illogical. The scenes jump all over time. The theme is unclear. Save your rejection letters, because success in writing is a numbers game. Just like dating, you have to collect rejections until the one for you sees in you what you see in you. Make a vow that you will persevere until you have a file with 100 rejection letters. And keep writing. The critics might or might not be constructive. Listen to all of them, learn from all of them, and try to stay objective. Find someone you trust who loves reading. If he likes some things and hates others, perhaps he can guide you down the path.

Develop an internal critic. The critic must be able to call your own work garbage yet discriminate what is good. When the external critics say the same things as the internal one, you have become a professional. Above all, write for your number one fan - yourself. If that is your reward, the writing will be positive. The day you don't groove on reading your own sentences, turn off the computer and take time off. Wait a week or a month or a year. If the smoke clears, keep writing. If not (and few will tell you this) know when to call it a day. Perseverance can be self-destructive in some cases. And remember, if it is meant to be, it will happen. If it is not, perhaps there was a lesson that you were meant to learn. As a writer who has buried a manuscript in the basement and tried to move on, I can tell you, don't quit too early, but don't beat your head against a brick wall. Sometimes it is best to get off the merry-go-round. The day your words have no meaning or pleasure for you, put down your pen.

But then, that isn't so much an essay on writing as it is on life itself. So if I have any advice for anyone about to take up the pen, it is: write for yourself. For anyone who wants advice on how to live life, it is: learn to play hurt.

terminalrun.com
Michael DiMercurio
Princeton, New Jersey
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