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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

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At age five, I stared in wonder at the breathtaking vista of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a short hop from my hometown of Denver. My father, Cyril "Dee" DiMercurio, an ex-Navy officer from World War II and a globe-trotting hard-negotiating sales executive, said, "Maybe when you're big you can go here and fly jets or maybe even be an astronaut." Gemini spacecraft were roaring into space during those early years, making small boys' eyeballs huge.

At age seven, again standing beside my father, I looked across the Severn River at the sprawling waterfront complex of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. "Wow. So this is where they race those cars." "No," my father said, peeved. "Not Indianapolis. Annapolis. This is where they make naval officers. They fly jets off ships. Maybe you can go here someday." "Can they be astronauts?" "Absolutely," dad said.

Seven years later, standing in the makeshift family courtroom set up in the den, charged with smarting off to the second teacher in a row and having made a sixth trip to the principal's office of Ballard High School in Louisville, Kentucky, I pleaded no contest. My mother, Patricia, a woman of extraordinary beauty with an Irish temper to match, said, "If you expect to go to the Naval Academy, you'd better stay out of trouble and improve your grades." Four years later, I was second in the class with Congressional appointments to Annapolis and the Air Force Academy. However, all the studying in between resulted in poor eyesight, a requirement for flying high performance aircraft, so my first choice seemed to slip between my fingers. But submarines – nuclear submarines went under the polar icecap and threatened the Russians and did all sorts of cool things. A couple viewings of Ice Station Zebra, a dog-eared copy of Alistair MacLean's novel, and a few trips to the library to research Admiral Rickover's nuclear power program and to read everything ever done by Edward Beach resulted in a new idea: nuclear subs are just as cool as Mach 2 aircraft or 9-gee rocket liftoffs.

I took the Annapolis appointment for the class of 1980 and within hours of reporting for duty found myself in hot water with the first class midshipmen. Hazing is officially banned, but it will always be part of the program, and although physical torture is specifically forbidden, mental cruelty is virtually institutionalized. When the plebes, the freshmen, were at attention, lined up, the firsties went through the ranks screaming, "What's lower than whaleshit at the bottom of the ocean?" Silence while the question was repeated, until a lone voice said, "class of '77, sir." Said voice belonged, regrettably, to me, and I then became a target for early retirement. All plebe summer of "attention" from the firsties melted into the plebe year, with plenty more upperclass attention.

Finally the firstclassmen graduated, and I went on to become an upperclassman and mechanical engineer, although the English Department put in a brave recruiting effort. After four years of all-nighters, studying instead of dating, I graduated academically first in the class, although a string of conduct problems (parking in the admiral's space, sleeping through class, throwing water at officers and other assorted troubles) were sufficient to make the overall class rank sink to twenty-first.

Cover Art From UK Edition
Phoenix Sub Zero
[IMAGE] I applied for nuclear power training, the prerequisite to becoming a submarine officer. The first stop was Naval Reactors, where each candidate was interviewed by Admiral Hyman Rickover, the man who performed the miracle of jamming a nuclear reactor into a submarine back when reactors were little more than piles of carbon and control rods held up by ropes. He did the impossible in three years, came in under budget, and held the U.S. Government hostage for the next 30 years, controlling the nuclear program with an iron fist, every candidate required to pass my interview or never enter the program. I entered Rickover's office so nervous I could barely speak. The Admiral mumbled something. "Excuse me, sir?" "Why," Rickover roared, "Did you fart? Now, are you going to maintain this academic standing all the way to graduation?" "Yes, sir." "DiMercurio…hmmm…sounds like Mercutio from Shakespeare. You read much Shakespeare?" "Um, no, sir." "Fine. Write me a book report on Shakespeare every month. Now get out." "Excuse me, sir?" "GET OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT!" I ran, but never did the book reports, a streak of rebellion invading at the last minute.

My writing introduction included an early novel (age 14) about a supersonic transport crash, which thundered to a halt at page 20. But the more promising writing came from constant notes to my girlfriend, some of them longer than the fledgling novel. Plebe year writing was barely more than half page notes to the hometown girl and a few term papers (on submarines, of course). But by youngster (sophomore) year at the Academy, I began the diary that would hit page 6000 and beyond. The journal became referred to by roommates and classmates as "the book written by my favorite author," and was a detailed look at growing up at Annapolis, getting dumped by girlfriends, rained on in parades, jumping out of jets at Army Airborne School, going on "cruise" before second class (junior) year and spending one week flying, one week invading with the Marines, one week at sea on a surface ship, and a week submerged on a submarine (bunking next to strategic missile number 11), first class cruise on a fast attack submarine (USS Pargo) in the Mediterranean, and running the Academy as a firstie. Now in charge of it all, plebe summer from the firstie's point of view generated a hundred pages. But it was the 50-page date summaries that became famous, resulting in command performances to read, and every word was true.

With a National Science Foundation Scholarship to MIT, I became a civilian for a year to study mechanical engineering, thermodynamics and heat transfer, in Boston after four years of monastic living, teamed up with a thesis partner from UCLA who had spent four years partying. The mix worked out well, with drinking, dating and sleepless weeks in the lab resulting in an incredible year, a year that came to a screeching halt with the acceptance of my thesis (written in 19 straight hours without leaving the desk except to pee). Immediately after, as if it were some sort of shock therapy, I found himself at four weeks at Navy Scuba School, complete with a near death experience from coming close to drowning in a tank to routine thirteen mile runs.

The MIT diploma in hand, I went to training for the Navy's nuclear power program. Six months of classroom training – which I nearly flunked, enraging the officers running the program, but then the training was in Orlando, Florida, with entirely too many distractions, and truth be told, after Annapolis and MIT, I was burned out at age 23 – then on to six months of nuclear prototype training in Connecticut, where the shifts were twelve hours and rotated with little downtime. There, the fact that lunch was at three in the morning made life gray and depressing. But prototype yielded to submarine school – pay dirt at last. Incredibly cool lectures began with the opening, "Gentlemen, this is a Mark 48 torpedo." Training sessions were held in the trainers mounted on hydraulic legs, where a single incorrect action would send the "submarine" plunging to the bottom, past crush depth. Then attack simulators, in rooms indistinguishable from nuclear submarine control rooms, where the battlestations students would approach and attack the computer – and frequently "died." Three months later, I received my orders.

I stepped onto the hull of the USS Hammerhead in 1982 as the communications officer. I will never forget that first day aboard a U.S. fast attack nuclear submarine. The first thought to come to mind was how great a novel would be about this ship going under the polar icecap to do battle with a Soviet submarine. But shattering the youthful enthusiasm was one thing submariners hate -- putting the fast attack Sturgeon-class submarine into a drydock for months. Because of that, learning the lore of the submarine and becoming a dolphin-wearing submariner took upwards of a year.

As the Communicator I was the top secret material control officer, and in the course of those duties, learned more about the warfighting capabilities of the U.S. and Soviet Union than anyone aboard, perhaps even the captain. Finally, in 1984, at sea in the Mediterranean, I was pinned with dolphins and pronounced qualified in submarines. By then I had moved on to become the electrical officer, and then the main propulsion assistant, machinery division officer, assistant engineer and ship's diver.

But life at sea was difficult at best. In a normal year at sea, it is typical to work 90 hours per week in port and 120 at sea. In three years at sea, I estimated working 15,000 hours, the equivalent of over seven years worked at 40 hours a week. One year, the ship was at sea over 250 days. It justified the epithet, "Fast Attack, Never Come Back." Or even better, SSN doesn't mean "submersible ship nuclear," it means "Saturdays, Sundays and Nights."

The time assigned to Hammerhead was my true education. The "sea stories" were endless. A submarine "sea story" always begins, "there I was, test depth, all ahead flank, when suddenly . . . " even if it has nothing to do with the ship or being at sea, just because it is so dangerous to be going full out (flank speed, 100% reactor power) while at test depth (deepest operating depth the ship can descend to by procedure, a few hundred feet from the theoretical depth the submarine will crush at, or crush depth) since a half degree mistake on the control surfaces (fairwater planes) will send the ship plunging to her death. So – bearing in mind that during this time I was single in a hard-working, hard-playing macho submarine force -- here are the sea stories:

"There I was, test depth, all ahead flank, when suddenly – we pulled into Halifax, Nova Scotia, for a long weekend of liberty. We'd been at sea for ten weeks on a North Atlantic NATO run, missing weekends, missing sleep, missing alcohol, and definitely missing women. We all got so drunk at the restaurant that the owner gave us a free round and asked the captain to take my drunk officers elsewhere. We ended up at a bar called the Jury Room, where Lieutenant Pat Castleman, the Damage Control Assistant, was calling my wife while a drunk girl in a miniskirt propositioned him. He hung up and walked the girl to where I was hanging by the bar rail, and said, 'This is your man.' I have no memory of leaving with her, but my shipmates reported that I was sighted on the ferry boat all over this woman – who happened to be so spectacularly ugly that for weeks after the crew called her the Sea Hag, and everywhere I went onboard there were cries of 'Sea Hag! Sea Hag!' I woke up after having blacked out at the bar, to the sound of an incredibly loud BRZZZZZZ! I hit the ceiling in a pitch black room, hungover and unaware of where I was, the room completely dark. I sat up in bed, thinking I'd had a nightmare, when the snorting sound happened again. BRCCCSHHHHZZZZZ! Terrified, I reached to the right and found the lamp, turned it on, and beheld the most unattractive woman I've ever seen in my life. I found that at her place I was twenty miles from the ship, and had to sneak out and walk back to the boat wearing the cowboy boots I'd worn out that night, no cabs passing me, and not a dime in my pocket to call the ship. I arrived, limping from the blisters the boots caused, walking bowlegged, just in time to be greeted by choking laughter and the calls of 'Sea Hag!'"

"There I was, test depth, all ahead flank, when suddenly – we pulled into Fort Lauderdale the night before a one-day dependent's cruise. The next morning I was to have double duty – starting the reactor as engineering officer of the watch at 3 a.m. (zero three hundred for Navy personnel) then laying to the bridge to drive the ship out to unrestricted waters as the officer of the deck at 0800. That evening we went to the Pink Pussycat, where there was a stripper beauty contest. Somehow I got selected as a judge, the spotlight on me while I weaved back and forth as if at sea from the endless beers the wardroom guys were buying. I was at a booth playing 'kissyface' with a naked African American stripper with a large chest who called herself 'Cha Cha.' At the end of the evening a fight broke out in the parking lot as Cha Cha tried to take me to her car while the officers of Hammerhead's wardroom tried to pull me into their van. She shouted at the navigator, 'I just want to take him home and love him!' They shouted back, 'he's driving us out of port in…one hour.' After an hour of sleep, I was awakened, and staggered aft with my khaki uniform on to start the reactor. At 0330 the rods were latched, at 0600 we brought steam into the engineroom and at 0630 the reactor was in a normal full power lineup, ready to divorce from shorepower and get underway with the dependents (families and wives of the sailors and officers). I went to officer's call at 0700 in the wardroom, the meeting where the second-in-command, the executive officer, calls the junior officers to task and whips them into shape to get their work done. He walked in, looked at me, and broke into laughter, sending me to the bathroom – the head – to look in the mirror. There on my face was a lipstick smear so big it looked like I was wearing clown makeup! I walked back to the wardroom to the roars of the other officers, and the punchline – the enlisted 'nukes' back aft in the engineroom had let me work on the reactor for over three hours without saying a word! But it wasn't over. The men kept calling 'I just want to take him home and love him' and 'Cha Cha.' And it still wasn't over. With my fresh scrubbed face, I climbed the tunnel ladder to the bridge, the cockpit at the top of the conning tower, to drive Hammerhead to sea, now that the families and wives were embarked. While I was getting ready to take the ship out, the executive officer's voice rang throughout the ship on the 1MC P.A. system, the booming announcement saying, "THERE IS ONE DEPENDENT ABOARD WHOSE SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER IS NEEDED IN THE EXECUTIVE OFFICER'S STATEROOM. DEPENDENT'S NAME IS…FIRST NAME – CHA. LAST NAME – CHA." Howling calls of 'Cha Cha' could be heard from the bridge trunk, 25 feet above the deck of the control room."

But there were also tales much more serious. These were the Reagan years of the Cold War, and Uncle Ron (beloved by the Silent Service) wanted to give the Evil Empire one scare after another.

"One Sunday, Hammerhead was inport, the reactor cold, the plant in cold wet layup, my engineroom torn apart for a badly needed 'upkeep' by the tender personnel, when Exercise Agile Player kicked in. Agile Player was a classified operation designed to terrify the Soviets. The idea was that a Cosmos surveillance satellite would come overhead, and as soon as it went out of sight over the horizon, the submarine force would be scrambled to sea, so that on the next pass over the U.S. east coast, the submarine piers would be missing some 65 attack submarines. The exercise was so secret – since the Russians eavesdropped on communications, filled Norfolk with prostitutes and spies – that no one below the rank of Vice Admiral knew when it would happen. Warnings had been issued months before about the coming Exercise Agile Player. But onboard, we took those about as seriously as warnings of the end of the earth – repent! Agile Player is coming. And we paid it no mind. It was forgotten. So when the phone rang at my roommate's condo that Sunday night as were headed out the door to dinner, we looked at each other. In one of those rare psychic episodes, Communications Officer Lieutenant David "Spock" DeLonga said, 'that's bad news.' He picked up the phone and looked astonished, putting the phone back. 'The boat's going to sea. Now. We gotta pack.' I said, 'no, it's not. My engineroom is completely dismantled. Hamsterhead ain't goin' nowhere.' 'Oh, yeah,' he said. 'The captain wants to see you in my stateroom about that.' A half hour later we'd threaded our way through empty Norfolk interstates and arrived onboard. Every other submarine at the base was shoving off or already in the channel. Hammerhead stood alone. I went into the engineroom, and for the next 20 hours put it back together while we started the reactor. Hammerhead barely made the deadline to get to sea and pull the plug. Submerged in the Atlantic, we all stared at each other, wondering if this were it, the big one, World War III, the balloon going up – because, how better to do this than calling it an 'exercise?' As soon as we were down, Cosmos made its next surveillance pass and found…not a single nuclear submarine. They were gone. All gone. Rumor had it that the lights burned at the Kremlin for three straight nights as the bosses of the Evil Empire wondered what was coming."

In those years the submarine force was dead serious. And that is what led to some of the long hours. But in addition to that, there was the routine driving of the ship that took my attention. It was beginning to become apparent that I might not be cut out to be a career submarine driver. The signs were everywhere. The constant expression of exasperation on the captain's face as he had to deal with the quirky lieutenant. The fact that I had come to believe that the captain thought my first name was "Goddammit," as in "Goddammit, DiMercurio." The captain did not hide my intense hatred of my routine cigar smoking on watch (but how can one conn a nuclear submarine at full defense readiness conditions without a cigar clenched between the teeth?). But the last straw was the day the Atlantic Fleet inspectors walked aboard for a pop inspection. "Surprise," they said. "Hammerhead's at war. Get underway. Now. No tugs. No pilot." The inspector looked at me standing dumbfounded in the passageway. "This guy drives. You. DiMercurio. Lay to the bridge." Once the reactor was started, I took the conn. The task was to back out of the pier without tugs. But a nuclear submarine doesn't handle like a car. When backing up, it may or may not heed the direction of the rudder. It should have been like backing out of a driveway, but instead, the rudder went one way, the ship went another, and I ended up driving the boat in a complete backwards circle – the stern going north, then east, then south – to get the bow pointed north. I tried to look cool, saying, "That's one way to go to sea." The inspector, however, said, "It's goddamned McHale's Navy." The captain shook my head, later saying, "Goddammit, DiMercurio!”

Cover Art From French Edition
LE SOUS-MARIN DE L'APOCALYPSE
Better Known As: Voyage Of The Deveilfish
[IMAGE] But the fun of playing with this half-billion dollar toy was soon over. By the time my sea tour was into its third year, Hammerhead was in the drydock again for an overhaul.

But just before overhaul, I met and married my first wife. It was to turn out to be a disastrous relationship, but one that produced two beautiful talented children, Matthew, born in 1989 and Marla, born in 1990.

After three years on the Hammerhead, I left for shore duty: teaching thermodynamics at the Naval Academy. There, I found that Annapolis is much better the second time around. As a full lieutenant, life at the Academy was like a vacation, complete with all the facilities – gym, tennis, sailboats, swimming, on and on. And teaching the midshipmen was perhaps the most rewarding thing in life. Two years came and went all too soon.

A decision had to be made – to go back to sea, go back to school for a PhD., or try industry. The Cold War was drawing to a close. The submarine force was shrinking. It seemed like time to try something new. Decided but torn, I left the Navy to begin a career in construction and engineering in the northeast.

During long trips to construction sites, I realized that I missed the feeling of "dancing with the fat lady," (hugging the hot deck-to-overhead 24" diameter optics module of the Type 18 periscope, which would soak the front of the shirt during long periscope watches) and taking 4500 tons of submarine to periscope depth. The feeling culminated in the initial concept of the draft of a novel entitled, The Titanium Coffin, a novel about a Sturgeon-class submarine given secret orders to attack a state-of-the-art Soviet sub.

A long field assignment in 1989 (commuting 1000 miles) left plenty of time for writing. Neglecting sleep, I wrote The Titanium Coffin around the clock and began looking for agents. After a year of writing and searching for literary agents, agent Natasha Kern wrote that she liked Titanium Coffin. But first she loved it, then hated it, then loved it again as the submission of the first 200 pages went through revision after revision. While Natasha Kern went hot and cold, I finished the manuscript, but a year after manuscript completion, there was no sign of selling it. The next six months were spent sending it to publishers and other agents with no luck. At one point, I could wallpaper an entire room with rejection letters. Michener came out with my novel, "The Novel," obviously about writing a novel, in which the novelist complains about a network talk show cluttering his living room when he would rather be painting. Disgusted yet envious, I then made the vow that if I ever got published, I would never complain . . .

A few months later Natasha Kern called with the news that the novel sale was going nowhere, and to either write something else or forget about writing. I consigned the box full of research, notes, battle scenes, outlines, letters, rejection letters, and manuscripts to the basement and tried to forget about it. It was no use. There was a prayer of resignation one day – "God, if this is what you want, so be it."

A week later Natasha Kern called for three copies of the manuscript to be sent to an editor at Donald I. Fine, Inc., but she said the probability was very low, and that her previous advice stood. A few months later Boris Yeltsin stood on a Russian tank and made history. The phone call came in the afternoon at a chemical plant construction site. It was Kern: "Don Fine wants to buy your manuscript and give you a three book contract, and he wants to talk to you today." Don Fine, the giant of the industry, came on the phone with a growl that reminded me of Admiral Rickover a dozen years before. "DiMercurio, do you have your manuscript with you?" "Yes, sir." "Okay, pick it up and take it to the wastebasket and drop it in. It's a piece of crap." "Okay." "Is it in the wastebasket?" "Yes." "Good. I was just making sure you aren't married to what you write. If you can change this, it'll be good. And, what I just said about it being a piece of crap?" "Yessir?" "I meant it. Good-bye." Click.

The Titanium Coffin became Voyage of the Devilfish, with the same main character -- submarine commander Michael Pacino -- and the same submarine, the USS Devilfish, and the same plot – single combat, American Sturgeon-class submarine vs. Russian Omega-class. The book went through several more revisions. Finally, it was ready. Don Fine came unglued. "You didn't do what I told you to. Do it again." The last revision was the one Fine accepted, and seeing it in print was one of the thrills of a lifetime, besides seeing a child born or feeling a bride's kiss at the altar.

The decline of my first marriage began the day I left the Navy, with my first wife becoming steadily unhappy with corporate life. I dealt with the pain by writing. Attack of the Seawolf, a novel of escape, was written during these times, an allegory of being rescued from the depths of unhappiness by the better part of one's self. The submarine Tampa has been taken hostage by the Chinese, caught spying in the Bo Hai Bay. Captain Michael Pacino is tasked to rescue her with a load of Navy SEALS and a bellyful of torpedoes, but it is him against the entire Chinese Northern Fleet.

While coping with my divorce, I wrote Phoenix Sub Zero, a tale of World War III against the Unified Islamic Front of God, whose dictator evades a U.S. assassination attempt to escape to sea on a supersub purchased from the Japanese. The pursuit of the sub, and its world-class weapons able to threaten America, are the mission of Captain Pacino, ordered to intercept the Destiny-class ship Hegira before she can get inside nuclear cruise missile range of the U.S. east coast, a ship that proves unstoppable.

In 1994, I met and fell in love with my second wife, Patricia Quigley, then a recruiter colleague of West Point graduate, management recruiter and friend Bill Lord. For me, it was love at first sight, and Patti Quigley carried me through the worst times in my life. Patti became a successful marketing representative for Pinkerton Computer Consultants in New Jersey and New York.

I wrote Barracuda Final Bearing during the early days with Patti. Barracuda is the story of Rear Admiral Michael Pacino's mission to command the Unified Submarine Force as it attempts to enforce a blockade of renegade Japan, but the Japanese – master craftsmen of the Hegira – have designed the Destiny II and Destiny III classes of submarines. The II-class is even more formidable than Hegira, with nuclear power, ultimate ship quieting, and Nagasaki torpedoes. And there are two dozen of them lurking in the waters surrounding the Home Islands. The III-class is even more frightening, a nuclear submarine controlled by a neural network computer system. The Japanese submarine force proves devastating, sinking the approaching U.S. carrier battle groups, leaving the President fuming, and demanding what Pacino will do about it. The answer surprises everyone as Pacino goes to sea aboard the USS Barracuda, the Seawolf-class submarine armed with the latest, in one last ditch attempt to stop the Japanese submarine force. The next book was Piranha Firing Point. The character Colleen O'Shaughnessy in Piranha Firing Point was based closely on my beloved wife Patti, as the character Admiral Dick O'Shaughnessy was based on her father, a man I've always admired, Dick Quigley. In Piranha, the Red Chinese – losers of the Chinese Civil War – are determined to take back White China on the east coast. Using a magnificently designed fast submersible, they manage to steal six brand new Japanese Rising Sun-class nuclear submarines on sea trials, making it look to the world as if they sank from defective systems. This flotilla is used to guard the East China Sea as the Reds attack from the west. The American cavalry, arriving by amphibious assault, is ambushed and put on the bottom by the Red Submarine Force. Admiral Michael Pacino finds himself in the President's meeting, planning the counterattack as Supreme Commander U.S. Forces Pacific, but the title is meaningless without the weapon on which he pins his hopes – the new SSNX- class submarine. Against the odds, and against the ticking clock, Pacino's submarine force races west to try to put down six submarines so advanced that they are essentially invisible, so deadly that they attack before they are heard…

The next novels were written while I was happily married to Patti. Our dear daughter Meghan, a gorgeous, intelligent girl who reminds me so much of her mother, was born in 2000. Regrettably, however, my marriage to Patti came to an end. Patti is someone who I will always love, admire and cherish as a close friend and co-parent of Meghan and my children from my previous marriage, Matthew and Marla.

Just as I experienced an intense transition in my life, so too did my writing. The Michael Pacino series came to an “operational pause” with TERMINAL RUN. The writing effort now centers on the new series that happens in the present day with a new cast of characters. The cover blurb for the first novel of this series, EMERGENCY DEEP, introduces us to one of the new main characters, Peter Vornado: “U.S. Navy submarine commander Peter Vornado is at the top of his game in underwater warfare when a devastating illness takes him out of the service and almost to the grave. Without duty, honor, or something to fight for, his life is as good as over. But the CIA needs a man like Vornado…”

There are times when I feel like Peter Vornado, with life taking me to a seeming dead end, and then there is a surprise in store.

I hope you'll all stay tuned, my friends. God alone knows what's in the next chapter.

See you at test depth,

Michael DiMercurio
www.terminalrun.com

terminalrun.com
Michael DiMercurio
Princeton, New Jersey
E-mail:
readermail@terminalrun.com

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