Welcome To terminalrun.com, Cyberspace Home Of National Bestselling Submarine Fiction Author Michael DiMercurio
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Michael DiMercurio's USS Devilfish Patrol Report!

By Christy Tillery French

Michael DiMercurio is author of the Michael Pacino series: Voyage of the Devilfish, Attack of the Seawolf, Phoenix Sub Zero, Baracuda Final Bearing, Piranha Firing Point, Threat Vector, and Terminal Run. His next book, commencing a new series, will be released in 2004. Michael graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and MIT, where he studied mechanical engineering, thermodynamics, and heat transfer. From there, he trained for the Navy's nuclear power program, then went on to six months of nuclear prototype training, and finally submarine school. In 1982, Michael reported aboard the USS Hammerhead, a Sturgeon-class fast attack nuclear submarine, where he was communications officer and later became the electrical officer, main propulsion assistant, machinery division officer, assistant engineer, and ship's diver. During the Reagan administration, Hammerhead spent over fifty days in trail of Russian nuclear submarines. For more information about Michael and his works, please visit his site at www.terminalrun.com or write him at readermail@terminalrun.com.

Welcome to the site, Michael, and thanks for answering my questions.

It’s an honor to be asked for an interview, particularly by a fellow author. Thanks for the invitation.

1. I will start with the question I always lead with: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

My father, who knew I was good at math and science, had a spaz one day, about how frustrated he was that he was surrounded by brilliant engineers who couldn’t write an intelligible sentence. Don’t, he commanded, be like them.. In high school I had a teacher, Mrs. Gleaves, who taught me what a paragraph was and how paragraphs could be stacked like bricks to build an essay. Getting better in what used to be miserable schoolwork helped. During the angst of my teenage years, and the only thing that helped was writing an extremely candid diary. In it I described misadventures at the Naval Academy – being a plebe and getting “flamed on” by upperclassmen, meeting and dating and being dumped by girls, flying in a fighter jet, taking a nuclear submarine to test depth, raiding a beach with the Marines, finally becoming a “firstie” – a senior – and flaming on my own plebes, applying to grad school and suddenly becoming a civilian at MIT and balancing a heat transfer lab with drinking and – the best subject of writing – sex. Perhaps it was that last part that made my writing semi-famous long before I got a book contract, as roommates and friends would demand a reading from the works of “my favorite author,” the Journal of Michael DiMercurio. Unfortunately, dating failures made much better stories than successes, but the writing went well.

As I progressed into my mid-twenties, the journal began to chronicle the gritty Cold War reality of a combat nuclear submarine, as President Reagan rattled the saber that made the Soviets come to the bargaining table. Aboard the USS Hammerhead, a frontline nuclear submarine of the venerable Sturgeon-class, we were submerged for 54 days on one run, with two torpedo tube doors open and torpedoes powered up and ready, trailing a Charlie-class (the predecessor to the Kursk) in the Mediterranean while it shadowed the aircraft carrier Kennedy. Were the Charlie to come to missile firing depth and open a missile door, we would have pulled the trigger on the two Mark 48 torpedoes that were locked in on the Charlie’s position. When he left the Med, we returned to a Soviet anchorage off Libya, where a Russian Victor-class sub – the Russian answer to the Sturgeon-class – lay at anchor while the fleet’s officers held meetings and visited the “comfort ship,” a gray Russian Northern Fleet cruise ship run by the Russian Navy where officers and enlisted men could relax and party with the Russian prostitutes brought specially in for the entertainment of the troops. “Captain, can’t we go to the comfort ship too?”

A Russian cruiser – more the size of a battleship – the Kirov – lay at anchor blasting its “death ray” sonar out into the shallow waters of the Gulf of Sidra to prevent an American or British attack sub from threatening the fleet or trailing their submarine. Our captain drove us right underneath the Kirov’s hull, where we lurked too close for the Russian sonar operators to hear our ping return. For forty-eight hours, the wailing, screeching death ray sonar blasted into the ship, gigantic fingernails on a blackboard, until finally the Russian sub was ready to leave. The Victor submarine rigged for dive, weighed anchor and left the anchorage, immediately submerging to seek out and trail an incoming U.S. Navy battlegroup. We covertly drifted out from under the Kirov and followed the Victor, and for forty days and forty nights the Victor was within a shiplength of us. Our torpedoes were ready to fire, and had the Victor misbehaved, he would have hit the bottom before his torpedo left his tube.

This and more lay on the pages of my journals, for my own enjoyment. I’d always imagined someday I would begin a second career as an author.

Fortunately for me, an obscure insurance salesman wrote The Hunt for Red October. I don’t think I’ve ever been more pissed off.

2. Please tell us what motivated you to write the Michael Pacino series.

The first day I reported aboard the Hammerhead, all I could think about was how cool it would be to feature it in a movie about combat under the polar icecap with our Russian rivals. I became charged with the top secret material safe, so my reading on weekends was about things few other mortals had seen. Incredible details of our enemy’s submarines, making them as real as our own in my mind. The Russians were amazing and talented designers, and their submarines were the best in the world. Could we aboard Hammerhead hope to take on one of the best units of the Russian Northern Fleet, up under the marginal ice zone? The more I learned, the more I fantasized about writing a novel about it.

Clancy beat me to the punch. His Hunt for Red October was a gigantic disappointment. It was nothing like reality. It lacked the taste and feel of a nuclear submarine, the tension, the drama, the terror of living at the edge of death. The book had no soul.

I took pen in hand (“laptop keyboard in hand” sounds much less dramatic) and began to write the tale of the underice clash between Hammerhead and a Russian follow-on to the Oscar-class (a Kursk), but the names were changed to the Devilfish and the Kaliningrad.

3. Can you explain what the Michael Pacino series is about? So far, there are seven published books in the series. How many more do you plan to include?

My first manuscript, The Titanium Coffin, was born. Later it became Voyage of the Devilfish long after I got my first book contract. It was the amazing tale of combat beneath the ice between a humble American submarine – the USS Devilfish, a Sturgeon-class submarine exactly like the Hammerhead – and the best Russian combat sub ever launched. The hero of the book, the captain of the USS Devilfish, Commander Michael Pacino, was essentially me, except better looking and more accomplished, but as unlucky in love. When the book ended (don’t let me spoil it), my publisher said, write the second book.

Second book? How the hell do I top Voyage of the Devilfish? Simple, Don Fine said. Just tell us what happened to your character Pacino next. A new mission, a new adventure.

Oh, I thought dumbly. I thought that was somehow against the rules of publishing. But okay. In Attack of the Seawolf, Pacino’s Academy roommate’s submarine gets captured spying in the bay off Beijing, and the Navy’s rescue mission will use the newest submarine in the fleet, the USS Seawolf, but needs the best submarine captain, one who has fired torpedoes in anger. The Navy knocks on the door of civilian Michael Pacino, who left the Navy as a broken man after losing the Devilfish under the polar icecap. Within hours Pacino finds himself on the deck of the Seawolf battling the best of the Chinese Northern Fleet, his ship loaded with cruise missiles, torpedoes and SEAL Team Seven. While the captured USS Tampa is hijacked away from her Chinese captors, the entire main battle fleet of the Chinese Northern Fleet awaits them at the constricted mouth of the Bo Hai Bay, and the secrecy of the mission forces the president to insist that either Pacino is successful on his own, or the U.S. loses two submarines.

From there the series took off. World War III erupts as the United Islamic Front of God attacks the forces of the West, and Captain Pacino and the Seawolf are called back into action in Phoenix Sub Zero (which has just been republished after being unavailable for some time). The Sword of Islam calls on the Japanese-technology supersub Hegira to deliver a new weapon to turn the course of a losing war. With the USS Augusta down and the Phoenix missing, Captain Michael Pacino is given the suicide mission of taking the USS Seawolf to sea and stop the Islamic submarine before it can unleash death on Washington.

In Barracuda Final Bearing, when Japan attacks the new state of Greater Manchuria with a nuclear weapon, the U.S. responds with Operation Enlightened Curtain, a blockade around the Home Islands that the Japanese easily break with the highest technology submarine force ever built. The President gives Rear Admiral Michael Pacino the impossible mission of using his underdog submarine fleet to turn the tide of the war, and Pacino leads the force into the war zone aboard the Barracuda.

In Piranha Firing Point, Red China’s ambush of breakaway White China could only be accomplished using a fleet of hijacked Japanese Rising Sun-class nuclear submarines, the best in the world. The sinking of the U.S. Rapid Deployment Force kicks off the War of the East China Sea, and the President turns to Vice Admiral Michael Pacino to win the counterattack. Pacino has no choice but to take the untested SSNX submarine to sea on a mission certain to fail.

In Threat Vector, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Pacino, plans a stand-down retreat for the senior officers of the U.S. Navy. Eighty miles out of Port Norfolk their cruise ship Princess Dragon is torpedoed by an unknown military terrorist. The SSNX submarine, the winner of the War of the East China Sea, sets out to find the submarine intruder, only to be put on the bottom. It is up to Commander Kelly McKee and the newest Virginia-class submarine in the fleet to find attacking submarine and destroy it, but the Ukrainian submarine Vepr, under the control of war criminal Alexi Novskoyy, has other plans.

In Terminal Run, the present stopping point of the series, the robotic combat sub Snarc has proven unbeatable in sea trials. And now it has fallen into the hands of an unseen enemy. The Snarc’s first casualty: the nuclear sub carrying the son of retired Admiral Michael Pacino. The only man who can match wits with the Snarc, Pacino has no choice but to return to sea in a high-tech underwater battle unlike any that’s been fought before, one that could engulf the world in war.

Terminal Run brings the series to a pause, not an end. The work I’m doing now is for a new series. The Pacino series got out there to the year 2022, and technology began to make it somewhat futuristic. My goal was not to write science fiction. The new series is set in present day with today’s technology. There will be no lack of excitement on that account! The Pacino series may continue after the Vornado trilogy is complete, but that will depend on reader sentiment and the market.

4. It goes without saying that with your background, you are certainly qualified to write about a U.S. fast attack nuclear submarine. Do you ever incorporate into your writing actual events that occurred while you were onboard a nuclear submarine?

About qualifications, let me just state for the record that I’ve spent more time on the commode at test depth than Tom Clancy has on a submarine. In the submarine force, he would be correctly labeled a ‘non-qual air breather’ because anyone who isn’t a dolphin-wearing, submarine qualified officer or enlisted man simply consumes the ship’s food, bunk space and highly valuable air. Let me also say that my competitors in the submarine fiction area have never spent seventy hours awake six hundred feet below the tossing seas of the Med, trailing a Russian submarine that would shoot you in a heartbeat, during a time when the president was ready to fight a nuclear war with the Soviets. My dedication in the beginning of Phoenix Sub Zero says much about how I feel about this – it reads, To every man who has gone down into the darkness, heard the creak of a steel hull popping from the depths, felt hunger for sleep and real air and a hot shower and clean sheets, and faced death – if not from the torpedoes and depth charges of the enemy, then from the sea herself. To every man who is or has been or will be a submariner, this book is for you. My competitors in this arena can only sit on the sidelines and wish they had been there. Do I write about airplanes? No, I leave that to Dale Brown, because he has been there. So if you want a submarine novel written by a non-qual air breather, be my guest, but if you want the excitement of authenticity, pick up a DiMercurio novel.

Do any actual events make their way onto the page? Absolutely. In fact, just for one example, Terminal Run draws heavily from my experience on the USS Pargo, when I was a mere midshipman. The son of Michael Pacino, Midshipman Anthony “Patch” Pacino, must take the USS Piranha out of port on his own in his first hours aboard. I can testify that that the butterflies in his stomach are real. In addition, young Patch must qualify as diving officer while casualties and equipment failures are being thrown at him, and by the end of the trial he is dripping sweat, just as in my own experience.

The feel of trailing an enemy sub is there, as is the thrill of bringing six thousand tons of nuclear submarine to periscope depth and the tenseness of a submarine-vs.-submarine undersea battle.

But there’s more that I share than just operating a sub. In my novels, the good guy is in the middle of a nasty divorce or faces a battle with cancer or sits at the bedside of a lifelong friend who is fading away from a fatal disease. Their wives can’t stand them, or their girlfriends are cheating on them, or their executive officers are poor performers, or a character’s wife is suffering during a perilous pregnancy a hemisphere away. My characters are not spared the trauma of real life, but perhaps that is what gives them so much soul. In a DiMercurio novel, the equipment is grease stained and bursts into flames in its moment of need, during a time when the captain of the submarine is down a touchdown. And yet these characters fight with everything they’ve got, and we all want to know whether they will prevail against the odds.

5. What is your current WIP?

I’ve just delivered my eighth novel, the first of the trilogy of the new series. For lack of a better title, this is the Vornado series. The book’s title is highly secret, because some recent non-qual air breathing competitors tend to publish books with titles of mine that have leaked out. Anyone seen the television show Threat Matrix? Can anyone state for a fact that the title isn’t inspired by my Threat Vector? (Someone wrote me and said that “Threat Matrix” is the actual name of the security briefing given the president each day, and I – of course – replied that the CIA just recently renamed it that after stealing my cool-sounding title.) So for now, let’s just call it Title: Classified. In fact, at this point it wouldn’t surprise me to walk into a bookstore and see a book with the title, Title: Classified.

I don’t want to give it away, so let me quote my editor, Doug Grad (a hard-boiled professional who won’t hesitate to take an author to task in a 30 page critique letter demanding extreme revisions), who wrote: “Awesome! Great job on TITLE: CLASSIFIED [not the real title]. The hard work paid off, and you’ve set a new standard for yourself (which I’m going to hold you to now!). The action was exciting, the pace was brisk, and the characters are well drawn and believable. I think you handled the sex scenes well, and [deleted since it is a plot spoiler] really makes Vornado out to be human, and three-dimensional. He has to do some pretty awful things in order to carry out his mission, and things get very messy, but somehow it all works in the end. So congratulations once again. I salute you!”

I’d love to say more about it, but it’s (shhhhhh!) classified.

6. Do you utilize an agent? In your opinion, how valuable is an agent to an author, published or unpublished?

Getting published without an agent is like becoming a walk-on player for Notre Dame. If it were to happen today, it would make headlines. Back in Hemingway’s time, when there were a hundred publishing companies and few people who could take the time and trouble to bang out a manuscript on a manual typewriter, a walk-on could get the attention of a publisher. Today, the industry has consolidated to fewer publishers than you have fingers on your right hand. Almost every element of the market is saturated, and now books have to compete with extravagant Hollywood productions, television that is startlingly good, and a plethora of entertaining websites. In addition, books must compete with all the other things that vie for our time – kids, more demanding schoolwork, more demanding jobs, E-mail and instant messages.

If you want to break into publishing as a new writer, recognize that agents are the gatekeepers. If you can get an agent excited, you’re on the right track. If five agents say your work is without merit, they have good reasons. Even if you’ve written the Great American Novel, odds are the market forces are against you. A good agent will tell you that.

I look at my Academy class and the classes of my upperclassmen and underclassmen. Of the half-dozen graduating classes at Annapolis, we have about twelve astronauts and two published authors. Your chances of going into space are six times higher than your chances of becoming a published author. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it is improbable that you can mail a manuscript to every publishing house in America and get published.

Without an agent, there is only writing for the pleasure of it.

For those who read this who are published, for God’s sake, get a good website. Take a look at Bill Parker’s parkerinfo.com website to see what he can do for your books – he’s an author specialist who made Dale Brown’s megafortress.com and my terminalrun.com sites, and they are amazing and eyecatching, and they do more for sales that a thousand book-signings. We’re even seeing websites developed for non-published authors who want to catch the attention of an agent. Bill can be reached at bparker@parkerinfo.com. Shoot him a note – he’s a regular guy and will answer back!

7. Do you have a particular writing regimen?

Everyone has something that works for them. I’ve got a crazy-busy life going on here, and it has made me into a vampire writer. If it’s not dark outside, I can’t write a word. I get up between 3 and 4 am, make a pot of coffee and stare at a blank blue screen. Deathly tired, with zero inspiration, I know I have to write a scene to progress the work. What helps me is reading what I wrote the day before (a three page day is a good day) and I can immediately tell you what happens next. I have no idea what will happen two chapters from now, much less the ending, but if in yesterday’s pages the character just left a CIA briefing, I can tell you today he walks down the pier to the submarine and is greeted by his second-in-command with a terrible problem, and the phone rings and his wife is on the phone with bad news, and the commodore wants an immediate meeting in his office, and off I go.

At the beginning of a book it may take a month to write the first sentence. It may take another month to finish chapter 1. In the middle, an eight page day is an A+, but the usual is three to four pages. Toward the end, the climax is building and I must know what happens next, and I can write a chapter in two days. The last 200 pages are written in a sustained burst of continuous all-nighters, a 60 or 70 hour “day” without sleep, with an expensive cigar taped to the monitor. When the last word is on the page, I go out and smoke the cigar. When I finished Phoenix Sub Zero, it was 2:30 am in the dead of winter with two feet of snow on the ground and a stiff 12 degree wind howling outside. I put on a jacket and smoked the cigar until I was shivering so hard I couldn’t hold the stogy without dropping it into the snow. Threat Vector’s ending almost put me in a hospital for exhaustion. But I just have to know how it ends!

8. What is the most important piece of advice you would give an unpublished author?

Abandon hope. I’m only half-joking here, because as I said before, breaking into this business is a miserable journey of rejection letters and strangers calling your baby ugly. But there are new authors every day, and each generation has its writers. If you have a burning talent inside, and you literally can’t keep yourself from writing, and when you read your pages you can’t keep from crying in awe and thanksgiving, then send a sample to an agent or a dozen agents who cover the genre you’re writing and get a professional opinion. If a hundred experts say you’re a terrible writer, but one believes in you, follow that path.

Most of all, listen to the agents. They know the terrain of the business.

A final word – this is a business and yet it is an art form. If your motivation is to make the money of Grisham or Clancy, then you’re probably not in it for the right reasons. The average writer doesn’t collect gigantic paychecks unless he has a following and the world eagerly awaits his next book. And then, an army of people will critique the words on the page, even the direction your story is going. If you are so in love with your work that you take offense at the mere thought of changing a comma, don’t write. A good writer understands that he is in collaboration with his editor, and if the editor says, “this doesn’t work,” he listens and changes it. The words you put on the page are only “proposed words,” subject to the approval of the publishers. The only thing you can write without extensive revisions is an E-mail. Or an author interview!

9. Who are the authors who have influenced you most?

In the fiction world, I’ve honestly been influenced by every book I’ve read. The ones who have inspired me include Hemingway, Faulkner, Harold Robbins, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Azimov and Scott Turow.

I’ve been more influenced by authors I didn’t like. I would read something and wonder why it got published, because I hated it. “I could do a better job than this,” I’d think. Perhaps that was part of my motivation.

I no longer read fiction. The internal editor in my head thinks everything I read is defective and needs to be revised or discarded. I now read nonfiction. I miss the thrill of reading a good book, but I’ve been given a great gift, the thrill of being able to write a good one. It’s a good deal.

10. What do you like to do in your spare time?

I used to think that I was busy in my twenties in the Submarine Force, working weekends and nights and going to sea for months on end.

Today that seems like a life of leisure. In my thirties and forties, I can’t say that I’ve had much spare time. Every ounce of my time is somehow devoted to the Work – reading nonfiction is research, going to a movie is research, arguing with one of the children is research. Beyond that, I pile up E-mails that need answering (and I answer every one of them personally, but not always right on time!) and my webmaster Bill Parker tortures me with demands for website news. He even connected me with you and got me my recent gig, an opinion column on Military.com (Bill Parker is at Parker Information Resources, www.parkerinfo.com, reachable at bparker@parkerinfo.com -- check out his work).

I’m hoping that in my fifties I’ll have a lifestyle change that will open up spare time for sailing, building a log cabin, hiking in the mountains…but if I’m honest with myself, odds are I’ll be a maniac for some decades to come.

But I wouldn’t change a thing.

Thanks, Michael!

No, thank you. It was an honor and a pleasure!

Michael DiMercurio
Princeton, New Jersey



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