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Special to the Big Thrill by Hank Wagner.

100-must-reads.jpgThe much-heralded ITW project Thrillers: 100 Must Reads was published with much fanfare at ThrillerFest early in July, and has since received a lot of favorable attention from critics (we were especially pleased with Michael Dirda’s review in The Washington Post).

To further whet your appetite for this essential book, we’ve been featuring a series of short interviews with various essayists in past issues of The Big Thrill.  Here is the final interview with Grant Blackwood, who contributed a piece on Clive Cussler’s Raise the Titanic.

Grant, you wrote a glowing essay about Raise the Titanic.  Do you have any personal connection to the book you wrote about?

Depends on what you mean by “personal”.  As I first read Titanic shortly after I read The Mediterranean Caper, which is the book that sparked my desire to be a writer, I feel a pretty deep connection to it.  But, then again, that could be said for all of Clive’s books.

What was it like for you reading such a classic in the field for the first time?

Reading Titanic was an eye-opener.  For me, it was a kind of high-concept story that I’d never been exposed to.  It had all the “dream elements” that readers crave: adventure, mystery, intrigue…  They were all there.

blackwood-grant2.jpgDid you learn anything in the process of reading the book or writing about it that has helped you with your own writing?

By the time I’d read Titanic I’d pretty much decided I wanted to pursue fiction writing as a career, so it, along with Clive’s other books, set the tone for me.  I got a glimpse of what a great thriller could be.  Writing the essay was a good reminder of why I got into this business in the first place.  Sometimes, as a thankfully-busy working writer, you can forget what it’s all about.

So, you re-read the book in preparation for the essay.  Were you afraid that it wouldn’t be as good a book as you remembered?

I have to admit, I was nervous.  Often times favorite books don’t have the same impact as they do when you first read them.  That wasn’t the case with Titanic; it gave me the same thrill as it did three decades ago.

Given that you had a word limit for your essay, is there anything you’d like to say about the book, or about Clive Cussler, that you didn’t get to say in the essay?

As I writer it’s been drummed into my head to be wary of using clichés, but when it comes to working with Clive (Editor’s note: Grant has co-written two novels with Cussler, 2009’s Spartan Gold, and the upcoming Lost Empire) , I have no choice.  The phrase, “a dream come true” describes the experience perfectly.  It’s been an interesting journey, going from a struggling writer who considered Clive my mentor-at-a-distance to a published author working alongside him.  In one’s career you can generally hope for two things: To do something you love; and to work with people you admire and enjoy.  I’ve been lucky on both counts, and I do my best to remind myself of that everyday.

To see what Grant had to say about Raise the Titanic, be sure to pick up a copy ofThrillers: 100 Must Reads, available now at discerning booksellers near you.  One hundred of your colleagues writing about one hundred classic thrillers make this book “must” reading.

Hank Wagner is a prolific and respected critic and interviewer. His work regularly appears in such publications as Mystery Scene, Cemetery Dance, Nova Express, and The New York Review of Science Fiction.