Clive Cussler was one of my favorite adventure writers. His books about underwater explorer Dirk Pitt sold millions of copies and were made into popular movies. I read his novels with gratitude for their historical context and geopolitical intrigue.
In many ways, the author patterned his most famous character on himself. Cussler participated in dozens of searches for old ships, including one that found a steamship belonging to Cornelius Vanderbilt. Like Pitt, he was a collector of antique cars. He lived large and invited us to do the same.
His writing career almost didn’t become a career, however.
He was working as an advertising copywriter in the 1960s (he helped coin the Ajax laundry detergent slogan, “It’s stronger than dirt”) while writing fiction on the side. He finished two manuscripts but had no literary agent.
So he created one out of thin air. He invented “The Charles Winthrop Agency,” got a friend to design a logo for it, and sent an inquiry in its name to the William Morris Agency. The ruse worked—Cussler’s book, Mediterranean Caper, was published in 1973.
He went on to write more than twenty Dirk Pitt novels as well as other adventure series and children’s books. Cussler died Monday at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the age of eighty-eight.
The enduring legacy of writing
You and I know of the Apostle Paul because of the New Testament books that he wrote and that were written about him.
We know of St. Augustine because of his autobiography and other brilliant works of theology.
Thomas Aquinas authored Summa Theologica, a masterful exposition of Christian theology that remains foundational to Catholic thinking today.
Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation with a document he nailed to the door of the Wittenberg church.
John Calvin’s written systematic theology undergirds Reformed thinking more than four centuries later.
The martyred pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks to us daily through The Cost of Discipleship and other writings.
Here’s my point: writing leaves a legacy that lasts far beyond the writer.
This fact would have been far less relevant to most of us a generation ago than it is today. In our digital age, anyone with a smartphone can publish his or her writing to the world. As a result, Christians have an unprecedented opportunity to “make disciples of all nations” through social media and other platforms (Matthew 28:19).
Conversely, posts on Facebook and Twitter that do not honor our Lord can live far longer than the same words spoken into the air. Our witness is more enhanced—or undermined—through our digital presence than ever before.
Let’s resolve today to be faithful and effective stewards of the words we write. Let’s seek ways to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) in all we do. Let’s look for opportunities to love our Lord and our neighbor by writing biblical wisdom with Christlike compassion.
And let’s remember that, like Clive Cussler, what we write will outlive us.
This is the warning and the opportunity of our day.