AUDIOBOOKS TODAY: Hear that you’re an underwater archaeologist for the National Park Service, yet you live in Santa Fe. What is your background, and the nature of your work?
DANIEL LENIHAN: Our NPS dive team has been active for almost thirty years in finding historic shipwrecks and protecting them for the American people. We also work on prehistoric sites behind dams and in submerged caves. The team is small–never more than five or so people–and has been located in Santa Fe for its entire history. It developed a reputation for fast-moving, intense diving operations. Some of our work that has received significant media attention includes underwater mapping of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, excavation of the Confederate submarine Hunley and the resurvey of ships sunk in the atomic bomb blasts at Bikini Atoll. In between the novels I co-authored with Gene, my personal memoir was published in 2002 on the formation this special team of diving ranger/archeologists. It’s entitled “Submerged: Adventures of America’s Most Elite Underwater Archeology Team.”
AT: You sound like you have a lot in common with Clive Cussler! But I didn’t realize that Gene Hackman was a diving enthusiast. How did you meet and start up your writing partnership?
LENIHAN: We met about the time Gene was needing dive training for a movie he was involved with, “The Firm.” You might remember that there is a scene in the film where Gene leads Tom Cruise around underwater. People referred him to me at the Park Service. We helped him with his diving and he helped us with some shipwreck preservation PSAs. Since then we became close friends, and about 1995 we started on our first book.
AT: Your first book together was “Wake of the Perdido Star,” based partly on Gene’s experience in the Marines. But what else was behind it, and how did you decide to make this an historical rather than a contemporary adventure?
LENIHAN: Gene and I both are pretty voracious readers and we found ourselves discussing all kinds of books. Curiously, we talked about books even more than movies. But we shared a special attraction for sea tales, particularly the classics by Jack London, Melville, R L Stephenson and the like. We also both enjoyed Vincent Bugliosi’s book “And the Sea Will Tell.” For our first foray into fiction we liked the notion of a coming-of-age book with “the worm turns” as a driver for the plot. Put that all together and you have an historical sea tale like “Wake of the Perdido Star.”
AT: What diving trips have you taken together, and do you still dive with Gene?
LENIHAN: In truth we aren’t diving together that much any more. I would say we most enjoyed the diving we did in the Dry Tortugas about 65 miles west of Key West. There were some fine shipwrecks there and amazing critters. Gene also loved his dives in Truk Lagoon but I wasn’t on that trip with him. I heard all about his adventures there in the retelling. However, we both believe good stories shouldn’t be burdened by slavish adherence to truth and accuracy, so I don’t put much stock in the details!
AT: Your book “Justice for None” is also historical, and set in the Midwest as a courtroom drama. Hackman grew up in Illinois, where the book is set, so I’m wondering whether you split the plotting like you split the writing. Down the middle on this one too?
LENIHAN: No, I would have to say that Gene was a bit more dominant concerning plot in this one. Although we discussed in detail all elements of the story arc before forging ahead with each chapter, he was especially energized by these characters. I agree with the comment by some reviewers that this book is atmospheric. I suppose that’s because so many authentic details in the setting came directly out of Gene’s memory, not just our research. Even the pivotal plot-point, a murder-suicide, was inspired by an actual event that occurred next door to him in Danville when he was six years old. A fellow killed his wife and shot himself and crawled around the house for a couple days before succumbing. A thing like that tends to leave an impression in a kid’s mind.
AT: I’ll bet. Who do you like to read?
LENIHAN: Well, since you mentioned it, I’ve enjoyed Cussler’s novels, particularly the diving parts. I respect the fact that he has been one of the only private individuals who has funded a shipwreck hunt and then done honorably by the wreck once it was found. But I guess I’m primarily a fan of Hemingway, Steinbeck, some of Fitzgerald’s work, Edward Abbey, Cormac McCarthy, Carl Hiassen, Martin Cruz-Smith, Ken Follett, Alan Furst. Gene loves Furst’s novels, by the way. In the realm of nonfiction, I like Loren Eisely and Tom Friedman.
AT: Do you or Gene ever listen to audiobooks?
LENIHAN: I do, but usually only when driving some distance. I suspect Gene does when he’s driving alone. But I don’t really know since when I’m driving with him he’s, well, not alone.
AT: “Justice for None” has a talented reader in John Peakes, who gives an enthusiastic performance, don’t you think?
LENIHAN: Yes, he captures the spirit of the book well and I like his cadence and tone of his voice.