Robert E. “Bob” McDermott has been around ships and the sea since childhood. He grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast and later graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He’s had a long career working in positions from ship’s officer to shipping company management, traveling widely and living and working in a number of countries. These days he splits his time between the United States and Singapore, where he operates a marine consultancy, advising clients on ship construction and operations.
But Bob McDermott has always had the writing bug. During “down time” after a particularly grueling work project, he finally completed his first thriller, Deadly Straits. It has gone on to sell over 130,000 copies, garnering an incredible 800 customer reviews on Amazon — 750 of them four- or five-star raves. Since then, he’s released two other high-rated bestsellers in the Tom Dugan thriller series, Deadly Coast and Deadly Crossing.
From now until February 24, 2015, Bob’s second thriller, Deadly Coast, is available as a free ebook download from Amazon, while the debut in the series, Deadly Straits, and the most recent entry, Deadly Crossing, are both on sale for only 99 cents. Once you’ve finished reading this captivating interview, I’m sure you will want to scoop them up. (By the way, click the images below for larger views.)
The Vigilante Author: Bob, congratulations on your Tom Dugan series and its impressive success.
RE McDermott: Well Robert, first of all I’d like to thank you for inviting me to be part of your interview series. I’ve been a fan of yours since I first read HUNTER shortly after you released it, and it’s an honor to be interviewed on your site.
The Vigilante Author: Thanks for that. But let’s get right down to it. You’ve been writing an unusual series of thrillers, each with “Deadly” in its title. Tell us about them.
RE McDermott: The Dugan books all feature Tom Dugan as the protagonist, a late-middle-aged marine-surveyor-turned-shipowner, through a partnership with his former client and best friend Alex Kairouz, a self-made Anglo-Lebanese shipping tycoon. Dugan has a somewhat tenuous part-time relationship with the CIA, which in the past convinced him to gather intelligence using his regular employment as a globe-trotting marine trouble-shooter as a natural cover. And while Dugan is the protagonist, there are a lot of equally strong supporting characters of various nationalities and genders.
The Vigilante Author: Does a reader have to start at the beginning, with Deadly Straits? Or are these stand-alone tales?
RE McDermott: The books are a “series,” to the extent they feature the same characters and do occur in chronological order; but each book is a stand-alone story and — hopefully — provides a satisfying read regardless of the order in which the books are read. I also try to address a topical issue in each story.
For example, Deadly Straits addressed the threat of loaded tankers as weapons of mass destruction, Deadly Coast focused on piracy off the Somali coast, and the latest book, Deadly Crossing, addressed the very serious problem of human trafficking.
The Vigilante Author: Given the range of topics and the nautical setting of your books, how would you categorize them by genre?
RE McDermott: That’s actually something I struggle with a bit. I suppose it would be espionage, action-adventure, or some combination, but none of them are an exact fit. Given my background, I try to make things technically accurate, so to that extent my stuff might be best described as Clancy-like technothrillers. I guess in the end, I’m content to let the readers figure it out, and that seems to vary a lot depending on the reader. How’s that for being vague?
The Vigilante Author: Well, like Clancy, you may be carving out a unique sub-genre of your own. “Nautical thrillers”? Or maybe there’s a clue in the character of Dugan. What do you think is unique about him that makes him stand out from the rest of the thriller-hero pack? And also, how much do you draw the origins of your characters from real life, as opposed to your imagination?
RE McDermott: I have no problem with strong, capable central characters — I’m a huge [Jack] Reacher fan, for example. But the heroes’ actions and abilities have to be at least somewhat grounded in reality.
For example, I have a real aversion to larger-than-life superheroes that seem to be brain surgeons, nuclear physicists, ace helicopter pilots, black belts in a dozen martial arts, and capable of getting shot ten times and still saving the day. Dugan screws up regularly, and when someone sucker punches him, he goes down. A big part of the tension in the story is anticipation of how he extricates himself from the latest screw-up or setback.
As far as origins, I’d say most of my characters begin as combinations of people I’ve known in real life, augmented by a healthy dose of imagination. The real-life part is background, setting, dialogue, etc. I use all those to build the character, and only then do I insert them into extreme situations. At that point, they pretty much have a life of their own.
So while I don’t actually know people who’ve done the things the characters do in my stories, I have known people I think could and would do those things if placed in the same circumstances. Of course, we’re all masters of our own daydreams, and I think that’s one of the rewarding things about being an author. You can share and entertain other people with your daydreams, and even get paid for it. That’s cool on a lot of levels.
The Vigilante Author: Yep. People actually pay us to fantasize for them. What a job, huh?
Bob, you’ve had a colorful career — or series of careers. I’d be interested to hear more about your background, and I’m sure our readers would, too.
RE McDermott: I was born on the Texas Gulf Coast and grew up working in several small family businesses, including a beach-front motel and fishing pier, so I had a natural affinity for the sea. I was lucky enough to get an appointment to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and upon graduation sailed merchant ships for several years before coming ashore to work in ship management.
That was a winding path: a year working for the Navy in the nuke sub program, several years as ship superintendent for a couple of major oil companies, and then starting my own marine surveying/consulting business. Early in the process I married my wonderful and patient wife of 39 years, who gave me two great sons. I traveled worldwide and lived for extended periods in three different countries, and managed several major shipbuilding projects in the U.S., Japan, Singapore, and China. Along the way, I met a lot of great, and some not-so-great, people. I started scaling back on the marine work to try my hand at writing in 2007.
The Vigilante Author: With such an interesting, active, and outdoorsy background, what prompted you to settle down to a new career so sedate and indoorsy as writing?