PxPixel
Profile: Justin Scott - Sail Magazine

Profile: Justin Scott

When Justin Scott wrote The Shipkiller in 1978, it made the New York Times Book Review list and earned a spot on the International Thriller Writers list, Thrillers: 100 Best Reads, alongside The Odyssey, The Bourne Identity and The Hunt for Red October. TIME magazine wrote, “The saga…is as heady as Francis Chichester’s narrative, with a draught of Melville and a slosh of Josh Slocum.”
Author:
Publish date:
 The author at home

The author at home

When Justin Scott wrote The Shipkiller in 1978, it made the New York Times Book Review list and earned a spot on the International Thriller Writers list, Thrillers: 100 Best Reads, alongside The Odyssey, The Bourne Identity and The Hunt for Red October. TIME magazine wrote, “The saga…is as heady as Francis Chichester’s narrative, with a draught of Melville and a slosh of Josh Slocum.”

Since The Shipkiller, Scott has written 29 more novels, some under the pen name Paul Garrison, and has established himself as something truly unique: a successful sailing fiction writer. The Shipkiller is enjoying a 35th anniversary reprint, so we caught up with the author to learn what it takes to write a compelling sailing saga.

How did you become interested in sailing?

I’ve always liked boats. When I was little I would draw pictures of ocean liners and then my mother would draw the portholes because she was an artist and could draw circles. Growing up on Long Island, boats were around all the time. I had a little boat as a kid and drove a workboat in college. When I started writing, it never occurred to me to write sailing stuff per se, but I was writing mysteries and made excuses to write in some boat scenes.

How were you inspired for The Shipkiller?

I was trying to write a thriller, and it wasn’t working. Then one night I was reading Super Ship by Noel Mostert. In it, Mostert writes that shortly after the Israeli-Arab war, giant oil tankers began going around the Cape of Good Hope and then 50-ton South African fishing trawlers began to disappear. These giant oil tankers were hitting trawlers, driving them under the sea and destroying them. No one knew, including the people on the tankers, because they were so big.

Every now and then writers get lucky and get the whole idea, the whole book in one sentence. I thought: “What if a couple in love are sailing and are hit by one of these tankers and the boat is destroyed, and the wife is killed and the man survives by a miracle, and nobody knows it’s happened except him, but he can’t prove it?” The novel began. 

 The novel recently celebrated its 35th anniversary

The novel recently celebrated its 35th anniversary

How did you research the technical aspects of Shipkiller?

My editor suggested I book a passage across the North Atlantic in the winter on the smallest ship I could, so I did! I left Cape Fear in March on a Polish ocean liner with 12 cabins. Leaving at night with the river wild and the pilot boat roaring alongside was romantic and exciting. I wrote down everything.

Back in Long Island, I had a friend who was a good sailor and very articulate. We’d go sailing all day and he would tell me everything he was doing while I took notes. I also read up a storm of sailing books.

After I published Shipkiller, everybody invited me to come sailing because they figured, “This guy knows what he’s doing!” It gave me some lovely adventures: the Atlantic, deliveries to the Caribbean. It’s a different world offshore. A beautiful, beautiful world.

What does it take to become a successful sailing fiction writer?

Sea stories are hard to sell because they attract small audiences. I think one reason is because the sea is so far from anyone’s experience these days. When Melville was writing sea stories, people were hungry for information about the sea because they knew how important it was. Now it doesn’t stick in our minds, even though what goes on out there is hugely important to every one of us. I’ve always dreamed I would be the one to bring back sea stories in a huge way.

Why did you choose to write five of your later sea novels under the pen name Paul Garrison?

When I wrote the big sea story, Fire and Ice, my agent said, “You know they’re liking you as a mystery novel writer now, but if they could attach this book to a new name, to someone who is not a mystery writer, I might be able to sell it for lots more.” Without even putting much thought into it I said, “Sure, go ahead.”

Do you have any advice for writers?

Write the kind of book you like. At the end of the day you need more pages than when you started with, and it becomes a job of production. To make books, you have to sit down and write them.

Related

HB96k_EP

Sea Eagle’s HB96 inflatable SUP

What SUP?Dinghies and kayaks are all very well, but there’s nothing like a stand-up paddleboard for exploring interesting new shorelines while giving you a good workout. Sea Eagle’s HB96 inflatable SUP makes a fine addition to your boat’s armory of anchorage toys, either on its ...read more

DSC_0031-43

Charting the USVI and Spanish Virgins

When my friends and I booked a one-way bareboat charter with Sail Caribe, starting in the U.S. Virgin Islands and finishing in Puerto Rico, we were a little nervous about what we would find in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria—even seven months later.When our plane ...read more

SailRepairKit

Know How: Sail Repair Kit

Despite your best efforts, there will inevitably be times when your sail gets damaged while at sea and needs to be repaired. First, no matter what the job, you will need to do a quick damage assessment, a task that requires a flat wooden surface, sharp scissors and a helping ...read more

01-061018ROAC-8149

Coming of Age at the Atlantic Cup

Midway through the final race of the inshore portion of the 2018 Atlantic Cup, the three boats in the lead—Mike Dreese’s Toothface 2, Mike Hennessy’s Dragon and Oakcliff Racing, representing the Long Island Sound-based sailing school of the same name—suddenly broke free from the ...read more

01_silken_2018-03-08-0052

North U’s Regatta Experience Program

“Want to check the keel?” North U Coach Geoff Becker calls to me from back by the transom. We’ve just suffered our worst finish in the regatta and are absolutely flying on our way back to shore, spinnaker up and heeling at an angle that feels like maybe we’re tempting fate. ...read more

Navy-Sand-Dune_1080

Tucket Footwear’s Giller Shoes

Just for KicksMove over Crocs, there’s a new plastic shoe in town. Unlike the aforementioned fashion crimes, Tucket Footwear’s Giller shoes are made for boating. Water will get in, yes, but it will also run straight out again via rows of “scuppers” in the uppers and a dozen drain ...read more

01-m3113_git170829-294

France’s Maxi-tri Ultime class

It’s hard to believe how far foiling has come since the Moth class figured out how to reliably take to the air in the early 2000s.Was it really only in 2013 that the America’s Cup was dragged kicking and screaming into the foiling world by Emirates Team New Zealand back in San ...read more

GGTobagoCays

Cruising: Guadeloupe to Grenada

Our Dream Yacht Charter delivery started as a “wouldn’t it be fun if” idea. Those are usually misguided, if not downright stupid. But a Bali 4.3 named Jumelles (French for “twins,” appropriately) needed to leave Guadeloupe to do heavier charter work in Grenada, and as soon as I ...read more