The Night Boat Afterword
Robert McCammon Tells How He
Wrote The Night Boat
The Night Boat was the second novel I wrote, but the third one published. If you'd like to know why that was, write me a letter and I'll be glad to tell you a tale of dark and twisted passages.
The Night Boat actually had its beginnings in a drawing of a dinosaur that scared the jelly out of me as a kid. It showed an aquatic beast with a mouthful of gleaming teeth emerging from dark water to snap at a pterodactyl's leg, the full moon shining down and gleaming off the white-capped waves. Long after everyone else in the house had gone to sleep, I lay in bed and heard the sound of waves on prehistoric shores, and the thrashing of a huge and hideous body emerging from the depths. The hero in The Night Boat, David Moore, remembers the same drawing.
I also am fascinated by machines. Particularly ships and submarines. I can imagine nothing more grim than to be two hundred feet underwater in a leaking, moldering submarine. They didn't call them Iron Coffins for nothing, and it took iron-willed men to survive in them. Most of the German submarine crews didn't.
The Night Boat is a mixture of dream and nightmare. A dream in that the location, the colors, the language are idyllic;nightmarish because the Night Boat invades the dream and destroys it. I took scuba-diving lessons in researching The Night Boat, but I wasn't able to afford a trip to the Caribbean. It amazes me still that a review I got for the book went to lengths to say how accurate the reviewer thought I'd gotten the cadences of island language. I listened to many hours of calypso music and spoken Caribbean dialect records.
Events and impressions in an author's everyday life are always mirrored in the work he or she is doing at the time. While I was writing The Night Boat, I lived in a cramped little roachhole of an apartment on Birmingham's Southside. Honestly, I could hear the roaches running wild in the ceiling over my bed as I tried to sleep. And my upstairs neighbors played their stereo at an ungodly volume all hours of the night, so round about two or three in the morning you could hear the other neighbors banging on their walls to get the music shut down. That weird, rhythmic hammering in the early hours remained with me and found its way into The Night Boat. When the crew hammers at the rotting hulk of the submarine, it's actually irate neighbors at two o'clock in the morning trying to get Led Zeppelin silenced. The roaches in the ceiling I saved for another book.
Now, eight or nine years after The Night Boat was first published, I think often of Coquina Island. It is a beautiful place, surrounded by emerald water, with fresh trade winds and golden sand, green palms swaying in the breeze, the scent of cinnamon and coconut in the air. It was created by a young man whose apartment looked out over a junk car lot, the smell of burned onions wafting from somebody's kitchen, and burglar bars on the windows. Ah, the luxury of the imagination...
The Night Boat is about the merging of dream and nightmare, confinement and escape, and what I think of as the whirlpool of Fate. David Moore thought he'd escaped that whirlpool, but it was waiting for him, there below the surface of emerald waters, where the monsters doze but never sleep.