The literary world lost one of the greats this week with the passing of legendary thriller writer Tom Clancy at the age of 66. Some of Diversion's own thriller authors wanted to share their stories about this luminary in the field.
It was the America Online era of the internet, the tender pink dawn of electronic communication. I happened upon Tom Clancy’s email address and drafted an email with the subject line: Electromagnetics & Wave Theory. In retrospect I’m not sure why I chose that. I guess I wanted something more interesting than “I LOVE YOUR WORK!!!!!! ZOMG!!!!”, even if the body of the email basically conveyed that message.
To my delight and surprise, he wrote back. And so began a two-year correspondence with an American master. I was writing a book that would become God’s Country – a still much loved and still unpublished book. I spoke about it humbly with Tom, giving him the basic outline: “A US spy plane crash lands in a militia compound.” He said it was actually a great premise for a book. Every time I wanted to quit, I would think of him saying it was a great idea. It powered me through several years of false starts and endless revisions. I would think, “If Tom Clancy thinks it’s a cool idea, the world needs it.”
He was more kind than he needed to be. A class act. I will miss him.
We owe debt of gratitude to Tom Clancy. He opened our minds to the clear and present dangers that exist in the world beyond James Bond; the world of real madmen and political terrorists, unthinkable threats and unfathomable dangers.
I inhaled, consumed and embraced Tom Clancy’s work. He created remarkable heroes with moral fortitude whose ideals embodied America’s place in the world and our place in America. And he literally wrote the book on how we must deal with the frighteningly new normal that reveals itself with the day’s news.
The clock was always ticking at breakneck speed in Tom Clancy’s novels. I wish it had slowed down for him in life. Now, more than ever, we need his perspective on things as they are and things to come.
Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October was the first thriller I read. What was most interesting the Naval Institute Press out of Annapolis that published military topics was the publisher. I sat down the night I bought it and couldn't stop reading. The detail, the pace, the characters hooked me. Mr. Clancy's novel started me on my journey and I'm sure many other writers of suspense. Farewell and thanks fellow writer.
Sometimes –often, in the darkest of dark moments—writers tend toward an odd sort of refuge in dark humor. For what I’d hope is one example, there’s the kneejerk reflex from Gore Vidal, who —upon hearing of the death of his longtime literary “frenemy,” Truman Capote— was reputed to have remarked “good career move.”
Hard to compete with that one.
Wednesday morning —upon hearing of the death of thriller-master Tom Clancy—all I could muster was a weak-by-comparison “too bad Clancy had to live long enough to watch Ben Affleck massacre Jack Ryan.”
I like to think Clancy would have chuckled at that snarky wisecrack. From his writing, from the interviews with him that I’ve read… well, Clancy seems the kind of guy who would have done so —and would have come back with the kind of writer’s-conference insider-jibe that would have had everybody at the table in stitches.
Too late now. Too late to do anything but imagine that scene. That’s another way writers deal with bleak events.
They’re dying young these days, it seems; the kings of the thriller genre, I mean. Clancy was 66 –and if you think that is elderly, you probably came into the fold of Clancy-fandom relatively late in the game. Four months earlier, Clancy had seen another talented writer of the genre --Vince Flynn, who oft cited Tom Clancy as his own inspiration to take up the thriller-trade—die at age 47.
Naturally, in my imagination, Flynn would have been at the table too; he and Clancy would have had much in common, a lot to talk about. Oh, sure: both men would have shown respect to the old guy at the head of the table —Elmore Leonard, of course. But Leonard, for all his own mastery, painted on a smaller canvas than did Clancy and Flynn. I image that when Leonard spoke —short, succinct comments, leaving out all the stuff readers skip past— both men would have nodded deferentially.
But then, I suspect, Clancy and Flynn would have leaned close together, murmuring about geopolitical threats, looming apocalyptical plots, and comparing notes on the latest otherwise-Top Secret tips that the brotherhood of intelligence insiders —Clancy/Flynn fans, all— had slipped to them.
Oh, to have had a seat at that table! Even at the farthest, below-the-salt chair. What wonderful things to be overheard; what a marvelous tutelage to be had.
As I said, too late now.
Except, perhaps, in the world of the imagination, a kingdom where all three men reigned during their lives. And except —and this is certainty— in their books, where they will reign for as long as any reader seeks out true thriller-writing mastery.
Now, in my own imagination, I hear a rather comforting sound: it’s not unlike that of a chair being pulled out, perhaps in a conference-hotel bar. And now two men —one older, one younger— are cheerily welcoming a third to their table.
Oh, to hear what they’ll say next!
Rest in peace, Tom Clancy. I’m going to miss your work. We all will.