Obituary Note: Tom Clancy
|photo: David Burnett|
Tom Clancy, who arguably created the genre of military-techno thriller, died yesterday. He was 66 and was being treated in a Baltimore hospital for an undisclosed illness.
In the early 1980s, Clancy was an insurance agent in rural Maryland who wrote his first blockbuster, The Hunt for Red October, in his spare time. The manuscript was rejected by major publishers, which led him to approach the Naval Institute Press, in Annapolis, which had never published a novel. The Press took a chance with the book--and it was an immediate hit, helped in part by favorable comments from President Reagan, who hosted Clancy at the White House.
Berkley published the paperback of Hunt for Red October, and Clancy moved to Putnam for all his subsequent books. Clancy churned out blockbusters regularly, many of which featured CIA analyst Jack Ryan, who first surfaced in Hunt for Red October. Some of his titles also became blockbuster movies, including Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Clancy also set up a video game company and became a part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles. More than 100 million copies of his books are in print. Command Authority, another Clancy novel starring Jack Ryan, written with Mark Greanery, is scheduled to be published December 3.
Deborah Grosvenor, the editor who bought Hunt for Red October, told the New York Times that she had difficulty at first convincing her boss to publish the book because the author was unknown and Naval Institute Press had never published fiction.
She recalled: "I said, 'I think we have a potential best seller here, and if we don't grab this thing, somebody else would.' " Clancy, she said, "had this innate storytelling ability, and his characters had this very witty dialogue. The gift of the Irish or whatever it was, the man could tell a story."
The Day recalled Clancy's loyalty to the Booksmith, the New London, Conn., bookstore that closed in 2000 and was the first store to host an event by the unknown author. The late owner, Judy Reed, got a galley of The Hunt for Red October from a Naval Institute Press rep at the ABA convention in Dallas in 1984. "She and her husband [Frank Diener] stayed up, reading it that night," the Day wrote. "The next day, she told the publisher they wanted the author in their store--they knew they could sell this submarine-focused techno-thriller in southeastern Connecticut, home of the Naval Submarine Base and Electric Boat."
Clancy was so happy with his first event--at which he sold about 75 copies of his book--that he returned for signings of every new book, Rich Swanson, who was a manager and then owner of the Booksmith, recalled. One year, Clancy held signings only at the Booksmith and West Point. By the time of his last signing at the store before it closed, he signed some 1,500 books. "On one level, I kind of owe it to them, and on another level, I come here for luck," Clancy told the Day in 1996.