“Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world. ”
– Tom Clancy
I realize that this epigraph is a repeat of the same quote I used in a post a few months ago, but this is my favorite one from Tom Clancy, so I think it’s worth re-using.
When I heard about Tom Clancy’s passing on Wednesday, I was naturally upset by the news. After all, Clancy has frequently been hailed as one of the greatest thriller novelists of all time. For anyone who isn’t familiar with him, I’ll give a brief summary.
Clancy was an insurance salesman until he sold his first book, The Hunt For Red October, in 1985 for $5000. From there he launched his publishing career and went on to write over twenty-five espionage novels, several of which were adapted into highly successful movies. When asked about his success, Clancy said, “What happened was pure dumb luck. I’m not the next Hemingway.”
And yet, if you walk into any book shop, you’ll most likely find an entire section devoted just to Clancy’s works. His name is up there with Stephen King, Judy Blume, and arguably even J.K. Rowling. If you know books, you’ve at least heard of him.
His final book actually hasn’t been released yet. It’s due out December 3rd, even though he passed away two days ago. And while the news of Clancy’s death was exceptionally upsetting for me, it isn’t because I’m a fan of his work. As a matter of fact, as shameful as this is for me to admit, I’ve never read a single one of his novels.
No, the reason I was upset is on a somewhat personal level. And thus, here’s my story about my interaction with Tom Clancy, which I think is fitting to share today.
As my avid blog readers know, I’m a teenage kid trying to get a book published. I have been for years. A little more than a year ago (August 2012), I was starting to do my research on the whole agent and publication process. I bought reference books, read author websites, and asked anyone who knew anything about how it worked.
As it happens, Tom Clancy grew up right around where I live. That itself was mind blowing when I found out…this super famous author whose name is in every book shop in America, lived only a few hours away from me? Cool!
So, I decided it was worth a shot to email him and ask for writing advice. I figured I could use the whole ‘hey, we both live in the same area’ as a sort of foot-in-the-door.
Of course, my odds of getting a response were about the same as expecting a response from Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. But hey, I actually did get a response from J.K. Rowling, so I thought this was worth a good shot too.
I sent the email and went on a weekend trip shortly before senior year started. When I got back from the trip and checked my email, I had a new message.
It was from Tom Clancy.
Crazy, right? Here I was, a seventeen year old kid, and one of the most well-known authors of modern American literature sent me writing advice. About half the literary agents you submit to these days don’t even take time to shoot you a rejection, and Tom Clancy—who is probably infinitely busier than them, and far less obligated to reply—took time out of his day to help me.
There are just some things where you can’t describe how much they mean to you, you know?
But, out of respect to Tom Clancy, I’ll try.
Mr. Clancy, the fact that you took any time to respond to my email at all is exactly the kind of reason I don’t give up in trying to get published. Never mind the actual advice, though that was incredibly helpful, too. But the fact that there are still people out there who made it and want to see others make it, too…it’s hard to describe how much that keeps me going. When I tell people I’m trying to get a book published, a lot of them say, “cool,” or sometimes, “good luck.” But the ones who who do things like give me advice because they really want to see me succeed…those are the kinds of people who keep me going. And Mr. Clancy is most definitely one of them.
I’ve never read a word of this man’s stories, but I already like and respect him more than many authors on my shelf. How he treated me is how I’ll aspire to treat others if I’m ever published, and I promise—publicly, on this blog, so I can’t back out—that if I ever do make it, I’ll do my best to help other people get where I am, just like Mr. Clancy was trying to do with me.
So, to wrap it up: Rest in peace, Mr. Clancy, and thank you for taking time to help me when you didn’t have to. I might not have read any of your books, but if you ask me, I’ve read the best words you’ve ever written.