Tom Clancy (1947 – 2013)
To say that Tom Clancy was a creature of his times is not a put-down. It is a sovereign fact that he capitalized in a big way on the resurgence in capital P-style patriotism of the Reagan years, as well as the long-hoped-for healing of the nation’s wounds inflicted by the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal and the rise of the Rust Belt where our Industrial Might once stood. But that zeitgeist booster rocket he rode to vast fame and still vaster fortune would not have mattered one bit were Clancy not a first rate novelist—a master of the military thriller, a genre that if he did not invent, he made his own so thoroughly that he might as well have.
Clancy passed away Tuesday of undisclosed causes at the age of 66. To say he was an industry unto himself is not hyperbole. Seventeen of his novels sat atop the New York Times Best Seller List and one hundred million copies of his books are currently in print, but perhaps most culturally significant is that many of the movie adaptations of his books were not only wildly profitable, they were watchable as well (which probably had as much to do with Clancy's signature tight plotting, complex conflicts and memorable characters as anything the film makers did).
Clancy was nearing forty and working as an insurance salesman when he sold his first novel, The Hunt for Red October, in 1985. It did not hurt sales that the POTUS gave the novel an off-the-cuff blurb-worthy endorsement when chatting with a gaggle of reporters. So, there was a good deal of luck behind Clancy’s rise, though the same can be said for any successful writer—any successful person as a matter of fact, but again, all the luck in world wouldn’t have done him a bit of good if he was not a storyteller of the first water, a meticulous researcher, and a flat-out passionate professional.