Tom Clancy on Writing The Hunt for Red October

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The Hunt For Red October airs Sunday 11/4, 5pm |4 C – stay tuned for the enhanced DVD TV version 8pm | 7 C.

Tom Clancy attributes his success as a novelist to equal parts dogged persistence and deep research. "You learn to write the same way you learn to play golf," Clancy said. “You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired – it’s hard work.”

When Clancy’s first novel, The Hunt for Red October, was published, one former Soviet-watching intelligence officer conjectured that Clancy must have had inside information from U.S. intelligence personnel who intercept Soviet communications. “That’s a lot of crap,” Clancy replied. In fact, his basic sources were hundreds of books with dry titles like The World’s Missile Systems, Guide to the Soviet Navy and Combat Fleets of the World. Clancy also learned a great deal from a war game called "Harpoon", which the Navy used as an instruction manual for ROTC cadets.

However, Clancy claims that most of his research involves talking endlessly to the types of people he wants to write about….

For Red October, he interviewed former submariners who were
operating the Baltimore Gas & Electric nuclear power plant near his
home in Huntingtown, MD. At his publisher’s request, the finished
manuscript of Red October was read by two submarine officers,
who found only a few mistakes. For example, Clancy had put valves on
the bottom of the ballast tanks, rather than the top.

Clancy said that the only real blueprint he used when writing Red October was
a time-motion chart which kept track of where each character was as the
plot unfolded. “Fundamentally, I think of myself as a storyteller, not
a writer,” Clancy said. “I think about the characters I’ve created and
then I sit down and start typing and see what they will do. There’s a
lot of subconscious thought that goes on. It amazes me to find out, a
few chapters later, why I put someone in a certain place when I did.
It’s spooky. It can be agonizing, too, but god, it can be fun. When it
goes right, this can be so much fun that it’s just not work.”

That’s a good thing, because Tom Clancy’s reward for The Hunt for Red October’s
success was a three-book, $3 million contract with Putnam. The second
book Clancy would produce under that deal was a prequel to Red October,
also featuring ‘Jack Ryan’ – the 1987 bestseller Patriot Games.

“What happened to me was pure dumb luck – I’m not the new
Hemingway,” Clancy said. “Of course, fortune does favor the brave. In
battle, you forgive a man anything except an unwillingness to take
risks. Sometimes you have to put it on the line. What I did was take
time away from how I earned my living. My wife gave me hell – ‘Why are
you doing this?’ – but she doesn’t complain anymore. I wanted to see my
name on the cover of a book. If your name is in the Library of
Congress, you’re immortal.”

In 1988, Wanda Clancy wryly recalled the days before her husband
became a bestselling author. “He was writing at home every weekend. I
told him he should go back to selling insurance – I’ve eaten those
words a few times. But once I read the book, I changed my mind. Tom
said he’d be happy if it would sell 5,000 copies, but I told him not to
worry – it’d sell a lot more than that.”

Clancy’s popularity with the military brass opened the way for him
to tour nuclear subs, examine new aircraft carriers, spend a week
aboard a Navy frigate, drive an M-1 tank and shoot anti-tank missiles
at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Clancy spoke about the book at the
Naval Academy and even addressed the CIA at their headquarters in
Langley, VA about how he did his research.

For Tom Clancy, celebrity wasn’t a burden. “It’s like being cured of
leprosy,” he said. “Before, it was always, ‘Oh, no, here comes Clancy,
that insurance agent.’ Now it’s, ‘Oh, here comes Tom Clancy,
bestselling author.’ But I’m still the same basic middle-class slob.”

Related Links:

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Red October Succeeds Despite Glasnost and Perestroika

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