If you want to write techno-thrillers, where do you get your information from so that nobody can accuse you of writing sloppy research? You have the experts in your niche technical field review your novel to make sure every bit of technical strategy is accurate, could work, and reflects what might happen in a realistic scenario where the hero is brave enough and mature enough to take a measurable, calculated risk instead of a desire to make a flamboyant impact on others.
You do detailed research so that people in high places with technical expertise in your novel hero's field can verify the technology could work and your thriller is believable. Technothrillers also were popular more than a century ago, according to some of the books published then. (See, " Strange Horizons Articles: Revisiting the Victorian Techno-thriller."
When novelist, Tom Clancy died a few days ago at the age of 66, numerous journalists began writing intensively about where he found his ideas and inspirations for the page-turners that featured characters that appealed to audiences so much they were turned into films and video games that focused on geopolitical action. Thrillers reflect culture in many ways because they become page-turners that many people can't put down. They are not the type of books to read to get sleepy. With all the realism in Clancy's fiction, where did he find the information that translated into such attention to detail? From military books, articles, and interviews with experts. Check out, "Worldbuilding: why techno-thrillers are so good at detail « M J Wright."
Tom Clancy is America's, and the world's, favorite international thriller author. Starting with The Hung for Red October, all thirteen of his previous books have hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. His books, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears have been made into major motion pictures. He lived in Maryland where he was a co-owner of the Baltimore Orioles. For more information on Clancy's biography, see the site, "Tom Clancy Biography - Facts, Birthday, Life Story - Biography.com."
How did he get started, most writers ask? Where did Clancy get his details from that led to so many of his books earning No. 1 rankings on The New York Times' best-seller list during his lifetime? The answer is that with his first novel and first submission to a publisher, he sent his manuscript to a niche publisher with his first novel, not to a general fiction publisher. And the first publisher he sent his manuscript to had never before published a work of fiction. He sent his first novel manuscript to The Naval Institute Press, a publisher of nonfiction books about Naval strategies and technology. So just how do you persuade a nonfiction publisher to take a chance on publishing your Naval fiction thriller?
Think back that these were the 1980s, when there was no way to email your manuscript to a publisher and get a quick acceptance or rejection. You had to type out the entire book, hundreds of pages, and pay a hefty fee to mail the paper manuscript to a publisher, enclosing packaging and postage for its return. Nowadays in a paperless office at home, a writer usually emails a manuscript to a publisher or an outline and three chapters (usually the entire fiction work for a first book) with an outline. You are saved the cost of paper, packaging, and return postage. See, "The Rise and Fall of the Military Techno-Thriller."
Read relevant books, interview people in the line of work you're writing about, and have experts in the field review your technical details for accuracy
Since he never had access to classified material, the detail in the 1984 novel, Cold War thriller, The Hunt for Red October came from reading other books, interviewing people, and having access to papers available to any writer in the public for research. But Clancy knew people who could review his manuscript to make sure there were no errors. He asked two submarine officers to review the final manuscript. That way, he knew the details were pretty much accurate enough to have military readers enjoy the books, which then became known to the general public.
Some of these details were about knowing a Russian submarine spent only about 15 percent of its time at sea and how many Seahawk missiles it carried. That's one of the reasons why the books were best-sellers, because of the extreme attention to technical detail and accuracy. So a writer has to know someone who would agree to review the book for accuracy of such details.
The first people to respect Clancy's fiction were working inside the intelligence community and beyond. And although Clancy never had access to anything classified, there is enough information available to the public to write these types of thrillers. The result is measurable. Clancy became the most widely read and influential military novelist of his time. One of the reasons that the books became so popular was that president Regan mentioned he couldn't put down the book, he liked it so much.
That kind of grapevine compliment goes far in promoting, the heroic feats of Clancy's main character in his fiction, Jack Ryan. What the CIA loved about Clancy's novels is that the books didn't dwell on the CIA misdeeds that were exposed in the 1970s. Instead it made technology and intelligence parts of the hero character's persona. For example, thrillers such as Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October," "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger," were made into blockbuster movies, with another Jack Ryan film set for release on Christmas Day.
Here's where Clancy got many of his details for his novels
Clancy learned about a real-life 1975 mutiny aboard a Soviet missile frigate. By 1982, he started his thriller, "The Hunt for Red October." Now here's where Clancy differed from the average novelist trying to sell a first novel to a publisher. Instead of sending the novel over the transom to major NY publishers and finding the novel toss into the trash pile along with thousands of other manuscripts sent in cold by unknown writers, and instead of begging high-profile literary agents to take on an unknown with his first novel, instead, since the book was about Navy action, the first publisher he went to naturally was the Naval Institute Press. Here's the catch. the Naval Institute Press never published fiction before Clancy approached the publisher. But they took a chance on Clancy. For information about the Naval Institute Press see the site, "Naval Institute Press - Millions of titles, new & used - Amazon.com."
The book was published. And it landed in the hands of President Ronald Regan as a Christmas gift. Probably someone with connections with the Navy sent it to the president and had to be close enough to the president for Regan to accept the book as a gift, as usually presidents never get packages from the public. That means someone reading books published by the Naval Institute Press, close enough to the president gave it to the leader who said he liked the book.
The comment was overheard at a 1980s dinner and went viral long before the days of the Internet. And because of the president's remark, the book sales took off. Think what would happen if the president had tweeted his comment on Twitter or Facebook how it would spread the word about any writer's new book.
Clancy's book didn't follow the exact details of the actual mutiny as detailed in public media because the actual details revealed how the mutiny was quelled and never went anywhere. The mutiny fizzled out. But in Clancy's thriller, the Soviet submarine skipper hands his vessel over to the U.S. and defects.
Now that's fodder for a thriller or a strange news article or both. Having a president comment on a writer's book at a dinner is enough to help land the book on the best-seller list, which is where the book stayed for time enough for a movie to be made about the book. It wasn't just luck. The first step was to publish the book with the Naval Institute Press because who bought books published by them?
People in the Navy at all levels, including the highest ranks and those who teach leaders to run the Navy. And from that point, the popularity of the book trickles down the imaginary pyramid to the rest of the public seeking adventure that uses technology and intelligence.
Clancy focused the plot of the novels on a hero taking well-calculated risks
The heroes in his novels take the type of planned, measured risks that win. They don't take 'immature' risks to show off or make an impression or impact on others. They show planned, calculated bravery and win. That's why the attention to detail of learning how people in the Navy think when they're leading, what strategies and technology is used. Many writers wonder whether it was luck that sent a first novel and more books that follow with the same type of heroes and technology, books that soar into the stratosphere of bestsellers that get turned into popular movies and video games.
It could never be luck. What might be called luck was if he had sent the novel to a mainstream NY publisher of romance novels or a minor publisher of adventure fiction and then it gets published because of some quirk of luck or a random pick from a pile of manuscripts. What made it not blind luck was that the first publisher sent to was the Naval Institute Press. Who reads books published by the Naval Institute Press? It's Navy people, especially those high enough in rank to know the president and send him the book as a Christmas present.
If the book was published by any given fiction publisher, chances are it wouldn't be read by a niche group of people high up in rank in the Navy. So the sales went from the top of the pyramid to the public at the base. With most other publishers, the book goes from the average fiction reader on upwards to the niche audience at the top, which takes years to reach unless it gets the rare chance to be a best-seller from the start with the average reader before it filters up to people such as the president's dinner guests.
Writers have to deal with creative control when their novels are turned into films
Most book authors lose creative control about who plays their hero characters when a book is turned into a movie. Someone else usually writes the script and then others re-write that script. Clancy wrote about the Russians, Latin American drug cartels, Irish-British tensions, and Islamist terrorism. But what is left out of many news articles about Clancy is Clancy's excellent nonfiction works on the military. And what older readers often overlook are Clancy's video games, many of which are also best-sellers.
Some of the recent Clancy novels actually are collaborations, for example the recent Jack Ryan novels written in collaboration with Mark Greaney, including "Threat Vector" and a release scheduled for December, "Command Authority." Yesterday, "Command Authority" was No. 35 on Amazon's best-seller list. Interestingly, Clancy, who died at the age of 66, is the son of a mailman. But a childhood interest in military history fascinated Clancy. The author was an English major, like many other writers and writing educators. Clancy also liked to read about science and used his science interest in writing fiction. Check out, "Clancy’s Heir Apparent - “The Lion’s Prophecy”."
Did he start out as an English-creative writing teacher, like some other novelists? No, his military interest led to a job in an insurance office that had military clients. That's where you get to talk to people who live technical detail in their jobs. So what did he do with his environment without any access to classified information?
He wrote about it as fiction using details that were accessible to the public. For example, in the early 1980s he first made contact with the Naval Institute by writing a nonfiction piece about the MX missile system. The Naval Institute published his piece. But for a fiction writer who enjoyed being an English major, which includes reading lots of fiction works, Clancy started writing novels. Each day he wrote with a goal of five completed pages a day. For more information on Clancy, check out the October 3, 2013 Sacramento Bee article by, Sandy Cohen, AP Entertainment Writer, "Novelist Tom Clancy a master of military thrillers." Writing fiction is so much more entertaining than writing technical manuals which some fiction writers do before turning entirely to writing novels, when the novels begin to bring in enough income. One example is Jean Marie Auel who used to write technical works before turning to writing fiction about prehistory. See, Welcome to Authors Road: Jean Marie Auel, Novelist." Novelists really need to enjoy re-writing their fiction because that's when they get control of, that is, get a handle on their fiction.
His publisher notes that he's survived by a wife and five children. The point to writers who aspire to write fiction is to focus on those details that appeal to a niche audience to get your information correct. Clancy focused on military technology and history. And what made sure his books didn't contain inconsistencies was that he had military leaders actually read the manuscript to make sure all the details were accurate when it came to the technology and intelligence strategies, without using any classified information. The moral of the story is the information is out there in the public domain, but the most important link is who reviews your manuscript for accuracy when you detail technology and techniques. You can read more about his books on Amazon.com. See, Tom Clancy.