… well, I didn’t actually become Tom Clancy, didn’t want to be Tom Clancy. I just wanted to be like Tom Clancy. I wanted to spin submarine tales with the readability and success of Hunt for Red October. But with a difference. Clancy, as gifted as he is, writes about submarine and other warfare as an outsider. I wanted to write as a submariner. Texas Bar in Olongapo? Been there. Rig for dive? Done that.
So I did. Write submarine novels, I mean. Two of them: Sons of God, about the hijacking of an Ohio-class SSBN and subsequent blackmailing of the President, Israel, and the Palestinians by the hijackers (the ‘Sons of God’); and Ship Captain and Crew, about an SSN’s special operation against Iran in the 1980s.
When Jim Hay asked me, as he had asked George Wallace, Craig Etka and Don Ulmer before me, to write in THE SUBMARINE REVIEW about my adventures and lessons learned-in his words, ‘about the craft of story-telling’-1 was honored and motivated. The result follows.
Actually, I almost did become Tom Clancy when, through the good offices of John Byron, fabled submariner and a wonderful author in his own right, the Naval Institute Press accepted my novel, Sons of God, for publication. The Institute Press is, of course, the publisher of Hunt for Red October, which put Clancy on the map. Unfortunately, that acceptance offer was followed a week later by a new CEO of the Naval Institute who decreed, no more fiction publications.
At about that same time my literary agent, who had shopped my first two novels to all the major publishers with no success, told me, ‘Tom, all publishing houses are losing money. Unless your name is, well, Tom Clancy, or Rudyard Kipling you ain’t gonna get published.
So, self-publishing. Bummer. I wanted to spin yams, not figure out how to prep manuscripts for publication, how to find printers, how to market a book. Where do you find out about all that stuff?
The answer is: you find it where you find everything else, on the internet. I found a lady who fixed manuscripts for publication, cheap. I found a printer in Hong Kong who would print, cheap, my first book, a hardbound picture-history of the little Hawaiian plantation town where we live. I found another printer on Long Island who printed, cheap, my first novel, The Bimini Bovs, in paperback. He did such a good job that he printed Sons of God for me too. I was a published author with three books out there. But I was still faced with book distribution, billing, marketing … precious little time to write.
Then … along came e-books. Amazon made it really simple to upload book, book cover, and author profile onto their site. I e-published my two novels, and suddenly realized that my e-books were outselling my print books twenty-to-one. And I was selling electrons! No cost of printing and mailing, no billing, no nothing. Amazon wired money each month into my corporate checking account. When the fourth book, Ship Captain and Crew. was finished I simply uploaded it as an e-book without bothering with a print edition.
But hold on. So far this article only talks about the business and publishing end of the novel game. It doesn’t touch on what Jim Hay asked me to write about: the craft of st01)’-telli11g.
I’ll begin by saying that for me, and I’ll bet for George Wallace, Craig Etka and Don Ulmer, the delight is in the story-telling. Imagine cooking up a yam about the best times of our lives-the submarine days-and reliving those days on a printed page. Then imagine getting paid for it . . . having folks pay real money to read what we’ve written. It’s not the money, it’s an email saying that a reader loves the story.
The great thing about fiction is that it’s fiction. The author is unbounded. In Sons of God a boomer gets hijacked. In Ship Captain and Crew an SSN inserts the son of the Shaw of Iran and some armed troops back into Iran from an SSN to start a counter-revolution. In my first novel, The Bimini Boys, Ponce de Leon and his soldiers actually find the Fountain of Youth. They’re still alive today, 500 years later. What are they like? You can’t imagine how much fun it is to leap over the bounds of reality to spin a yarn.
And, a submariner writing about submarines can live vicariously. I can induce the sub skippers in my novels to do things I couldn’t do and correct mistakes I made in my command tour. Tommy Thompson, the Captain in Ship Captain and Crew, sets high standards for submarining that, in retrospect, I wish I had set. After a career firing exercise torpedoes I stand behind Jessie Gallagher, the attack boat skipper in Sons of God, as he fires Mark 48 warshots in combat.
I don’t start with Page 1 and write on through to Page 356. Rather, a scene, an episode, will come to me, with some character, some story that needs telling. I write that. Often, I have no idea of where it fits into the novel currently in progress, or if it will fit at all. They all do, though, sooner or later, like sewing a crazy-quilt together. Some of the Paris, London, and Israel scenes from Sons of God were penned and filed away five or maybe ten years before the novel was started.
The great thing about writing is that you can do it everywhere, all the time. I’m writing on a long drive across Oahu. I’m writing while I wait for my wife to finish shopping. I’m writing in the shower.
In sum, I never really became Tom Clancy, but I know how he feels. Creating a world of submarines, or wizards, or vampires, is a kick in the pants. I recommend it for any old submariner fart with time on his hands and a rich imagination. And if I can help you get started, ask me a question at firstname.lastname@example.org .
. . . and because Mrs. Jacobs didn’t raise any stupid children, here’s the commercial. Here’s how you can buy my books ore-books. Visit my website, www.mymysterynovel.com, where you can read the first chapters of the novels and then order them in print or as an e-book; or look up Tom Jacobs and Sons of God . Ship Captain and Crew, or The Bimini Boys. on Amazon (print) or Amazon Kindle (e-book).
So I didn’t become Tom Clancy, but I got close. We have the same first name …
THE SUBMARINE REVIEW
THE SUBMARINE REVIEW is a quarterly publication of the Naval Submarine League. It is a forum for discussion of submarine matters, be they of past, present or future aspects of the ships, weapons and men who train and carry out undersea warfare. It is the intention of the REVIEW to reflect not only the views of Naval Submarine League members but of all who are interested in submarining.
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