How Tom Clancy Changed My Life

David Bruns remembers meeting Tom Clancy just after the publication of The Hunt for Red October—an encounter that would forever change his life. Plus, comment below for a chance to win David's new military thriller Rules of Engagement!

In the summer of 1984, I entered the U.S. Naval Academy as a plebe, or fourth-class midshipman. In October of that same year, Tom Clancy published his first novel, The Hunt for Red October. A few months later, our paths crossed.

The meeting was the opposite of memorable. In fact, it was purely mercenary on my part. My English instructor promised extra credit to anyone who attended a book talk by an unknown Naval Institute Press fiction author. (As midshipmen, we knew the NIP as the organization that published Proceedings. This was the first time the Naval Institute Press had published fiction.) I didn’t really need the extra credit, but why pass up the chance to bank some points?

1st Edition of The Hunt for Red October. / Credit: Abe Books

In his life before The Hunt for Red October became uber-popular, Clancy was an insurance salesman and… well, that evening he looked exactly like an insurance salesman. Ill-fitting tweed jacket over a standard white shirt and dark tie, thick glasses—you get the picture.

His talk was equally uninspiring. I remember him fumbling for words in an arena-style lecture hall filled with a few dozen midshipman drowsing after a dinner in King Hall. Most of them, like me, probably attending for the extra credit. He told us he had never served in the Navy, but he had written a novel about a defecting Russian submarine captain and the US sub trying to track down the wayward Russkie. I remember thinking at the time that he was an unlikely success story. His technothriller—an unfamiliar term at the time—had been rejected by all the major publishing houses until it was picked up by the Naval Institute Press.

I was young. I was skeptical—possibly even scornful—of this civilian writing fiction about my future profession.

I was also wrong. I should have listened more closely to Mr. Clancy.

It’s tough to put into words just how The Hunt for Red October took the U.S. Navy—especially the submarine force—by storm. The mid-1980s was the height of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union, and Clancy’s tale of two submarines fed into the mystique of the high-stakes, undersea, cat-and-mouse game between superpowers.

During summer breaks, midshipmen served in the U.S. Navy Fleet as part of our professional training. I volunteered for a “cruise” on a submarine. (Most first-years were sent to surface ships, but volunteers were taken for submarine duty.) I spent eight weeks at sea on the USS Albuquerque, a Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine out of New London, Connecticut. Today, a photo of that submarine, signed by the captain, hangs on my office wall.

On that extended summer operation, Red October made the rounds through the crew. I remember discussing the book during a slow watch with the grizzled Chief of the Boat. “Couldn’t read it,” he said to me. “Too much like being on watch.” And he was right—it was that realistic.

But me? I read it twice during my first stint at sea. I was hooked.

But the story doesn’t end there. I graduated from the Academy with a commission as an ensign and entered the nuclear power training pipeline. A few years later, I was back in New London, this time for Submarine School, the final stop for officers before they went to the Fleet. The movie adaptation of The Hunt for Red October was released that spring and the base bought out an afternoon showing for the Sub School classes. I can still picture it: an entire movie theater packed shoulder to shoulder with khaki-clad twenty-somethings and their instructors, all cheering for the good guys (which also happened to be us) during the final action scene with the submarine launching out of the water in an emergency blow operation.

Photo Credit: David Bruns

By then, I already had orders to report to the USS Baton Rouge, a Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine just like the one in the movie and could not have been happier. My dream was coming true. It felt right that I was seeing my old friend Red October on the eve of becoming a real submariner.

In many ways, Clancy’s writing shaped a generation. In his microcosm of the battle of wits between the Red October and the Dallas, he captured the essence of the increasingly tense Cold War, putting the conflict in stark terms. The Russians and their system of government were evil, the United States military were the heroes. The Soviets were ten feet tall with more ships, more troops and more bombs than us. We were the underdogs and the only way to beat them was to be faster, smarter, and more agile than our enemy. Clancy’s stories drove that message home to a public looking for a way to process that tense period in our nation’s history.

In the years since that meeting with Mr. Clancy, I’ve seen countless clips of him speaking with great eloquence. But my mind always drifts back to that first meeting, when he fumbled for words and I let youthful arrogance cloud my thinking.

The Hunt for Red October had a profound influence on my life. After graduation, I went on to serve in the nuclear submarine force. In the mid-90s, after the Cold War was proclaimed dead, I left the Navy to pursue a career in high-tech. After a few decades, I changed careers again. Today, I write technothrillers—just like Tom Clancy.

Such is the power of story.


David Bruns and his writing partner, J.R. Olson, form the Two Navy Guys writing team. Together, they pen national security thrillers about the men and women who keep our country safe from the risks of the 21st century. Their new novel, Rules of Engagement, about North Korean cyberwarfare, is on-sale June 25th.

About Rules of Engagement:

A terrorist breach of the computer systems of the three most powerful navies is about to set them on a collision course for World War III.

Rafiq Roshed is one of the most wanted men in the world. A terrorist with a virulent grudge against the West, he’s disappeared into North Korea where he quietly launches cyber sneak attacks in service of Kim Jong-un. But now he’s about to unleash his virtual masterpiece—a computer virus that, once inserted into the command systems of a military, not only takes over, but also learns the art of war. First penetrating the Chinese, he has their war machine launch a series of attacks on the U.S. Pacific forces.

Don Riley, head of U.S. Cyber Command, discovers that not only have the Chinese lost control of their military, but the same virus has infected the American network. It’s only a matter of time before the U.S. loses control of its own military. His secret weapon in this war is a trio of supremely talented midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy, who uncover the infiltration, and are working to track down the elusive terrorist.

But time is running out. China and Japan have lost control of their military and the U.S. is in danger of doing the same. The weapons are hot and the result is an ever-larger real-world conflict where casualties continue to mount. The only remaining hope is to find and stop the attack at its source—before time runs out.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Rules of Engagement by David Bruns & J. R. Olson!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

Rules of Engagement Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at http://www.criminalelement.com/how-tom-clancy-changed-my-life/ beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) June 18, 2019. Sweepstakes ends at 2:29 p.m. ET July 2, 2019. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.

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Comments

  1. Anne

    Intriguing and captivating. Love the era and story.

  2. Don Mcclure

    Thanks for the giveaaway

  3. Stacie Kronschnabel

    I loved The Hunt for Red October. Rules of Engagement sounds like something that could possibly happen in our day and age. Sounds like a thrilling read! Excited to check it out.

  4. Shirley Evans

    Love Tom Clancy! Thanks for the chance.

  5. Alisha Danko

    Looking forward to a relaxing night to get immersed in this fantastic read.

  6. Krysten Segesta

    Sounds engaging! Can’t wait to read it!

  7. Trisha

    LOL Yes Navy MWD Do jump out of plane and do so much more. Can’t wait to save the money for the audio so I to can enjoy. Thanks a lowly NavyPOVet

  8. Antoine Sabbagh
  9. Patricia Reed

    I, too, loved the Hunt for Red October. Read it and then saw the movie and that was great too!!

  10. John Q. Wilson

    An apology midshipman adds to the intrigue of this book. Can’ wait till reading it. Winning it would only add to the experience.

  11. Dawn

    What a scary possibility! What an interesting read this would be!

  12. Shannon Wise

    That sounds like the most original premise I have read in a long time. I can’t wait to read it.

  13. zdrive

    I love these stories about successful creators who were rejected over and over. Same with J.K. Rowling.

  14. John OBrien

    I was another early reader of The Hunt for Red October. Still have my NIP edition.

  15. Jayne L. Homsher
  16. susan atkins

    I love tom Clancy, cannot wait to read this book , hope I win

  17. carloshmarlo

    I’d love to win a copy of Rules of Engagement, thanks for the chance!

  18. Tiffany

    Thanks

  19. Richard Weisskopf

    I first read The Hunt for Red October right after it was published. Couldn’t put it down and became a fan of all Clancy fiction.

  20. Carol Lawman

    How fortunate you were to have met him! I look forward to reading this book ~ they’re all great!

  21. Michael Carter

    Please enter me in this giveaway.
    Thanks!

  22. Sal

    This is an awesome backstory on Tom Clancy. Can’t wait to read Rules of Engagement!

  23. ravensfan

    I would love to win this book.

  24. Terry Bologna

    I’ve enjoyed all the Tom Clancy books (having spent my formative years and early adulthood in Northern Virginia, babysitting, delivering newspapers, and going to school with any number of “military families” and diplomats); Hunt for Red October has long been one of my favorites.

    I am looking forward to Rules of Engagement.

  25. GRACE POSEY

    Have always enjoyed Tom Clancy novels.

  26. Nicole Seabolt

    Sounds fantastic

  27. Pearl

    Sounds fabulous.

  28. Stephanie L Nelson

    Who doesn’t love Tom Clancy! This book you guys put together sounds fantastic! Can’t wait to read it!

  29. Cherie Gravette

    Thank you for this chance! Sounds like a truly must read!

  30. Carolyn

    Rules of Engagement sounds like it will be a great summer read!

  31. Carolyn

    Rules of Engagement sounds like a great summer read!

  32. Heidi Halberg

    Tom Clancy draws you into each book and does not let you put it down.

  33. Deborah D

    What a neat story.

  34. Deborah Dumm

    Great story.

  35. Daniel M

    sounds interesting

  36. Diana Hardt

    It sounds like a good book. Thank you for the chance.

  37. SusanE

    My reading tastes have changed over the years and nowadays I really enjoy these types of books. Looks like something to get completely lost in!

  38. Rita Newhouse

    With Iran being accused by the trump administration of attacks on two oil tankers and fears of escalating war, perhaps the author’s next book could have the navy subdue this threat and save so many lives.

  39. William Hamilton

    I had a first edition of The Hunt for Red October that I sent to my brother in law assigned to an aircraft carrier. The dozens who read it were enthralled. If this book lives up to Clancy’s techno-thrillers it should be terrific.

  40. Deb Philippon

    I would love to read Rules of Engagement. Wish me luck!

  41. Susan Robinette

    Sounds like a great summer read!

  42. Jackie Wisherd

    Sounds like a story I would enjoy reading.

  43. Barbara Raeuber

    Love this kind of plot!

  44. Nelson Lopez

    Red October was my first dip into the “Technothriller” genre and I havnt looked back since. I will definitely try your books. Regards

  45. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  46. Shelly111!

    I would love to receive this book. I also served in the Navy during the mid eighties!

  47. Karen Mikusak

    Sounds great! Would love to win.

  48. pat murphy

    Classic thiller .

  49. Judy Woodruff
  50. michael babb

    I’ve had my grandfather, two uncles, and my step dad serve in the navy. All during wars. I grew up during the cold war. I’ve heard story after story about what happened during their wars. I have got a giant hard on to read this book. Even if I don”t win a copy. I’m going to be at the store buying this book. But it would be nice to get one.

  51. Linda

    Can’t wait to read Rules of Engagement!

  52. sue weatherbee

    Thank you

  53. Kathleen Kendler

    Thank-you for this intriguing write up. I have a strong military background and have often enjoyed this genre.

  54. Mark Johnson

    I was stationed at Minot AFB, ND, firefighter, one of the more, ummmmmm…conservative members and I would always talk books, and he mentioned HUNT, I bought it in paperback (which I still have 32-ish years later). I still remember sitting in the mess hall eating biscuits and gravy, and devouring the book.

    For some people it’s music that takes them back, for me it’s books.

  55. Robin Weatherington

    Loved Hunt for Red October, can’t wait to read ROE!

  56. Susan Glatki

    This book sounds right up my alley. I love espionage and edge of your seat, can’t wait to see what happens thrillers.

  57. L

    Loved his story of meeting Tom Clancy, and how Hunt For Red October became a very impactful part of his life. Rules of Engagement sounds like a very current issue that we could imagine actually happening. Sure to be an exciting read!

  58. paul klumbach

    looks to be cover to cover reading day

  59. Beth Talmage

    A close relative–a surrogate father to me–was a submariner. I keep thinking I should read some Tom Clancy to better understand him.

  60. Joyce Wolcott

    Your new books sounds quite timely. I’ve added it to my TBR list. Thank you for the sweepstakes!

  61. Russ Cross

    The book sounds really good. Thanks for the giveaway.

  62. Janet Gould

    I love this article, how lucky to see the struggling author before becoming highly successful. This book looks great. Can’t wait to read it.

  63. Peter W.

    Yes!

  64. Patricia wright

    My husband and I both love Tom Clancy books.

  65. Laurent Latulippe

    I love Tom Clancy and military fiction. I look forward to reading this.

  66. Ed Ruggero

    In1988 I was teaching English at West Point and invited the newly famous Clancy to talk to my students. HIs visit turned into a two day VIP tour and he generously signed every book proffered by a cadet. Later he read a partial manuscript of mine (about land warfare in Korea) and, since he liked it, introduced me to his agent. He was a kind gentleman.

  67. Emma Cazabonne

    Totally sounds like a cyber thriller I would really enjoy. Thanks for the chance to win

  68. Paul Gada

    Tom Clancy set the stage for today’s military/political thriller.

  69. Annette Omullan

    Thanks for this wonderful opportunity!

  70. Saundra K Warren

    not my usual genre but it sounds interesting

  71. Theresa Casteel

    I remember the book and seeing the movie and was completely fascinated by it. If this new book hits the mark, it will also be a success.

  72. Joyce

    I love me some intrigue. Can’t wait to read.

  73. Rebecca Joy Mensinga

    I love historical fiction. I am interested in reading this book.

  74. Jana

    I enjoyed the post.

  75. Bonnie Whyte

    Go Navy! THFRO was a game changer; even the movie was great!

  76. Laurie Sandretto

    Thank you for the article.

  77. Sally Schmidt

    I began working for an aerospace company in the early 1980’s and we passed around all of Tom Clancy’s books, too. Thanks for the giveaway, looks like a great read.

  78. Don Schodts

    Having served in USN and participating in the ‘police’ action off Korea, I was enthralled with the Hunt. I’ve been hooked on Clancy’s prolific penmanship ever since. Thank you for the insight into Clancy’s background, and for this opportunity to read an ‘update’ thriller. Much success to ‘ya !

  79. John Davis

    I too was among a class of officers greatly influenced by Mr. Clancy. His ability to spin a remarkable tale which included drama, action, and technology in equal parts was certainly a major accomplishment. Here’s wishing Mr. Bruns all the luck in the world as he pursues his writing career, too. Watching for great things from him!

  80. Christal M

    Sounds like a great read

  81. Marisa Young

    Loved The Hunt for Red October. Interesting to hear about its impact. Will have to read Rules of Engagement.

  82. Michael Shulman

    Sounds really interesting

  83. Frank Wolfe

    I’m retired Army and enjoy this genre. Tom Clancy and Dale Brown are two of my favorite authors. Would be great to read this.

  84. Karen Terry

    I see why you like Tom Clancy’s books. They are thick books and are not boring.

  85. Adam Amick

    Thanks for your service! I grew up with the Army, and read Clancy in the 80’s as a teen. I plowed through Red Storm Rising in two and a half days in high school. Loved his (original) works. I look forward to checking out your piece. Congrats on achieving your goals.

  86. Gordon Shenkle

    I was not in, but I spent quite a bit of time working on the combat systems on the DALLAS and other 688 flight 2 boats as a civilian. I also walked the decks of the DALLAS and your BATON ROUGE while they were under construction in the shipyard. Wonderful story, great movie as well…

  87. LINDA COSBY

    I would like to read this book.

  88. Ray Lane

    Love Clancy and love your story about meeting him. Looking forward to reading your book.

  89. Glen Nelson

    After Red October, I read all of Clancy’s as soon as I could get them , can’t wait to read yours

  90. Jim Belcher

    He is not the first author to not be a great speaker. One does not follow the other, but many who dedicate themselves to presentation like they do to their writing do become good to excellent presenters

  91. Jim Belcher

    He is not the first author to not be a great speaker. One does not follow the other, but many who dedicate themselves to presentation like they do to their writing do become good to excellent presenters

  92. John Smith

    Well, if it compares with the best of Tom Clancy….

  93. SUSAN GANNON

    intrigue is awesome thanks for the chance

  94. SUSAN GANNON

    thanks for the chance to win and share

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