October 2nd, 2013
05:24 PM ET

I sent my first ever email to Tom Clancy

By the time I hit college, I had been on the World Wide Web a grand total of two times. I was a fan of traditional books and magazines (I still am) and figured the Internet was some kind of fad (I still kinda do) and couldn't think of a single reason to "log on."

That changed in my second year.

While I was at a used bookstore, I happened upon Seth Godin's book "Email Addresses of the Rich & Famous." According to the author the slim volume contained contacts for hundreds of reporters, editors, programmers, actors, producers, directors, CIA ex-spies, millionaires and entrepreneurs.”
And, it turned out, Tom Clancy.

Author Tom Clancy, master of the modern-day thriller, dead at 66

I was a fan of Clancy’s books – and the movies based upon them – and I was curious to see if he had any advice for a wannabe writer.

So, the next morning, for the first time ever, I went to my school's computer lab to send an email, loudly announcing to the room: “I need to get on email!”

After a minute of embarrassing silence one of my fellow students finally led me to a computer terminal and asked me for my student number and my mother’s maiden name. I gave them over happily and without hesitation and a few moments later, I was on email.

To give you an idea of how little I understood about electronic mail at the time, it took me about an hour to send my note to Tom Clancy.

I wasn’t sure where to put my ‘From’ information, I didn’t know which ‘Subject’ I hoped to cover and I couldn’t find the ‘@’ symbol on my keyboard. But, eventually, I got it done, hit send and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

“How long does it usually take to get an answer on email?” I asked the person at the computer next to me.

“Um…well…It depends how long it takes the other person to respond.”

“So how is this any better than regular mail?”

About 20 minutes later, “Tom Clancy” did send a response and it was a great one.

He explained how hard writing is and how, if you want to be good at it, you had better be willing to put in the time. Advice I still try to follow today.

At the end of my email to him, I included a line asking if he knew of any agents that would be willing to look at something I had written.

“They’re in the book,” he wrote, “Look them up.”

Over the years many people have asked me if I really believe it was the Tom Clancy who responded to my first email ever. As unlikely as it is, I still kinda do.

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