Tom Clancy was loyal to bookstore in New London that gave him first break

In this 1998 photo, author Tom Clancy signs copies of "Rainbow Six" at the Booksmith in the New London Mall.
Sean D. Elliot/The Day In this 1998 photo, author Tom Clancy signs copies of "Rainbow Six" at the Booksmith in the New London Mall.

When Tom Clancy was an unknown author releasing his first novel in 1984, he was invited to do a signing at the Booksmith in the New London Mall by the store’s owner, Judy Reed.

Clancy sat at the Booksmith counter all day, chatting with customers and signing books. It was a good turnout for a previously unpublished writer, in part because Reed had sent galley copies of the book — a little something called “The Hunt for Red October” — to some execs at the Naval Underwater Systems Center and the Naval Submarine Base in advance. That helped build buzz around here.

Reed has since died, but Booksmith manager — and later owner — Rich Swanson recalled Clancy’s bond with the shop Wednesday, as it was announced that Clancy had died at age 66 of an undisclosed cause.

Swanson, who now works at The Day, thinks that they sold about 75 copies of Clancy’s debut hardcover that day. The author was quite happy, especially since people had warned him not to expect a crowd and to be pleased if he sold a few books.

“He was absolutely thrilled, and he rewarded that dedication by coming back for every book,” Swanson said.

Indeed, in a 1996 interview with The Day, Clancy said Reed and her husband, Frank Diener, “were the first people to ask me to do a signing. On one level, I kind of owe it to them, and on another level, I come here for luck.”

And he kept returning — up until the store closed in 2000.

“On that last signing I did with him, we probably sold around 1,500 copies of the hardcover,” Swanson said. “He signed every single one of them and then some for stock.”

Clancy prided himself on besting the previous number of books he sold and signed at Booksmith, which could have a side effect for the man autographing each tome.

“He’d have to ice his hand on the way out,” Swanson said.

One year, Clancy did only two signings: at the Booksmith and at West Point.

“Every year, it just seemed he was a bigger and bigger deal,” Swanson said.

As for Clancy himself, Swanson said, “He was very reserved. ... He was very conservative.”

One time, his publicist told Swanson that Clancy needed to listen to something to help him relax — and asked him to put on some Rush. Swanson ran to Strawberries next door, bought a copy of the band Rush’s greatest hits, and put it on the Booksmith’s sound system.

The publicist approached Swanson again and said, “This isn’t quite what he had in mind — he likes to listen to Rush Limbaugh.”

The Booksmith-Clancy connection began when Reed attended the American Booksellers Convention in Dallas in 1984. Reps from the Naval Institute Press, which published “Red October,” the first work of fiction they had ever purchased, gave her a galley copy. She and her husband stayed up, reading it that night. The next day, she told the publisher they wanted the author in their store — they knew they could sell this submarine-focused techno-thriller in southeastern Connecticut, home of the Naval Submarine Base and Electric Boat.

Over the course of his career, Clancy became a force in the publishing world, selling more than 100 million copies of his books. The Associated Press has called him “the most widely read and influential military novelist of his time.”

Clancy had a little push in making a name for himself when then-President Ronald Reagan said at a dinner that he was losing sleep because he was reading “The Hunt for Red October” and couldn’t put it down. Clancy later said that Reagan’s comment helped propel that novel into becoming a New York Times bestseller.

A number of Clancy’s novels were made into films — “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger” among them. Another release, based on his character of CIA hero Jack Ryan, is set for the end of this year. Chris Pine follows in the footsteps of Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck and Harrison Ford as “Jack Ryan.”

Clancy, who was formerly an insurance agent, almost seemed to have an inside line on military matters, based on what he wrote. But he told The Day in 1987, “I don’t receive any classified information. I’ve never knowingly been exposed to any.”

He said the U.S. government did once offer him security clearance.

“I turned it down,” he said. “It would just get in the way.”

k.dorsey@theday.com

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