Memories of a Cover Story

Trademark cigarette drooping from his lip, Tom Clancy stands in the calm swirl of the Chesapeake Bay, a body of water which occasionally had a mention in his novels, in 1988. He was in the throes of the amazing success of The Hunt for Red October, followed on by Red Storm Rising, and many others. He had 17 of his novels hit No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

We spent some time together, and he was an amiable subject. Given his relationship with the Navy, we got ported out to the Aegis cruiser Yorktown, on maneuvers in the Atlantic, which was the setting for the cover below.

No lighting here, small or large. When a fast ship like this is moving, it’s not the time for a light shaper of really any description. We were on deadline, closing the cover, so this was 35mm Ektachrome, gray day, quick hit, done deal.

On the bridge, I pulled out some flash and gels, because, as Clancy said to me, “This is what Luke Skywalker wishes he had.”

I don’t know about that, ’cause the force still does seem kind of a cool thing to me, but Mr. Clancy was a devoted technophile, and one of his trademarks was the density of detail he brought to his accounts of hi-tech warfare. Shots like the above happen in a heartbeat. They scrub the screens, give you a non-classified angle to shoot from, and you are literally lighting, moving and shooting on gut feel, instead of considered decisions. No LCD digital confirm, and barely time for a 35mil Polaroid proof from a Marty Forscher back. A cover day like this, with a celebrity, on board a Navy vessel, no less,  is exhausting.

As always, the gift of a camera in my hands opened up the door to a fascinating couple of days with an author who captured the public imagination in a huge way. He will live on, of course, as authors do, via his words. His next book is out on Dec. 3.

More tk….