*Interview excerpt obtained from The New Individualist**
TNI: How was it that you, a dyslexic kid, suddenly decided to start writing? Where did that bug come from?
Flynn: Well, I read Trinity,and it opened up my eyes to a world that I had run from my whole life.
TNI: How old were you then?
Flynn: Nineteen. Sophomore year in college. So I start reading for the first time for enjoyment. And what happened was: I read all these books, and I always figure out what’s going to happen next. I’ve got an extremely intuitive mind that is never surprised by how books turn out. I literally know what’s going to happen from almost the first chapter on—which gets me thinking. I think almost every person at some point asks themselves, “Do I have it in me to write a book?”
I graduated from college in ’88. In ’89, the Berlin Wall comes down. At that point, I’m already thinking about writing a novel someday. So I thought, “The poor son of a bitch who is writing the Cold War novel when that wall came down, he’s screwed.” I think that most of your good authors spend a lot of time daydreaming and thinking. You look down the road—where’s it all going? You try to get out in front of reality and at least give people a rough sense of what it’s going to be like.
I had a friend who had been murdered after college in Washington D.C., and that provided the impetus for Term Limits. It eventually came down to a kind of epiphany: “Hey, if Clancy can do it, why can’t I? They need books; somebody has got to be the next Tom Clancy.”
TNI: You imagined this team of former Special Forces guys with a personal grudge against certain corrupt, powerful politicians—a team led by a former Navy SEAL, Scott Coleman. And they decide to take justice into their own hands. That story line taps powerful emotions. Everybody is infuriated by powerful persons who have stuck it to everyone and who get away with it.
TNI: And you think, “Boy, I would love to waste that guy!” Naturally, you immediately push it out of your mind. You can’t do that. But you tapped that powerful revenge fantasy in this novel.
Flynn: The book scares me. It scares me more now than it ever has before, because I see the national debt rising, getting worse and worse; I see the country possibly headed for some extremely dangerous economic times; I see the disapproval rating of politicians getting worse and worse. The novel scares me. And I get letters from people, I get comments from people.
TNI: They all live in Idaho and they drive Ryder trucks.
Flynn: Some of them are military people who say, “Too bad this can’t be real.”
TNI: And they say it way too seriously.
TNI: So, you wrote the book and got an agent.
Flynn: I had an agent during the process of amassing sixty-plus rejection letters.
TNI: Many people would find that impossible to believe, because Term Limits was compelling storytelling. What were some of the reasons you were given for the rejections?
Flynn: “No market.” “I can’t see who would buy this.” This, from people who have never listened to Rush Limbaugh, for instance; but they will tell you they hate Rush.
TNI: I read that you tacked all of those rejections onto your bulletin board.
Flynn: As a source of motivation. I looked through the file the other day. Quite a few people who rejected me still work at 1230 Avenue of the Americas—Simon and Schuster. I saw a couple of them last night. I always smile when I see them.
TNI: “Living well is the best revenge.” What surprises me is that it took so long to get the book accepted and published.
Flynn: It doesn’t surprise me, and it shouldn’t surprise you if you know this town. There are a lot of people who let their personal politics get in the way of making a good business decision. It’s also Hollywood’s biggest problem right now. Now that I’ve gotten to know the business, it doesn’t surprise me at all that the manuscript was rejected that many times.
TNI: After this thing went through sixty rejections, you finally decided to self-publish it, and then you shopped it around Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Flynn: I hand-sold it. I hired a publicist. It was not complicated. I was lucky that right after college I worked for Kraft General Foods. I knew how to go into an account: grocery store, bookstore—not a big difference. People in this business hate it when I say that, but marketing a box of Grape-Nuts is not that different from marketing a book. In fact, more and more, this industry is learning to take a cue from retail marketing: how to “brand” an author and give the readers what they want.
“You try not to take it personally. You dust yourself off, you keep going.”
I looked at that issue back then and said to myself: “New York missed both [John] Grisham and Clancy. Grisham had to go through a small press down in Mississippi. Clancy had to go through the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis, Maryland. The two biggest authors of the ’90s, bar none, other than maybe Crichton—and New York missed them.”
What you learn, growing up in a big family, is: You try not to take it personally. You dust yourself off, you keep going, and you say, “Hey, I still have got a shot at this.”
TNI: So, your self-published, self-sold Term Limits took off in the Twin Cities and became a local bestseller—and that finally got you a New York publisher for it. Was the new edition cleaned up a little bit?
Flynn: Yes, cleaned up a little bit. But still a very raw novel. I could not write that novel today. I think it’s very typical of a first book for an author. There are some imperfections in that book that I cringe over. I don’t go back and read my books.
TNI: You don’t?
Flynn: No, it’s painful to go back and read it. I will go back occasionally to check a fact, and I will read a sentence and go, “Oooh, I can’t believe I wrote that sentence; that’s horrible.”
TNI: Nonetheless, it was a great fantasy, and I think that’s why it worked.