For those who missed the news, author Vince Flynn died this past week. I have wanted to write a post about his death and his impact on my life since the moment I’ve heard the news, but I’ve simply been unable to find the words. So, I’ve just been down and have avoided writing about it.
His death hit too close to home, and his age — 47 — reminded me how short our time on this earth can be. I was beyond shocked to find out he had died. I knew he had been battling cancer for about three years, but just seven months ago, he was promoting his books on various TV outlets and he looked strong. (I know this because I watched many of them, just to be sure, and looking for even a single clue that he was lying. Yes, I’m that in love with the man.)
And in each of them, he stated his health was good and implied he was fine. That the cancer had been beaten back. And with those words and the video clips I saw, I assumed he was healthy and well.
Turns out he was just showing the kind of courage that he wrote about with his one-of-a-kind character Mitch Rapp.
If you had to nail me down and make me choose just one, I would have to say that Vince Flynn is (or must I now say was?) my favorite author. I haven’t even finished all of his books, having only discovered him probably six or nine months ago, but his writing skill, his knowledge of the CIA, and his hard-hitting sentences and full-throttle pace have quickly hooked me and made most of his “peers” look like high school drop outs in my eyes.
I’m weird in that I can grow tired of reading about the same character in back-to-back books, and so as I’ve tried to take a break from the Vince Flynn “Mitch Rapp” series, I’ve found it’s been nearly impossible. I’ll buy a big-name author’s book and struggle through it for a ways before missing Flynn’s style too much. And like a coke-addict, I jump on Amazon and buy his next book.
I fell for Flynn for a lot of reasons. His books are similar to what I write, so that alone would have grabbed me at some point, but more than just that, I really was struck by his author story, if you will.
First, he quit his job so that he could find more time to write. As anyone knows, that’s a huge gamble and beyond risky. And then, once he finished his first book and had collected more than 60 rejection letters to publish it, Flynn did the nearly unthinkable back then. He self-published it.
Yes, he self-published his first book, and this is WAY back in 1997. I’m assuming it probably cost at least $3,000 to do, and possibly as high at $5,000 or more since my knowledge of pricing for self-publishing in print only goes back to about 2005 — and they for sure didn’t do print on demand back then, or limited quantities for self-publishing; you had to go all in, and you had to spend a lot of money on what was usually a pretty shitty printing job. (And don’t forget he had already quit his job to make it happen… Talk about doubling down on your bet…)
And despite what I’ll nearly guarantee was a crappy print job by the publisher, Vince’s first book still become a local best seller, and from there, he landed a real publisher and never looked back.
For me, I started my love affair with Flynn by the time I finished his second book and realized the first book I read of his wasn’t just a lucky grand slam. And since I was intrigued as to just who this guy was, I jumped on YouTube to watch an interview and see what he was like in real life.
And let me tell you: He was as good in his media appearances as any author that I know. And since I’m wanting to be a best-selling author, I started watching every interview I could find of him. I watched dozens and dozens of them and tried to pay attention to how he carried himself, how he spoke, how he handled the uncomfortable questions.
It was weird for me to fall for a modern-day author. Two of my favorite authors — Steinbeck and Hemingway — were obviously before my time. Another — Robert B. Parker — was in his last years by the time I unearthed his books and started devouring them. My final favorite author before discovering Flynn is Stephen Hunter, but he’s a notorious introvert. (He doesn’t even have his own website.)
So, you really can’t fall for someone who’s before your time or impossible to dig into and learn more about. And yet here was this author named Vince Flynn, who — in my mind — stood shoulder-to-shoulder with these great authors I looked up to, if not above them.
And, wow! He was alive and accessible and a treasure for a growing author like myself. I bookmarked his website, signed up for his newsletter, and joined a twitter fanclub. I couldn’t wait until he came through even anywhere near where Danah and I live so we could meet him.
But I wanted to do more than just go to some book signing and shake his hand and get a photo. In my mind, I imagined having attained a small level of success (so that maybe he had heard of me) and talking about the writing process with him over dinner. And if I’m brutally honest (and why not be, especially now?), I kind of dreamed of making it big and becoming friends with him. Absurd, I know, but it’s the truth.
In fact, the main reason I launched my blog Marine Watch was because of him. I learned of how he had met and talked with Presidents Bush and Clinton and other high officials in the Defense Department and I told my wife and my friends, “I want that to be me.” (As an important clarification, it was my good friend Melissa who suggested launching a separate blog about Foreign Policy and National Security, but my regular readers know how much I’ve written about these topics over the past two years on this site — it’s ALWAYS been one of my big interests.)
I know that the chance to actually get to know him was nothing but a far-fetched dream, even had he lived, but it was something I wanted badly nonetheless. (And let’s be honest… Life is quite a bit about having dreams, right?)
But now Vince (I refuse to call him just by his last name; my “relationship” seems too intimate for that) has gone to the land all authors eventually go to, and he will live on for millions through his words he so artfully arranged; the stories he so perfectly set up and delivered.
Vince’s time was far too short, but I hope he’s looking down and sees these words. And sees me late at night banging away on the laptop, chasing the same dream he ran down with a vengeance nearly without parallel. (Remember: He quit his job and self-published. In freaking ’97.)
I can only hope I measure up to half the fortitude he showed as he pursued his career and continued to inspire people as he fought and scratched through his final months of fighting cancer and despair.
Following his death, I read probably half a dozen stories about him, but ironically the Huffington Post wrote the most in depth and compelling story. (I say ironically because Vince was pretty conservative and he would have been amused the liberal website Huffington Post provided him with such an honor.)
Here’s the link to that story if you’d like to know more about this incredible author: Bestselling Author Dies At Age 47.
And here’s by far the best video I’ve found of him. It’s a speech he gave at the Reagan Library and even though it’s an hour long, it’s epic and a definite “must watch” if you’re a Vince Flynn fan.
Rest in peace, Vince. Thank you for pouring so much of your energy and focus into fiction, even in your final years after being diagnosed with cancer and when you had plenty of money and had no need to do so. And thank you for inspiring me and hundreds (if not thousands) of other authors who harbor big dreams and desperate odds.
It’s only fitting that fifty years from now, probably even a hundred, some young writer not even born now may study and underline your books as I have done with Steinbeck and Hemingway. I just really hope you’re able to see that from up there, and that you see the millions of people who burrow into your books to get some rest and respite from this often unbearable life we must all live.
Stan R. Mitchell
Oak Ridge, Tenn.
P.S. This post came out all wrong in that it sounds like his death is all about me, but to be honest I don’t know anything about his family or children. I’m certain this is a tragic loss for them all, and I feel for them and the pain and emptiness that I know they’ll have to endure for years to come. And I hope my readers and any of his family who may stumble across this realize that this post wasn’t meant to come across as if it’s about me. It was written in as honest a way possible, with the hopes of achieving at least two things. First, to show what an incredible impact Vince Flynn had on the millions of his fans who scooped up his books as fast as he could publish them. Second, to show (as well as I could) how talented and impressive Vince Flynn truly was. His name ABSOLUTELY deserves to be among the greatest writers of the past hundred years. May his memory last forever…