By Tom Ehrich

In my opinion as a writer and avid reader of fiction. Tom Clancy’s first work, “Hunt for Red October,” ranks high among all-time great American novels.

It was taut, tight, rich in relevant detail, neatly plotted, and utterly clear in its dramatic tension.

As fame undid Clancy — as fame undoes many authors — his books got longer, denser, more intricate, filled with gratuitous detail, and poorly edited.

It wasn’t the end of the Cold War that took the zing out of Clancy’s fiction; it was lazy writing and lousy editing. His first editor forced him to cut 100 pages. Later editors apparently were content to do spell-check.

Same thing happened to John le Carre, James Patterson and James Michener. Publishers want product by bankable names, not compelling fiction. Elmore Leonard, who also died recently, was one of the few to maintain his edge throughout a successful career.

Lessons? Beware success. Hire a great editor before you hire a publicist. Honor the authorial virtues: brevity and clarity.

Most of all: be grateful for one great work. Most writers don’t get that far.

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