Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rest in Peace, Elmore Leonard

"Leo narrowed his eyes and stared, trying hard to fake who he was. He raised his preshaped plaid hat and recocked it, see if that would help. No, there was nothing dumber than a dumb guy who thought he was a hotshot. You did have to feel a little sorry for him ..."
-- excerpt from Get Shorty, by Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard at home
Elmore Leonard died on Tuesday, August 20, 2013. He was 87. He's been a favorite of Joey Porter's Pit Bulls for many years.

Why? The ability to draw in the reader and tell a no-frills yet rich story with an uncanny ear for dialogue and an unfailing eye for detail.  The humor. The knack for letting a story unfold from the inner dialogue of his characters, all of whom have defects of character, but whom Elmore coaxes to share their view of the world straight from their mind's eye and the internal voices in their cockeyed heads.

The passage quoted at the top of this post just happens to be from a page in the middle of Get Shorty, which Joey Porter's Pit Bulls just happens to be re-reading, again.  Elmore Leonard apparently had a fondness for the dumb guys, even the ones who thought they were hotshots. In that passage, for all we know, he could have been talking about an earlier, spiritually truncated version of himself -- "Leo" / "Leonard" -- Elmore Leonard was self-deprecating and self-effacing, but his writing displayed a sly, wry humor with a wickedly sharp edge.  By all accounts, he was mostly non-judgmental -- generally amused, but mostly non-judgmental.  He wrote it like he saw it.

We could go on and on -- but, honestly, your time would be better spent reading Elmore Leonard.

Elmore Leonard and Timothy Olyphant, Justified
Or watch Justified, the FX television series based on Leonard's story, Fire in the Hole. As noted by The Los Angeles Times, "Before tackling the adaptation, the show's creator Graham Yost gave each member of his "Justified" writing staff various novels that the prolific Leonard had written so they could understand the rhythm and tone of his work. Yost also gave them each a bracelet inscribed with the letters WWED (What Would Elmore Do), an accessory Yost still wears."

Elmore Leonard had the knack of writing lines that seemed to seek him as a channel for expression because, well, somebody just had to say them, they were too good:  One of his characters, a lawman on a stakeout watching a hapless criminal, said, ""He's over there casing the joint about as subtle as a marching band."

Elmore Leonard was never subtle as a marching band. He was cool. He was subtle as the "b" in subtle, to borrow a line from Dorothy Parker.

Leonard's own advice? “Don’t worry about anything. Don’t worry about anything—unless you absolutely know what the outcome will be. People worry about things that never happen to them. You waste your life like that."

And then there's this line Leonard wrote for U.S. Marshall Art Mullen, a character in his 2012 novel Raylan and on Justified: "You don't think of your manners and let the woman go first," Art Mullen said, "not when she's pointing a gun at you."

Words to live by.

Various links, tributes, quotes, obit, and excerpts will appear when you click the "Read More" jump break, below:

Here's an excerpt from interview at The Commonwealth Club, 1998:

Lane: The characters speak in their own voices. It's not ever an omniscient third person telling you about them.

Leonard: They're observing, too, so that even their tone, their sound, will get into the narrative. I've said that if proper usage gets in the way it may have to go, because I want to maintain the sound of the book. I'm aware also of the rhythm of the voices and the rhythm not just in the dialogue but in the narrative. I've been asked by readers, "You like jazz, don't you?" They detect some be-bop in my writing.

Lane: You mentioned when we were talking about Aerosmith they came over for some non-alcoholic beers, because that's what you drink. You quit drinking, finally, in 1977, and you did so through AA. I'd like to hear about, while you were still drinking, how it affected your work and the process of getting sober, what that meant to you as a writer.

Leonard: I never wrote when I was drunk. I did write hung over. That was inevitable, because just about every night I got smashed. I'd been drinking all my life. AA, the 12 steps, caught on, and I just quit one day.

Lane: There's still lots of booze in your books, though. I mean, these guys drink.

Leonard: I would rather spend time with drinkers than non-drinkers. The AA meetings were a lot of fun, because you heard such good stories, wonderful stories. Unknown Man No. 89 – there are several meetings in that book based on situations and incidents that I heard at meetings.

I haven't been to a meeting probably in 20 years. I started in AA in '74, and it took until '77 for it to really catch on.

Lane: What do you think did it?

Leonard: I don't know. I finally caught on to the 11th step. It's putting yourself in God's hands, or your higher power, if you don't believe in God. You want to be in sync with God's will. I think of God's will not necessarily as a hurricane or losing all your money or getting cancer. You can become rich because it's God's will. Look at it any way you want. But what is it? It's being more outgoing and listening to people and just being kind. 

Deadspin: The Stacks --

The Atlantic:

Detroit News:

August 20, 2013
Elmore Leonard, Who Refined the Crime Thriller, Dies at 87

Elmore Leonard, the prolific crime novelist whose louche characters, deadpan dialogue and immaculate prose style in novels like “Get Shorty,” “Freaky Deaky,” “Glitz” and “La Brava” secured his status as a modern master of American genre writing, died Tuesday at his home in Bloomfield Village, Mich. He was 87.

His death was announced on his Web site.

To his admiring peers, Mr. Leonard did not merely validate the popular crime thriller; he stripped the form of its worn-out affectations, reinventing it for a new generation and elevating it to a higher literary shelf.

Reviewing “Riding the Rap” for The New York Times Book Review in 1995, Martin Amis cited Mr. Leonard’s “gifts — of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing — that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet.” As the American chapter of PEN noted, when honoring Mr. Leonard with its Lifetime Achievement award in 2009, his books “are not only classics of the crime genre, but some of the best writing of the last half-century.”

Mr. Leonard’s first story was published in Argosy magazine in 1951, and 60 years later he was still turning out a book a year because, he said, “It’s fun.”

It was in that spirit that Mr. Leonard, at 84, took more than a casual interest in the development of one of his short stories, “Fire in the Hole,” for television. “Justified,” as the FX series was called, won a Peabody Award in 2011 in its second season and sent new fans to “Pronto” (1993) and “Riding the Rap” (1995), two novels that feature the series’s hero, Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant), a federal marshal from Harlan Country, Ky., who presents himself as a good ol’ country boy but is “not as dumb as you’d like to believe.”

Approving of the way the show was working out, Mr. Leonard wrote his 45th novel, “Raylan,” with the television series in mind. Published in 2012, it featured three strong female villains and gave its cowboy hero license to shoot one of them.

Acknowledging his approval of “Justified” was a major concession for Mr. Leonard, who was candidly and comically disdainful of the treatment his books generally received from Hollywood, even commercially successful films like “Get Shorty,” “Be Cool” and “Out of Sight.” His first novel, “The Big Bounce,” was filmed twice, in 1969 and 2004. After seeing the first version, he declared it to be “at least the second-worst movie ever made.” In a much-told anecdote, he said that once he saw the remake, he knew what the worst one was.

In an interview with Doug Stanton for the National Writers Series in Traverse City, Mich., in 2011, Mr. Leonard succinctly explained why “Get Shorty,” the 1995 movie starring John Travolta was a faithful treatment of his novel of the same name, and why its sequel, “Be Cool,” was not. The directive he had given the producers about his clever crooks — “These guys aren’t being funny, so don’t let the other characters laugh at their lines” — was, he said, heeded in the first case and ignored in the second.

Amused and possibly a bit exasperated by frequent requests to expound on his writing techniques, Mr. Leonard drew up “Ten Rules of Writing,” published in The New York Times in 2001. “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip,” “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it” and other gems spoke to Mr. Leonard’s puckish wit; but put into practice, his “rules” do indeed capture the essence of his own spare style.

Mr. Leonard’s narrative voice was crisp, clean and direct. He had no time to waste on superfluous adverbs, adjectives or tricky verb forms, and he had no patience for moody interior monologues or lyrical descriptive passages.

It takes only three words — “Look at me” — for Chili Palmer, the Miami loan shark in “Get Shorty,” to strike terror into the hearts of the deadbeat clients he hounds for late payments. “You never tell the guy what could happen to him,” he explains. “Let him use his imagination, he’ll think of something worse. In other words, don’t talk when you don’t have to.”

When asked about the vivid landscapes in “Hombre,” “Valdez Is Coming” and other western novels and short stories he wrote before turning to urban crime and criminals, Mr. Leonard told an interviewer how he did his “research.”

“I subscribed to Arizona Highways,” he said, “and that was loaded with scenery.”

Technically, he never aimed to write the kind of “High Plains” westerns popularized in Hollywood movies, but edgier mysteries set in the border states of Arizona and New Mexico and featuring Apaches and Mexicans. “I was always dying to write those border voices,” he said, and eventually he began putting characters like Cundo Rey (“La Brava”) and Nestor Soto (“Stick”) in his crime novels.

As Martin Amis noted, Mr. Leonard had an ear, and his main objective was to let his chatty characters have their say. “I always write from a character’s point of view,” he said, adding that he couldn’t even begin writing a scene until he had decided which character would be assigned the narrative voice.

More often than not, that character would be drawn from his rogues’ gallery of brutal killers, thuggish gangsters and slick con artists. Guys like Richie Nix, whose ambition in “Killshot” is to rob a bank in every state of the union; or Teddy Magyk, the psychopathic stalker in “Glitz”; or the unforgettable Chili Palmer, the Miami loan shark who goes to Hollywood to collect on a debt in “Get Shorty” and sticks around to make a movie.

Mr. Leonard called them “my guys” and delighted in their affable amorality and pragmatic professionalism. He took special pride in the technical skills these working-class gun dealers, loan sharks, bookies, thieves, grifters and mob enforcers brought to their trade. They may be criminals, but they know their business and they honor their work ethic.

“He never condescends to these people,” Scott Frank, a screenwriter on “Get Shorty,” told The New York Times in 1995. “He loves these people.”

“The bad guys are the fun guys,” Mr. Leonard acknowledged in a 1983 interview. “The only people I have trouble with are the so-called normal types. Their language isn’t very colorful, and they don’t talk with any certain sound.”

Harry Zimm, the schlock movie producer in “Get Shorty,” is wary of Chili Palmer’s screenplay because “there’s nobody to sympathize with.” He asks, “Who’s the good guy?”

Mr. Leonard’s identifiable good guys (the cops and more or less honest civilians whose names you tend to forget) are mainly observers and often strangers in town.

Whenever one of Mr. Leonard’s alienated protagonists is goaded into action, there’s no telling what he might do. “He may solve the crime — or commit it,” he said of one such ambiguous hero. “He’s easily misjudged, which is a quality all my main characters have.”

Good guys and bad guys both, the players in Mr. Leonard’s books are always energized by the big, bad cities where they operate. There’s a wicked backbeat in his urban novels that pulses through cities like Miami, Detroit, New Orleans and San Juan.

Atlantic City is its own sinister character in “Glitz,” preying on the tour buses that lumber into the city like blind cattle. “Two thousand a day came into the city, dropped the suckers off for six hours to lose their paychecks, their Social Security in the slots and haul them back up to Elizabeth, Newark, Jersey City, Philly, Allentown. Bring some more loads back tomorrow — like the Jews in the boxcars, only they kept these folks alive with bright lights and loud music and jackpot payoffs that sounded like fire alarms.”

Although he was galvanized by the pace and patois of the metropolis, Mr. Leonard lived quietly beyond the city’s reach. At his death, he and his third wife, Christine, had a home in Bloomfield Village, Mich. During his 28-year marriage to Beverly Cline, which ended in divorce in 1977, he lived in Birmingham, a suburb of Detroit. And when he married for the second time, in 1979 to Joan Shepard, who died in 1993, he moved into a house seven blocks away.

Elmore John Leonard was born in New Orleans on Oct. 11, 1925. Nine years later his father, an executive with General Motors, moved the family to Detroit. After graduating from high school in 1943, he did a two-year stretch in the Navy. Picking up his schooling at the University of Detroit, he graduated in 1950 and became a copywriter for a Detroit advertising agency.

Before going to work in the morning, he would try his hand at writing westerns. After selling his first story, “Trail of the Apaches,” he went on to write a number of western novels and short stories throughout the ’50s and ’60s, including “Hombre” (1961), named by the Western Writers of America as one of the 25 best westerns ever written. (It was made into a movie starring Paul Newman in 1967.)

His first crime novel, “The Big Bounce,” set in Michigan, was published in 1969 and kicked off a series of hard-boiled crime narratives — “Fifty-Two Pickup,” “Swag,” “Unknown Man No. 89”and the raw genre masterpiece “City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit” among them — that to some of his die-hard fans define the essence of urban noir.

“Glitz,” published in 1985, was Mr. Leonard’s 25th novel and the breakthrough that flew to the top of the best-seller fiction lists and put him on the cover of Newsweek. But he felt the movie “Get Shorty” really made his a household name.

“After writing almost anonymously” for decades, Mr. Leonard wryly noted in 1996, “I am what you call an overnight success.”

Did success spoil Elmore Leonard? No one who knew him would say so. The only thing slightly raffish about the soft-spoken, laconic author was his nickname, Dutch, and the cloth working-guy caps he wore in all kinds of weather. The name was borrowed from a baseball player (“I was in high school and I needed a nickname”), and the caps were a small concession to the vanity of a balding man. In person and in private, he was very much like his hero in “Split Images”: “one of those quiet guys who looked at you and seemed to know things.”


Elmore Leonard, one of America’s greatest crime novelists and dubbed the “Dickens of Detroit” has died, his longtime researcher Gregg Sutter confirmed. He was 87.

Surrounded by family, Leonard died at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday at his Bloomfield Village home from complications of a stroke. He had been hospitalized since suffering the stroke in early August.

A worldly former advertising man, Leonard had a particular gift for the snappy, visceral dialogue of the street and of the cop shop. He started out writing Westerns in his spare time from his work as a Detroit ad man, but he lived long enough that his name became a byword for tightly written urban noirs shot through with mordant humor.

He was so admired by the crew of “Justified,” the F/X series based upon his novella “Fire in the Hole,” that they wore bracelets emblazoned “WWED” (for “What would Elmore do?).

The writer also particularly got a kick out of “Justified,” based on his novella “Fire in the Hole,” and was inspired to write a novel, “Raylan,” in 2012, about the title character.

Leonard never let up on his work schedule, writing longhand on unlined legal pads. He ordered a thousand of the writing pads a year.

“He’s very much into his 46th novel,” Sutter said when Leonard was first hospitalized. “He’s been working very hard.”

In November, the National Book Foundation honored Leonard with its medallion, an award saluting lifetime achievement.

In Leonard’s colorful world of dumb but entertaining crooks and bemused cops, there was always more than a whiff of postwar seediness and amorality. That blend of violence and comedy could often produce wonderful films.

Some movies based upon Leonard works include “Hombre” (starring Paul Newman), “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight” and “Jackie Brown” (based upon his “Rum Punch”).

The writer was born in New Orleans, but his family moved around in the South before ending up in Detroit in 1934, when he was 9 years old. He attended the Blessed Sacrament School on Belmont in Detroit and was teased about his Southern accent. “The kids used to say, ‘Say, “sugar chile,” for me.’ I'd say, ‘Why are they asking me that?’ ”

He majored in English at the University of Detroit, graduating in 1950, then plunged into an advertising career in Detroit in the 1950s.

Famously, Leonard started writing Western-themed novels from 5-7 a.m. at home before going to work at the Campbell-Ewald agency, where Chevrolet trucks was one of his accounts. He developed a ferocious work ethic, writing every day in a cinder block basement office that son Peter described as looking like a prison cell.

After he quit advertising, he kept up the discipline in his monk-like office, writing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. without a lunch break.

While he could have moved to Los Angeles and lapped up the attention of his many film and TV fans, Leonard never left Metro Detroit, retreating to his quiet Bloomfield Village home to write his gritty novels. Detroit has been the gift that keeps on giving in his fiction.

“I like it,” Leonard said in 2012 of the Detroit area. “Great music ... lot of poverty. I wouldn’t move anywhere else. Now, it’s too late. I'd never be able to drive in San Francisco or Los Angeles.”

From The Detroit News:


Elmore Leonard, best known for gritty crime novels including Get Shorty and shoot-'em up Westerns including the short story 3:10 to Yuma, died Tuesday morning from complications from a stroke. He was 87.

Most recently, Leonard was in the news for his connection to the FX series Justified, which stars Timothy Olyphant as disgraced U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. The show is based on Leonard's short story, "Fire in the Hole."

"Elmore Leonard passed away at 7:15 this morning due to complications from a stroke," Michael Morrison, president and publisher of HarperCollins, said in a statement. "He was at home surrounded by his loving family. It feels not in keeping with Elmore's 'no fuss' persona to try to pay tribute to this great man. But Elmore was a true legend --unpretentious, unbelievably talented and the coolest dude in the room. "

His editor, David Highfill, vice president and executive editor of publisher William Morrow, also released a statement Tuesday: "There was, is, and will be only one Elmore Leonard. He was the most original in this prolific age of American crime fiction, the original jazz man. His voice— sly, gentle, funny, often startling, always human — will speak to readers for generations to come through Ray Givens, Jack Foley, Chili Palmer and so many other unforgettable characters. I miss him already."

Leonard was born in 1925 in New Orleans. His family moved frequently, finally settling in the Detroit area when he was 11. His father worked for General Motors.

He said that his interest in literature began in the fifth grade when he read a serialization of All Quiet on the Western Front in a Detroit newspaper. In interviews through the years, he said he was most influenced by Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Raymond Carver.

Leonard's first novel, The Bounty Hunters, a Western set in southern Arizona, was published in 1953. He wrote more than 40 novels. Others include Mr. Paradise (2004), The Hot Kid (2005) and Up in Honey's Room (2007). His 2009 novel, Road Dogs, was about ex-con/career bank robber Jack Foley (a character from his 1996 novel Out of Sight who was portrayed by George Clooney in the 1998 film).

His last novel, Raylan, published in 2012, featured the character portrayed by Olyphant on Justified, which will enter its fifth season early next year.

Leonard wrote Raylan with encouragement from Justified executive producer Graham Yost. Elements from the book showed up in the series.

"I dedicated the book to them," Leonard told USA TODAY last year, adding that it was his idea to have Olyphant grace the cover. "They're running with it, and I think it's terrific. I couldn't be more pleased."

Raylan, like many of Leonard's books, was a best seller. It hit No. 37 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list, his best showing on the list, which started in 1993.

Leonard was a screenwriter for some of his books turned into films, including 1974's Mr. Majestyk starring Charles Bronson and 1972's Joe Kidd starring Clint Eastwood.

Quentin Tarantino's acclaimed 1997 film Jackie Brown was based on Leonard's novel Rum Punch, although he did not write the screen adaptation.

But Leonard wasn't always happy with what Hollywood did to his work, even though he didn't regret selling the rights. "I've sold 20, maybe, to movies, because from the beginning, I was in it to make money," he said in 2012. "And that's the way to do it."

Justified, he said, was an exception: an adaptation that worked. "I think it's a terrific show," he said. "I love all the writing. And I'm amazed, sometimes. They've got the characters better than I put them on paper."

Leonard won many writing awards in his lifetime including the Grand Master Award of the Mystery Writers of America and a medallion from The National Book Foundation saluting lifetime achievement.

When asked the secret of his success, Leonard once said, "My purpose is to entertain and please myself. I feel that if I am entertained, then there will be enough other readers who will be entertained, too."

In 2007, he published Elmore Leonard's10 Rules of Writing, a 89-page book in which he shared advice and commentary on the writing process. In it he writes: "These are the rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story."

Among his rules:

• "Never open a book with weather."

• "Keep your exclamation points under control."

• "Never use the words 'suddenly' or 'all hell broke loose.'"

• "Avoid detailed descriptions of characters."

He also wrote in the book: "My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

He practiced what he preached. His novels were known best for their spare and snappy dialogue and their gritty realism.

Leonard was known to his friends as Dutch. He said in an interview once that he needed a nickname in high school so he took the name Dutch inspired by similarities between his name and that of Emil Dutch Leonard, a pitcher with the Washington Senators.


When Elmore Leonard, at 83 years old the mastermind of thugs, hit men, loan sharks and other irresistible bad guys, was billed as the special guest at the book signing of his newly-minted crime writer son Peter Leonard, it was somewhat expected the conversation would center on the father acceding the throne to his son.

Instead, the two authors bantered back and forth like a pair of contemporaries.

That may be because Elmore Leonard doesn't look, talk or act his age. Or it may be what happens when good fiction writers get together to talk about storytelling. At once, their shared love of the craft puts them on equal footing.

The senior Leonard, dressed in faded jeans, a crew neck sweater and horn-rimmed glasses, joined his son for the debut of Peter Leonard's second book, "Trust Me," (Minotaur Books $24.95) the other night at Borders Bookstore in Birmingham, the hometown of both authors, who live within a few miles of each other.

With microphones in hand, the two took turns prompting topics and goading each other with humor.

"One of the things that got me into writing was a memory of my driving home from work (in advertising) and I'd drop by Elmore's house," Peter said. "I'd be wearing gray pants and a sport coat, and there you were, my dad, wearing a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt and jeans and sandals, sitting at your typewriter. Looking out at the pool."

Elmore smiled.

"And beyond that, the tennis courts."

Peter continued.

"I mean, writing looked like a good life. You looked like you were having fun."

Finally, Elmore deadpans: "I was." The audience laughs on cue.

"It's true," Elmore explained. "Writing a book is not work for me. At least, I don't think of it as being work. It's not easy, of course, but it's not work. Of course, I did have to learn how to write funny. Now, that's not so easy."

"But, now you've done it," Peter said.

"Well, we'll see," Elmore said, slipping back into self-deprecation mode. "You gotta keep going."

Then, as if it just occurred to him: "I'm on number 43. What number are you on?" Cue laughter again.

"I just finished number three," Peter said with a smile.

Number one for Peter was "Quiver" a fast-paced thriller involving a widow, an ex-con and the requisite cast of assorted killers. "Trust Me" is about a loan of $300,000 and competing efforts by Karen Delaney, her ex-boyfriend, another thug and some hit men to retrieve it. The third book, loosely titled "As The Romans Do," is based on a true story about American students stealing a taxi cab and spending a bit of time in an Italian prison.

As for Elmore, his next book, "Road Dogs," is coming out May 12. Now he's working on a manuscript titled "Djibouti," named for a small country bordered by the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. It's about -- you guessed it -- pirates, lending further evidence that Elmore is on top of his game. Peter announced that he's becoming a novelist full-time. He said the ad agency, Leonard, Mayer & Tocco Inc., is closing June 30.

Both authors describe the process of writing and plot destination as almost magical -- as if the characters take on lives of their own. "By the first 100 pages I've introduced most of the characters," Elmore said. "But, they are still sort of trying out for the part. In my books, they gotta be able to talk. In Peter's books, too. If they can't talk, they get shot (and killed off) early."

Peter talks the same language: "It's interesting how the characters you think are going to develop sometimes don't. So this idea of auditioning characters is true. They almost become real. O'Clair, for example, he was the bad guy, but I couldn't make him bad. I liked him too much."

But just because they talk like equals doesn't mean that there isn't an enormous amount of pride underneath the bravado.

When asked about the title "Trust Me," Peter said: "It's a theme that runs though the book. Everybody in it is bad, pretty much. There really is no honor among them. Everybody wants their money. So there's no trust. But, still, everybody says in the book: 'Trust me.' "

To which Elmore said: "It's a very good title."

He paused and then added, almost inaudibly, but not quite. "Wish I'd thought of it."

From The Detroit News:


Elmore Leonard dies: ‘Get Shorty’ author was 87
By Louis Bayard, Tuesday, August 20, 10:24 AM
Elmore Leonard, a masterly crime novelist whose razor-sharp dialogue and indelibly realized lowlifes earned him an unusual mix of mass-market appeal and highbrow acclaim, died Aug. 20 at his home in Bloomfield Township, Mich. He was 87.

The cause was complications from a stroke, said his researcher, Gregg Sutter.

A diligent, unpretentious writer who worked in relative obscurity for many years, Mr. Leonard went on to influence a generation of crime writers, whose sales may have eclipsed his but whose adoration of him never waned.

His lean, violent stories also served up choice film vehicles for actors including Paul Newman (“Hombre”), John Travolta (“Get Shorty”), George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez (“Out of Sight”), Charles Bronson (“Mr. Majestyk”), Roy Scheider (“52 Pick-Up”) and Pam Grier (“Jackie Brown”).

What made Mr. Leonard stand out among other chroniclers of crime and punishment was his voice — laconic, funny, unsentimental — and his ruthlessly coherent vision of life in the lower depths. As described in a 2008 Washington Post profile, Mr. Leonard’s world is “populated by cops who aren’t exactly good, crooks who aren’t exactly bad, and women who have an eye for the in-between.”

What galvanizes this gallery of rogues and scoundrels, more often than not, is a scheme — a kidnapping, con job or robbery that will bring quick and easy money. As it turns out, the money is neither quick nor easy, and the schemes are doomed from the start, spinning down unexpected tangents and threatened at every turn by absurdity.

In “Rum Punch” (1992), would-be thief Louis Gara spends so much time crafting his “Do not panic” stickup note that the bank he’s plotting to rob has closed by the time he gets there. In “Switch” (1978), two ex-cons abduct the wife of a rich, philandering builder, only to learn he has no intention of paying the ransom. (They gain a new ally in his wife.)

Time and again, bad guys pause in the middle of bad acts for extended bull sessions on music or clothes. Screenwriter-director Quentin Tarantino, who turned Mr. Leonard’s “Rum Punch” into the 1997 film “Jackie Brown,” cited the author as a key influence on his own garrulous movie thugs.

Taken as a whole, the Leonard oeuvre serves to demolish the myth of the criminal genius. And yet what his villains lack in intelligence, they make up for in mayhem. Beatings, torture and murder feature prominently in the author’s pages. The villain in Mr. Leonard’s first bestseller, “Glitz” (1985), is a psychopath who kills prostitutes and rapes old ladies.  

Mr. Leonard, in marked contrast, was a quiet, reserved, owlishly bespectacled man who lived in the Detroit suburbs and sported Kangol caps and tweed jackets. He had no rap sheet; he never owned a gun; he gave up drinking in his early 50s after his first marriage crumbled.

Although critics tended to lump him into the hard-boiled detective school of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross McDonald, Mr. Leonard resisted the tag of mystery writer, pointing out that his work lacks anything in the way of puzzles.

The mystery was all in the books’ creation. “I develop characters, and I’m not sure where they’re going until I get to know them,” he told the London Independent in 1998. “In fact, I seldom know before I’m halfway through what the thing is about.”

For Mr. Leonard, the writing process was an extended audition, in which major characters could be fired if they didn’t sparkle and minor characters might suddenly receive star billing. “If I’m curious enough to turn the pages,” he said, “I figure it’ll have the same effect on readers.”

Elmore John Leonard Jr. was born in New Orleans on Oct. 11, 1925. His father, a dealership scout for General Motors, moved the family from city to city before settling in Detroit.

Nicknamed “Dutch” after a Washington Senators knuckleball pitcher with the same surname, young Elmore Leonard went on to serve in World War II. His bad eyesight consigned him to a job as store manager for the Seabees, doling out beer for the troops.

After graduating from the University of Detroit in 1950, Mr. Leonard married his college sweetheart, Beverly Cline, and took a job with a local advertising agency. He nurtured his fiction habit in private.

He woke at 5 a.m. every morning and churned out pulp Westerns for two hours before heading to work.

“I’d come down in the dark into the living room — that Michigan cold — and I wouldn’t even let myself heat the coffee water until I’d started writing,” he told People magazine. “I’d write in longhand, one word after the other in pencil on a yellow pad, then rewrite on the typewriter. I’m so damned glad I did it. I studied hard, I worked hard, I learned what I could and couldn’t do. I can’t do description well, so now I don’t do it at all.”

In 1951, he published his first short story in Argosy magazine for $1,000. His first novel, “The Bounty Hunters,” came out in 1954. Two of his early stories become popular Western movies, “The Tall T” with Randolph Scott, and “3:10 to Yuma” with Glenn Ford (both in 1957), and the latter was remade in 2007 with Russell Crowe.

By the end of the 1950s, the Western market was saturated, so to support his wife and five children, Mr. Leonard turned to writing scripts for educational films.

Then, in 1967, 20th Century Fox bought the rights for his novel “Hombre” for $10,000. The resulting film, starring Newman as a white man raised by American Indians, was only a moderate box office success, but it gave Mr. Leonard the financial cushion he needed to reboot his fiction.

His next book, “The Big Bounce,” the story of an ex-con falling into the clutches of a psychotic young seductress, was rejected 84 times before finding a publisher. It found devoted readers, though, and it placed Mr. Leonard for the first time in his natural milieu — the modern American underworld — while planting the seeds for the great work of the 1970s and early 1980s, including “City Primeval,” “Split Images,” “Stick” and “52 Pick-Up.”

This was also a time of personal turmoil for Mr. Leonard. His first marriage ended in divorce, and his heavy drinking was a contributing factor.

“I’d been drinking since I was a kid,” he told People magazine, “and for 20 years I was a happy drunk. Then I started to get wild.” He joined and dropped out of Alcoholics Anonymous three times before he quit alcohol entirely. “I had my last drink at 9 a.m. on Jan. 24, 1977,” he said. “I think it was Scotch and ginger ale.”

Two years later, he married Joan Shepard. She died in 1993. His third marriage, to Christine Kent, ended in divorce. Survivors include five children from his first marriage; 13 grandchildren; and five great- grandchildren.

Hollywood had long warmed to Mr. Leonard’s taut, dialogue-heavy yarns. “The Big Bounce” was filmed twice. (Mr. Leonard hated both versions.) “Joe Kidd” (1972) featured Clint Eastwood as a bounty hunter tracking a Mexican revolutionary, and “Mr. Majestyk” (1974) starred Bronson as a farmer battling the syndicate.

More successful were Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Get Shorty” (1995), about a loan shark who finds little difference between organized crime and the film industry, and Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight” (1998), in which a deputy U.S. marshal fights and eventually resolves her feelings for a handsome jailbreaker.

In recent years, Mr. Leonard’s work inspired the FX television series “Justified,” with Timothy Olyphant as a federal lawman busting heads in the hill country of eastern Kentucky.

Even as Mr. Leonard’s sales figures and box-office receipts mounted, he began winning kudos (much to his own surprise) from intelligentsia.

Walker Percy and Saul Bellow were fans. George Will gave out Leonard first-editions as Christmas presents. Martin Amis declared that “for an absolutely reliable and unstinting infusion of narrative pleasure in a prose miraculously purged of all false qualities, there was no one quite like Elmore Leonard.” In 2012, Mr. Leonard received the National Book Foundation’s medal for distinguished contribution to American letters.

The author reacted to his cultural enshrinement with a mixture of pride and puzzlement.

When a professor rhapsodized about his “patterns of imagery,” Mr. Leonard’s initial response was, “What’s he talking about?” Mr. Leonard liked to quote the review from a librarian at a Connecticut prison: “While you ain’t caught on with the crack and cocaine heads, you have got a following amongst the heroin crowd.”

In truth, Mr. Leonard’s art is plain and seamless enough to escape more than crackheads. He supplies human behavior in all its variety, but he is as notable for what he leaves out: imagery, metaphor, thematic summations, even psychological motivation. Most conspicuously, he leaves out Elmore Leonard. “If I ever show myself in there,” he once declared, “then there’s something wrong.”

He expanded on this principle in an essay on writing for the New York Times. Among his injunctions: “Never open a book with weather.” “Avoid prologues.” And “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” His most important rule: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” His ultimate object, he wrote, was “invisibility.”

And yet his ear for American vernacular was unmistakably his own. The many hours he spent in Detroit bars, police stations and courtrooms gave him a sense of how people reveal themselves through elision and compression.

In his bare-bones dialogue, even conjunctions and punctuation drop away: “I had a tire iron we could find out in ten minutes.” “I do what she wants, she comes up with something else, I don’t talk to her.” In “La Brava,” a hoodlum tersely accounts for the money from his last heist. “I spent half of it on broads, boats and booze. The rest I just wasted.”

Asked to explain his facility with idiom, Mr. Leonard replied: “There is no secret. I listen when people are talking. I listen when they’re talking to each other, and I listen when they talk to me.”

© The Washington Post Company


an Elmore Leonard character writes on Elmore Leonard
By Melissa Bell, Updated: August 20, 2013The “greatest living crime novelist,” “the king of crime,” “the Dickens of Detroit,” Elmore Leonard died Tuesday morning at his home in Bloomfield Township, a suburb of Detroit, from complications of a stroke. In 2008, Post reporter Neely Tucker, a close friend of Leonard’s, profiled the prolific author. The article came with one of the more interesting taglines to appear in the paper: “Neely Tucker was the basis and namesake for the ‘Neely Tucker’ character in ‘Cuba Libre.’ ”

(Rob Kozloff/AP)

It was a rare chance for an Elmore Leonard character to write about Elmore Leonard. Like any Leonard novel worth it’s weight, Tucker began his article with a crime: Elmore Leonard gets robbed. Read the full story here to find out who did it and read below for a few key points on Leonard’s writing style, his chicken legs and his IMB Wheelwriter 1000 typewriter.

How he looked:

You expect a guy with this kind of career to come across as the love child of Joe Eszterhas and Mickey Spillane, spewing ego all over your shirt. Instead you get this skinny guy, little chicken legs, not tall, soft-spoken but funny. He’s wearing shorts, for God’s sake. T-shirt. Light beard. Says he’s 82, but moves around like he’s 20 years short of it.

How he wrote:

He works at a regular desk with an IBM Wheelwriter 1000 typewriter at the side. It’s in a nice room with some wooden bookcases and a television at one end. He doesn’t own a computer.


He still writes as he always has, from 9 to 6, on an unlined yellow pad, then typing up a scene when he likes it. He never has an outline. He thinks of, say, “two guys in a room, talking,” usually about some criminal endeavor, and lets them “audition” for leading roles. He shapes them by intense research — in 1978, he hung out with the Detroit police’s homicide squad, an experience that shaped the rest of his writing — and then lets them wander deeper into trouble. If any passage sounds like “writing,” he rewrites it. This nets two to four pages a day. The next morning, he’ll read over those pages and “add cigarettes and drinks and things like that” and press forward.

On his alcoholism:

There is a way that recovered alcoholics have of looking at the world — beginning, say, about an hour and half after the last drink — that is a straight ahead take on life. The absolute beat-down of denial. The reservoir of belief in a higher power. This is what Elmore Leonard found. His characters took on some of that same self-confidence.

On his fictional landscape:

His world is off-kilter America, primarily a vision of the lower end of the post-Vietnam era, when the margins got thin, the morals of the nation got cloudy, and irony became a survival mechanism. It’s populated by cops who aren’t exactly good, crooks who aren’t exactly bad, and women who have an eye for the in-between. There is no judgment. Bad guys don’t know they’re bad. They brush their teeth and call their moms and then go rob a bank. Cynicism is on view, as is a vast detailing of bars, alcohol, prison cells, loan-sharking operations and gun runners. There is usually a lot of cash in a small container. People get shot. Self-confidence is a requirement.


Blast of Bullets
Beneath Elmore Leonard's Cool Exterior Lurks a Crime-Novel Mastermind

By Neely Tucker, Washington Post Staff Writer, Tuesday, May 27, 2008

BLOOMFIELD VILLAGE, Mich. Dutch Leonard, standing over by the typewriter. He's saying to Christine in this loud voice, "Christine!" Calling up the stairs. They're going to be late for dinner.

Christine used to be the gardener. Now she's the missus.

Dutch and Christine Lelich know a lot about life, which is one reason it's good. Even when bad things happen they understand that it's just the way it is sometimes; they're at that stage.

Like, they got cleaned out the other day, while they were down at the other house in Palm Beach, Fla. About $15,000 worth of stuff.

It was no big mystery. The thieves used a key. Took jewelry, clothes, Christine's unmentionables. Left the electronics. Who are the cops going to think did it, two guys with a U-Haul and a panty fetish? It was the maids. They fired the maids.

You'd expect a little more creativity from the criminal class, particularly when they break into a crime novelist's house.

But it's the kind of idea Dutch could use, people that stupid.

"I never had a really brilliant idea," he is saying, coming back into the room. His name is Elmore, but people call him by his high school nickname. "A really great story idea that keeps readers turning the pages. And I just never had one. I always came up with stuff that I'd say, 'Oh, I guess I could make a book about that.' "

Dutch sits down to wait for Christine. He's watching the Tigers on the TV. They're down by two in the first. Dutch has been writing the great quirky endlessly entertaining endlessly violent American novel for half a century, mostly right here in this room, over there at the desk with an unlined yellow legal pad and a typewriter. Some 43 novels, who knows how many short stories and screenplays. He's been hailed as the "greatest living crime novelist," "the king of crime," "the Dickens of Detroit."

He has helped shape an entire body of literature and cinema. He has become, in these later years, an iconic cultural reference point: Any quirky violent crime story with punchy dialogue is Dutchesque. When the new version of the video game Grand Theft Auto came out recently, the New York Times said its street patois could "rival Elmore Leonard's." "Pulp Fiction" is the best Elmore Leonard film not written by Elmore Leonard; director Quentin Tarantino acknowledged a "big debt" to him when the film came out. The New Yorker reviewed the Oscar-winning "No Country for Old Men," and said, "If I want wry lawmen and smart, calculating fugitives, I'll get them from Elmore Leonard." (His own books have been turned into films since God was a baby: "Get Shorty," "Jackie Brown," "Out of Sight," "3:10 to Yuma," "Hombre," "Mr. Majestyk.")

You sit down and wait on Christine, too. You expect a guy with this kind of career to come across as the love child of Joe Eszterhas and Mickey Spillane, spewing ego all over your shirt. Instead you get this skinny guy, little chicken legs, not tall, soft-spoken but funny. He's wearing shorts, for God's sake. T-shirt. Light beard. Says he's 82, but moves around like he's 20 years short of it.

"The second-worst movie ever made," he's saying, "is the first version of 'The Big Bounce.' God, it was awful." This was a book he wrote back in the 1960s that was indeed made into a terrible movie. He pauses to inhale from a Virginia Slim. "The worst movie ever made was the second version of 'The Big Bounce.' I met Morgan Freeman on the set; he's a good actor, I like him, I asked him what he was doing there. He said, 'Well, I'm the law guy.' And I said 'No, not your role. I mean, what are you doing in this thing?' "

Dutch lives in suburban Detroit, but his world is off-kilter America, primarily a vision of the lower end of the post-Vietnam era, when the margins got thin, the morals of the nation got cloudy, and irony became a survival mechanism. It's populated by cops who aren't exactly good, crooks who aren't exactly bad, and women who have an eye for the in-between. There is no judgment. Bad guys don't know they're bad. They brush their teeth and call their moms and then go rob a bank. Cynicism is on view, as is a vast detailing of bars, alcohol, prison cells, loan-sharking operations and gun runners. There is usually a lot of cash in a small container. People get shot. Self-confidence is a requirement. It's a place where getting dead isn't funny, but if this lounge singer shoots a would-be rapist and the bullet goes through him and hits her detective boyfriend right in the butt, well, you have to see the humor in the situation.

"This one time, he ran into a bull semen salesman at an opera," says Greg Sutter, his researcher of 25 years. "A bull semen salesman! At an opera! You think Dutch Leonard is going to let that go by?"

(No. See "Mr. Paradise.")

In October, Leonard will receive the 2008 F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Achievement in American Literature, from the Fitzgerald Literary Conference in Rockville. Some previous winners: Norman Mailer, E.L. Doctorow, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Jane Smiley and William Kennedy. Books by some of those: "The Naked and the Dead." "Ragtime." "Rabbit Is Rich." "A Thousand Acres." "Ironweed."

Hey. Wait a minute. This is good fun, Grand Theft Auto and all, but when did bull semen salesmen get to be art?

Leonard isn't Raymond Chandler, the designated crime writer allowed to perch upon Mount Literature. He was a copy writer for an ad agency who started writing for pulp western magazines in the 1950s, getting up at 5 a.m. to crank out a couple of pages before work. He didn't have a bestseller for 30 years.

"It came down, on the final ballot, to Elmore and John Irving," says John Moser, the conference president. "Elmore won."

Dutch himself is elated to get the award but pretty unimpressed by it all.

"Lately I've been getting more acknowledgment that I'm a literary writer, not a pulp writer," he says. He stands up. Christine has come down for dinner. He has that sneaky grin. "But I don't know how many people really believe that."

Few Clues of Celebrity

Walk through his house, a two-story thing on a nice-but-not-ostentatious street in this leafy 'burb, and you'll be hard-pressed to know you are in the house of a writer, much less a famous one. He works at a regular desk with an IBM Wheelwriter 1000 typewriter at the side. It's in a nice room with some wooden bookcases and a television at one end. He doesn't own a computer. Then there's a family room with pictures of his five kids and 13 grandkids and three great-grandchildren and a lovely oil portrait of Christine. The kitchen opens onto a sunroom, and there's the back yard with 40-foot fir trees and a small swimming pool and a tennis court with a sagging net.

He drives a VW Jetta.

There is no glory wall, no photographs of him with stars in his movies: Cheadle, Clooney, De Niro, Eastwood, J-Lo, Newman, Travolta. He doesn't go to the Oscars. Until you get to the "business room," a tiny thing off a hallway by the garage with a couple of bookcases lined with copies of his books, the only sign he's in the business is in a wet bar off the kitchen: the iconic Annie Leibovitz photograph of him on a hard-backed chair on Miami Beach, all in black, wearing a beret and typing away.

He looks cooler than you could ever hope to be.

"One time when I was a kid, I picked up the phone. This lady said, 'I have Clint Eastwood calling for Mr. Leonard,' " says his son Bill, an ad agency executive who now lives just a few blocks over. "I said, very calmly, 'Dad, Clint Eastwood is calling from California.' Everybody screamed. We kids ran to the other room and unscrewed the mouthpiece so we could listen in. . . . He was completely unassuming about Hollywood. He'd say, 'They're just people.' Aerosmith -- the whole band -- came over to his house a few years ago. They all went swimming."

This evening, he and Christine go to dinner a mile or so from his house. He gives the maitre d' his name for the reservation. Goes right over the guy's head. He tells Dutch he's late and he's missed his spot and he'll just have to wait some more. Dutch, who could buy the restaurant, doesn't say anything. He and Christine just stand there, looking like a couple of nice retirees, and then Christine flags a waitress she knows, and this lady gets them a booth.

It's like going out with the egoless Zen master.

He was born in New Orleans in 1925, the son of a General Motors executive. They moved around -- Memphis, Dallas, Oklahoma City -- before settling in Detroit. He liked westerns and Bonnie-and-Clyde kind of stories. He worshiped Hemingway, liked that spare copy and all the white space on the page.

He did his time in the Navy and married his college sweetheart, Beverly Cline.

He put in his years of writing at 5 a.m. He sold "3:10 to Yuma." Sold "Hombre." There were five kids and long family vacations down to Pompano Beach, Fla., where the kids would play in the water and the parents would drink bloody marys.

"Every Sunday we'd come home from church, all in the station wagon, and we'd go by this trailer park," remembers Chris Leonard, born the year his dad published his first book, "The Bounty Hunters," in 1954. "And every Sunday, without fail, he'd say, 'There's our future home if Dad doesn't sell a book.' "

Dad also became extremely fond of Early Times bourbon over shaved ice.

One day in the early 1970s, Dutch came back from one trip to Los Angeles -- where he might go through 20 drinks in a day -- and started throwing up blood. It was acute gastritis. His doctor told him this was usually seen in "skid row bums." He found himself arguing with his wife "every single night," with him saying "vicious things, which I couldn't believe the next day. I'd be filled with remorse."

He moved alone into the Merrillwood Apartments, where he lived and wrote and went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and tried to stop drinking for another three years. "I was flat broke." The book he was working on, "Unknown Man #89," was rejected by 105 publishers before finding a home.

"It was a very difficult time," remembers Bill Leonard.

The couple divorced in 1977, the year he had his last drink -- Scotch and Vernors ginger ale one morning while shaving.

There is a way that recovered alcoholics have of looking at the world -- beginning, say, about an hour and half after the last drink -- that is a straight ahead take on life. The absolute beat-down of denial. The reservoir of belief in a higher power.

This is what Elmore Leonard found. His characters took on some of that same self-confidence.

He met his second wife, Joan Lancaster, at a country club. He got rich and famous, and she came up with the title for "Get Shorty," and they were happy, and because life can be cruel, she died of cancer in 1993.

Alone in the house, he hired a gardening service to take care of the shrubs and such. They sent Christine, a master gardener. They married a few months later. She's 23 years younger. Then Christine's daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Her name was Geraldine. The guy went to jail, but it didn't matter much. It was devastating.

"It's still just unbelievable," Christine is saying. "It's like being handicapped."

Leonard deals with all this so far out of the public eye that nobody knows. He's been pushing out one well-reviewed book every year for so many years that it seems effortless.

"I'm doing exactly what I want to do. There is no better situation. I sit and look out the window when I'm writing away; I look out, and I don't believe it. I'm sitting here all by myself, doing this story, getting all excited about it and getting paid for it -- a lot of money. I'm not bending to a certain commercial way to fit a commercial need. I can't do that. I have to do it my way, and thank God, it's salable."

You want to know something about Elmore Leonard, what it would be like to be stuck with him on an elevator for a couple of hours, here it is: Leonard wrote the preceding paragraph in the early 1980s as a contribution to "The Courage to Change," a book by and for recovering alcoholics.

It was before he hit the bestseller list and became a household name.

Everything else has been gravy. He loves his kids and they love him. He gets paid millions of dollars. He just finished his latest book, "Road Dogs." Now he's hanging around the house, revising the book.

"I just don't know many writers who are as loose, as mellow, as Dutch," Sutter says. "It's not like he's one of these literary guys sitting there with the weight of the world on their shoulders, going 'God, I've got to be profound!' Or one of those tragic noir types. He has an Ozzie Nelson-like calm about him."

'Two Guys in a Room'

He still writes as he always has, from 9 to 6, on an unlined yellow pad, then typing up a scene when he likes it. He never has an outline. He thinks of, say, "two guys in a room, talking," usually about some criminal endeavor, and lets them "audition" for leading roles. He shapes them by intense research -- in 1978, he hung out with the Detroit police's homicide squad, an experience that shaped the rest of his writing -- and then lets them wander deeper into trouble. If any passage sounds like "writing," he rewrites it. This nets two to four pages a day. The next morning, he'll read over those pages and "add cigarettes and drinks and things like that" and press forward.

He is not obsessed by crime, says he doesn't have an opinion about crime in America. Maid theft notwithstanding, he has almost no life experience with it.

Sutter's research fills a box for each book. What cops do each day, books on prison culture and slang. The boxes are kept in the basement. Inside, there's a regular schoolboy's notebook, 80 pages. It's the "skinny" for each book, or his essential notes. These are filled with possible character names, addresses of banks that get robbed, snippets of dialogue, and facts like the population of Miami and the number of autopsies performed each year in Detroit.

For "Up in Honey's Room," one of his most recent books, there are Hitler jokes. Hitler asks a fortuneteller when he'll die. "On a Jewish holiday." Which one, asks Hitler. "Any day you die is a Jewish holiday."

He always has an ear for speech patterns, phrases. Like how a call comes in for a detective in Detroit homicide, and they'll say, "He's on the street." A guy so dumb that if he was any dumber, "they'd have to water him twice a week."

Walker Percy, writing in the New York Times more than 20 years ago, noted that in Leonard's books, violence was so offhand that "people get shot in dependent clauses." And that he drops the word "if" at the beginning of sentences and uses hardly any conjunctions: "I had a tire iron we could find out in ten minutes." Note the missing "if" and comma. Percy said it was worthy of a graduate thesis.

Barry Sonnenfeld, the first director to figure out Leonard's dark humor ("Get Shorty"), says his books are "medium camera-shot" stuff with no close-ups for punch lines, no cues to the audience something funny just happened.

"There was a scene in a book of his ("Bandits") where this guy tells a bartender something like, 'You know, every year 100,000 women get battered by their husbands.' Bartender says, 'You wouldn't think that many women get out of line.' In the script, it called for the bartender to say that with a wink. Elmore said, 'No! The bartender wouldn't know that he's making a joke.' "

The joke, see, is that the bartender is the stupid one.

"His writing seems effortless, and sometimes people think that it is," says George Pelecanos, the D.C.-based crime novelist often mentioned as Leonard's heir apparent. "Sometimes you'll hear people say, 'I read an Elmore Leonard book, and I just don't get what the fuss is about.' You just try it sometime. Try it, buddy. Nobody's been able to duplicate it."

Right on Target

Here's what Dutch doesn't do: go cosmic, not even at the end. He keeps it spare. He'll let you figure out what happens next, because that's what life is like.

Let's look at two endings here. First, here's the deity himself, Ray Chandler, at the end of "The Big Sleep," one of his signature works.

Private eye Philip Marlowe, musing about homicide:

"What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep . . . you just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell . . ."

Life. Death. Deep think.

Now here's the end of "Glitz," a terrific Leonard book from 1985.

Vincent Mora, a weathered Miami police detective, is hospitalized with a gunshot wound. It was incurred when he and his girlfriend, a lounge singer named Linda, were confronted by a very bad man named Teddy. All of them were armed, with Linda holding one of Mora's guns. Lots of gunfire. The bad guy died. Mora nearly did, and has just come out of surgery:

"Vincent, there's something I have to tell you." He waited and she said, "You know the bullet they took out of your butt?"

He said, "Oh, no, you better not tell me."

"I have to," Linda said. "It was from your gun, not Teddy's. I guess it went right through him."

He took a moment, breathed in and out, settled. "It will do that."

"I shot you, Vincent."

"You didn't mean to."

"No, but I shot you. I want you to understand, it wasn't to get you to stay."

Vincent said, "Oh." He said, "Are you sure?"

* * * 

That's it. That's the end. Gunshots, dead men, bloody wounds, dames with nice legs but lousy aim, irony and affection. Dutch Leonard's America.

Neely Tucker was the basis and namesake for the "Neely Tucker" character in "Cuba Libre."


By Mike Householder / The Associated Press
DETROIT -- Elmore Leonard, the beloved crime novelist whose acclaimed best-sellers and the movies made from them chronicled the violent deaths of many a thug and conman, has died. He was 87.

Leonard, winner of an honorary National Book Award in 2012, died Tuesday morning at his home in Bloomfield Township, a suburb of Detroit, from complications of a stroke he suffered a few weeks ago, said his researcher, Gregg Sutter. Leonard was surrounded by family when he died, Sutter said.

His millions of fans, from bellhops to Saul Bellow, made all of his books since "Glitz" (1985) best-sellers. When they flocked to watch John Travolta in the movie version of "Get Shorty" in 1995, its author became the darling of Hollywood's hippest directors. And book critics and literary lions, prone to dismiss crime novels as mere entertainments, competed for adjectives to praise him.

His more than 40 novels were populated by pathetic schemers, clever conmen and casual killers. Each was characterized by moral ambivalence about crime, black humor and wickedly acute depictions of human nature: the greedy dreams of Armand Degas in "Killshot," the wisecracking cool of Chili Palmer in "Get Shorty," Jack Belmont's lust for notoriety in "The Hot Kid."

"When something sounds like writing, I rewrite it," Leonard often said -- and critics adored the flawlessly unadorned, colloquial style. As author Ann Arensberg put it in a New York Times book review, "I didn't know it was possible to be as good as Elmore Leonard."

Leonard spent much of his childhood in Detroit and set many of his novels in the city. Others were set in Miami near his North Palm Beach, Fla., vacation home.

One remarkable thing about Leonard's talent is how long it took the world to notice. He didn't have a best-seller until his 60th year, and few critics took him seriously before the 1990s.

He had some minor successes in the 1950s and '60s in writing Western stories and novels, a couple of which were made into movies. But when interest in the Western dried up, he turned to writing scripts for educational and industrial films while trying his hand at another genre: crime novels.

The first, "The Big Bounce," was rejected 84 times before it was published as a paperback in 1969. Hollywood came calling again, paying $50,000 for the rights and turning it into a movie starring Ryan O'Neal, that even Leonard called "terrible."

He followed up with several more well-written, fast-paced crime novels, including "Swag" (1976). Leonard was already following the advice he would later give to young writers: "Try to leave out the parts that people skip."

In 1978, he was commissioned to write an article about the Detroit Police Department. He shadowed the police officers for nearly three months. Starting with "City Primeval" in 1980, his crime novels gained a new authenticity, with quirky but believable characters and crisp, slangy dialogue. But sales remained light.

Donald I. Fine, an editor at Arbor House, thought they deserved better, and he promised to put the muscle of his publicity department behind them. He delivered: In 1985, "Glitz," a stylish novel of vengeance set in Atlantic City, became Leonard's first best-seller.

Leonard never looked back.

Hollywood rediscovered him, churning out a succession of bad movies including the humorless "51 Pick-up" starring Roy Scheider. Its director, John Frankenheimer, failed to capture the sensibilities of Leonard's work, and his ear missed the clever dialogue.

It took Barry Sonnenfeld to finally show Hollywood how to turn a Leonard novel into a really good movie. "Get Shorty" was the first to feel and sound like an Elmore Leonard novel.

Then Quentin Tarantino took a turn with "Rum Punch," turning it into "Jackie Brown," a campy, Blaxploitation-style film starring Pam Grier. But Steven Soderbergh stayed faithful to Leonard's story and dialogue with "Out of Sight."

Writing well into his 80s, Leonard's process remained the same.

He settled in at his home office in Bloomfield Township, Mich., around 10 a.m. behind a desk covered with stacks of paper and books. He lit a cigarette, took a drag and set about to writing -- longhand, of course -- on the 63-page unlined yellow pads that were custom-made for him.

When he finished a page, Leonard transferred the words onto a separate piece of paper using an electric typewriter. He tried to complete between three and five pages by the time his workday ended at 6 p.m.

"Well, you've got to put in the time if you want to write a book," Leonard told The Associated Press in 2010 of the shift work that was befitting of his hometown's standing as the nation's automotive capital.

Leonard had sold his first story, "Trail of the Apache," in 1951, and followed with 30 more for such magazines as "Dime Western," earning 2 or 3 cents a word. At the time, he was working in advertising, but he would wake up early to work on his fiction before trudging off to write Chevrolet ads.

One story, "3:10 to Yuma," became a noted 1956 movie starring Glenn Ford, and "The Captives" was made into a film the same year called "The Tall T." But the small windfall wasn't enough for Leonard to quit his day job. ("3:10 to Yuma" was remade in 2007, starring Russell Crowe.)

His first novel, "The Bounty Hunters," was published in 1953, and he wrote four more in the next eight years. One of them, "Hombre," about a white man raised by Apaches, was a breakthrough for the struggling young writer. When 20th Century Fox bought the rights for $10,000 in 1967, he quit the ad business to write full time.

"Hombre" became a pretty good movie starring Paul Newman, and the book was named one of the greatest Westerns of all time by the Western Writers of America.

Soon, another Leonard Western, "Valdez Is Coming," became a star vehicle for Burt Lancaster. But as the 1960s ended, the market for Westerns fizzled. Leonard wrote five more, but they sold poorly, and Hollywood lost interest.

Leonard was born in New Orleans on Oct. 11, 1925, the son of General Motors executive Elmore John Leonard and his wife, Flora.

The family settled near Detroit when young Elmore was 10. The tough, undersized young man played quarterback in high school and earned the nickname "Dutch," after Emil "Dutch" Leonard, a knuckleball pitcher of the day. The ballplayer's card sat for years in the writer's study on one of the shelves lined with copies of his books.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, he majored in English at the University of Detroit. He started writing copy for an advertising agency before his graduation in 1950.

He married three times: to the late Beverly Cline in 1949, the late Joan Shepard in 1979, and at the age of 68, to Christine Kent in 1993. He had five children, all from his first marriage.

His son, Peter, followed in his father's path, going into advertising for years before achieving his own success as a novelist with his 2008 debut, "Quiver."

In 2012, after learning he was to become a National Book Award lifetime achievement recipient, Leonard said he had no intention of ending his life's work.

"I probably won't quit until I just quit everything -- quit my life -- because it's all I know how to do," he told the AP at the time. "And it's fun. I do have fun writing, and a long time ago, I told myself, 'You got to have fun at this, or it'll drive you nuts.'"

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