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: