The Passing of Elmore Leonard

One hell of a writer
One hell of a writer
Elmore Leonard via Henry Payne
Elmore Leonard via Henry Payne

I’d like to think that what I share here is more than what are interests of mine, with that strong focus on all things green, but, more than that, a look at the creative world, the world of all design and the creative arts. After all, they are all connected.

It’s the great glory of making something out of nothing.

Maybe I should just change the blog focus to that statement, something out of nothing. Even if it is something as wacky as putting 300 tons of stone on your apartment complex.

If there ever were a group of people who could make something out of nothing, its authors. Not only can they bring characters to life, men and women who just jump off a page, but they have brought us whole worlds to life, heck even whole universe’s to life.

Hollwood and Leonard

For me one of those authors was Elmore Leonard, The Dickens of Detroit, who wrote about unusual people doing the unusual in the real world. Good guys, bad guys and women, shady characters abound, and amongst all that crime, bad stuff and cop stuff was the humor and the great dialogue, Leonard could write dialogue.

Elmore on the Sunset Strip in front of the marquee of The Viper Room where he appeared with a band called The Stone Coyotes whose music he used in the book he was then writing, Be Cool, a sequel to Get Shorty. Chili Palmer is now in the music business.

I’m not going to pretend I am a great writer or someone who has those skills and those skills needed to research for a great obituary, I am going to leave that to the NY Times. What I am going to do is combine all that info(links included) in this one post. Sort of one shop stop on the late, great Elmore Leonard.

The 1st notice of Mr. Leonard’s death came from his website, it was very simple and to the point

Elmore passed away this morning at 7:15 AM at home surrounded by his loving family.  More to follow.

He enjoyed the collegiate life and continued to develop a serious interest in jazz frequenting the many clubs around Detroit. Count Basie was his favorite. He began to read the two authors that influenced his sound the most: Ernest Hemingway and Richard Bissell.
In 1972, Elmore read The Friends of Eddie Coyle by the late George V. Higgins. It inspired him to “loosen up and not be as rigid, to get into scenes quicker; Fifty-Two Pickup, (1974) Swag, (1976) and Unknown Man No. 89 (1977) remain the essential trilogy of the Elmore Leonard sound, the setting no longer the old west, but urban Detroit.
Leonard, who died Tuesday at age 87, didn’t interfere with the adaptation, but he did offer a suggestion after he saw the pilot. “You might want to keep Boyd around,” Leonard told Yost, referring to the Kentucky career criminal who worked with Raylan in the Harlan County coal mines before becoming his primary antagonist — and whom Leonard had killed off in his story. “His other line about Boyd,” Yost remembers, referring to actor Walton Goggins’ performance, “was, ‘I don’t believe a word he says, but I love to hear him say it.’ ” Yost, in a phone interview Tuesday, said it will be difficult to move ahead with the show, now entering its fifth season, without Leonard. “Once he saw what we were doing on ‘Justified,’ that with every breath and every episode we were trying our best to pay tribute to him and do a show the way he would do it, he enjoyed that,” Yost said. “The best reviews we’ve ever gotten were people in the Marshal Service got a kick out of it and people in Harlan County got a kick out of it, but most importantly, Elmore Leonard got a kick out of it.” (via LA Times)

The above pic and story excerpt are from an article in the LA Times. Here’s the link to that story.

The complete obit from the NY Times, formatted for my blog –

August 20, 2013

 A Novelist Who Made Crime an Art, and His Bad Guys ‘Fun’


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

His death was announced on his Web site.

To his admiring peers, Mr. Leonard did more than merely validate the popular crime thriller; he stripped the form of its worn-out affectations, reinventing it for a new generation and lifting it to a higher literary shelf.

Elmore leonard

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 a 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.”

Last year, the National Book Foundation presented him its award for distinguished contribution to American letters.

Mr. Leonard, who started out writing westerns, had his first story 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 his short story “Fire in the Hole” for television. “Justified,” as the resulting series on FX was called, won a Peabody Award in 2011 in its second season and sent new fans to “Pronto” (1993) and “Riding the Rap” (1995), novels that feature the series’s hero, Raylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant), a federal marshal from Harlan County, Ky., who presents himself as a good ol’ boy but is “not as dumb as you’d like to believe.”

Approving of how 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.

It was a major concession for Mr. Leonard to acknowledge his approval of “Justified”; he had long been candidly and comically disdainful of the treatment his books generally received from Hollywood, even in commercially successful films like “Get Shorty,” “Be Cool,” “Out of Sight” and “Jackie Brown” (based on his novel “Rum Punch”). 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.” Once he saw the remake, he said, he knew what the worst one was. (Yet another movie based on a Leonard novel is to open this year: “Life of Crime,” based on “The Switch” and starring Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins.)

In an interview with the author Doug Stanton for the National Writers Series in 2011, Mr. Leonard explained why “Get Shorty,” the 1995 movie starring John Travolta, was a faithful treatment of his novel of the same title, 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 heeded in the first case, he said, and ignored in the second.

Amused and possibly exasperated by frequent requests to expound on his writing techniques, Mr. Leonard drew up 10 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 tips spoke to Mr. Leonard’s puckish wit; but put into practice, his “rules” do capture his own spare style.

Mr. Leonard’s narrative voice was crisp, clean and direct. He had no time to waste on adverbs, adjectives or tricky verb forms, and he had no patience for moody interior monologues or lyrical descriptive passages. His dialogue, too, was succinct, as in this passage from “Riding the Rap”:

“ ‘She isn’t home,’ Raylan said.

 “Bobby nodded toward the red Toyota in the drive.

“ ‘Her car’s there.’

“ ‘She still isn’t home,’ Raylan said.

“ ‘Maybe she’s asleep or she’s taking a shower.”

“ ‘When I say she isn’t home,’ Raylan said, ‘it means she isn’t home.’ ”

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,” Chili explains. “Let him use his imagination, he’ll think of something worse.”

The western novels and short stories he wrote before turning to urban criminals attracted their own following, as well as movie producers. “Hombre” was made into a movie starring Paul Newman in 1967, and “3:10 to Yuma” was adapted twice, in 1957 with Glenn Ford, and in 2007 with Russell Crowe. When asked about the vivid landscapes in his westerns, Mr. Leonard told how he did his “research”: from a magazine.

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

Mr. Leonard never aimed to write the kind of “high plains” westerns popularized by Hollywood, he said; he preferred grittier 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. He began including characters like Cundo Rey (in “La Brava”) and Nestor Soto (“Stick”).

As Mr. Amis noted, Mr. Leonard had an ear, and 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 among his rogues’ gallery of killers, gangsters and 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, 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 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, screenwriter on “Get Shorty,” told The 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, he says, “there’s nobody to sympathize with.” He asks, “Who’s the good guy?”

Mr. Leonard’s identifiable good guys (including those more-or-less honest civilians whose names you tend to forget) are keen observers and often strangers in town. To the ex-con hero of “Stick,” the Florida Gold Coast is alien country. “It was so different out,” he says. “All the lights, for one thing, all the headlights and streetlights, the neon lights, all other people’s lights that had nothing to do with you.”

Whenever one of these alienated protagonists is goaded into action, there’s no telling what he might do. “He may solve the crime — or commit it,” Mr. Leonard said of one such 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,” Mr. Leonard writes. “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. During his 28-year marriage to Beverly Cline, which ended in divorce in 1977, he lived in Birmingham, a suburb of Detroit. When he got married for the second time, in 1979, to Joan Shepard, who died in 1993, he moved into a house seven blocks away. He and his third wife, Christine Kent, had a home in the Bloomfield Village area of Bloomfield Township, another Detroit suburb. That marriage, too, ended in divorce.

Mr. Leonard is survived by five children from his first marriage, Jane Jones, Katy Dudley and Peter, Christopher and William Leonard; 13 grandchildren; and 5 great-grandchildren.

Elmore John Leonard Jr. 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 western novels and short stories throughout the 1950s and ’60s, including “Hombre” (1961), which was named by the Western Writers of America as one of the 25 best westerns ever written.

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

“Glitz,” published in 1985, was his 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 it was the movie “Get Shorty” that really made his a household name.

“After writing almost anonymously” for decades, Mr. Leonard 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 this 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 concession to the vanity of a balding man. In person and in private, he was much like his hero in “Split Images”: “one of those quiet guys who looked at you and seemed to know things.”

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

Of course Elmore Leonard had a Wiki page with the typical Wiki style history.

Another great page full of info on the TV and film side of Elmore Leonard is at his IMDB page.

From the IMDB site, some quotes:

[about the adaptation of his book “Get Shorty”] All the adaptations of my books all sucked. This one [Get Shorty (1995)] got it right for once.

If work was a good thing, the rich would have it all and not let you do it.

I think any writer is a fool if he doesn’t do it for money. There needs to be some kind of incentive in addition to the project. It all goes together. It’s fun to sit there and think of characters and get them into action, then be paid for it. I can’t believe it when writers tell me, “I don’t want to show my work to anybody”. Well, what are you doing it for?

[on film versions of his work] I don’t remember all the bad ones. I know “The Big Bounce” was bad, though, and they made it twice. It wasn’t bad enough the first time [The Big Bounce (1969)]. I don’t think anybody in the picture knew what they were doing. The second time they made it [The Big Bounce (2004)], they shot it in Hawaii. They would cut to surfers when they ran out of ideas.

[on the process of writing] There isn’t any secret. You sit down and you start and that’s it.


The following article was in the NY Times, from July 26th, 2001

WRITERS ON WRITING; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

Published: July 16, 2001

These are 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. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s ”Sweet Thursday,” but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: ”I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ”she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ”full of rape and adverbs.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”

This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use ”suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories ”Close Range.”

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s ”Hills Like White Elephants” what do the ”American and the girl with him” look like? ”She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character — the one whose view best brings the scene to life — I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in ”Sweet Thursday” was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. ”Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts” is one, ”Lousy Wednesday” another. The third chapter is titled ”Hooptedoodle 1” and the 38th chapter ”Hooptedoodle 2” as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: ”Here’s where you’ll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won’t get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.”

”Sweet Thursday” came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

Elmore Leonard - Bookcovers
Elmore Leonard – Bookcovers

By Rick Anderson

The Whispering Crane Institute was originally formed to act as the umbrella organization for the Philosophy of Design Symposium, and other seminars and workshops given by Rick Anderson and Richard L. Dube’. In the year 2000 WCI became a sole proprietorship owned by Rick Anderson. Today the WCI provides design and consultation services for Landscape Contractors, acts as a Green Industry think tank, and provides training for others in the form of workshops, seminars, and individual consulting. The WCI also provides written material, opinions, case-studies and how-to articles for industry trade magazines.

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