Tuesday, August 20, 2013

RIP, Elmore Leonard

Posted By on Tue, Aug 20, 2013 at 8:48 AM

Elmore Leonard, one of literature's best-known and frequently adapted crime authors and father of Tucsonan Chris Leonard, died today at his home in Bloomfield Village, Mich. Leonard, who was working on his 46th novel before suffering a stroke earlier this month, was a mainstay on the bestseller list, but also known for providing the source material for TV's Justified and films including Out of Sight, Get Shorty and (one of my favorite films of all time) Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown:

From The Detroit News:

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.

If you have any interest in writing at all, you have to read Leonard's ten rules for writing, published in the New York Times in 2001:

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.

Elmore Leonard was 87.

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