To Elmore Leonard, with love

This blog contains chronological, serialized excerpts of the novel, beginning with “excerpt 1”: First Look: Novel Begins. A new excerpt will be released periodically until the first section of the book is public. The remainder of the book will be reserved for publication. Please leave feedback, this is a work in progress! Thank you for your interest.

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Elmore Leonard was a writer’s writer. 

He focused on dialogue. He left out the parts that bored you. He avoided the pitfalls of prologue and description. He allowed you, the reader, to imagine the scene. He wrote fearlessly, offering quick, lean prose that never got in the way of the story. 

Elmore Leonard gave us dark humor, realistic violence, plausible criminals, admirable lawmen, tough women and quirky characters with funny names. He explored race, class and the social influences of crime. But, for all this heavy substance, his writing style invited you in, told you to have a seat, and offered you a drink. Told you make yourself comfortable and stay awhile…only then would you notice the revolver on the table and realize it’s too late to leave. 

Most of all, he made it look easy. Deceptively, criminally simple. 

On Tuesday, August 20th, 2013, Elmore Leonard passed away, at the age of 87. 

If you’ve never read Leonard, perhaps you can be tantalized by a succulent list of his best opening lines. Or, if you’re ready for a main course, Huffington Post offers a good Top Ten List, a sure recipe of pleasure. 

If you’re a writer, his advice on the craft was indispensable. In this interview, he explained how he found himself naturally shifting from one point of view to another while writing a scene, and why it mattered. More popular is Elmore Leonard’s “ten rules of writing,” based on sixty years of writing experience. 

“If it sounds like writing,” he said, “I rewrite it.”

Recently, Elmore Leonard reached a broader, untapped audience with F/X’s popular show Justified, based on his Raylan Givens series. According to interviews, Leonard felt the show’s creators almost got the hat right and said that Timothy Olyphant came closer than any other actor to delivering dialogue as Leonard heard it in his head. That’s a tall order, considering more than 25 movies and television shows have been adapted from his books and stories.

(Here’s a good “top list” for those who are interested. Although this post focuses on his work as a writer, I don’t think any show the last five years has been as fun to watch as Justified. It deserves an honorable mention, especially since the producers worked so closely with Leonard to develop the show).   

Finally, here is Elmore Leonard in his own words, in a 2010 NPR interview, discussing his life and work and how every book was written on “canary yellow legal pads” before being typed and delivered. This detail made me smile, because I work on my novel in exactly the same way. Yet, as Christopher Walken once explained in his famous SNL skit, “I put my pants on just like the rest of you, one leg at a time; except, once my pants are on, I make gold records.”

We have lost a great American writer, and those are big pads to fill. 


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