"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice



The great American writer Elmore Leonard died this morning. He was 87.

He was a constant inspiration, a sharp, no-bullshit storyteller with a fondness for his characters and for the way people–cops and crooks alike–talk. He wrote beautiful, terse, evocative prose. He was not one to waste words.

If you’ve never read Leonard’s essay on writing, do yourself a favor, huh?

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.

Over at the Atlantic dig this from Elmore (and stick around to watch the video):

THE DAY VICTOR turned twenty he rode three bulls, big ones, a good 1,800 pounds each—Cyclone, Spanish Fly, and Bulldozer—rode all their bucks and twists, Victor’s free hand waving the air until the buzzer honked at eight seconds for each ride, not one of the bulls able to throw him. He rolled off their rumps, stumbled, keeping his feet, and walked to the gate not bothering to look at the bulls, see if they still wanted to kill him. He won Top Bull Rider, 4,000 dollars and a new saddle at the All-Indian National Rodeo in Palm Springs. It came to … Jesus, like 200 dollars a second. That afternoon Victorio Colorado, the name he went by in the program, was the man.

He left the rodeo grounds as Victor to celebrate with two Mojave boys, Nachee and Billy Cosa, brought along from Arizona when the boss, Kyle McCoy, moved his business to Indio, near Palm Springs. The Mojave boys handled Kyle’s fighting bulls, bringing them from the pens to the chute where Victor, a Mimbreño Apache, would slip aboard from the fence, wrap his hand in the bull rope tight as he could get it, and believe he was ready to ride. He’d take a breath, say “Let me out of here,” and the gate would swing open and a ton of pissed-off bull would come flying out.

“His mind made up,” he told the Mojave boys at Mi Nidito in Palm Springs, “to kill anybody’s on his back. See, he behaves in the chute. What he’s doing, he’s saving his dirty tricks till he has room to buck you off and stomp you, kick out your teeth.”

Check out this old American Film article on him:

American Film

I haven’t seen “Justified,” the TV series based on characters created by the Elmore but from all accounts it is excellentOver at the Star-Ledger, Alan Sepinwall talks to the Master:

We talk about director Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1995 version of “Get Shorty,” the first truly successful (in both creative and commercial terms) Leonard adaptation after a long fallow period. The conversation quickly turns to how the creative team on the sequel, “Be Cool,” got wrong so much of what Sonnenfeld and writer Scott Frank got right.

“I told Barry Sonnenfeld, ‘When somebody delivers a funny line, don’t cut to someone else laughing or nudging or grinning, because they’re all serious,’” he recalls. “And he knew that. But then when they shot the sequel, they forgot all about that, and everybody’s laughing all the way through. There’s a guy named Cedric the Entertainer (in the cast). Well, I can’t have a guy named Cedric the Entertainer in one of my stories!”

He lived to 87 and never stopped working. I hope he knew how much pleasure he gave so many of us. We can mourn his passing but let’s also celebrate his lasting achievement. I’d like to think he’d want it that way.

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1 Matt Blankman   ~  Aug 20, 2013 10:26 am

Given that he'd made it this far despite some serious health issues a few decades ago, I'd mistakenly assumed he'd be around forever.

The books will.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Aug 20, 2013 10:36 am

Well put my friend.

3 garydsimms   ~  Aug 20, 2013 11:18 am

RIP to a wonderful writer. 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre were fabulous stories before they were movies. 52 Pick Up, not so much as a flick. Watching "Justified" is must-watch tv. While there is a bit to much violence for my taste, the dialogue is superb, and the storylines (especially the changes in inter-personal relationships) are fine examples of why Mr. Leonard's written language wil be studied by tons of Phd students in future decades.

4 RagingTartabull   ~  Aug 20, 2013 1:45 pm

I've JUST started getting into him this summer (just finished "Get Shorty", probably reading "Swag" next). It's sad, but what a life and career. I'm really looking forward to diving deeper into his work in the next few months.

5 Alex Belth   ~  Aug 20, 2013 3:52 pm

Swag is okay but Stick, the follow-up, is really good. But worth reading Swag just to get to Stick.

Lupica wrote a nice piece on Dutch today.

6 RagingTartabull   ~  Aug 20, 2013 4:33 pm

I'll honestly read any one of them next, I'm open to suggestions. I had read a "Gateways To Geekery" on the AV Club a few months ago where they said "Swag" was a good place to start.

7 lroibal   ~  Aug 21, 2013 10:53 am

My father-in-law recently admitted to skipping over parts of novels when the author goes too deeply into describing characters and locations (which drives my mother-in-law crazy). I have to pick him up some Leonard and make them both happier.

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