From the excellent Fairfield Writer’s blog check out these two long appreciations of Elmore Leonard. They are packed with goodies.
Over at the New Yorker, Anthony Lane delivers the finest tribute to Dutch Leonard that I’ve come across so far:
Once you hear the Dutch accent you can’t get it out of your head, and for innumerable readers it became a siren song. I fell prey to it in the mid-eighties. Leonard had a breakout, with “Glitz” (1985), and it led many of us to raid the back catalogue with glee. Some of the books weren’t easy to get hold of, and the hunt only sharpened our zeal. A friend and I ravened through whatever we could lay hands on; there is a strange, barely sane satisfaction in happening upon an author—or a painter or a band—and making it your mission to consume everything that he, she, or they ever produced. You rarely succeed, yet the urge for completeness is a kind of love, doomed to be outgrown but not forgotten. I have often pursued the dead in that fashion, but Leonard may be the only living writer who spurred me to such a cause.
…One proof of literary genius, we might say, is a democratic generosity toward your mother tongue—the conviction that every part or particle of speech, be it e’er so humble, can be put to fruitful use. If that means trimming the indefinite article, leaving us with a Albanian and a oyster, so be it. Nothing need go to waste. Richard again, aiming at the formal locutions of a police report, and missing by yards: “I cruised the street and the street back of the residence, the residence being dark, not any light on, but which didn’t mean anything.” So much dumb-ass delusion in so little space, and the linguistic shortfall squares with an overriding sense, throughout the novels, that our grip on the world—and this goes for all of us, not just the chancers and the thugs—is never as secure or as enduring as we would like. Marriages crack like plates; one side of the tracks has no concept of life on the other side, though it may harbor a risky desire to find out; and words will not stay still. That is why the movies inspired by Leonard’s fiction (a slew of disasters plus the odd success, like “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight,” and “Jackie Brown,” which was based on “Rum Punch”) struggle to match his equilibrium. The souls that he surveyed, even when they were played by George Clooney and John Travolta, were unquiet and fairly uncool. Leonard’s gaze was cool, but, in all honesty, it belonged in a book.
I’m curious what Leonard’s reputation will be in 40-50 years. He sold a lot of books in his time but was also a critical darling. Not many writers enjoy both kinds of success but he sure did.
[Photo Credit: AP]
Here’s a collection of the first lines of Dutch Leonard’s novels.
“Dave Flynn stretched his boots over the footrest and his body eased lower into the barber chair.”—The Bounty Hunters (1953)
“At times during the morning, he would think of the man named Kirby Frye.”—The Law At Randado (1954)
“Karla hesitated in the doorway of the adobe, then pushed open the screen door and came out into the sunlight as she heard again the faint, faraway sound of the wagon; and now she looked of toward the stand of willows that formed a windbreak along the north side of the yard, her eyes half closed in the sun glare and not moving from the motionless line of trees.”—Escape From Five Shadows (1956)
“Paul Cable sat hunched forward at the edge of the pine shade, his boots crossed and his elbows supported on his knees.”—Last Stand At Saber River (1959)
“At first I wasn’t sure at all where to begin.”—Hombre (1961)
“They were watching Ryan beat up the Mexican crew leader on 16mm Commercial Ektachrome.”—The Big Bounce (1969)
“The war began the first Saturday in June 1931, when Mr. Baylor sent a boy up to Son Martin’s place to tell him they were coming to raid his still.”—The Moonshine War (1969)
“Picture the ground rising on the east side of the pasture with scrub trees thick on the slope and pines higher up.”—Valdez Is Coming (1970)
“The train was late and didn’t get into Yuma until after dark.”—Forty Lashes Less One (1972)
“This morning they were here for the melons: about sixty of them waiting patiently by the two stake trucks and the old blue-painted school bus.”—Mr. Majestyk (1974)
“He could not get used to going to the girl’s apartment.”—52 Pick-Up (1974)
“There was a photograph of Frank in an ad that ran in the Detroit Free Press and showed all the friendly salesmen at Red Bowers Chevrolet.”—Swag (1976)
“A friend of Ryan’s said to him one time, “Yeah, but at least you don’t take any shit from anybody.”—Unknown Man No. 89 (1977)
“This is the news story that appeared the next day, in the Sunday edition of the Detroit Free Press, page one: FOUR TOURISTS DIE IN ISRAELI HOTEL FIRE Tel Aviv, March 20 (AP) – A predawn fire gutted an eight story resort hotel Saturday, killing four tourists and injuring 46 others, including guests who leaped from upper-story windows to escape the flames.”—The Hunted (1977)
“Mickey said, ‘I’ll drive. I really like to.’”—The Switch (1978)
“The gentleman from Harper’s Weekly, who didn’t know mesquite beans from goat shit, looked up from his reference collection of back issues and said, ‘I’ve got it!’—Gunsights (1979)
“In the matter of Alvin B. Guy, Judge of Recorder’s Court, City of Detroit: The investigation of the Judicial Tenure Commission found the respondent guilty of misconduct in office and conduct clearly prejudicial to the administration of justice.”—City Primeval (1980)
“One day Karen DiCilia put a few observations together and realized her husband Frank was sleeping with a real estate woman in Boca.”—Gold Coast (1980)
“In the winter of 1981 a multimillionaire by the name of Robinson Daniels shot a Haitian refugee who had broken into his home in Palm Beach.”—Split Images (1981)
“Moran’s first impression of Nolen Tyler: He looked like a high risk, the kind of guy who falls asleep smoking in bed.”—Cat Chaser (1982)
“Stick said he wasn’t going if they had to pick up anything.”—Stick (1983)
“‘He’s been taking pictures three years, look at the work,’ Maurice said.”—LaBrava (1983)
“The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming.”—Glitz (1985)
“Every time they got a call from the leper hospital to pick up a body Jack Delaney would feel himself coming down with the flu or something.”—Bandits (1987)
“Frank Sinatra, Jr., was saying, “I don’t have to take this,” getting up out of the guest chair, walking out.”—Touch (1987)
“Chris Mankowski’s last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb.”—Freaky Deaky (1988)
“The Blackbird told himself he was drinking too much because he lived in this hotel and the Silver Dollar was close by, right downstairs.”—Killshot (1989)
“When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their off-and-on cold winters: thirty-four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvio’s on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off.”—Get Shorty (1990)
“Dale Crowe Junior told Kathy Baker, his probation officer, he didn’t see where he had done anything wrong.”—Maximum Bob (1991)
“Sunday morning, Ordell took Louis to watch the white-power demonstration in downtown Palm Beach.”—Rum Punch (1992)
“One evening, it was toward the end of October, Harry Arno said to the woman he’d been seeing on and off the past few years, ‘I’ve made a decision. I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone before in my life.’”—Pronto (1993)
“Ocala Police picked up Dale Crowe Junior for weaving, two o’clock in the morning, crossing the center line and having a busted taillight.”—Riding the Rap (1995)
“Foley had never seen a prison where you could walk right up to the fence without getting shot.”—Out of Sight (1996)
“Tyler arrived with the horses, February eighteenth, three days after the battlship Maine blew up in Havana harbor.”—Cuba Libre (1998)
“They sat at one of the sidewalk tables at Swingers, on the side of the coffee shop along Beverly Boulevard: Chili Palmer with the Cobb salad and iced tea, Tommy Athens the grilled pesto chicken and a bottle of Evian.”—Be Cool (1999)
“The church had become a tomb where forty-seven bodies turned to leather and stains had been lying on the concrete floor the past five years, though not lying where they had been shot with Kalashnikovs or hacked to death with machetes.”—Pagan Babies (2000)
“Dennis Lenahan the high diver would tell people that if you put a fifty-cent piece on the floor and looked down at it, that’s what the tank looked like from the top of that eighty-foot steel ladder.”—Tishomingo Blues (2002)
“Here was Antwan, living the life of a young coyote up in the Hollywood Hills, loving it, but careful to keep out of the way of humans.”—A Coyote’s in the House (2004)
“Late afternoon Chloe and Kelly were having cocktails at the Rattlesnake Club, the two seated on the far side of the dining room by themselves: Chloe talking, Kelly listening, Chloe trying to get Kelly to help entertain Anthony Paradiso, an eighty-four-year-old guy who was paying her five thousand a week to be his girlfriend.”—Mr. Paradise (2004)
“Carlos Webster was fifteen the day he witnessed the robbery and killing at Deering’s drugstore.”—The Hot Kid (2005)
“Honey phoned her sister-in-law Muriel, still living in Harlan County, Kentucky, to tell her she’d left Walter Schoen, calling him Valter, and was on her way to being Honey Deal again.”—Up In Honey’s Room (2007)
“They put Foley and the Cuban together in the backseat of the van and took them from the Palm Beach County jail on Gun Club to Glades Correctional, the old redbrick prison at the south end of Lake Okeechobee.”—Road Dogs (2009)
“Xavier watched two Legionnaires stroll out form the terminal to wait for the flight: dude soldiers in round white kepis straight on their heads, red epaulets on their shoulders, a wide blue sash around their waist, looking like they from some old-time regiment except for the short pants and assault rifles.”—Djibouti (2010)
“Raylan Givens was holding a federal warrant to serve on a man in the marijuana trade known as Angel Arenas, forty-seven, born in the U.S. but 100 percent of him Hispanic.”—Raylan (2011)
“A time would come, within a few years, when Ruben Vega would go to the church in Benson, kneel in the confessional, and say to the priest, ‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been thirty-seven years since my last confession…. Since then I have fornicated with many women, maybe eight hundred. No, not that many, considering my work. Maybe six hundred only.’”—”The Tonto Woman,” a short story that appeared in Roundup: An Anthology of Great Stories By The Western Writers of America (1982)
(In this case I think you need all of the above to truly capture Leonard’s touch. By the way, “The Tonto Woman” was made into a tasty short film that was nominated for an Oscar.)
“Joe Sereno caught the Odyssey night clerk as he was going off: prissy guy, had his lunch box under his arm.”—Naked Came the Manatee, a novel written serially by Dutch and 13 other mostly Florida-based writers including Carl Hiaasen, Dave Barry, James W. Hall and Paul Levine. (1996)
“They had dug coal together as young men and then lost touch over the years.”—Fire in the Hole, a short story published as an e-book (2001)
“A German prisoner of war at the camp called Deep Fork had taken his own life, hanged himself two nights ago in the compound’s washroom.”—Comfort to the Enemy, a serial published in the New York Times (2005)
[Photo Credit: David Guralnick / the Detroit News]
Over at the Atlantic dig this from Elmore Leonard (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.”
This movie is just a whole lot of fun. One of the very best–if not the best–Elmore adaptation.
Olen Steinhauer reviewed Elmore’s latest in the Book Review last weekend:
In an essay that appeared in The New York Times in 2001, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle,” Elmore Leonard listed his 10 rules of writing. The final one — No. 11, actually — the “most important rule . . . that sums up the 10,” is “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” It’s a terrific rule. In fact, I liked it so much that I passed it on to a creative-writing class I once taught. However, there’s more to it, which I didn’t pass on: “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.”
Jazzy prose that occasionally lets go of “proper usage” is Leonard’s trademark. He’s a stylist of forward motion, placing narrative acceleration above inconveniences like pronouns and helping verbs. While this creates in most readers a heightened sense of excitement, newcomers may find the transition from complete sentences daunting; it may take a little time to accept Leonard’s prose before you allow it to do its work on you. I’ll admit to having to make such an adjustment when beginning “Raylan.” At the same time, I’m also a novelist who lives in fear of my copy editor; being such a coward, I can’t help respecting Leonard’s grammatical bravery.
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.
[Photo Credit: Corbis Outline/Greer Studios]
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!”
I just happen to be reading “Swag” these days, and am thoroughly enjoying it.