10 things to know about Elmore Leonard

  • Posted: Saturday, August 24, 2013 12:01 a.m.

DETROIT (AP) — Ten things to know about Elmore Leonard, the acclaimed crime novelist who died Tuesday at age 87.

1. He wrote on paper — Leonard wrote longhand on 63-page unlined yellow pads that were custom-made for him. When a page was completed, he transferred the words onto a separate piece of paper using a typewriter. “There’s no reason for me to have a computer. I’ve been writing in longhand for 50 years. It’s more a question of what pen do I use than it is anything else,” Leonard told The Associated Press in 2004.


2. He hated many of the movies made from his work — Not one, but two films were made from his 1969 novel, “The Big Bounce.” The first, which starred Ryan O’Neal, “was probably the second-worst movie ever made,” Leonard said in 2004. Asked what movie was worse, he said: “I don’t know, but there must be one that was worse.”

3. He had fans in all walks of life — General readers loved Leonard’s writing, as did movie fans who found his work after seeing the many film adaptations. His admirers included fellow writers such as Saul Bellow and Martin Amis. George Clooney hung out at Leonard’s place while filming the big-screen adaptation of “Out of Sight,” and members of Aerosmith — in town for a concert — also visited, taking a dip in Leonard’s pool.

4. Authors loved Leonard’s 10 rules for writing — Often quoted by aspiring (and existing) authors, Leonard’s list of writing do’s and don’ts, which he wrote for The New York Times, included “never open a book with weather,” “never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue” and “try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

5. Family and friends didn’t call him Elmore” — As a sophomore at University of Detroit High School, the nickname “Dutch” was pinned on Leonard. And it stuck. It’s a reference to Emil “Dutch” Leonard, a knuckleball pitcher for the Washington Senators. The ballplayer’s card sat for years in the writer’s study on one of the shelves lined with copies of his books. “It was overnight. It was almost as though a press release was sent out: ‘Start calling him Dutch.’ And it just happened,” Leonard told the AP in 2002.

6. He believed in word economy — Leonard tried to keep his books under 300 pages. “This one time, The New York Times asked me if I would review a Tom Clancy book. I said, ‘How many pages is it?’ And they said, ‘Oh, it’s only 400 and some.’ I said, ‘I don’t read books with more than 300 pages.’ So I got out of that,” he told the AP in 2010.

7. A few directors “got” Leonard — Although Leonard said most of Hollywood’s attempts to translate his prose to the big screen failed, he really enjoyed three 1990s efforts, by directors Barry Sonnenfeld (“Get Shorty”), Steven Soderbergh (“Out of Sight”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Jackie Brown”). In 2012, he told the AP that his all-time favorite adaptation was 1997’s “Jackie Brown,” which was based on the novel “Rum Punch.” When Tarantino called to ask for guidance ahead of filming, Leonard remembered saying, “Do what you want. I like your work.”

8. He was a Motor City guy — His father was a General Motors employee, and Leonard himself wrote advertising copy for Chevrolet and Westerns on the side after college. As a son of the automotive industry, Leonard wrote daily in eight-hour shifts from his home office. “Well, you’ve got to put in the time if you want to write a book,” he said in 2010.

9. He was a Motor City guy, Part II

Sure, he was born elsewhere and lived in the suburbs for many years, but Leonard always considered himself a Detroiter. He set many of his novels there and remained a staunch defender of the city he lived in or near since 1934. In an AP interview in July, only days after Detroit became the largest city in the United States to file for bankruptcy, Leonard said he believed “we’re going to get through it.”

10. Leonard never got to finish novel No. 46 — “Raylan,” which was out in 2012, now stands as his final novel. He told the AP at the end of last year that he was excited about his next work, which centered around a rogue Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and bull riding. The working title was “Blue Dreams.” Gregg Sutter, Leonard’s longtime researcher, said Tuesday the book also would have featured Raylan Givens, the Stetson-wearing U.S. marshal from “Raylan” and his short story, “Fire in the Hole” — the basis for the FX series “Justified.”

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