THE WRITING LIFE
A Couple Tips from Elmore Leonard, One of the Coolest Writers I Know
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” — Elmore Leonard
O.K., let’s start with the title here. I do not know Elmore Leonard personally, so don’t be misled. I have, however, read at least half of his 60+ books and stories, many more than once, and Mr. Majestyk at least four or five times.
In 1985 I was introduced to Leonard’s work at the Fourth Annual Robert Wright Writer’s Conference at Mankato State University, and it happened like this. Over lunch I was sitting with Joe Soucheray, a columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press whose writing had a certain amount of zing. (He later went on to have a radio program called Garage Logic.)
At some point during the conversation he confided that he was on chapter six of his first novel, but was struggling. He expressed a measure of frustration at not being able to emulate Elmore Leonard’s skillful storytelling. Whatever else was said, the next thing you know I was looking for something to read by Mr. Leonard. (Pictured at left.)
His stories were compelling. Fast-paced, with vividly drawn characters, he knew how to get his hooks into you quickly and not let up. So many films have been made from his novels that I’m certain anyone who’s been around will have seen some of them.
He began by writing Westerns. (3:10 to Yuma was an early story that has twice been adapted to film, most recently starring Russell Crowe.) I would encourage you to find and read Hombre, which later became a film featuring Paul Newman. The stories were always compelling.
I’d be curious to know if Joe Soucheray ever completed that first effort. At the time, I myself had reached a roadblock in my own first effort to write a novel. It was called The John-John Clue, a mystery thriller of sorts.
The premise was this: a middle-aged guy who has all the money he needs and all the time in the world, but has no purpose, meets a down-and-out girl who had a singular desire to find her father. The clue was a photo, cut from a news rag like the National Enquirer, of her as a four year old and John-John Kennedy, taken in Georgetown circa 1963. What was the relationship between her family and the Kennedys?
It stalled around chapter four. Nevertheless, my love affair with the stories of Elmore Leonard had been set in motion and continued for at least two decades.
What follows are some Elmore Leonard quotes, with the aim of igniting in you an interest in checking him out if you’re unfamiliar with his work. This first one would apply to the 30 pages Michener used to describe waves at the beginning of his massive Hawaii.
“I leave out the parts that people skip.” — Interview, AARP
“What do you tell a man with two black eyes? Nothing, he’s already been told twice.” — Darryl, Be Cool
“After 58 years you’d think writing would get easier. It doesn’t. If you’re lucky, you become harder to please. That’s all right, it’s still a pleasure.”
— Interview, AARP