Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Elmore Leonard

Tributes to and memories of the late Elmore Leonard:

  The New York Times:
Amused and possibly a bit exasperated by frequent requests to expound on his writing techniques, Mr. Leonard drew up “Ten Rules of Writing,” published in The New York Times in 2001. “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip,” “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it,” and other tips spoke to Mr. Leonard’s puckish wit; but put into practice, his “rules” do indeed capture the essence of his own spare style. Mr. Leonard’s narrative voice was crisp, clean and direct. He had no time to waste on superfluous adverbs, adjectives or tricky verb forms, and he had no patience for moody interior monologues or lyrical descriptive passages.
He started out as a Mad Man–era ad copywriter, drinking too hard while writing Chevrolet ads that were, he told an interviewer, “cute, alliterative, full of similes and metaphors” — everything his subsequent fiction scrubbed away. Leonard started publishing fiction during the last gasp of the pulps; his first agent was H.N. Swanson (“Swanie”), a colorful figure who had also represented F. Scott Fitzgerald and who took credit for Leonard’s material success: “He was a pup writing Westerns ... I told him to forget the cowboy stuff and write stories with women in them. He did, and I made him a millionaire.” (The Westerns are good — try Last Stand at Saber River — but no better than others in the genre by Ernest Haycox or Cynthia Haseloff, whereas Leonard, despite his modest insistence that his work sprang from Higgins’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle, ultimately stands alone in the thriller genre.)
Much of the pleasure of reading Elmore Leonard was in the dialogue, which is why so many of his books became movies and TV series. Leonard followed his rule of "avoiding detailed descriptions of characters" by having his people talk to each other. He had an ear for the way conversations flowed, whether they were conducted on the street, in the precinct, or on the range. For a White guy, he certainly knew how to sound convincingly like the Black dudes who populated many of his novels. He captured the cadences of their speech, and did so without stereotype. His Brothers sounded like the guys I heard on the street in my old neighborhood; his cops sounded like cops I knew. Leonard embraced and elevated what they said, letting them ramble on whenever necessary. This love of casual chatter is probably what drew Tarantino to adapt "Rum Punch" as "Jackie Brown." It's certainly what made him pull entire chunks of Leonard's dialogue verbatim into the "Jackie Brown" script.

No comments: