In writing his novels, Elmore says he creates disparate characters, people he likes, and puts them in different situations to see what happens. He does no plotting. What the characters do and say is a surprise to him, too. That?s the fun in writing, he says, to be amused, to be surprised. The plot takes care of itself.
The flipside for him is screenwriting. He calls it just plain work, talking in a way that brings to mind Jack Ryan?s attitude toward stoop labor. Elmore doesn?t like complying with externally imposed length and content restrictions, writing to please others.
A hybrid, I guess, would be this novella, “Comfort To The Enemy,” with Elmore finding himself only partially free/yoked. Each of the 14 installments had to be around 2500 words and each had to end with the reader wanting more next week. And plotting was required.
Also, no shitbirds, motherfuckers, and the like. But no matter. As with Mamet?s movie “The Spanish Prisoner,” the dialogue and characters in “Comfort” are so engrossing you don?t notice no one?s swearing.
Elmore hasn?t lost a step. “Comfort”—Elmore?s first title choice was “Krauts,” but that one went by the wayside as too controversial. Too bad; it?s a “grabber,” as Harry Zimm might say—is every bit as great as his best books. There?s no fat in “Comfort.” It?s tight, fast-paced and funny. And informative; I?d bet not one in ten thousand Americans, if that, has any idea there were a third of a million Nazi prisoners in America during WW II.
Genius, I think, involves the gift of seeing the essence of complex matters. The ability to describe that essence in writing requires genius of another kind. And he who does so succinctly, with humor, no matter what the subject matter, is in a category by himself. That?s Elmore.
For example, we know Carl Webster from The Hot Kid, but if you didn?t, you?d know him in “Comfort” right away: “?...Horst Wessel, that pimp they call a Nazi saint,?” or “Carl said it was the only shootout he was in he didn?t see coming.” There are best-selling hot-shots who can?t tell you in a book what Elmore gets across in a sentence.
It?s been said over and over by the best and the brightest in American letters for thirty years now, but I?ll say it again anyway: Elmore Leonard is the best writer in America today, and one of the best ever, in any genre.
I may write to Webster’s: “Dear Sir or Madam- next time, next to ‘literary genius,’ just place a photo of Elmore Leonard.”
(BTW, many of the underlying facts supporting the above comments were derived from info on this site, the podcasts, or interviews linked up via ElmoreLeonard.com. This site is a goldmine).