Commentary on LaBrava (1985)
Posted: 11 January 2008 09:35 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Commentary on LaBrava
Elmore Leonard

The New Black Mask Quarterly
Number 2
Edited by Matthew J.  Bruccoli and Richard Layman
A Harvest/HBJ Book
1985

The best time to begin writing a novel is when you least expect it.  Otherwise you can prepare forever, plotting, researching, getting to know your characters – putting it off is what you’re doing – to the point that the act of beginning becomes a major event, if not a psychological hang-up.

On December 22, 1982, at about three in the afternoon – during a lull in preparation for Christmas Eve – and without giving it much thought, I began writing LaBrava.  By five o’clock I was 2½ pages into a book I would be working on for the next four months at least, or until I had written between 350 and 400 manuscript pages.  (The length isn’t planned; that’s simply the way it comes out.)  I felt good about the 2½ pages in that I liked the sound, the attitudes of the two characters I had introduced, and also because I was now, unexpectedly, on my way – a week earlier than I had originally planned to begin.

“’I’m going to tell you a secret I never told anybody around here,’ Maurice said…”

In that Christmas Eve opening Maurice Zola and Joe LaBrava come out of an old South Miami Beach hotel called the Della Robbia, and I began to hear them:  Maurice – a talker, an opinionated old guy; LaBrava – quiet, patient up to a point.  A woman is mentioned, “The lady we’re gonna rescue…”  They get in Maurice’s old-model Mercedes and drive off.

(continued)

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Posted: 11 January 2008 09:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The opening of a book may or may not hold up under subsequent revisions.  Within the next few weeks I wrote a new opening chapter to focus directly on LaBrava and identify him through his work as a street photographer; that is, by looking at the kinds of photos he takes.  The Christmas Eve pages were then used to open chapter 2, reprinted here, and did survive pretty much as they were written.  Maurice’s describing how you could always spot a bookie in the old days was added later; so were the Yiddish words in reference to the old ladies who live in the hotel.  It’s like adding a pinch of this and a pinch of that:  seasoning that’s thrown in while the story is cooking.

My main concern in this sequence, as it continued, was how to work in LaBrava’s background as a Secret Service agent.  Driving along with Maurice seemed an appropriate time to do it, if I could pull it off without interrupting the sound and continuity of the story.  So I referred to another time:  “He had told Maurice about it one Saturday morning driving down to Islamorada…” presented his Secret Service history in a somewhat conversational manner, and this way maintained the tone of the scene, two men riding in a car together talking.

But even after I finished the book, I was concerned.  I felt that the story didn’t reach its first dramatic conflict quickly enough, the plot developing too leisurely, and that it was the description of LaBrava’s background, though only three pages, that was causing the problem. 

I asked my publisher, Don Fine, about it, and he said, “That works okay.  You need it there; it’s your first chapter that’s too long.”  I had my doubts.  But I cut seven pages from the original thirteen, and that was it.  Amazing.  The pace of the entire book seemed to pick up.

Right now I’m planning another book, assembling characters and settings, gathering research material, gradually closing in on that day when, quite unexpectedly, I’ll begin to write.

I can hardly wait.

END

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Posted: 11 January 2008 09:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Gregg (or collectors),

Do you want the book?  Joel?  He probably has it.  Who wants it?  Free.  Free.  Free.  It is in great shape.

How about a quiz question?  I will throw in an extra paperback copy of LaBrava as a bonus.  Cundo Rey from LaBrava is in the next Elmore Leonard novel, Foley’s Back (2008?).

The New Black Mask Quarterly Issue Number 2 featured:  1) a twelve page interview with Elmore Leonard, 2) Chapter 2 of LaBrava, and 3) a three page commentary on LaBrava.  I will post the twelve page interview when I get a chance. It is quite good.

It also features short stories by John Le Carre, Joe Gores, Michael Collins, Jim Thompson, H.R.F. Keating, Michael Avallone, Peter Lovesey, and William Campbell Gault.


The New Black Mask
(1985-87, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)
Quarterly
Eight issues in total
Editors: Matthew J. Bruccoli and Richard Layman
Contributors: Arthur Lyons, Raymond Chandler, Robert Parker, Dashiell Hammett, William F. Nolan, Bill, Pronzini, Sara Paretsky, John Lutz, Robert Sampson, Ron Goulart, Joyce Carol Oates, Joe Gores, Michael Collins, William Campbell Gault, Mark Coggins, James Ellroy, Loren D. Estleman
This ambitious attempt to revive the seminal crime pulp mag ran for just eight incredibly star-studded, digest-sized issues in the mid-late ‘80s, and featured some of the very best of contemporary hard-boiled writers (and some pretty snazzy and intriguing reprints).Perhaps it was just a little too expensive, or too poorly distributed, but it petered out after losing rights to the title, only to reappear as the paperback-sized A Matter of Crime (and seemed to shift away from hardboiled to cozy).

Fiction Beyond the Pulps:
The Digests, Mystery Magazines and On-Line
(1950 and on…)
Website Compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Todd Mason and Richard Moore for a wad of the info here..

I have added this to the Non-Fiction Thread.

 

.

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Posted: 12 January 2008 02:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Elmore Leonard Interview (1985) New Black Mask Quarterly

New Black Mask Quarterly (NBMQ):  How do you account for the instant success of GLITZ?  Did you do something different this time?

Leonard:  No, I didn’t.  It’s an accumulation.  I think it’s something that’s been building gradually over the years, certainly since 1980, from the time I went to Arbor House and Don Fine really got behind me.  I had reached a point where I was no longer simply grateful that a publisher had accepted my work.  Now I expected the publisher to do something.  If they really liked my work, they should sell it.  So I went from Delacorte to Bantam, and then Don Fine at Arbor House said, “I’ll sell you.”  He proceeded to get my material into the hands of, I think, reviewers who were more prestigious as far as having an effect on other reviewers.  The next four years or so reviewers began to notice me and ask, “Where have I been?”  The “I” in some cases referring to the reviewer himself, though most often it referred to me.  As it I had been hiding out somewhere.  It was Don Fine who started this.  From then on it was a matter of momentum.  As more and more people began to read me, and as more reviewers began to review me all over the country, I got still more readers and my books began to sell at an astonishing rate.

I think the timing of the publication of GLITZ was perfect:  the fact that it came out when it did, right after the first of the year.  Right after that Christmas rush of important titles, important authors.  It came along during a sort of lull; that enabled me to get on the best-seller list to begin with.  Then I got good reviews again – a good review by Stephen King, for example, in the NEW YORK TIMES.  A write-up in George Will’s column must have surprised everybody; I’ve gotten an awful lot response from it.  I don’t think that the book is that much better.  I’ve been more aware lately of trying to make each book better, but in very minor ways.  It’s not noticeably better written.  I think you’ll see the same style, the same tone, the same sound ever since ’74, ever since 52 PICK-UP, that I would call the beginning of what I’m doing now.  While I have been improving in some ways, it was mostly a matter of timing.  My efforts paid off.  I’m going to continue to try to improve as far as that goes.  I think we can always do that.  But it’s more in very small ways.  In GLITZ, for example, it was in experimenting with different points of view in writing the same scene.  I would write it from on character’s point of view and then switch around and do the scene again from another character’s point of view and find that it had a lot more life in it, that it was little more dramatic, more colorful, more interesting, I’m going to continue to do that.

(continued)

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Posted: 12 January 2008 03:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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NBMQ:  I notice an increasing amount concern with sociology in your recent books.  Is that deliberate/

Leonard:  Well, I’m not sure I know what you mean.

NBMQ:  The social structure of the city, a class of people.

Leonard:  I have made more of an effort in that line ever since, I think it was 1977 or ’78, when a reviewer said, “He set the story in Detroit, and he didn’t take full advantage of the background of that particular city.  He didn’t bring it to life.”  I think that particular review was by an Associated Press writer, and unfortunately this review was the one that ran across the country and appeared in at least a hundred different newspapers.  But I think I have learned things from reviews, ways to improve my writing.

NBMQ:  You really take reviews seriously?

Leonard:  Well, some.  When I see that it can be helpful – because I do concentrate on backgrounds a little bit more.  I certainly made more of Detroit in subsequent books.  I’ve been more aware of it, for example, in Florida, in south Florida, in south Miami Beach when I did LABRAVA, in Atlantic City when I did GLITZ.  It is important.  It is part of the feeling that I get when I visit there that I want to put into the book.  I’ll tell you something else, too.  As far as sociology is concerned, I try to keep current, in that what I’m reading in the newspapers while I’m writing the book, some of it is going to get into the book.  Because it’s what’s going on.  What the characters read, there might be a reference to something – certainly what they’re watching on television, a game show on television, for example.  Which is part of our lives – watching television, reading the paper.

NBMQ:  How do you go about researching background?  Do you just osmose it, or do you go to the libraries, read back issues of magazines or newspapers?

Leonard:  Lately I’ve been using a researcher, a fellow who works for a film company in Detroit.  He does a lot of research for them.  He’s sort of on a part-time basis with them, so he has time to do work for me.  He went to Atlantic City, for example.  First of all, I said I want to set a story in the Atlantic City-Philadelphia area.  Let’s find out what’s going on there.  He called the New Jersey Film Commission.  They sent him some pictures, some literature on Atlantic City.  He go the 1983 Pennsylvania Crime Commission report.  When I decided, yeah, this is the place I want to set a story, he went to Atlantic City, came back with a file of newspaper clippings that covered the everyday activities of the city.  He had it broken down into racketeering, prostitution, the unions, stories about the casinos themselves, new construction.  This file is probably eight inches thick, stuffed with newspaper clippings.  Then he took 180 pictures on Absecon Island from Atlantic City all the way down to Longport and then put all the pictures in order.  So even before I went, I could see likely places to use as locations.

(continued)

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Posted: 12 January 2008 03:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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NBMQ:  How much time did you spend in Atlantic City?

Leonard:  I spent Sunday through Thursday, five days.  I spent one day with the Atlantic County major-crime squad, and I went over their procedures with them – how they would investigate a death, what might appear to be a suicide.  For example, I said to the detective, “You’ve got a woman that’s found on the sidewalk.  She obviously fell to her death.  What’s the first thing you do?”  He said, “I’d look up.  See if there’s an open window somewhere.”  Then he explained how he would canvass the neighborhood or the apartment building first and talk to everybody.  The procedures are the same most places except that they use different forms.  They may go about it a little bit differently.  Then I asked the police how they would react to a cop from another jurisdiction, a cop from Miami Beach coming in there and sticking his nose into it, asking them questions and offering to help.  I got their reaction to that.  I said, “Assuming, of course, that you feel that there is a rapport between you and the Miami Beach cop, you get along okay, would you allow him to help a little bit?”  “Sure, yeah.  But I don’t think I’d want my chief to know about it.”  Things like that.  I spent time with the cops.  I was introduced to the president of one of the casinos; then he handed me over to a woman who was in charge of surveillance.  She took me into the monitoring room where they look at the monitors of every foot of the casino floor.  Then she took me to the eye-in-the-sky where you’re standing right over the tables, where you look directly down on the play.  So I got a pretty good view of what goes on behind the scenes.  Most of the information, of course, came out of newspapers and magazine articles.  Specific stories about a guy who comes to town with a million bucks and how he’s treated and what he does with it.  Same thing in south Florida, in Miami Beach, I roamed around there with a friend of mine who’s a private investigator, a fellow I went to college with, University of Detroit, more than thirty years ago.  Roamed around there, spent some time with the Miami Beach police, one detective in particular for LABRAVA.  Asked a lot of questions about situations that appear in the book.  What happens if a woman who lives in one of the hotels receives an extortion note, what do you do?  What’s the procedure in the investigating this kind of case?  Do you bring in the FBI?  And so on.  I find out exactly how they would handle the investigation.

(continued)

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Posted: 13 January 2008 08:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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NBMQ:  You wrote westerns before you turned to contemporary crime novels.  Do the two genres have anything in common?  And why did you switch?

Leonard:  I started out with westerns because in 1951 I had written a couple of short stories in college and they really had no purpose.  There was certainly no market for them.  I decided, if you’re going to write, let’s a study a particular genre, concentrate, research and learn how to write within the framework of this genre.  I picked westerns because I like western movies so much.  I felt that there was a good possibility to sell them, to sell to Hollywood.  I hadn’t read many westerns.  I began to notice the westerns in the SATURDAY EVENING POST and ARGOSY.  I liked the fact that in this market you could aim at magazines that were paying $850 or $1,000 for a short story and work your way down through ARGOSY, which was paying $500 to $1,000 to BLUEBOOK, and then down to the pulp magazines.  There were at least a half-dozen very good western pulp magazines.  DIME WESTERN being, I think, the foremost one.  ZANE GREY WESTERN MAGAZINE, FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES, TEN-STORY WESTERN, those good ones paying two cents a word, which is a hundred bucks for a short story.  And that wasn’t bad in the early fifties.  I concentrated on the western, a lot of research, subscribed to ARIZONA HIGHWAY for my descriptions for the settings.  Did a lot of research on the Apaches and the cavalry, which was very big then.  Cowboys – what they wore, what they ate.  Guns.  I started reading gun catalogs.  I put all that together into western stories.
  I stopped writing westerns after HOMBRE.  I wrote it in 1959, and it took almost two years to sell because the market was drying up.  That’s because of all the westerns on television.  If finally came out in 1961, and I didn’t write another western until the early seventies.  The last one was in 1979 for Bantam because Mark Jaffe, who was the editorial director at Bantam then, likes westerns.  I don’t know if there is a similarity other than the western kind of hero, that stand-up kind of guy who manifests his attitude in DESTRY RIDES AGAIN.  That’s kind of the idea.  Maybe it can be seen to some extent in what I’m writing now, in crime fiction.  In the back of my mind I kind of think that I do sort of a DESTRY RIDES AGAIN in that my guy is, usually, misjudged.  He’s fairly passive.  He’s not a typical hero.  I try to make him a very ordinary kind of individual, very realistic.  A real person who finds himself in a life-death situation.  What does he do?  He’s a stand-up kind of guy, like the western hero.  And by the time the antagonists realize that they’ve misjudged this guy, he has the situation turned around and he’s coming at them.  I get so caught up and interested in some of my minor characters, especially my antagonist, that every once in a while I have to remind myself that I have a hero.  That even though this story is not a traditional type of crime story, still there is a hero, and he’s going to have to solve the problem, whatever it is.  So I have to get him to do something.  Every once in a while I forget about it, that he’s there.  He’s just sort of walking through the story and observing.

(continued)

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Posted: 13 January 2008 09:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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NBMQ:  Many people have said the detective story or the crime story is the last refuge for the traditional, self-reliant American hero.  I think this applies to your work.

Leonard:  I think it does, too.  Sure.  I think that my work has come out of a tradition.  But I don’t think there’s that much resemblance to the tradition that it came out of, aside from the fact that, yes, I am aware that my lead is the hero and he is going to win.  There’s no question in my mind the guy is going to win.  But he’s going to have my attitude in the way he does it.  He’s not going to be the typical hero; though when you get right down to it, he’s going to be as gutsy as he has to be.  My cops, I feel, are real cops.  In GLITZ, for example, when Vincent confronts Ricky, at Ricky’s car, and Ricky says, “What do you think you’re doing?” he take him by the hair and the jacket, bangs him against the car, and says, “Anything I want, Rick.”  This cop is talking.  I try to make them as real as possible.  My copes cut corners a little bit, just as the real ones do.

NBMQ:  Do you regard any one of your novels as your breakthrough book?  The one in which you found your approach to your material or the one in which you found your authorial voice?

Leonard:  Yeah, I think looking back at it would be 52 PICK-UP.  At the time I didn’t realize it, but now I see that was the beginning of the voice that I’ve developed.  Then I got into books like SWAG and THE SWITCH, where now the main characters are not the usual heroes.  They’re on the other side.  Then I realized how much fun I could have with those people, that I don’t have to make them entirely despicable.  I can have fun with guys who are into crime, into the life.

NBMQ:  Are you concerned with making a statement about the nature of criminal behavior?

Leonard:  No, I’m not concerned with any kind of a statement.  I just tell a story.  My purpose is to entertain and tell a story.  I’m not grinding any kind of an ax at all.  My attitude comes through – maybe my attitude comes through.  But they’re not big issues by an means.

(continued)

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Posted: 13 January 2008 09:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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NBMQ:  Are there any recurring themes that run through your fiction?

Leonard:  There might be, but I’m not aware of it.  I don’t begin with a theme.  If someone were to ask me what is the theme of GLITZ, I’d have to stop and think, or re-read it to determine if I’m unconsciously anything beyond telling a story.  Is there a theme?  I don’t know.  The NEW YORK TIMES headline for the review of UNKNOW MAN #89 was “Decent Men in Trouble.”  That’s probably as close as I would venture to describing my approach.  Ordinary people who get into some kind of a scrape.  How do they get out of it?  I never know.  I never have any idea how my book is going to end.  I even think of Stick, in SWAG, as a decent guy, even though he’s into that life.  In SWITCH I certainly didn’t know how it was going to end.  I knew in SWAG that they were going to be arrested, that they were going to fail, but I wasn’t sure how.  In SWITCH it was kind of a tricky ending.  I come up with tricky ending s here and there, but I never see them coming until I get there.  In LABRAVA, when I was about thirty pages from the end, I said to my wife, Joan, “Okay, here are the three things that could happen to Jean Shaw.  She could be arrested; she could die; she could get away with it.”  It had to be one of those.  My wife said, “What if…” and gave me a fourth option.  I thought, Oh, my God.  That’s perfect.  And it was the one I used.

NBMQ:  You’ve said that you write to be read.  You write to entertain.  Do you have any image of your reader, the person you are writing for while you are writing?

Leonard:  No, I don’t.  Because I don’t picture a particular reader.  I think by now I have nearly as many women as men read my work.  At least more than half the letters are from women, though I do think my books appeal more to men.  When I’m interviewed one day by George Will and by Pete Hamill the next – who would appear to be poles apart in their attitudes, and yet both enjoy my work – I think:  This is wonderful that I can appeal to a wide range of readers.  Ideally the author wants to sell books, expand his readership, without getting caught up in the actual business of selling them.  I’m happy to see GLITZ on best-sellers lists, but I hope to God I never take it too seriously.  The whole idea of how I work it to be very relaxed in telling the story, to do it my own way.  I certainly can’t aim this book at a list – picking details that would make it more popular, appeal to more people.  That’s the worst thing I could do.  I’ve got to tell my own story in my own relaxed way, with the primary purpose of pleasing myself, then hope that there are other people who enjoy it too.  And that does seem to be happening now.  But if I had no more readers than before, I’d still write.  It’s what I do.

END

Gregg (or collectors),

Do you want the book?  Joel?  He probably has it.  Who wants it?  Free.  Free.  Free.  It is in great shape.

How about a quiz question?  I will throw in an extra paperback copy of LaBrava as a bonus.  Cundo Rey from LaBrava is in the next Elmore Leonard novel, Foley’s Back (2008?).

The New Black Mask Quarterly Issue Number 2 featured:  1) a twelve page interview with Elmore Leonard, 2) Chapter 2 of LaBrava, and 3) a three page commentary on LaBrava.  I will post the twelve page interview when I get a chance. It is quite good.

It also features short stories by John Le Carre, Joe Gores, Michael Collins, Jim Thompson, H.R.F. Keating, Michael Avallone, Peter Lovesey, and William Campbell Gault.

The New Black Mask
(1985-87, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)
Quarterly
Eight issues in total
Editors: Matthew J. Bruccoli and Richard Layman
Contributors: Arthur Lyons, Raymond Chandler, Robert Parker, Dashiell Hammett, William F. Nolan, Bill, Pronzini, Sara Paretsky, John Lutz, Robert Sampson, Ron Goulart, Joyce Carol Oates, Joe Gores, Michael Collins, William Campbell Gault, Mark Coggins, James Ellroy, Loren D. Estleman
This ambitious attempt to revive the seminal crime pulp mag ran for just eight incredibly star-studded, digest-sized issues in the mid-late ‘80s, and featured some of the very best of contemporary hard-boiled writers (and some pretty snazzy and intriguing reprints).Perhaps it was just a little too expensive, or too poorly distributed, but it petered out after losing rights to the title, only to reappear as the paperback-sized A Matter of Crime (and seemed to shift away from hardboiled to cozy).

Fiction Beyond the Pulps:
The Digests, Mystery Magazines and On-Line
(1950 and on…)
Website Compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Todd Mason and Richard Moore for a wad of the info here..

I have added this to the Non-Fiction Thread.

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Posted: 10 November 2008 01:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Not sure if this is the right thread, but I have two questions for Gregg (or anyone who can answer them).

1) Any truth to the silly rumor on IMDB that the great Sidney Lumet will be directing LaBrava in 2009?

2) Will there be paperback re-releases of LaBrava, Out of Sight and/or Riding the Rap to coincide with the hardcover release of Road Dogs?

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Posted: 10 November 2008 04:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I’ll try 1025
Oh Mike, look
someone else
seems to think of
road movie
when talkin about
La Brava
book deals
get blown
all the time
Sidney Lumet though
that would be a drool
I cant hep it
do it like Pronto
only not so phony
bodies falling in space
a road movie

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