Saturday, December 01, 2012
Oakland Press: Author Elmore Leonard still writing after 45 books
By DUSTIN BLITCHOK
The Oakland Press
Elmore Leonard has been at work for 62 years, and he’s not done yet.
“I’ve written at least 45 books, and I’m going to write at least two more,” the author recently told an audience at Meadow Brook Theatre.
“I’m never really looking for a story, because I know when I’m ready, one will come along.”
Leonard, who appeared at the theater with his son, author Peter Leonard, sat down for an interview beforehand.
The elder Leonard said he’s working on a novel called “Blue Dreams,” about a retired bull rider who’s fallen in love with a young movie star.
“I’ll have to find out how they met,” he said. “I’m anxious to get my cast going, and, you know, have fun with it.”
Leonard said he doesn’t know how his books will end until he reaches page 300.
“There are certain times where I’ve introduced a character that I see isn’t gonna work, and I’m not sure whether I should go back and just take them out of the story or have them shot,” he said.
Leonard, 87, who lives in Bloomfield Hills, earned the National Book Foundation’s 2012 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in November.
Leonard said he’s written in longhand for his entire career, and began by getting up at 5 a.m. and writing before going to his ad agency job in the 1950s.
“You just have to be determined to get yourself on a schedule, and if you don’t feel like writing, so what? Just start, and in a short while, you’re into it,” he said.
The writer said he rode with the Detroit Police Department’s Homicide Squad 7 for weeks in the 1970s to research for books such as “City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit.”
The city being used as a setting for crime fiction dates to the time of the Purple Gang, Leonard said.
“In old crime movies, there was always a reference to, ‘We want to get him out of the way, send him to Detroit.’ ”
Leonard, famed for his mastery of dialogue, said “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” by George V. Higgins improved his craft.
“Ah, this is how I do it,” he said of his reaction to the novel. “It felt effortless.”
Leonard’s best-selling crime and Western novels have been adapted on film and television dozens of times, including the FX show “Justified.”
“I love it,” Leonard said of the series based on his character, Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. “When I got a script for the (pilot), I didn’t change a word — it was good. I did not change a comma.
Leonard’s son Peter recalled his father’s reaction to the two big-screen adaptations of “The Big Bounce.”
“You told me that you feel responsible because the book was responsible for two of the worst movies ever made,” Peter Leonard said.
“I remember you told me you were sitting behind a couple at the premiere,” Leonard’s son said of the 1969 film starring Ryan O’Neal, “and a woman said to her husband, ‘This is the worst movie I’ve ever seen,’ and the three of them got up and walked out of the theater.”
Leonard said he received a residuals check for “Mr. Majestyk” just last week. The film, adapted from Leonard’s book of the same name, was released in 1974.
“Actually, I wrote it for (Clint) Eastwood,” Leonard said. “But, at the same time, he was reading ‘High Planes Drifter’ and decided he wanted to do that, so he gave me back ‘Mr. Majestyk.’ And then we got Charles Bronson to do it.”
Leonard said his favorite film based on his writing was 1998’s “Out of Sight,” starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.
The writer said that, in a changed industry, he still works the same way he has in the past: On paper and with researcher Gregg Sutter, rather than with a computer.
What has changed are the authors landing on the bestseller list with Leonard.
“I can’t believe the books today that are bestsellers,” he said.
Leonard said he’s read just a paragraph of the popular book “50 Shades of Grey” by E.L. James.
“I couldn’t believe it ... not because it was dirty, but because it was hard to read. It was so ... basic, really. It was like trying to write.”