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Fifty-Two Pickup
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Unknown Man No. 89
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Touch
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Riding the Rap
Out of Sight
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Mr. Paradise
A Coyote’s in the House
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Comfort to the Enemy
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Only Good Ones
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Karen Makes Out
The Odyssey
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Hanging Out at the Buena Vista
Fire in the Hole
Chickasaw Charlie Hoke
When the Women Come Out to Dance
Tenkiller
Showdown at Checotah
Louly and Pretty Boy
Chick Killer (2011)
Ice Man

Film and TV

Moment of Vengeance
3:10 to Yuma
The Tall T
Hombre
The Big Bounce (I)
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Valdez is Coming
Joe Kidd
Mr. Majestyk
High Noon, Part II
Stick
52 Pickup
Desperado
The Rosary Murders
Glitz (TV)
Cat Chaser
Border Shootout
Split Images
Get Shorty
Last Stand at Saber River
Pronto
Touch
Elmore Leonard’s Gold Coast (TV)
Jackie Brown
Maximum Bob
Out of Sight
Karen Sisco
The Big Bounce (II)
Be Cool (2005)
The Ambassador
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Killshot (2009)
Freaky Deaky
The Tonto Woman
Sparks
Justified
Life of Crime

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The secrets of my success: Elmore Leonard

Mail Online
By Lina Das

Writing is an art but you’ve got to be business-minded.

When I started writing in the Fifties, westerns were really popular. Virtually every magazine published them and I wrote 32 western short stories and five books. By the end of the decade, westerns were out of fashion so I switched to crime and that worked for me, too. You’ve got to be pragmatic about these things.

Don’t put hope in Hollywood turning your work into a masterpiece.

But there have been three film adaptations of my work that I’ve really enjoyed - Get Shorty, Jackie Brown and Out Of Sight. The series Justified is another good one. I love it and Timothy Olyphant who plays the lead character Raylan Givens is perfect. He’s laidback and easy and delivers the lines exactly the way I wrote them. But with some producers, you wonder why they bought my book and took out everything that made them buy it in the first place. The Big Bounce (1969) with Ryan O’Neal was probably the second-worst movie ever made. I stopped writing screenplays in 1993 because it was hard to work with people who didn’t know anything about writing.

If it’s not fun, you’re writing the wrong book.

You hear of writers having such a tough time. They say, ‘I can’t make it work’, and I always think, ‘Why not?’ I don’t believe in writer’s block. I’ve only been stuck briefly but then something will interrupt my day. I’ll focus on that and when I go back to my work, I’m not stuck any more. When I started out, I found a writer I liked and learned from him. I liked Hemingway because he didn’t use too many words. He’d leave out descriptions of people so the reader could visualise what the characters looked like. When I saw he did that, I thought to myself: ‘Hey, I can do this’.

Notice the details -  you never know when you might use them.

During a lunch meeting with Dustin Homan, he ordered off menu, which is a very Hollywood thing to do. So in Get Shorty, I had the fictional actor Martin Weir order a cheese omelette with the shallots ‘only slightly browned’. Another time, my researcher showed me a photo of a deputy U.S. marshal standing in front of a courthouse where drug dealers were on trial. She had a pump-action shotgun held upright against her hip. As I looked at the picture, I said, ‘She’s got to be in a book’ and she ended up as Karen Sisco in Out Of Sight.

Don’t believe the critics -  apart from the ones who like your work.

Martin Amis has always been kind about my work, but I haven’t read that much of his. For me, he’s hard to read because there’s no storyline you can easily follow, but he’s an interesting writer. I read every review of mine and when someone likes the book, I say, ‘This guy’s right on the nose’. A bad review used to get me mad for three or four days. Now I’m over it in one. I must be mellowing.

Stick with it.

I’ve stayed with it for over 50 years and it’s paid off. You need to be determined and write every day, even when it’s hard. When I started out, I used to work at an ad agency and I’d set my alarm for 5am so that I could write for two hours before leaving for work. It took me about three months to get used to it. The alarm would go off and I’d turn it off and go back to sleep. But once I got into that routine, it got easier. I’d sit in the cold living room in the semi-darkness and write two pages in those two hours. Pretty soon, I was waking up automatically at 5am. If you have a family, you have to stick with the job until you feel financially secure enough, and I’d had four of my five children before I quit the agency to write full-time. I remember in the Fifties going, ‘If I could make $6,000 a year, I’d be all set’. And then it was, ‘If I could make $200,000 a year…’ How inflation widens your scope.

You don’t need to drink hard to be a good writer.

I’ve been sober since 1977 and I think I’ve got noticeably better because I’m not writing hungover. I started looking forward to breakfast, too, which was a big step.

Adversity brings with it opportunity.

My son Peter was head of an ad agency for 20 years. It was very successful and it did work for Volkswagen. But when VW moved out of Detroit the company lost the account. It’s the best thing that’s happened to him. He’s been writing in his spare time and since losing that account he’s gone on to publish two books. He couldn’t be happier.

Don’t take things too seriously.

That’s vitally important. I’m always optimistic about my work and don’t have any thoughts about failure. Having a rich life is the most important thing.

Don’t be judgemental because you might be wrong.

You could be sitting in a bar next to a bank robber but you’d never know it. I have an affection for all my characters, even the ones who do bad things - they were children once, too. I get along with most people. The character Chili Palmer (the loan shark of Get Shorty) was based on a real Chili Palmer who worked for a private investigator in Miami. He was a good friend of mine and he even came to Puerto Rico with me when I was researching my novel Glitz. When the novel Get Shorty came out, I sent him $10,000 and when it got turned into a movie, I sent him another $10,000. I used him again in Be Cool, so that was another $20,000 for the film and novel. I didn’t have to pay him, but I thought it was a nice gesture. Some lawyer must have got to him and told him he should be getting more because he sued me in 2000. I haven’t spoken to him since.

It’s never too late.

I had my first children’s book published when I was in my seventies. A Coyote’s In The House is about a coyote and a dog who meet in the Hollywood Hills. It was pretty good fun to write. I don’t patronise or write down to children because kids sense that. I’d tell my children stories when they were young, making it up as I went along. It’s pretty much what I do in my novels.


‘Justified’ starts on Wednesday at 10pm on Five USA

 

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