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The Bounty Hunters
The Law at Randado
Escape from Five Shadows
Last Stand at Saber River
The Big Bounce
The Moonshine War
Valdez is Coming
Forty Lashes Less One
Mr. Majestyk
Fifty-Two Pickup
Unknown Man No. 89
The Hunted
The Switch
City Primeval
Gold Coast
Split Images
Cat Chaser
Freaky Deaky
Get Shorty
Maximum Bob
Rum Punch
Riding the Rap
Out of Sight
Cuba Libre
Be Cool
Pagan Babies
Tishomingo Blues
Mr. Paradise
A Coyote’s in the House
The Hot Kid
Comfort to the Enemy
Up in Honey’s Room
Road Dogs


The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard
The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories
When the Women Come Out to Dance
Trail of the Apache
Apache Medicine
You Never See Apaches…
Red Hell Hits Canyon Diablo
The Colonel’s Lady
Law of the Hunted One
Cavalry Boots
Under the Friar’s Ledge
The Rustlers
Three Ten to Yuma
The Big Hunt
Long Night
The Boy Who Smiled
The Hard Way
The Last Shot
Blood Money
Trouble at Rindo’s Station
Saint with a Six-Gun
The Captives
No Man’s Guns
The Rancher’s Lady
Moment of Vengeance
Man with the Iron Arm
The Longest Day of his Life
The Nagual
The Kid
The Treasure of Mungo’s Landing
The Bull Ring at Blisston
Only Good Ones
The Tonto Woman
Hurrah for Captain Early
Karen Makes Out
The Odyssey
Hanging Out at the Buena Vista
Fire in the Hole
Chickasaw Charlie Hoke
When the Women Come Out to Dance
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
The Big Bounce (I)
The Moonshine War
Valdez is Coming
Joe Kidd
Mr. Majestyk
High Noon, Part II
52 Pickup
The Rosary Murders
Glitz (TV)
Cat Chaser
Border Shootout
Split Images
Get Shorty
Last Stand at Saber River
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
Life of Crime

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Elmore Leonard on John Steinbeck

Remarks delivered at the 20th Anniversary Celebration of The Library of America, April 8, 2002, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City.

I’m not certain how academic critics rate John Steinbeck, perhaps not up there with Hemingway and Faulkner, but I honor him today because fifty years ago he set me free. It was one book in particular, Sweet Thursday, published in 1954,  that did the job.

I’ll never forget the scene in which Doc, the marine biologist, sits down to write.

Doc bought a package of yellow pads and two dozen pencils. He laid them out on his desk, the pencils sharpened to needle points and lined up like yellow soldiers.  At the top of a page he printed: 0BSERVATI0N5 AND SPECULATIONS. His pencil point broke. He took up another and drew lace around the 0 and the B, made a block letter out of the S and put fish hooks on each end.  His ankle itched. He rolled down his sock and scratched, and that made his ear itch. “Someone’s talking about me,” he said and looked at the yellow pad. He wondered if he had fed the cotton rats. It is easy to forget when you’re thinking.

He feeds the rats and remembers he hasn’t eaten.

When he finished a page or two he would fry some eggs. But wouldn’t it be better to eat first so that his flow of thought would not be interrupted later?... He fried two eggs and ate them, staring at the yellow pad under the hanging light. The light was too bright. It reflected painfully on the paper. Doc finished his eggs, got out a sheet of tracing paper, and taped it to the bottom of the shade below the globe. It took time to make it neat. He sat in front of the yellow pad again and drew lace around all the letters of the title, tore off the page, and threw it away. Five pencil points were broken now. He sharpened them and lined them up with their brothers.

Doc looks out the window to see a car drive past and a girl come out of the Bear Flag and walk along Cannery Row.
He writes a few lines after observing the way the girl walks, with pride but not vanity. And his pencil point breaks. “He took another, and it broke with a jerk, making a little tear in the paper. He read what he had written; dull, desiccated, he thought.” The scene ends with Doc getting up and going across the street for a beer.

It amazes me that a writer as renowned as Steinbeck knew the tricks of putting off writing. I’ve found myself paying bills ? and that might’ve been, un? or subconsciously, an incentive to get to work. It encourages me that it was part of writing and not a disease.

But what encouraged me much more is in the prologue of Sweet Thursday. A character, Mack from Cannery Row, says he was never satisfied with that book. He says,

I would of went about it different .... I like a lot of talk in a book, and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. And another thing ? I kind of like to figure out what he’s thinking by what he says. I like some description too… I like to know what color a thing is, how it smells and maybe how it looks, and maybe how a guy feels about it ? but not too much of that… Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. The guy’s writing it, give him a chance to spin up some pretty words maybe, or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up in the story.

He suggests putting it right at first or in chapters, which Steinbeck did in Sweet Thursday. Chapters 3 and 38 have headings: Hooptedoodle one and two.
That became the backbone of my tendrils for success and happiness in writing fiction: mainly don’t describe too much, unless you really know what you’re doing. In my rules, I say “These rules I picked up along the way to help me remain invisible while I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. And if you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over. For me that is what John Steinbeck inspired, the simplicity that if you can’t do it well, don’t do it. If you can do something well .... from that time on, 1954, I concentrated on telling my stories in dialogue so I wouldn’t have to describe the characters.