Saturday, December 7, 2013
The Associated Press
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"When something sounds like writing, I rewrite it," Elmore Leonard often said.
In this March 1983 photo, Elmore Leonard sits by his typewriter at his home in Michigan. Leonard wrote in longhand on unlined yellow pads that were custom-made for him, and when he finished a page he transferred the words onto a separate piece of paper using the typewriter.
The first, "The Big Bounce," was rejected many times before it was published as a paperback in 1969. Hollywood came calling again, paying $50,000 for the rights and turning it into a movie starring Ryan O'Neal that even Leonard called "terrible."
He followed up with several more fast-paced crime novels, including "Swag" (1976). Leonard was already following the advice he would later give to young writers: "Try to leave out the parts that people skip."
In 1978, he was commissioned to write an article about the Detroit Police Department and shadowed police officers for nearly three months. Starting with "City Primeval" in 1980, his crime novels gained a new authenticity, with quirky but believable characters and crisp, slangy dialogue. But sales remained light.
Donald I. Fine, an editor at Arbor House, thought they deserved better and promised to put the muscle of his publicity department behind them. He delivered: In 1985, "Glitz," a stylish novel of vengeance set in Atlantic City, became Leonard's first best-seller.
Hollywood rediscovered him, churning out a succession of bad movies, including "52 Pick-up" starring Roy Scheider.
It took Barry Sonnenfeld to finally show Hollywood how to turn a Leonard novel into a really good movie. "Get Shorty" was the first to feel and sound like a true Leonard story.
Then Quentin Tarantino took a turn with "Rum Punch," turning it into "Jackie Brown," a campy film starring Pam Grier. But Steven Soderbergh stayed faithful to Leonard's story and dialogue with "Out of Sight."
There are more adaptations of Leonard novels on the way. In September, "Life of Crime," based on Leonard's "The Switch," will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. It stars John Hawkes and Jennifer Aniston.
Sutter said Leonard had seen "a little bit of the film and liked what he saw."
Writing well into his 80s, Leonard's process remained the same.
He settled in at his home office around 10 a.m. behind a desk covered with stacks of paper and books. He lit a cigarette and began writing longhand on the 63-page unlined yellow pads that were custom-made for him.
When he finished a page, Leonard transferred the words onto a separate piece of paper using an electric typewriter. He tried to complete between three and five pages by the time his workday ended at 6 p.m.
"Well, you've got to put in the time if you want to write a book," Leonard told AP in 2010.
Leonard sold his first story, "Trail of the Apache," in 1951, and followed with 30 more for such magazines as "Dime Western," earning 2 or 3 cents a word. At the time, he was working in advertising, but he would wake up early to work on his fiction before trudging off to write Chevrolet ads.
One story, "3:10 to Yuma," became a noted 1956 movie starring Glenn Ford. That same year, "The Captives" was made into a film called "The Tall T." But the small windfall wasn't enough for Leonard to quit his day job. ("3:10 to Yuma" was remade in 2007, starring Russell Crowe.)
His first novel, "The Bounty Hunters," was published in 1953, and he wrote four more in the next eight years. One of them, "Hombre," about a white man raised by Apaches, was a breakthrough for the struggling young writer. When 20th Century Fox bought the rights for $10,000 in 1967, he quit the ad business to write full time.
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Elmore Leonard, shown in this September 2012 photo, was a former adman who later in life became one of America's foremost crime writers.