Posts Tagged ‘elmore leonard’

Elmore Leonard’s new book, Djibouti, has arrived!

Elmore Leonard is pretty much my favorite writer ever (I say that today; tomorrow I might say Neil Gaiman, the next day I might say Walt Whitman but for today let’s stick with Dutch).

Monday was Elmore Leonard’s 85th birthday, his fortieth novel, Djibouti, came out on Tuesday, and the trailer for the second season of the FX series Justified came out Wednesday. Three great reasons to celebrate what a prolific, generous writer has gifted readers like me. Here’s the man, the book, and the video after the jump: Read more…


My Five Favorite Blog Posts of 2009

I didn’t blog that much this year. Of the blog writing I did do, here are five entries I feel are worth your time:

Elmore Leonard Answers My Questions

Elmore Leonard is one of my top three favorite writers and the opportunity to correspond with him via Barnes & Noble’s message boards was one of my highlights of the year.

Your Monday Prompt #41

I really like this prompt. It’s the sort of prompt I should be upset with myself for not actually trying. I hope you do better with it than I have so far.

Hai to the Ku

Barry created a fun little Twitter application that creates haiku poems out of tweets. I don’t know much about Twitter but it’s a neat gadget to try.

I saw Zero 7 in concert

I like this post because I came home from the concert and immediately felt like writing.

A Storyteller Passes Away

I miss Merlin Dewing.

Here’s hoping I have more than five favorite blog posts in 2010.


My Summer Reading List

05.28.2009 1 comment

I have an ambitious reading list for this summer. Just like my dedication of two hours to write a day (or ten hours per week), I’m challenging myself to read for ninety minutes a day on Monday thru Wednesday plus Friday, or six hour a week. I tend to read 40 pages in an hour, 50 when I’m really feeling it, so if we take my optimistic number and combine it with six hours that’s 300 pages per week. Starting this week through the end of August, that’s fifteen weeks or 4500 pages. …That seems like a lot. I may have to re-think this. In the meantime, let’s get a little ambitious this morning!

All of these are selections I’ve never read before, so I have a completely fresh slate of stories awaiting me. Here they are in no particular order:

Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard (fiction novel, 272 pages)

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry (fiction novel, 288 pages) * Excelsior UMC Men’s Book Club selection

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (nonfiction novel, 307 pages) * Excelsior UMC Men’s Book Club selection

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (nonfiction novel, 274 pages) * Excelsior UMC Men’s Book Club selection

The View From the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockemeier (short story collection, 288 pages)

Tin House #39 (short stories and poetry, 200 pages)

I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Diana Joseph (nonfiction short story collection, 208 pages)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (nonfiction, 320 pages)

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (fiction, 528 pages… I can’t find the abridged version, which the Ron Book Team has decided is just fine for our summer reading) * Ron Book Team selection

How to Think Theologically by Howard W. Stone & James O. Duke (textbook, 126 pages)

Best American Short Stories 2008 (short story collection, 384 pages)

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier (fiction novel, 272 pages)

I also have the following to “read” on audio, all of which are re-reads for me:

On Writing by Stephen King (nonfiction novel)

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (short story collection)

Up in Honey’s Room by Elmore Leonard (fiction novel)

The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman (kinda-sorta-not-really nonfiction novel)

From a Buick 8 by Stephen King (fiction novel)

That’s only 2235 pages – a far cry from the 4500 pages I calculated above. I think I’m going to be reading a lot slower than at my 50-pages per hour clip. I’ll be reading short stories and each one of those deserves to be digested slowly like little meals unto themselves. Some of the novels are for Men’s Book Club and I want to slow down and annotate them so I can better lead discussion sessions. And others I hope are so good I’ll need to slow down and savor them (Road Dogs). I’ll keep you posted as I finish different stories.

Right now, Kelly and I are almost finished with the audio version of From a Buick 8 and I’m about forty pages into The Last Picture Show and really enjoying it. I hope to finish it before I go to camp and start on a new book by then, too (that’s June 13, for readers who aren’t in the know).

What are you reading this summer?


Elmore Leonard answers my questions

05.27.2009 1 comment

Last week, Elmore Leonard answered reader questions at the Barnes & Noble Center Stage, a message board thread in which prominent writers are given an opportunity to interact with fans. I’ve read a lot about Leonard’s approach to writing, thoughts on writers, and so on that it took me a little while to think of unique questions I wanted to ask. I came up with two sets of five and ended up with all of them answered (even if #9 – which is #4 of Conversation #2 – didn’t really get answered specifically, ‘no’ is still an answer).

You can visit the link above or read the following transcript. I’ve put my original questions in italics, Elmore’s responses in boldface type, and my commentary in [brackets].

Hi Elmore,

I’ve been reading your work since I was fifteen (I’m thirty now) and my friends and family always know when you have a new book coming out soon because I won’t shut up about it. Out of Sight is one of my favorite stories and I wrote an analysis about it for my final examinations to earn my MFA in Creative Writing last spring. I have a few questions for you and I appreciate the time you’re taking to answer my and other peoples’ questions.

1. I enjoy the way you introduce unique, distinct characters and then let them play with each other as the story develops (Tishomingo Blues comes to mind right away).  I wonder if, in your writing process, you first have an idea of events within the story or if you prefer to start with an idea for a character(s)? If you’ve tried both of these approaches, why do you find one more successful than the other?

— The way I approach it, I always start with characters and  then fit them into a situation or place, like a town in Mississippi for example  I usually have an occupation for a character.  Like in Tishomingo Blues, Dennis is the high diver goes who dives off an 80 foot ladder into a 20 foot wide pool that is 9 feet deep. Up on his perch, Dennis witnesses a murder down at the base. So then I think about more characters and give them names and backgrounds.

[This response doesn’t surprise me but his approach amazes me. He places such trust in his characters to push the story forward, it’s so bold.]

2. Your supporting characters are fun to read about. When you’re creating characters like The Mutt in Pagan Babies, Glenn in Get Shorty, and Arlen in Tishomingo Blues, what helps you create someone who’s memorable and compelling without stealing focus from your main story? Do you have plans for a new short story collection featuring supporting characters? You spoiled me with the tale of Chickasaw Charlie in When the Women Come Out to Dance.

— I don’t want to create an obvious character.  I want an interesting one who the reader will want to know about.  Often they are cast against the obvious type.

— I don’t really write short stories unless someone, like Otto Penzler, asks me.

[He’s talking about building a natural intrigue in his characters, a sort of something that makes the reader compelled of their own accord to learn more about them. In essence, he’s talking about character charisma. For a guy who cut his teeth delivering short story after short story to the western dime digests for twenty years, I suppose I’d want to move on to something new, too.]

3. Given your enjoyment of the film adaptations of Get Shorty and Out of Sight, did the thought of seeing satisfying film sequels spur you at all to write Be Cool and Road Dogs? If not, what compelled you to re-visit Chili and Foley?

— Definitely Chili.  I though for sure they’d want another one.  Too bad the sequel was such a terrible movie.  Road Dogs, I don’t think of it so much as a sequel.  I just liked the characters so I used them again.  But if George Clooney wants to play the part, I’m all for it.

[Part of me was afraid this would be perceived as a rude question, like I’m implying he made a cash grab. I’m glad he didn’t take it that way because I was genuinely curious. His glib answer about the film adaptation of Be Cool is unabashed and appreciated. Out of Sight is one of my favorite stories, both in novel and film versions, and I’d love to see Road Dogs turned into a film, too.]

4. I’m a big fan of listening to your work as an audio book on road trips (I think George Guidall reading Cuba Libre is particularly excellent). What level of involvement do you usually have in these presentations? What is your favorite audio presentation of one of your books? Do you ever listen to audio books for your own reading pleasure?

— None.

— Never listened to any.

— Never.

[I can’t say I’m too surprised, but I really, really like audio books. I “read” more audio books in 2007 than I read in print and I enjoy an excellent audio presentation. I thought Elmore might enjoy them, but I can also see him not taking to this form of technology.]

5. Will we see you in Minnesota any time soon? :smileyhappy:

I wouldn’t mind going to Minneapolis again, but  I have no plans.

[Bummer. Good thing my wife bought me an autographed copy of one of his books in a Minneapolis used bookstore a week ago. But that story is for another blog post. One which will appear here next week, in fact…]

Conversation #2:

Hi Elmore,

Thank you for answering my questions yesterday and everyone’s questions this week, I appreciate it. I came up with a few more, if you’ll indulge me.

1. Where do you like to write and at what time of day? Do you write every day or have some sort of ritualistic behavior when it comes to sitting down to write? How much of your writing time is spent researching or reviewing Gregg’s research?

— In the living room all day, 10-6

— Yes

–I try to read a page or so of a previous book, it could be an old one, just to get in the rhythm of the writing.

—  I’m not sure what percentage of my time, but I always read the pages he sends me.

[Wow, that’s commitment! Yeah, he’s a professional writer so really, he gets to write for eight hours a day. I’m trying to hold myself to two hours a day, five days a week, this summer and I’m envious. I really like the idea of reading from one’s previous works to get the blood flowing, and he does so without thinking of editing. That can be difficult for me because I see so many chances to improve a story. I also like how he makes research a part of his writing time. “Writing time” isn’t all writing (though for me, maybe it should be more writing than it currently is) and I don’t think it should be; it’s also research, reading, editing, and so on.]

2. I’ve read that your Ten Rules of Writing began as a tongue-in-cheek presentation for a speech before revising them for the New York Times. And yet, I wonder which of these rules have been part of your arsenal for the longest? Do you have any particular instances in your writing career when you can identify when a writing rule first manifested for you? Is there one in particular you wish more writers followed?

— “Try to leave out the parts that people tend to skip” and “If it sounds like writing I rewrite it.”

— I think most of the rules came from reading other writers, those that use “suddenly” and “all hell broke loose.”

— That they would use “”said” when indicating dialog and not modify it with an adverb.

[Since Elmore’s Ten Rules of Writing originally appeared in the New York Times in 2001 just three days after I turned twenty-two, I have never used any word other than “said” for dialogue. I’ve since learned two other beloved writers of mine, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, say the exact same thing. I’ve put myself in good company. I’ve also become hyper-aware of “suddenly” throughout the years and I think the leaving out “the parts that people tend to skip” is probably the one thing an aspiring writer should wrap their head around pretty quickly if they want to succeed.]

3. Who did you read when you were first starting out and how did they influence or inspire your work? Who specifically do you recommend an apsiring fiction writer read today and why?

— Hemingway.

— By being very spare in his writing, not overdoing it.

— Cormac McCarthy because he knows how to write.

[I enjoy Hemingway but I don’t read enough Hemingway. I enjoy McCarthy but I don’t read enough McCarthy. I enjoy Leonard but I don’t read enough Leonard. Do you see a pattern developing?]

4. What’s the one question you’re never asked by your fans or in interviews that you wish someone would ask? Of course, you’re welcome to answer that question here, as well. 🙂

— None comes to mind.

[I based this question off the question Stephen King asked Amy Tan and which gave him inspired direction for his memoir on craft, On Writing. It’s my one wild card in the bunch and I’m not surprised he didn’t have an answer off the top of his head, though it’s a bummer, too. Maybe some day I’ll have to come up with the question instead of asking the subject to do my work for me.]

5. What can you tell us about your upcoming novel, Djibouti?

— A documentary film maker is investigating the Somali pirates with a sympathetic point of view and soon finds out that that maybe Al Queda is involved.

[This isn’t Elmore’s first fictitious visit to Africa (Pagan Babies) and it’s clear this topical subject has his full attention. His last few books have returned to characters he’s already written about and I believe he’s excited to explore this new territory. I’m excited to read it.]

There you have it, a conversation between me and Elmore Leonard, separated by a few hours in time and a few hundred miles in distance but a conversation all the same.


Elmore Leonard's 'Road Dogs' is out this week

Steady readers of this blog know I’m a nut for western-turned-crime writer Elmore Leonard. If you visit my LibraryThing profile, you’ll see that I own more Elmore Leonard books than I do any other author. This isn’t saying much because it’s easy to have a whole shelf full of his writings, considering the man has written forty-three novels in his eighty-four years (not counting his short stories, essays, and fun and practical craft guide, 10 Rules of Writing). Still, I’m excited to add my 23rd Elmore Leonard novel to my shelf: Road Dogs.

Road Dogs was released on Tuesday and my copy arrives in the mail today. I can’t wait to crack it open after finals week calms down. I wrote part of my MFA comprehensive exam on my favorite Leonard novel, Out of Sight, and Road Dogs continues the adventures of Out of Sight‘s lead character, Jack Foley. The story was compelling and Foley as a character is so fun to read. He’s a bank robber, sure, but he’s one of the coolest, most suave men you’ll ever meet. The plot of Road Dogs, with Foley falling for the wife of a friend he made in prison, has the sort of criminals-in-a-love triangle story that feels familiar on the surface (Revenge starring Anthony Quinn and a young Kevin Costner springs to mind, as does the Jeff Bridges-starring Against All Odds, which is itself a remake of the Robert Mitchum film noir vehicle, Out of the Past). Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned to expect from Leonard’s writing it’s that relationships like a love triangle are never that simple, implying that if one thinks a love triangle is complicated to begin with, they haven’t seen anything until Leonard gets his hands on such a relationship.

I take that back. Really, if there’s one thing I’ve learned to expect from Leonard’s writing it’s character is at the heart of story. His dialogue is real and feeds the story’s tone at all times, bouncing back and forth between tense drama and raucous comedy. His characters are memorable and unique and their relationships build through interactions woven so tightly one scarcely believe Leonard rarely (if ever) plots his novels. When writing, he’s daring: he likes creating characters and see how they interact. Lucky for us, we as readers get to join him on this ride of story surprise.

The film adaptation of Out of Sight came out in 1998 and had great talent behind the camera: it was directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven) and written by superb screen scribe Scott Frank (Little Man Tate, Minority Report, and who also adapted Leonard’s Get Shorty for Barry Sonnenfeld). Starring George Clooney as Jack Foley and Jennifer Lopez in her acting prime, the film version is excellent and there’s a part of me that hopes Road Dogs lends itself to film adaptation, too. Of course, the combination of Soderbergh / Clooney / Frank definitely did their part in making the film version of Out of Sight a success, and their reunion would definitely make for yet another interesting film project.

I’ll update you with a review as soon as possible. I may choose to re-read Out of Sight before I dive into Road Dogs so I don’t have a timeline for you, but you can trust you’ll read all about it.


Good Books = Good Movies?

One of my MFA compatriots, Bryan Johnson, recently wrote about film adaptations of novels and this week a few new publicity photos and an “insider scoop” about two novel-to-film adaptations coming up got me thinking this week…

Two of my favorite modern novels, The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, have film adaptations coming out this winter. Both are bleak, emotional stories with subject matter the public-at-large may find difficult to witness on the screen even if they were both bestsellers (The Road scored McCarthy the Pulitzer Prize, and I think both are Oprah Book Club selections). Sometimes when I hear a studio is turning a book into a movie I cringe because the end results could be pretty disastrous. In these two cases, solid directors have me confident and eager to see the movies: John Hillcoat (The Proposition) is taking on The Road and Peter Jackson’s made The Lovely Bones his pet project all year.

Some good books have had some pretty bad adaptations. Elmore Leonard’s The Big Bounce was pretty awful and Be Cool really could have benefited from the great director+screenwriter combo that Get Shorty got with Barry Sonnenfeld and Scott Frank. Stephen King adaptations are hit (The Shawshank Redemption) or miss (Maximum Overdrive). My thoughts on Jaws are in the comment section of Bryan Johnson’s blog post. The one movie that is hands-down better than its novel counterpart? Last of the Mohicans. That book can go die.

How about you? Have you read The Road or The Lovely Bones? Does the prospect of film adaptations frighten you away or keep you intrigued? Do you have favorite books you know would make a great (or terrible) film? Is anything in the pipeline that makes you cringe?

And if you think there are books out there that should never be adapted into a film, check out this list of what shouldn’t be a movie, according to Cracked.


Elmore Leonard on "said."

01.17.2008 1 comment

The latest blog post over at made by his assistant, Gregg Sutter, points readers to an audio interview with Leonard by Kendra Nordin about his Ten Rules of Writing, now in book form, plus a brief accompanying article by Elizabeth A. Brown. The article’s funny, and the interview is one of those rare instances one gets to actually hear Leonard speak. For a chance to both see and hear Elmore Leonard, check out the extras on the Out of Sight, Get Shorty (2-disc), and Jackie Brown (two-disc) DVDs.

This takes me back to my July, 2007 post, “Your words are dead to me,” I [something besides ‘said’], a post I mentioned as one of my top ten favorites of 2007, in which I become a non-fan of the North Carolina educational system. They’re declaring common vocabulary to be “dead words” and that “said” is deader than dead can be. If a writer wants to use the word “awesome” instead of “wonderful,” the way to stop them isn’t to tell them not to do it. Talk to them about why word choice is one of the most important parts of writing as craft. They may be writing about a character who would only have words like “awesome” in their vocabulary. If that’s the case, then why stifle it? If it’s a matter of whether “awesome” is appropriate for an academic essay analyzing Young Goodman Brown, then it’s a matter of working with these young writers on establishing tone and voice, not editing self and vocabulary.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If a young writer desires to expand their vocabulary, they need to read more. As for “said,” I demand to know what magical word is supposed to be so much better.