Meeting Elmore Leonard

Tonight I had the extreme privilege to meet legendary author Elmore Leonard, and I’m still buzzing.  A couple months ago I saw a flyer advertising that he would be doing a reading at Butler University (a few short blocks from our house), and I had been eagerly anticipating the day.  Fewer than 1,000 people were in attendance (the event wasn’t that highly advertised in Indy since it was primarily for Butler students but free to the public), and Mr. Leonard read some excerpts from a couple books, talked about the projects he is currently working on, and took lots of questions from the audience.

It was thrilling to meet him at the book signing after the event and have a short chat.  I own almost every book or short story he’s ever written, so I’m definitely a big fan, and the fact he is still writing at his age is admirable.  As he spoke he admitted that as he gets older he forgets names and old characters, and it takes twice as long to right two pages of a book, but he still has tons of fun writing and seeing where his characters take him. 


Some fun facts that he shared (many of which fans already knew):

  • He still writes every word by hand (on yellow unlined paper), then types it on word processor, then gives it to his daughter to type on the computer and fix any grammatical errors.
  • He doesn’t use the computer at all, and even his official website is run by someone else
  • He doesn’t get edited much by his editor (who hated him titling his latest book Djibouti because foreign words don’t sell
  • When he starts writing, he has no ending our outline in mind, just characters, and around page 300 he’ll start to think of how the book will end, so it’s fun along the way for him to write
  • He never laughs at his own humor or dialogue when writing, but he’ll laugh when he reads it many years later (often forgetting he wrote it in the first place)
  • He thinks most best-selling authors write boring garbage
  • His favorite film adaptation of one of his novels was Jackie Brown (the book is Rum Punch) by Quentin Tarantino (and there have been lots of good ones and lots of horrible ones, such is Hollywood)
  • He talked a lot about Justified, the hit show on FX that starts its second season in February and is based off his short story “Fire in the Hole".”  When he first saw Timothy Olyphant as the protagonist Raylan Givens, he was so happy because it was a perfect match.  He’s written three separate books based on that character and sends them to the show’s writers to give them new material, but he’s not actively involved in the show.  He’s still working on the third book which centers around a gambling Butler student who gets arrested, skips out, starts robbing banks, and has Raylan hot on her trail.
  • When he’s writing a book he doesn’t read anything else so that it doesn’t influence him.  He once was reading William Goldman’s Marathon Man and found that he began writing with more complex sentences than his normal style.
  • He is frequently asked (and he got asked it again tonight) if he’s ever been in prison since he writes convict dialogue so well.  His response is the type you’d expect from a law-abiding 85 year old - “Are you crazy? No!”

I’d encourage you to go check out one of his many books from the library (it’s tough for me to recommend one, I love them all, although I haven’t read Djibouti yet, and he was honest that it got mixed reviews and he probably could have done some things better in it).  And if you’re looking for a good film adaptation, try Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, or the first season of Justified (out on DVD in January).


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