Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Elmore Leonard: Aw, hell....

Today we learned that Elmore Leonard passed away. When I read a few weeks ago that he had suffered a stroke, I figured today's news would reach us sooner rather than later. Strokes are nasty. Nobody ever really recovers from them.

I won't repeat in this space how terrific Leonard was as a writer; we already know that. I did not read his entire body of work, but I read enough to know that he was a major player and anybody who said otherwise was illiterate at best or stupid at worst.

If Elmore Leonard inspired me in any way, it was to stick to my guns at a time when other writer friends, and even family members, were telling me that my crime stories weren't  "in vogue" and I needed to write something "more commercial that would sell" and then I could "write what I want."

I gave in. I hated myself for it, but I gave in. And then I read Leonard's introduction to a reprint of The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins.

I had never read Eddie Coyle or followed Higgins, but I knew he had died just prior to the release of the reprint (Leonard mentions his death in the intro), so I gave it a look. In the intro, Leonard wrote of how Higgins inspired him to stick to his own guns. He was writing about his criminals, you see, and publishers were telling him that he needed characters who were sympathetic and likable. He disagreed, and continued to face complications because of it. Higgins, he said, had the same problem, and was once dropped by an agent because of his stubbornness. Higgins, though, carried on, and became a success.

Leonard said: "Let this be an inspiration to beginning writers discouraged by one rejection after another. If you believe you know what you’re doing, you have to give publishers time to catch up and catch on."

When I read that, I bought the book. I absolutely had to have that book. Even if it wound up being a lousy book (it wasn't), I needed to have that introduction handy so I could go back to it time and time again. I knew what Leonard wrote would be important to have--sometimes you have to let them catch up and catch on. Best advice ever.

I don't write very much in the crime genre anymore, having found the series character--international adventurer Steve Dane--that I want to write about for the rest of my life, who is more in line with James Bond than Chili Palmer, but the advice still resonates, because some choices I make with my books aren't necessarily popular with everybody (adding humor, breaking the fourth wall, etc.).

I refuse to try and please anybody but myself. I learned that, more than anything else, from Elmore Leonard. And for that, I am grateful.


  1. Well said. Thanks!

    Now I could post this if I could read any of the d*** captchas!

  2. Good point, Brian. To enjoy what we do, we have to write what we want, otherwise it would get the best of us and our creativity would suffer.

  3. It's especially encouraging that BIG BOUNCE was rejected 84 times before somebody said yes