Elmore Leonard, 1925-2013

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Marilyn Stasio, "Elmore Leonard, Who Refined the Crime Thriller, Dies at 87", NYT 8/20/2013:

Elmore Leonard, the prolific crime novelist whose louche characters, deadpan dialogue and immaculate prose style in novels like “Get Shorty,” “Freaky Deaky” and “Glitz” established him as a modern master of American genre writing, died on Tuesday at his home in Bloomfield Village, Mich. He was 87. […]

To his admiring peers, Mr. Leonard did not merely validate the popular crime thriller; he stripped the form of its worn-out affectations, reinventing it for a new generation and elevating it to a higher literary shelf.

Reviewing “Riding the Rap” for The New York Times Book Review in 1995, Martin Amis cited Mr. Leonard’s “gifts — of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing — that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet.”

Over the years, we've discussed Elmore Leonard at least as often as any other writer — here are some of the posts:

"Avoiding rape and adverbs", 2/25/2004
"Self-exposure at the NY Times", 7/2/2004
"'On' time", 8/4/2005
"Love, adverbially" 3/13/2006
"Parataxis in Pirahã", 5/19/2006
"The laconic hero: Now 54.9% talk", 9/13/2007
"Elmore's adverbs", 9/14/2007
"The 'sports subjunctive': neither sports-related nor subjunctive", 2/27/2012
"Gonna, gone, onna, a — on?", 8/10/2012

The NYT obit includes this quote:

Mr. Leonard, who started out by writing westerns, had his first story published in Argosy magazine in 1951, and 60 years later he was still turning out a book a year because, he said, “It’s fun.”

I think I've read all of his published works, and it's been fun on this end as well. I'll miss him.


  1. DCBob said,

    August 20, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

    From "Cat Chaser," the best representation of American speech ever, IMHO:

    " … the guy cheats,” Moran said. “You believe it? Guy that’s worth, easy, forty fifty million, he cheats on a hundred-dollar round of golf and all the clucks, the guys that play with him, know it. I couldn’t believe it. They not only pay up they go, ‘Gee, Mr. de Boya,’ give him all this s*** what a great game he plays.”

    Nolen said, “Yeah?” Still a little hesitant. “What about you? You pay him?”

    “No, as a matter of fact I didn’t,” Moran said. “My father-in-law at the time, I thought he was gonna have a stroke. ‘You out of your mind? You know who that is, for Christ’s sake?’ I said, ‘Yeah, a guy that cheats. F*** him.’ My father-in-law goes, ‘A hundred bucks, Christ, I’ll give you the hundred.’ I tried to explain to him that wasn’t the point, but my father-in-law was nervous because de Boya was putting money in his condominium developments and I worked for him, my father-in-law. So he was afraid it would look like he was siding with me, not making me come across. I told him that was too bad, I wasn’t gonna pay any tinhorn hacks his way out of the rough like he’s cutting weeds, three-putts the hole and says he took a five. Bulls***.”

    R.I.P., Mr. Leonard.

  2. Ray Girvan said,

    August 20, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

    I hadn't heard. Just to second DCBob: I'm sorry. Not being American, I've never known how accurate it was; but I like his work, and ever since I encountered it, I've been blown away by the astonishing vigour of his style.

  3. fev said,

    August 20, 2013 @ 9:03 pm

    "If It sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

    So long, Elmore

  4. David Donnell said,

    August 21, 2013 @ 1:43 am

    As seen on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/tinhouse) and distributed by writer friends:

    “Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing

    1. Never open a book with weather.
    2. Avoid prologues.
    3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
    4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
    5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
    6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
    7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
    8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
    9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
    10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

    My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

    If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
    ― Elmore Leonard

  5. Mark P said,

    August 21, 2013 @ 8:08 am

    I have seen some comments about Lenoard's 10 rules. Most of them have exceptions which boil down to, "Don't do this unless you're good enough to do this."

  6. exackerly said,

    August 21, 2013 @ 11:11 pm

    He's one of a very short list of novelists I can just sit down and read, without getting restless. It's an odd list, but it includes him, John LeCarré, Evelyn Waugh, Edith Wharton, Anthony Trollope, Scott Turow (until his last couple of books), and Margery Allingham.

  7. Alon Lischinsky said,

    August 23, 2013 @ 5:30 am

    Leonard's virtues as a writer do not mean his 10 rules amount to anything. I'd take bets that every writer in the Western canon has violated at least rules 2–4 and 6–9.

    And rule 10 assumes consistency in readers' preferences as to what to skip, which seems to me completely unwarranted. I don't know of any studies focusing specifically on literature, but reading behaviours are highly variable as a norm.

  8. Two stylists | Arnold Zwicky's Blog said,

    August 23, 2013 @ 7:30 am

    […] on Language Log, Mark Liberman quoted from Stasio's obit and noted that "Over the years, we've […]

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