The prolific and popular crime writer Elmore Leonard, who suffered a stroke on July 29 (in the middle of writing his 46th novel), and seemed to be recovering, died this morning at home in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. He was 87. His immaculately clean, terse prose style made his books classics and redefined the crime-thriller genre. The American chapter of PEN, when honoring Leonard with a lifetime achievement award in 2009, noted that his books “are not only classics of the crime genre, but some of the best writing of the last half-century.” And they made successful films: Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown (based on his book Rum Punch), are some that stay fresh after repeat viewings. Though he didn’t always approve. His first novel, The Big Bounce, was filmed twice, in 1969 and 2004. After seeing the first version, he declared it to be “at least the second-worst movie ever made.” After he saw the remake, he said he knew what the worst one was. In response to frequent requests to expound on his writing techniques, Leonard drew up Ten Rules of Writing, published in The New York Times in 2001. The rules included “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip” and “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.” Worth studying.
Leonard started out with westerns, and had his first story published in Argosy magazine in 1951, and has been turning out a book a year ever since. “It’s fun,” he said. The western novels and short stories he wrote before turning to urban crime attracted their own following, as well as movie producers. Hombre was made into a movie starring Paul Newman in 1967, and 3:10 to Yuma was adapted twice, in 1957 with Glenn Ford and in 2007 with Russell Crowe. When asked about the vivid landscapes in his westerns, Leonard told an interviewer that he got his “research” from a magazine. “I subscribed to Arizona Highways,” he said, “and that was loaded with scenery.”
His first crime novel, The Big Bounce, set in Michigan, was published in 1969 and kicked off a series of hard-boiled crime narratives – Fifty-Two Pickup, Swag, Unknown Man No. 89 and the genre masterpiece City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit among them – that to some of his die-hard fans define the essence of urban noir. Glitz, published in 1985, was Leonard’s 25th novel and the breakthrough one that reached the top of the best-seller fiction lists and put him on the cover of Newsweek. But he felt it was the movie Get Shorty that really made his a household name. After writing “almost anonymously” for decades, he said in 1996 that “I am what you call an overnight success.” (Lifted and cobbled together from thenewyorktimes)