Elmore Leonard, best known for gritty crime novels including Get Shorty and shoot-em up westerns including the short story 3:10 to Yuma, died Tuesday morning from complications from a stroke. He was 87.
Most recently, Leonard was in the news for his connection to the FX series Justified which stars Timothy Oliphant. It's about disgraced U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a character created by Leonard. He was also an executive producer.
Leonard was born in 1925 in New Orleans. His family moved frequently, finally settling in the Detroit area when he was 11. Hs father worked for General Motors.
He said that his interest in literature began in the fifth grade when he read a serialization of All Quiet on the Western Front in a Detroit newspaper. In interviews through the years he said he was most influenced by writers including Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Raymond Carver.
Leonard's first novel, The Bounty Hunters, a western set in Southern Arizona, was published in 1953. He wrote more than 40 novels. Others include Mr. Paradise (2004), The Hot Kid (2005) and Up in Honey's Room (2007). His 2009 novel, Road Dogs, was about ex-con/career bank robber Jack Foley (a character from his 1996 novel Out of Sight who was portrayed by George Clooney in the 1998 film). His last novel Djibouti, about Somali pirates, was published in 2010.
He was also a screenwriter for some of his books turned to films including 1974's Mr. Majestyk starring Charles Bronson and 1972's Joe Kidd which starred Clint Eastwood.
Quentin Tarantino's acclaimed 1997 film Jackie Brown starring Pam Grier was based on Leonard's novel Rum Punch although he did not write the screen adaptation.
Leonard won many writing awards in his lifetime including the Grand Master Award of the Mystery Writers of America.
When asked the secret of his success, Leonard once said, "My purpose is to entertain and please myself. I feel that if I am entertained, then there will be enough other readers who will be entertained, too."
In 2007, he published Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, a 89-page book in which he shared advice and commentary on the writing process. In it he writes: "These are the rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story."
Among his rules:
- "Never open a book with weather."
- "Keep your exclamation points under control."
- "Never use the words 'suddenly' or 'all hell broke loose.'"
- "Avoid detailed descriptions of characters."
He also wrote in the book: "My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."
He practiced what he preached. His novels were known best for their spare and snappy dialogue and their gritty realism.
Leonard was known to his friends as Dutch. He said in an interview once that he needed a nickname in high school so he took the name Dutch inspired by similarities between his name and that of Emil Dutch Leonard, a pitcher with the Washington Senators.