Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Elmore Leonard, October 11, 1925–August 20, 2013

I was going to write a far different post for today, but writing something clever as I planned seems to no longer be possible.

Elmore Leonard has finally put down his pen.

One of my favorite authors who always entertained, could write the ass off nearly everyone. His style and voice were completely unique – that is, until a lot of other authors tried (and mostly failed miserably) to copy his style. He always entertained.

I won’t bother to list all the books of his that I’ve enjoyed. One interesting thing is that his fans seem to all have different favourites. That’s because this man didn’t write just a handful of great books. He produced them by the shelfful. The funny thing is that no one seemed to notice. He was well into his 60s until he had a bestseller (Glitz) in 1985, and his first crime novel, The Big Bounce, was rejected 84 times before it saw publication in 1969.

Think about that for a moment. It says many things about the man, first of all, about his perseverance. He wrote in a fresh and unique style and he had the (certainly justified) belief that he could write well. Industry professionals (including reviewers) have always seemed to have a hard time when faced with something new and unique. Having started out in 1953 writing westerns with some success, he had faith in what he was doing. He took up crime fiction when the popularity of westerns fizzled out. He also had to wait 32 years to finally taste real success with that first bestseller in 1985. After than, thank the Lord, he never looked back. Would any of us have done that? I certainly would have given up long before that.

My favourite Leonard story came from an interview with Peter Gzowski on CBC’s Morningside many years ago. Seems that Elmore was in a mall while visiting someplace and passed a bookstore. They had his latest bestseller in the window display. He went in.

“That’s my novel you have in the window,” he said to the young clerk. “If you’ll fetch it, I’ll be happy to sign it.”

She indeed went and got the book. The author duly signed it and handed it back to her.

“That will be $29.95,” she told him.

“You don’t understand. I’m the author of this book.”

“I don’t care who you are. You wrote in this book and now you have to buy it!”

Leonard’s remark after telling the story (which he did very well), was to say it’s moments like these that keeps one humble. (Obviously, I don’t remember the story this exactly, but I’m not embellishing at all.)

So to you, Elmore, a heartfelt thank you. Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for remaining true to what you believed. Thank you for the many hours of exceptionally enjoyable reading you gave us. Thank you for leaving so much behind for future generations to explore and enjoy, because I am firmly convinced that Elmore Leonard books will be read hundreds of years from now. Like so much really great crime fiction, you provided a (admittedly quirky at times) look into how we live and how we think.

Rest in peace, my friend.


Charlotte Hinger said...

What a testimony to perseverance

Rick Blechta said...

He was a damned good writer, and didn't let the doubters get him down. And in the end, he did get the last laugh, and that's always satisfying, isn't it?