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Like Raymond Chandler before him Elmore Leonard made writing crime fiction seem simple, even to the publishers and producers who vied for his stories.
And, oh my god, have some of them succeeded in turning out the successful tripe that passes for mystery fiction year after miserable year. Indeed until the genre has become, like Hollywood, proliferate with implausible plots, laughable (not in a good way) protagonists—who obviously have never visited a police station much less a crime scene—and the not-to-be-ignored “fresh”, “bold”, “new” twists.
We cannot blame Leonard for their formulistic commercial chicanery, but his writing could lull the simpleminded talent into believing they too could sink their tongues into the corner of their mouths, peck out 400 pages and producer a bestseller.
We cannot blame Leonard for their successes, either. That jacket hangs snuggly on the American public.
Some of Leonard’s detractors criticized his film-treatment style, others his endings. His stories almost never provided that sexy zing New York lit agents and publishing editors yearn to see when sorting through the stacks of manuscripts aspiring practitioners send them every week.
In pawing for that next new twist, many of them have neglected the genius of the prose that lies between the first page and the author’s acknowledgements on the last.
I have always said lit agents aren’t looking for the next James Lee Burke; they are waiting for James Lee Burke to call and tell them he has found the next James Lee Burke. (Ironically, Leonard helped the struggling Burke long before the two met.)
Writing did not come any easier for Leonard than it does for the minions who have taken it up behind him. He started his “shift” everyday at 10 A.M. and tried to accomplish three-to-five pages by quitting time, writing first in longhand and transferring those pages to one, clean, typewritten page later.
“Well, you’ve got to put in the time if you want to write a book,” Leonard told The Associated Press in 2010 of the shift work that was befitting of his hometown’s standing as the nation’s automotive capital.
Along the way he established 10 Rules of Writing for himself (“…to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book…”) and later shared them with us.
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”
5) Keep Your Exclamation Points Under Control
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
And one more rule that sums up the ten:
If It Sounds Like Writing, I Rewrite It.
Elmore Leonard died today at his home in Bloomfield Township, Mich. I would say I will miss him, as trite as it may sound, but I will not miss Elmore Leonard. I have nearly all of his books and many of his short stories and I will spend what remains of my life finding the rest.
And as long as I can pull one off the shelf or boot up my Kindle, Elmore Leonard will be with me.
It doesn’t matter a damn what a novel is about. The only fiction of any moment in any age is that which does magic with words. — Raymond Chandler
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