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Legendary Novelist Elmore Leonard Dead at 87

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Elmore Leonard Elmore Leonard, the novelist who turned the lives of toughs, con men, and hombres into lean, wiry, and classic prose, died Tuesday after suffering complications from a stroke. He was 87.

His economical style made his stories and books perfect for movie and TV adaptations: “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight,” “Jackie Brown,” “3:10 to Yuma,” Justified. It could be said that Leonard was a pop culture titan, the kind of guy whose work, as the Associated Press noted, resonated with everyone from “bellhops to Saul Bellow”.

Leonard’s path to greatness was long and slow, even if he enjoyed close to 30 years as a best-selling author. But that status didn’t arrive until 1985 with Glitz, when “Dutch” was  60 years old.

Via the AP:

He had some minor successes in the 1950s and ’60s in writing Western stories and novels, a couple of which were made into movies. But when interest in the Western dried up, he turned to writing scripts for educational and industrial films while trying his hand at another genre: crime novels.

The first, “The Big Bounce,” was rejected 84 times before it was published as a paperback in 1969. Hollywood came calling again, paying $50,000 for the rights and turning it into a movie starring Ryan O’Neal, that even Leonard called “terrible.”

Fast forward to the 1980s. Leonard is still struggling, until an ally intervenes.

Donald I. Fine, an editor at Arbor House, thought they [Leonard’s crime novels] deserved better and promised to put the muscle of his publicity department behind them. He delivered; and in 1985, “Glitz,” a stylish novel of vengeance set in Atlantic City, became Leonard’s first best-seller.

And with that, Leonard’s legacy started to round into form. As you might expect, tributes to Leonard are everywhere today. To make life easier, here are a few recommended stops:

1.) The Associated Press’ obituary of Leonard (linked above) is excellent.

2.) Imagine being a beat reporter at a newspaper, working long hours for lousy pay and no respect. Then, Elmore Leonard sends you a fan letter. Yes, this actually happened.

3.) In 2005, Leonard told Esquire what he had learned.

4.)  And, of course, the great author’s 10 rules of writing. This is a must-read for anybody who writes anything. 

R.I.P, Dutch.

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