The literary world has suffered a loss with the death of Elmore Leonard at age 87. It seems fitting that at the time of the death he was working on his 45th novel. Writing was what he liked to do, and he did it well.
In 2008, I was the public relations director for the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference. It was in that capacity that I was introduced to Elmore Leonard, who preferred to be called “Dutch.”
Oh, I had known Elmore Leonard for years, through his writing and through movies based on his writing. I’d enjoyed reading Swag and Rum Punch, The Hot Kid and Glitz. And I’d enjoyed movies like 3:10 to Yuma and Get Shorty. I’m probably one of the few people who thinks Jackie Brown (based on Rum Punch) was one of Tarantino’s better movies.
So I already knew that Elmore Leonard was a master of sparse, concise writing and witty, realistic dialogue. His gritty characters and colorful stories put you there as it happened. He was a writer’s writer who wrote because he loved to.
Awards showered him, including the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award, which brought me into contact with him. In accepting the award, he joined a legacy of other FSF honorees, including John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer, E.L. Doctorow, Ernest J. Gaines, Edward Albee, William Styron, William J. Kennedy, and Pat Conroy.
What I learned during the weekend that I met Elmore Leonard in person was that Dutch was as great a guy as he was a writer. Success had not gone to his head. He was down-to-earth and approachable, even deflecting attention by complimenting me and others he talked with during the reception and conference and dinner. He was a gentleman. His mastery of dialogue made him a great conversationalist. (Or maybe it was the other way around.)
Yesterday I pulled down several of my inscribed Elmore Leonard novels to read his kind notes of encouragement, and to decide which one to read next. And the copy of his 10 Rules, which you can find here:
Writers who care about other writers. Oh, yeah. We need more of those. Be nice, play nicely, salute each other’s essence. Leonard was a bright light. Let’s hope his spirit lives on…