Elmore Leonard, author of 45 novels, including Get Shorty, Kill Shot, Rum Punch, Ten Rules of Writing, The Hot Kid, and the novella Fire in the Hole – which inspired the current TV hit Justified, passed away on August 20, 2013. Hofstra Adjunct Associate Professor of English Richard Pioreck, director of the annual Summer Writers Program at Hofstra, weighs in on Leonard’s literary legacy.
Best of luck with the book – Elmore Leonard inscribed the book bought as a gift for me. Leonard knew that for a writer there’s nothing more fun to do than be immersed in creating a world where the characters can find their way through the problem in the book to its solution. Leonard did this better than most. As Leonard wrote, he took what he learned from the writing of George V. Higgins and found his style. Leonard laid out his 10 Rules for Writers to share what he learned from his writing. There isn’t a writer who won’t be a better writer following them, especially Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip and If it sounds like writing, re-write it.
Writers don’t set out to write literature. Writers want to tell stories. When writers tell stories that bring readers as much enjoyment as the writer had in creating it, great literature can be the result. And when Elmore Leonard wrote, this was the result. Masters of the craft like Leonard write great literature – books filled with characters who act in ways readers don’t forget. I believe the results occur because a reader says, “I just read this really good book,” and shares the news with another reader. Then both those readers, as well as others with whom they have shared the news, searched libraries, used book shops and Barnes & Noble for other books by Elmore Leonard.
Elmore Leonard is a great writer. As my friend and Hofstra colleague novelist Reed Farrel Coleman said to me on the morning we learned of Leonard’s death, “Elmore Leonard is the Dean of Modern Crime Writing.” Leonard’s the dean because of his attention to characters and their actions. His cast of ne’er-do-wells and heroes are individuals who do what they want or need, not for a melodramatic purpose to serve moving the plot along, but because that’s the kind of people they are. And Leonard’s characters speak an argot we understand despite its not being our everyday language. That’s why Leonard will continue with us because his characters won’t leave us.