Is there anything new that can be said about Elmore Leonard? For over six decades, the prolific and immensely talented writer knocked out novels, short stories and much more at blistering rate, and in the process became one of the greatest writers of American fiction—crime fiction in particular. And today, we’ve lost that great talent as his official researcher and webmaster has revealed he’s passed away at the age of 87.
To call Leonard influential and highly respected would be an understatement. Of course, the literary world wasn’t short of praise for the writer—Stephen King called him the “the great American writer” and last year the author took home the National Book Award Medal for Distinguished Contribution. But with over 20 features films made based on Leonard’s writing (“Get Shorty,” “3:10 To Yuma,” “Out Of Sight“—be sure to check out our overview of his film adaptations), along with countless TV ventures too (most recently, “Justified“), his reach went well beyond the book store and library. Take for example Quentin Tarantino, who adapted “Jackie Brown” and made it clear the influence Leonard had on his own career.
“Well, when I was a kid and I first started reading his novels I got really caught up in his characters and the way they talked. As I started reading more and more of his novels it kind of gave me permission to go my way with characters talking around things as opposed to talking about them. He showed me that characters can go off on tangents and those tangents are just as valid as anything else. Like the way real people talk,” the director told Creative Screen Writing. “I think his biggest influence on any of my things was ‘True Romance.’ Actually, in ‘True Romance’ I was trying to do my version of an Elmore Leonard novel in script form. I didn’t rip it off, there’s nothing blatant about it, it’s just a feeling you know, and a style I was inspired by more than anything you could point your finger at.”
And indeed, it’s that feeling that distinguished Leonard not just as a writer of page-turning paperbacks, but an author with a singular voice and real literary heft. From westerns to knotty crime tales, his stories were infused with colorful characters, black humor and deadly violence, all of which moved like freight train. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it,” Leonard said in his infamous 10 Rules of Writing. Well, he’ll be happy to know his work never sounded like writing, it sounded like Elmore Leonard. And we’ll miss it.