Normally, I don’t do this when somebody passes away, but when I first came across the news that novelist Elmore Leonard passed away due to complications after suffering a stroke, I felt deeply saddened. I’ve never met Elmore Leonard but his novels helped shape my appreciation of crime fiction as well as increased my fondness of books and literature, in general. Which is pretty impressive considering it was back in high school where I first discovered Elmore Leonard and I wasn’t much for reading outside of the high school lesson plan.
I will say that my discovery of Leonard came thanks to writer/director Quentin Tarantino and his 1997 film Jackie Brown. Brown is the only Tarantino-directed film where he adapted another person’s published work. (The film is based on Leonard’s Rum Punch.) Once I knew this, I quickly went out and read it prior to seeing the film. I was impressed at how well Tarantino and I envisioned the world Leonard created, involving a flight attendant (Pam Grier), a bailbonds man (Robert Forester), a black-market gun runner (Samuel L. Jackson) and his recently paroled friend (Robert De Niro).
After Rum Punch I went on to read other Leonard novels, including Maximum Bob (which was the basis of a short-lived ABC series), Glitz, La Brava, Cat Chaser, and two novels that features everyone’s favorite U.S. Marshal, Raylan Givens (as seen on FX’s Justified), in Pronto and Riding the Rap. And of course, who could forget Get Shorty and Out of Sight, two other great reads and two of the better treated novels of Leonard’s, as far as Hollywood film adaptations go.
With a career that spans over six decades, Elmore Leonard may in fact be near the top when discussing the greatest writers of American fiction. His crime fiction would inspire and influence hundreds of writers, including Michael Connelly, Marcus Sakey and Duane Swierczynski among others. Plus, when renowned horror novelist Stephen King is singing his praises, calling him the “the great American writer,” it just further illustrates the wide appreciation of Elmore Leonard and his contributions to fiction.
Over 20 feature films have been made based on Leonard’s crime and western novels, including those mentioned above as well as Hombre, Valdez is Coming and 3:10 to Yuma.
With that, I just want to thank Elmore Leonard and his books for making me be a better reader and in turn a better writer. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it,” Leonard implored in his infamous 10 Rules of Writing. Because even if a book had no cover or authorship mentioned, you don’t have to turn up the volume to know it was written by Elmore Leonard. He’s one of a kind.