Mr. Majestyk Part 19

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He lowered the Henry rifle, stock down, and let it fall across the saddle, and kept his hand away from the Colt holstered on his right leg. A man could get shot standing next to a stage road out in the middle of nowhere with a rifle in his hand.

All excerpts from works by Elmore Leonard are copyright by Elmore Leonard, Inc., in the year of publication. Reprinted here with permission.

Selected Filmography

The Big Bounce(2003). Announced director: George Armitage. Announced cast: Owen Wilson (Jack Ryan); Morgan Freeman (Walter Crewes); Sara Foster (Nancy Hayes); Gary Sinise (Ray Ritchie)....

Out of Sight(1998). Director: Steven Soderbergh. Cast: George Clooney (John Michael "Jack" Foley); Jennifer Lopez (Karen Sisco); Ving Rhames (Buddy Bragg); Don Cheadle (Maurice "Snoopy" Miller); Dennis Farina (Marshall Sisco); Albert Brooks (Richard "Dick the Ripper" Ripley); Nancy Allen (Midge); Catherine Keener (Adele Delisi); Isaiah Washington (Kenneth "Kenny"); Steve Zahn (Glenn Michaels); Luis Guzman (Jose Portencio)....



Jackie Brown(1997), based on the novel Rum Punch Rum Punch. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Cast: Pam Grier (Jackie Brown); Samuel L. Jackson (Ordell Robbie); Robert Forster (Max Cherry); Bridget Fonda (Melanie Ralston); Michael Keaton (Ray Nicolette);Robert De Niro (Louis Gara); Michael Bowen (Mark Dargus); Chris Tucker (Beaumont Livingston); Lisa Gay Hamilton (Sheronda)....

Touch(1997). Director: Paul Schrader. Cast: LL Cool J (Himself); Gina Gershon (Debra Lusanne); Conchata Ferrell (Virginia Worrel); John Doe (Elwin Worrel); Christopher Walken (Bill Hill); Skeet Ulrich (Juvenal, a.k.a. Charlie Lawson); Maria Celedonio (Alisha, rehab receptionist); Chris Hogan (Scruffy Staff Worker); Anthony Zerbe (Father Donahue); Bridget Fonda (Lynn Marie Faulkner); William Newman (Court Clerk);Tom Arnold (August Murray); Breckin Meyer (Greg Czarnicki); Matt O'Toole (Bailiff); Richard Fancy (Judge)....

Get Shorty(1995). Director: Barry Sonnenfeld. Cast: John Travolta (Chili Palmer); Gene Hackman (Harry Zimm); Rene Russo (Karen Flores); Danny DeVito (Martin Weir); Dennis Farina (Ray "Bones" Barboni); Delroy Lindo (Bo Catlett); James Gandolfini (Bear); David Paymer (Leo Devoe); Bobby Slayton (Dick Allen); Martin Ferrero (Tommy Carlo); Jon Gries (Ronnie Wingate); Renee Props (Nicki); Miguel Sandoval (Mr. Escobar); Jacob Vargas (Yayo Portillo); Linda Hart (Fay Devoe)....

52 Pickup(1986). Director: John Frankenheimer. Cast: Roy Scheider (Harry Mitchell); Ann-Margret (Barbara Mitchell); Vanity (Doreen); John Glover (Alan Raimy); Robert Trebor (Leo Franks); Lonny Chapman (Jim O'Boyle); Kelly Preston (Cini); Doug McClure (Mark Arveson); Clarence Williams III (Bobby Shy); Alex Henteloff (Dan Lowenthal); Michelle Walker (Counter Girl); Philip Bartko (Test Site Worker); Tom Byron (Partygoer); Harvey Cowen (Partygoer); Ron Jeremy (Partygoer)....

Mr. Majestyk(1974). Director: Richard Fleischer. Cast: Charles Bronson (Vince Majestyk); Al Lettieri (Frank Renda, hit man); Linda Cristal (Nancy Chavez, labor organizer); Lee Purcell (Wiley, Renda's girl); Paul Koslo (Bobby Kopas, punk); Taylor Lacher (Gene Lundy, Renda's henchman); Frank Maxwell (Det. Lt. McAllen, Edna Police Dept.); Alejandro Rey (Larry Mendoza, Majestyk's foreman); Jordan Rhodes (Deputy Harold Richie, Edna Police Dept.); Bert Santos (Julio Tomas, labor contractor); Luis Ramirez (Labor Contractor)....

Valdez Is Coming(1971). Director: Edwin Sherin. Cast: Burt Lancaster (Bob Valdez); Susan Clark (Gay Erin); Frank Silvera (Diego); Jon Cypher (Frank Tanner); Richard Jordan (R.L. Davis); Barton Heyman (El Segundo); Hector Elizondo (Mexican Rider); Phil Brown (Malson); Ralph Brown (Beaudry); Werner Hasselmann (Sheriff); Lex Monson (Rincon); Roberta Haynes (Polly); Sylvia Poggioli (Segundo's girl); Jose Garcia (Carlos); Maria Montez (Anita)....

Hombre(1967). Director: Martin Ritt. Cast: Paul Newman (John Russell); Fredric March (Faver); Richard Boone (Grimes); Diane Cilento (Jessie); Cameron Mitchell (Braden); Barbara Rush (Audra Favor); Peter Lazer (Billy Lee Blake); Margaret Blye (Doris Blake); Martin Balsam (Henry Mendez); Skip Ward (Steve Early); Frank Silvera (Mexican Bandit); David Canary (Lamar Dean); Val Avery (Delgado); Larry Ward (Soldier)....

The Tall T(1957). Director: Budd Boetticher. Cast: Randolph Scott (Pat Brennan); Richard Boone (Usher); Maureen O'Sullivan (Doretta Mims); Arthur Hunnicutt (Ed Rintoon); Skip Homeier (Billy Jack); Henry Silva (Chink); John Hubbard (Willard Mims); Robert Burton (Tenvoorde); Robert Anderson (Jace); Fred Sherman (Hank Parker); Chris Olsen (Jeff)....

3:10 to Yuma(1957). Director: Delmer Daves. Cast: Glenn Ford (Ben Wade); Van Heflin (Dan Evans); Felicia Farr (Emmy); Leora Dana (Mrs. Alice Evans); Henry Jones (Alex Potter, town drunk); Richard Jaeckel (Charlie Prince); Robert Emhardt (Mr. Butterfield, stage line owner); Sheridan Comerate (Bob Moons, stage driver's brother); George Mitchell (Bartender); Robert Ellenstein (Ernie Collins); Ford Rainey (Bisbee Marshal)....

In the works (as of October 2002): Be Cool(MGM; Jersey Films), and the return of Chili Palmer.

Tenkiller(Bruce Willis attached; you can read this short story in Elmore Leonard's When the Women Come Out to Dance When the Women Come Out to Dance).

Tishomingo Blues, optioned by FilmFour (Sexy Beast).

If It Sounds Like Writing, Rewrite It

These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1.Never open a book with weather.

If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2.Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday Sweet Thursday, but it's o.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks... figure out what the guy's thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that.... Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle.... Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.''

3.Never use a verb other than "said'' to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated,'' and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4.Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said''...

... he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs.''

5.Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6.Never use the words "suddenly'' or "all hell broke loose.''

This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly'' tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7.Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range Close Range.

8.Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants'' what do the "American and the girl with him'' look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.'' That's the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9.Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you're good at it, you don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally: 10.Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the ten.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It's my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.) If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character - the one whose view best brings the scene to life - I'm able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what's going on, and I'm nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in Sweet Thursday Sweet Thursday was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. "Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts" is one, "Lousy Wednesday" another. The third chapter is titled "Hooptedoodle (1)" and the 38th chapter "Hooptedoodle (2)" as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: "Here's where you'll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won't get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want." was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. "Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts" is one, "Lousy Wednesday" another. The third chapter is titled "Hooptedoodle (1)" and the 38th chapter "Hooptedoodle (2)" as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: "Here's where you'll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won't get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want."

Sweet Thursday came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I've never forgotten that prologue. came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I've never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

- Elmore Leonard First published July 16, 2001 as "Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points, and Especially Hooptedoodle" in the "Writers on Writing" recurring feature in The New York Times.

Martin Amis Interviews "The Dickens of Detroit"

The Writers' Guild Theatre, Beverly Hills, January 23, 1998. Sponsored by Writers Bloc; Andrea Grossman, Founder.

Martin Amis: We're welcoming here Elmore Leonard, also known as "Dutch." And rather less formally, "The Dickens of Detroit." It is an apt description, I think, because he is as close as anything you have here in America to a national novelist, a concept that almost seemed to die with Charles Dickens but has here been revived. We're welcoming here Elmore Leonard, also known as "Dutch." And rather less formally, "The Dickens of Detroit." It is an apt description, I think, because he is as close as anything you have here in America to a national novelist, a concept that almost seemed to die with Charles Dickens but has here been revived.

I was recently in Boston visiting Saul Bellow, and on the shelves of the Nobel laureate, I spied several Elmore Leonards. Saul Bellow has a high, even exalted view of what literature is and does. For him, it creates the "quiet zone" where certain essences can nourish what he calls "our fair souls." This kind of literature of the Prousto-Nabokovian variety has recently been assigned the label "minority interest." There is patently nothing "minority interest" about Elmore Leonard. He is a popular writer in several senses. But Saul Bellow and I agreed that for an absolutely reliable and unstinting infusion of narrative pleasure in a prose miraculously purged of all false qualities, there was no one quite like Elmore Leonard.

I thought we might begin at the beginning, and talk about your early years as a writer and how you got started. In my experience, everyone at the age of fourteen or fifteen (or a bit earlier) starts to commune with themselves and to keep notes and to keep a diary. It's only the writers who go on with that kind of adolescent communion. Was it like that for you? Did you get the glimmer quite early on?

Elmore Leonard: Let me ask first: Do you think if I lived in Buffalo, I'd be Dickens? [Laughter] Let me ask first: Do you think if I lived in Buffalo, I'd be Dickens? [Laughter]

Amis: "The Balzac of Buffalo," perhaps. [Laughter] "The Balzac of Buffalo," perhaps. [Laughter]

Leonard: I had a desire to write very early on but I didn't. I wrote just what I had to write in school compositions and things like that. It wasn't until I was in college after World War II that I wrote a couple of short stories. The first one because the English instructor said, "If you enter this contest" - it was a local writers' club within the University of Detroit - "I'll give you a B." I've always been inspired in this somewhat commercial approach toward writing. [Laughter] Which is why I chose Westerns to begin with. I had a desire to write very early on but I didn't. I wrote just what I had to write in school compositions and things like that. It wasn't until I was in college after World War II that I wrote a couple of short stories. The first one because the English instructor said, "If you enter this contest" - it was a local writers' club within the University of Detroit - "I'll give you a B." I've always been inspired in this somewhat commercial approach toward writing. [Laughter] Which is why I chose Westerns to begin with.

In 1951, I decided to look at the field. I looked at the market, and I saw Westerns in The Saturday Evening Post The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Collier's, almost everything from the Ladies' Home Journal Ladies' Home Journal down through men's magazines and pulps. There were then at least a dozen pulps still in business, the better ones paying two cents a word. So I decided this was a market. What with all of these magazines buying short stories, this was the place to start. And because I liked Western movies a lot, and I wanted to sell to Hollywood right away and make some money, I approached this with a desire to write but also to make as much money as I could doing it. I didn't see anything wrong with that at all. I think the third one sold, and that was it. After that, they've all sold since then. But then the market dried up, and I had to switch to crime. down through men's magazines and pulps. There were then at least a dozen pulps still in business, the better ones paying two cents a word. So I decided this was a market. What with all of these magazines buying short stories, this was the place to start. And because I liked Western movies a lot, and I wanted to sell to Hollywood right away and make some money, I approached this with a desire to write but also to make as much money as I could doing it. I didn't see anything wrong with that at all. I think the third one sold, and that was it. After that, they've all sold since then. But then the market dried up, and I had to switch to crime.

Amis: You were also, as I understand, writing commentaries for educational films and industrial movies. You were also, as I understand, writing commentaries for educational films and industrial movies.

Leonard: Yes, industrial movies about air pollution, building highways, Yes, industrial movies about air pollution, building highways, Encyclopaedia Britannica Encyclopaedia Britannica, geography, and history movies. I did about a dozen of those - the settlement of the Mississippi Valley, the French and Indian War, the Danube, Puerto Rico. I think they were twenty-seven-minute movies. I did that right after I had left an ad agency where I was writing Chevrolet ads, which drove me crazy. Because you had to write real cute then. I had a lot of trouble with that. I could do truck ads, but I couldn't do convertibles at all. [Laughter] So I got out of that. But I still had to make a living. So I got into the industrial movies and a little freelance advertising.

Amis: But the breakthrough was But the breakthrough was Hombre Hombre, was it not?

Leonard: Yes, the sale to the movies. Because the book itself I wrote in '59, and by then the market was so weak. I was getting $4,000 for a paperback, for example. And that one sold for $1,250, and it took two years to sell it. I didn't get that much for the movie rights, either, four or five years later. That was when I got back into fiction writing. Yes, the sale to the movies. Because the book itself I wrote in '59, and by then the market was so weak. I was getting $4,000 for a paperback, for example. And that one sold for $1,250, and it took two years to sell it. I didn't get that much for the movie rights, either, four or five years later. That was when I got back into fiction writing.

Amis: How do you feel when a book of yours goes through the treadmill of being turned into a movie? It's happened to me once, in my first novel, How do you feel when a book of yours goes through the treadmill of being turned into a movie? It's happened to me once, in my first novel, The Rachel Papers The Rachel Papers, and I thought, "Whatever they do to it, the book will still be there."

Leonard: I believe that. There's no question about that. I'm not concerned with how closely it's adapted. I just hope it's a good movie. For example, I believe that. There's no question about that. I'm not concerned with how closely it's adapted. I just hope it's a good movie. For example, Rum Punch Rum Punch to to Jackie Brown Jackie Brown. Quentin Tarantino, just before he started to shoot, said, "I've been afraid to call you for the last year." I said, "Why? Because you changed the title of my book? And you're casting a black woman in the lead?" And he said, "Yeah." And I said, "You're a filmmaker. You can do whatever you want." I said, "I think Pam Grier is a terrific idea. Go ahead." I was very pleased with the results, too.

Amis: And how about And how about Get Shorty Get Shorty? That must have felt like another breakthrough.

Leonard: It was. It was the first contemporary story of mine that I really liked on the screen. And I said to Barry Sonnenfeld, the director, "But you're advertising this as a comedy." And he said, "Well, it's a funny book." And I think it did have my sound, and it had Barry's look. Because I could hear my characters on the screen, and I think the reason it worked was because they all took each other seriously and didn't laugh. There weren't any nods to the audience, any signals to the audience with grins or winks that that was a funny line. It was up to the audience to decide. This was the first question I asked Barry. I said, "When you shoot, I hope you don't cut to reactions to lines." He understood that, of course. It was. It was the first contemporary story of mine that I really liked on the screen. And I said to Barry Sonnenfeld, the director, "But you're advertising this as a comedy." And he said, "Well, it's a funny book." And I think it did have my sound, and it had Barry's look. Because I could hear my characters on the screen, and I think the reason it worked was because they all took each other seriously and didn't laugh. There weren't any nods to the audience, any signals to the audience with grins or winks that that was a funny line. It was up to the audience to decide. This was the first question I asked Barry. I said, "When you shoot, I hope you don't cut to reactions to lines." He understood that, of course.

Amis: I was on the set of I was on the set of Get Shorty Get Shorty, as a journalist. I was writing a profile of John Travolta [for The New Yorker The New Yorker]. And usually when a journalist goes to the set of a film, he stays for six hours and sees one person cross a road and then goes home again. But on this occasion, I got to see the fight between Chili and the Bear [James Gandolfini] at LAX in the car park. And John Travolta, who is sweetness incarnate, gave me an insight into the star system. We were all going off to lunch, and a limousine appeared. I was going to have lunch with John in his trailer. I thought there was obviously some way to John's trailer. In we got and drove a few feet, and John said to the driver, "Pull over," and then asked the Bear if he wanted a ride. And the Bear said, no, he was fine, he was going to do it on foot. And then we started off again and pulled up at the elevator. And that's as far as we went. The Bear joined us in the car and down we rode. Travolta explained that it was as important to seem like a star as it is to be a star. [Laughter]

Movies deal with externals, largely, and books with internals. Is that what strikes you as the main difference between the forms?

Leonard: I would say definitely that. The first day I was on the set of I would say definitely that. The first day I was on the set of Get Shorty Get Shorty, John Travolta called me "Mr. Leonard." And I let him. He got over that.

Amis: Did you call him "Mr. Travolta"? Did you call him "Mr. Travolta"?

Leonard: No, I didn't. I'm using my age now. [Laughter] No, I didn't. I'm using my age now. [Laughter]

I don't think there's any question that it's difficult for movies to internalize. The reason I've been able to sell all my books is because they look like they're easy to shoot. They're written in scenes, and the stories move through dialogue. I think the problem has been, in the past, that they've been taken too seriously. They haven't been looked at as if there is humor in them. And also the fact that when you bring a 350-page manuscript down to 120 pages, in my books a lot of the good stuff is gone. It disappears. Because then you're more interested in plot than you are in, say, character development.

Amis: People say that movies will be the nemesis of the novel. But I think that's a crisis that's already been survived. I think the novel is more threatened from the Internet than from movies. I feel the movies are still an immature form, a young form, that they're still in the adolescent stage. It will take a while before they can challenge the internal nature of the book. Do you ever worry about the death of the book? People say that movies will be the nemesis of the novel. But I think that's a crisis that's already been survived. I think the novel is more threatened from the Internet than from movies. I feel the movies are still an immature form, a young form, that they're still in the adolescent stage. It will take a while before they can challenge the internal nature of the book. Do you ever worry about the death of the book?

Leonard: No, I can't imagine such a thing. Ed McBain and I were on one of the morning shows, and we were asked, "To what do you attribute the resurgence in popularity in crime fiction?" And we looked at each other, and we thought it was always very popular. We didn't know that it had dipped at all. We have to always have novels. My God, what would you read? No, I can't imagine such a thing. Ed McBain and I were on one of the morning shows, and we were asked, "To what do you attribute the resurgence in popularity in crime fiction?" And we looked at each other, and we thought it was always very popular. We didn't know that it had dipped at all. We have to always have novels. My God, what would you read?

Amis: Well, they say you won't be reading; you'll be having some kind of cybernetic experience. I think that the future of the book perhaps will be that the book will coexist with some kind of cybernetic experience, where the punter, the depositor (or whatever you want to call him), may read your book and then take you out to dinner in cyberspace - looking ahead about a hundred years. Well, they say you won't be reading; you'll be having some kind of cybernetic experience. I think that the future of the book perhaps will be that the book will coexist with some kind of cybernetic experience, where the punter, the depositor (or whatever you want to call him), may read your book and then take you out to dinner in cyberspace - looking ahead about a hundred years.

Now, I'm going to ask you this question because I'm always tortured by it. This is the sort of invariable question of the tour. Do you set yourself a time to write every day? How hard do you press on the paper when you write? I'm asked this so unerringly that I think people suspect that I'm going to reveal that what you do is you go into your study and you plug your ear into the light socket and then some inner voice tells you what to write. But what is your routine and how do you go about it?

Leonard: I write every day when I'm writing; some Saturdays and Sundays, a few hours each day. Because I want to stay with it. If a day goes by and you haven't done anything, or a couple of days, it's difficult to get back into the rhythm of it. I usually start working around nine-thirty and I work until six. I'm lucky to get what I consider four clean pages. They're clean until the next day, the next morning. The time flies by. I can't believe it. When I look at the clock and it's three o'clock and I think, "Good, I've got three more hours." And then I think, "I must have the best job in the world." I don't look at this as work. I don't look at it as any kind of test, any kind of proof of what I can do. I have a good time. I write every day when I'm writing; some Saturdays and Sundays, a few hours each day. Because I want to stay with it. If a day goes by and you haven't done anything, or a couple of days, it's difficult to get back into the rhythm of it. I usually start working around nine-thirty and I work until six. I'm lucky to get what I consider four clean pages. They're clean until the next day, the next morning. The time flies by. I can't believe it. When I look at the clock and it's three o'clock and I think, "Good, I've got three more hours." And then I think, "I must have the best job in the world." I don't look at this as work. I don't look at it as any kind of test, any kind of proof of what I can do. I have a good time.

Amis: And it just seems to flow? There are no days when whole hours are spent gazing out of the window, picking your nose, making coffee? And it just seems to flow? There are no days when whole hours are spent gazing out of the window, picking your nose, making coffee?

Leonard: Oh yeah, there are whole hours' work to make one short paragraph work. Oh yeah, there are whole hours' work to make one short paragraph work.

Amis: I want to ask about your prose. Your prose makes Raymond Chandler look clumsy. Now the way I do it is: I say the sentence in my head until nothing sticks out, there are no "elbows," there are no stubbings of toe; it just seems to chime with some tuning fork inside my head. And then I know the sentence is ready. In your work, pages and pages go by without me spotting any "elbows." Even with the great stylists of modern fiction, you know you're always going to come across phrases like "Standing on the landing" or "the cook took a look at the book." There's always some "elbow" sticking out, there's some rhyme causing the reader to pause and wonder and think, "That's not quite right." With you, it's all planed flat. How do you plane your prose into this wonderful instrument? I want to ask about your prose. Your prose makes Raymond Chandler look clumsy. Now the way I do it is: I say the sentence in my head until nothing sticks out, there are no "elbows," there are no stubbings of toe; it just seems to chime with some tuning fork inside my head. And then I know the sentence is ready. In your work, pages and pages go by without me spotting any "elbows." Even with the great stylists of modern fiction, you know you're always going to come across phrases like "Standing on the landing" or "the cook took a look at the book." There's always some "elbow" sticking out, there's some rhyme causing the reader to pause and wonder and think, "That's not quite right." With you, it's all planed flat. How do you plane your prose into this wonderful instrument?

Leonard: First of all, I'm always writing from a point of view. I decide what the purpose of the scene is, and at least begin with some purpose. But, even more important, from whose point of view is this scene seen? Because then the narrative will take on somewhat the sound of the person who is seeing the scene. And from his dialogue, that's what goes, somewhat, into the narrative. I start to write and I think, "Upon entering the room," and I know I don't want to say "Upon entering the room." I don't want my writing to sound like the way we were taught to write. Because I don't want you to be aware of my writing. I don't have the language. I have to rely upon my characters. First of all, I'm always writing from a point of view. I decide what the purpose of the scene is, and at least begin with some purpose. But, even more important, from whose point of view is this scene seen? Because then the narrative will take on somewhat the sound of the person who is seeing the scene. And from his dialogue, that's what goes, somewhat, into the narrative. I start to write and I think, "Upon entering the room," and I know I don't want to say "Upon entering the room." I don't want my writing to sound like the way we were taught to write. Because I don't want you to be aware of my writing. I don't have the language. I have to rely upon my characters.

Amis: So, when you say it's character-driven, do you mean you're thinking, How would this character see this scene? Because you're usually third-person. You don't directly speak through your characters, but there is a kind of third-person that is a first-person in disguise. Is that the way you go at it? So, when you say it's character-driven, do you mean you're thinking, How would this character see this scene? Because you're usually third-person. You don't directly speak through your characters, but there is a kind of third-person that is a first-person in disguise. Is that the way you go at it?

Leonard: It takes on somewhat of a first-person sound, but not really. Because I like third-person. I don't want to be stuck with one character's viewpoint, because there are too many viewpoints. And, of course, the bad guys' viewpoints are a lot more fun. What they do is more fun. A few years ago, a friend of mine in the publishing business called up and said, "Has your good guy decided to do anything yet?" [Laughter] It takes on somewhat of a first-person sound, but not really. Because I like third-person. I don't want to be stuck with one character's viewpoint, because there are too many viewpoints. And, of course, the bad guys' viewpoints are a lot more fun. What they do is more fun. A few years ago, a friend of mine in the publishing business called up and said, "Has your good guy decided to do anything yet?" [Laughter]

Or, I think I should start this book with the main character. Or I start a book with who I think is the main character, but a hundred pages into the book I say, "This guy's not the main character; he's running out of gas; I don't even like him anymore, his attitude; he's changed." But he's changed and there's nothing I could do about it. It's just the kind of person he is. So then I have to bring somebody along fast. Do you run into that?

Amis: What I do find, and my father Kingsley Amis used to find, is that when you come up against some difficulty, some mechanism in the novel that isn't working, it fills you with despair and you think, "I'm not going to be able to get around this." Then you look back at what you've done, and you find you already have a mechanism in place to get you through this. A minor character, say, who's well placed to get the information across that you need to put across. I always used to think (and he agreed) that, thank God writing is much more of an unconscious process than many people think. What I do find, and my father Kingsley Amis used to find, is that when you come up against some difficulty, some mechanism in the novel that isn't working, it fills you with despair and you think, "I'm not going to be able to get around this." Then you look back at what you've done, and you find you already have a mechanism in place to get you through this. A minor character, say, who's well placed to get the information across that you need to put across. I always used to think (and he agreed) that, thank God writing is much more of an unconscious process than many people think.

I think the guy in the street thinks that the novelist, first of all, decides on his subject, what should be addressed; then he thinks of his theme and his plot and then jots down the various characters that will illustrate these various themes. That sounds like a description of writer's block to me. I think you're in a very bad way when that happens. Vladimir Nabokov, when he spoke about Lolita Lolita, refers to the "first throb" of Lolita Lolita going through him, and I recognize that feeling. All it is is your next book. It's the next thing that's there for you to write. Now, do you settle down and map out your plots? I suspect you don't. going through him, and I recognize that feeling. All it is is your next book. It's the next thing that's there for you to write. Now, do you settle down and map out your plots? I suspect you don't.

Leonard: No, I don't. I start with a character. Let's say I want to write a book about a bail bondsman or a process server or a bank robber and a woman federal marshal. And they meet and something happens. That's as much of an idea as I begin with. And then I see him in a situation, and I begin writing it and one thing leads to another. By page 100, roughly, I should have my characters assembled. I should know my characters because they've sort of auditioned in the opening scenes, and I can find out if they can talk or not. And if they can't talk, they're out. Or they get a minor role. No, I don't. I start with a character. Let's say I want to write a book about a bail bondsman or a process server or a bank robber and a woman federal marshal. And they meet and something happens. That's as much of an idea as I begin with. And then I see him in a situation, and I begin writing it and one thing leads to another. By page 100, roughly, I should have my characters assembled. I should know my characters because they've sort of auditioned in the opening scenes, and I can find out if they can talk or not. And if they can't talk, they're out. Or they get a minor role.

But in every book there's a minor character who comes along and pushes his way into the plot. He's just needed to give some information, but all of a sudden he comes to life for me. Maybe it's the way he says it. He might not even have a name the first time he appears. The second time he has a name. The third time he has a few more lines, and away he goes, and he becomes a plot turn in the book.

When I was writing Cuba Libre Cuba Libre, I was about 250 pages into it and George Will called up and said, "I want to send out forty of your books" - this was the previous book [Out of Sight] - "at Christmastime. May I send them to you and a list of names to inscribe?" I said, "Of course." He said, "What are you doing now?" I said, "I'm doing Cuba a hundred years ago." And he said, "Oh, crime in Cuba." And he hung up the phone. And I thought, "I don't have a crime in this book." And I'm 250 pages into it. [Laughter] It was a crime that this guy was running guns to Cuba, but that's not what I really write about. Where's the bag of money that everybody wants? I didn't have it. So, then I started weaving it into the narrative. I didn't have to go back far, and I was on my way.

Amis: I admire the fluidity of your process because it's meant to be a rule in the highbrow novel that the characters have no free will at all. E.M. Forster said he used to line up his characters before beginning a novel, and he would say, "Right, no larks." [Laughter] And Nabokov, when this was quoted to him, he looked aghast, and he said, "My characters cringe when I come near them." He said, "I've seen whole avenues of imagined trees lose their leaves with terror at my approach." [Laughter] I admire the fluidity of your process because it's meant to be a rule in the highbrow novel that the characters have no free will at all. E.M. Forster said he used to line up his characters before beginning a novel, and he would say, "Right, no larks." [Laughter] And Nabokov, when this was quoted to him, he looked aghast, and he said, "My characters cringe when I come near them." He said, "I've seen whole avenues of imagined trees lose their leaves with terror at my approach." [Laughter]

Let's talk about Cuba Libre Cuba Libre, which is an amazing departure in my view. When I was reading it, I had to keep turning to the front cover to check that it was a book by you. How did it get started? I gather that you've been wanting to write this book for thirty years. It has a kind of charge of long-suppressed desire.

Leonard: In 1957, I borrowed a book from a friend called In 1957, I borrowed a book from a friend called The Splendid Little War The Splendid Little War. It was a picture book, a coffee-table book of photographs of the Spanish-American War - photographs of the Maine Maine, before and after; photographs of the troops on San Juan Hill; newspaper headlines leading up to the war; a lot of shots of Havana. I was writing Westerns at the time, and I thought, I could drop a cowboy into this place and get away with it. But I didn't. A couple of years ago, I was trying to think of a sequel to Get Shorty Get Shorty. And I was trying to work Chili Palmer into the dress business. I don't know why except that I love runway shows. I gave up on that. And I saw that book again, The Splendid Little War The Splendid Little War, because I hadn't returned it to my friend in '57. And I thought, "I'm going to do that." Yeah, the time has come. So, I did.

Amis: In a famous essay, Tom Wolfe said that the writers were missing all the real stories that were out there. And that they spent too much time searching for inspiration and should spend ninety-five percent of their time sweating over research. The result was a tremendously readable book, In a famous essay, Tom Wolfe said that the writers were missing all the real stories that were out there. And that they spent too much time searching for inspiration and should spend ninety-five percent of their time sweating over research. The result was a tremendously readable book, The Bonfire of the Vanities The Bonfire of the Vanities. Now you, sir, have a full-time researcher.

Leonard: Yes, Gregg Sutter. He can answer any of your questions that I don't know. Yes, Gregg Sutter. He can answer any of your questions that I don't know.

Amis: Were you inspired by the research he put into this book? Were you inspired by the research he put into this book?

Leonard: He got me everything I needed to know. I asked him to see if he could find out how much it cost to transport horses from Arizona to East Texas and then to Havana. And he did. He found a cattle company that had been in business over 100 years ago and was shipping cattle then. He found an old ledger book and copied it and faxed it to me. He got me everything I needed to know. I asked him to see if he could find out how much it cost to transport horses from Arizona to East Texas and then to Havana. And he did. He found a cattle company that had been in business over 100 years ago and was shipping cattle then. He found an old ledger book and copied it and faxed it to me.

Mr. Majestyk Part 19

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Mr. Majestyk Part 19 summary

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