WASHINGTON (AFP) – American crime writer Elmore Leonard, whose sparely written novels about guys with guns inspired Hollywood films like “Get Shorty” and “Jackie Brown,” died Tuesday at the age of 87.
The genre master’s 45 gritty novels attracted a wide audience over more than five decades and many became movies, including the 1967 Paul Newman western “Hombre,” the 1995 crime comedy “Get Shorty,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” (1997) — based on the novel “Rum Punch” — and “Out of Sight” (1998).
Leonard’s best-known works were set in the grimy underworld of cities like Detroit and Miami, starring cops, crooks and hitmen with richly varied notions of right and wrong.
Leonard once admitted his books “aren’t exactly plot-driven.”
He explained: “They’re about people, with guns, in dire situations.”
Leonard spurred his novels along with razor-sharp dialogue and avoided long paragraphs with descriptions of landscapes or inner monologues — which he derided as “hooptedoodle.”
He explained his bare-boned prose in a 10-point writing guide published by the New York Times in 2001 and cited by his many admirers on Twitter as news of his death spread.
Tips include: “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters,” “Don’t go into great detail describing places and things” and “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
“Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them,” he wrote. “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,” he quipped.
His most important rule, summing up all 10: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
The National Book Foundation awarded its 2012 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Leonard last November.
“For a half-century, Elmore Leonard has produced vibrant literary work with an inimitable writing style,” the foundation’s executive director Harold Augenbraum said.
In presenting the award, the British novelist Martin Amis channeled Leonard’s famed succinctness by describing him in sum as “a literary genius who writes re-readable thrillers.”
Leonard was born October 11, 1925 in New Orleans. His father worked as an executive for General Motors and the family moved several times, eventually settling in Detroit in 1934.
He served in a naval construction battalion during World War II and then went to work at an ad agency in 1949, when he began writing western novels and short stories in his free time.
He quit the ad agency job to write full-time in 1961 and eventually moved into crime writing as popular television westerns swept up the market for cowboy yarns.
After suffering a stroke late last month, Leonard passed away at 7:15 AM at his home near Detroit “surrounded by his loving family,” his official website said.
Leonard married three times and is survived by five children, 12 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Leonard had been at work on his 46th novel when he passed away.