Elmore Leonard is quoted as saying “There are cities that get by on their good looks. Detroit has to work for a living.” He was born in New Orleans but moved to Detroit as a boy, and he’s hung around since, often using the setting for stories, or featuring Detroit characters in his stories. He was dubbed the Dickens of Detroit . He passed away this morning at 7:15, surrounded by family, according to his Facebook page. He was 87 years old. He was working on his 46th novel.
I moved from Ohio to north of Detroit in 1990, not too far from Elmore’s home in Birmingham, MI. It allowed me the honor of hearing him speak and read several times. He was in his mid eighties when I met him, a slight and unassuming man with a warm graciousness that denied any elitism his enormous success might have granted him. He always signed books after his readings. He was always willing to share his thoughts on the craft of writing.
At a conference at the beautiful Cranbrook campus, I heard him read his popular Ten Rules for Writing. At the Rochester Hills YMCA in 2004, I heard him read the opening of his latest book, “Mr. Paradise,” and chatted with him about Westerns and their lasting popularity.
He told us he wrote from 10 in the morning until 6 in the evening. He used yellow legal pads or spiral bound notebooks for his drafts and notes. No computer, no typewriter. Another interesting fact is that Elmore did not use outlines for his novels.
He talked about doing research for stories, and how he once needed to learn about a particular kind of high diving. He said his assistant, Gregg Sutter, called him to say that someone in Florida was demonstrating this type of diving, and so he and Elmore hopped on a plane and flew down there. He called it a field trip. I was awed to think that a writer could reach a level of success that enabled him to do such a thing. It made me immensely proud.
I have a few signed copies of his books. He wrote above his signature: Linda, Take it easy….
I will cherish them.
There are scads of articles, essays, videos and interviews with Elmore on the web, from everyone who knew him and admired him. This one, Elmore Leonard left legacy of character and characters, says his friend Mike Lupica, in the NYDaily News gave me Elmore “Up Close and Personal.” Mike writes about the days before Elmore had his stroke, and the day he passed away. It was comforting to know that his family took his bed into his writing room. If you are a fan, it’s worth your time to read.