Friday, May 15, 2009

A Master's Autograph

Today's posting will probably feel like an odd combination of (a) a post about an author I like, (b) a post about a writing technique and (c) an unsolicited advertisement. And to be certain, it is all of that. The main thing is to bring an awareness of a Grand Master in Crime Fiction (if you haven't already read him) and to let you know about an opportunity I've recently discovered.

For the past couple of months, I’ve kept my eye on the release of Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard. Those of you who know me also know that Mr. Leonard is not just one of my favorite authors. Considering the number of his books I have read (at least sixteen), from his westerns to his crime fiction stories, Mr. Leonard is my favorite author. And for good reasons. His stories are fun to read. His narratives are slim and efficient. Perhaps what I enjoy the most out of Elmore Leonard, however, is the amount of information a reader can glean from the dialogue alone. Consider this example from the opening chapter of La Brava, Mr. Leonard’s novel that won him an Edgar Award in 1984:

“He’s been taking pictures three years, look at the work,” Maurice said. “Here, this guy. Look at the pose, the expression. Who’s he remind you of?”

“He looks like a hustler,” the woman said.

“He is a hustler, the guy’s a pimp. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Here, this one. Exotic dancer backstage. Remind you of anyone?”

“The girl?”

“Come on, Evelyn, the shot. The feeling he gets. The girl trying to look lovely, showing you her treasures, and they’re not bad. But look at the dressing room, all the glitzy crap, the tinfoil cheapness.”

“You want me to say Diane Arbus?”

“I want you to say Diane Arbus, that would be nice. I want you to say Duane Michaels, Danny Lyon. I want you to say Winogrand, Lee Friedlander. You want to go back a few years? I’d like very much for you to say Walker Evans, too.”

“Your old pal.”

“Long time ago. Even before your time.”

“Watch it,” Evelyn said, and let her gaze wander over the eight-by-ten black and white prints spread out on the worktable, shining in fluorescent light.

“He’s not bad,” Evelyn said.

Maurice sighed. He had her interest.

“He’s got the eye, Evelyn.”

The first thing you notice right off is how Elmore Leonard injects action without using narrative. He doesn’t have to write: Maurice handed her the next shot. Just by the dialogue, you can see it happening. The next thing you pick up is that these two characters know photography. In fact, the know it so well they can even spout off some big names (real people) from the past, and by doing so establish their bona fides. And since these two know photography, they also know someone who’s good at it, which sets the stage for La Brava, the lead character in this novel—who he is and one of the things he's good at. Finally, the reader catches a glimpse into the character of Maurice, a figure that shows up occasionally throughout the rest of the book. Really, what kind of guy says "...and they're not bad" to a woman, talking about another woman's naked body in a photograph? The kind of guy you want to meet, ladies? Probably not. His statement does make him an interesting character, though, doesn't it?

You see? So much is conveyed through Elmore Leonard's dialogue. And the beauty of it is that it speeds up the pacing and streamlines the writing.

But I digress.

When I saw the notice on Road Dogs, I was excited, and not just because it was a new book. Looking into the details, Road Dogs brings back three previous characters from other stories. The first is Jack Foley, the smooth criminal in Out of Sight. Many of you may remember the movie based on this book, with George Clooney as Jack Foley and Jennifer Lopez as the hard-nosed Federal Marshall Karen Sisco. Of all the Leonard books I’ve read, Out of Sight is probably my favorite.

The second character brought back in Road Dogs is Cundo Rey, a thug with no compunctions about killing people. Cundo Rey surfaced in La Brava, and let me tell you the guy's soul is as dark as they come.

The final character is Dawn Navarro, a psychic from Riding the Rap. I have not read this book; so, I can’t comment on it. However, it will be on my list, and I look forward to telling you about it someday.

Looking further into the Road Dog’s release this last week, I found out that any interested party can get an autographed copy simply by picking up the phone and calling the Borders bookstore in Birmingham, Michigan, at 248-203-0005. The book is full priced at $26.99. As my wife knows, I’m usually not one to pay so much for books; however, with the opportunity to have an autographed hardback from a master storyteller, I didn’t blink. The book signing is May 19, 2009. So, if you want to get your own copy, you better be quick.


  1. I picked up some autographed books on vacation in the Big Bend, didn't pay that much for them. Heck one of them was even sorta funny. All of them I'm glad I was able to help suppose local writers.

    Enjoy your book

  2. You know, I've never read ELmore Leonard. I am putting together my top 100 books to read over the next 5 years - which one would you rec?

    And that chit on the left? BLM? You, me, and that Greta chic all in the same issue? Serendipity?

    Just emerging from... all kinds of stuff. Nice post. Peace, Linda

  3. Paige: Following up with local artists is one of the areas I want to do this year. I'll probably start with the bookstores and see who they have coming.

    Linda: My top recommendations are Out of Sight, Freaky Deaky, and La Brava, in that order. I think you'll appreciate Karen Sisco (Out of Sight) and her special blend of hutzpuh. She's one tough lady.

    So, we'll be seeing you in BLM, too? Congrats! That is cool, and I'm looking forward to it.

  4. Out of Sight? Now I know which Leonard book to read first. He's been on my list for a long time.

    Interesting chat about dialogue as a narrative tool, too. As you know, I'm working on a little dialogue piece myself. Thanks for the post.

    See ya' in BLM!

  5. Hey Stephen,

    I JUST started reading him after, much like Linda, having him on the "to do" list for some time. Oddly enough, he's a real writer that was introduced to me by a fictional character. I read the Grafton letter series of crime novels, and Kinsey Millhone, her MC, mentions Leonard in an aside from time to time.

    I was not disappointed. He's a good read, though like many accomplished writers, he violates "the rules" at will but can get away with it.

  6. John, you're right about violating the rules. Leonard doesn't always adhere to the formalities of grammar. I noticed that, too. But his style, his way of telling a story, is so engaging I guess the publishers are willing to overlook it. That, and the fact he generates a ton of book sales. ;-)