Enjoying Elmore Leonard's work

Elmore Leonard writes dialogue like few writers do. He tells stories through his characters, rather than through fancy narrative or detailed descriptions. No wonder many of his novels and stories have been turned into successful movies. Get Shorty (with John Travolta), Mr. Majestyk (with Charles Bronson) and Out of Sight (with George Clooney) are just three that come to mind.

While Leonard is famous for his modern crime stories, the Detroit writer earned his fame by writing Westerns. He started crafting his stories during the 1950s while he was still working in the advertising business. He chose to write about the American West because, like millions of Americans, he enjoyed Western movies. He focused his research on what life was like in the Southwest in the 1880s and began to write about it. His early stories sold for about $100 each, which was about 2 cents per word. While it was tough going at first, he soon found success.

I'm currently reading some of these. The Tonto Woman is a delightful short story about a cattle thief who comes to the rescue of what one could call a discarded woman. Sarah Isham has been kidnapped by native Americans and handed off from one tribe to another. The Mojaves tattoo her cheeks so she can be recognized at the time of her death as one of them. This to make sure the spirits do not take her soul "into a rathole." But during a drought the Mojaves trade her to a group of Tonto Apaches for two mules and a bag of salt. She survives and eventually finds her way home. Unfortunately for her, her proud husband abandons her and confines her to a shack in the desert, under the watchful eye of some of his employees. That's when Ruben Vega, the cattle thief, comes riding up.

The dialogue is what makes the story sizzle and it's easy to see why Hollywood keeps returning to Leonard's creations for screenplays. You may have heard of the most recent one playing in theatres: Three-Ten to Yuma. It was originally written in 1953, now twice released as a movie.

Leonard is currently working on a sequel to Out of Sight. His website is here.

Thanks to FredBIII at the stock.xchng for his photograph of the rider above.

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