The Elmore Leonard Interviews, Part 5

Crimeculture is delighted to be able to offer substantial extracts from a series of interviews that Professor Charles Rzepka conducted with Elmore Leonard in 2009-10. There were four separate interviews, arranged here in nine parts. Read the Introduction to the Elmore Leonard Interviews.

Parts:  Aug 2009  1     2     3    Sept 2009  4     5     Jan 2010  6     7     June 2010  8     9

This is the second half of the interview that took place in Bloomfield Village, MI, 29th September 2009.  

 

Get ShortyCR:  I jumped ahead here and I want to go back to the hanging from the roof.  I was not only fascinated by Maurice Murray but also I realized that after The Big Bounce hanging from heights, or dying from getting thrown off a building, or having a fear of looking down appears in nearly everything you’ve written.

EL:  Is that right?

CR:  Have you ever noticed that?

EL:  No.

CR:  Here, just off the top of my head, in Road Dogs is the scene on the roof with Tico and Jack playing roof ball.  That made me go back and look at your other work.  There’s Get Shorty, where Bo Catlett falls off his own deck to his death.  I think it’s in Stick where Eddie Moke is being held off the balcony by Chuckie, who lets him go.  There’s Glitz, where there’s a cab driver who gets thrown off the cliff and this prostitute from Puerto Rico who goes to Atlantic City and gets thrown off a roof.

EL:  Right.  Wow.

KillshotCR:  That’s just for starters.  And then in Killshot Lionel the ironworker is injured falling from a beam, and you have all of these really high-up perspectives.  Take that great scene where they think Wayne is frozen, they think he’s scared.  But he’s just in his head rehearsing these surprise scenarios, and he slides down the girder and walks away.  But there’s also that great shot in the opening chapter, where Armand goes to Detroit to hit Papa.  He walks into the room, and before he says or does anything he sees the scene out the window of the panorama of the cityscape and Canada.  It’s like he’s looking at his whole life through the window, like how he got here, not just the other day driving from Toronto, but it’s like Walpole Island and the river and Canada and everything. I bet you in nearly every book you’ve written since The Big Bounce you have a scene where someone is fearful of heights or about to fall or falls to his death, or there’s something to do with great heights.  And I don’t think it happens in any of your early westerns, for instance, where someone gets shoved off a mesa or a bluff?  But even in an early crime novel like Mr. Majestyk, the climactic scene is where he outwits Renda and the other thugs by getting them to drive off a cliff, off a road on a mesa.  Can you think of any earlier books before Big Bounce where that kind of thing happens?

EL:  No, but when I was starting out writing I had a dream.  I was always falling down these stairs.

CR:  When you first started writing?

EL:  Yeah, and they were steep and narrow and I’d fall down and you wait for yourself to hit the bottom and that never came.  But it was that tightening up on the way down.  Then I started to sell and I never had the dream again.

CR:  But then it’s as though the dream comes back when you try your hand at your first crime novel.  I mean Jack’s hanging from the roof by his fingers.  And, of course, it’s Jack who does this himself [earlier, as a kid] without his friends around, to see if he can do it.  He’s like rehearsing to show his friends, but once he does it he says he doesn’t have to show them.  And that scene was written at the end of several years when you weren’t writing anything to be published.  You were writing screenplays or advertising.

EL:  Yeah, for about four years I didn’t write.

CR:  Of course later [Jack] uses this new skill to rob people’s houses, when he steals their stuff and rolls down the roof and hangs from the eaves and gets away with breaking and entering.

EL:  Well, I guess I like the idea of his not having to prove anything to himself.  He knows that and it gives him confidence and I think it’s in all of my characters that they don’t have to tell what they’ve done, but they know how to do it.

CR:  Have you ever felt yourself consciously having to resist writing for audience expectations or what your agent wants you to do? Not happy just hanging [from the roof] to show you can do it to yourself, but feeling “now I have to show others?”

EL:  I think enough people know what I can do and so I’m getting satisfaction that way—for instance, when the New York Times during the week does a very good review, and then in the book review section there’s another one by Robert Pinsky.

CR:  And you had that radio interview with Robert as well–he’s my colleague at BU.

EL:  Oh, yeah, right, and he liked the book?

CR:  Yeah, he’s a big fan of yours. So, I was wondering with the hanging from the roof business, you’re not afraid of heights yourself, particularly, are you?

EL:  No.

CR:  Never have been or no more than is healthy, I suppose.

EL:  Exactly.  I can go up on roofs now.  I don’t know why because around my 40s I couldn’t go up on a roof.  I was afraid to go up on a roof, and then I got over it.

CR:  Do you know why?

EL: Uh-uh.

CR:  Are you physically afraid of anything?  More than would be normal.

EL:  No.  What’s there to be afraid of that could happen to you?

CR:  I don’t know.  People are afraid of spiders, or elevators, or heights.

EL:  No, no.

CR: I forgot to ask, the Jack Ryan/Maurice Murray character, you said that Maurice and your friends and you would hitchhike to go produce picking in the Thumb?  When did that start, do you remember?

EL:  I was thinking we were probably in the 8th grade, 7th-8th grade.  We probably weren’t going very far.

CR:  But that’s a good way, even to get to Geneva Beach.

EL:  We weren’t way up there.

CR:  Where is Geneva Beach?

EL:  Well it’s on the tip, but that’s made up.

CR:  Is it based on a real place?

EL:  Yeah.

CR:  Do you remember the name of it?

EL:  No.

CR:  I think you mentioned Bad Axe is up there somewhere.  So you guys would go and your parents would let you just do this.  They would let you go hitchhiking up there?

EL:  Yeah.

CR:  You were 12, or 13, or 14.  Wow, I would never let my kids do that.

EL:  It was a kinder world.

CR:  That’s true, less to be afraid of.

EL:  We didn’t do it a lot.  We probably did it two or three times.

CR:  Was this like summer work?

EL:  Yeah.

CR:  And how did you find out about it?

EL:  I don’t know.

CR:  Just maybe in an ad in the newspaper or something.

EL:  We were probably going maybe no farther than Pontiac.

CR:  So you know that area up on the lake from later experiences?

EL:  Yeah, our group, we used to go up, this is when I’m married now with children.  We would go up to Joe Buffa’s Bayside Villa, which was up on the Thumb, but it was like $60 a week for a cement block, with water and bits, and all that, and I had a Corvair and I would just take all of our clothes and throw them on a blanket in the trunk, which is in the front.  Then we’d get there and I’d pick the blanket up and bring it inside.  We drank a lot of beer and went fishing, and all that.

CR:  And you did that pretty regularly.

EL:  We did it for several years in a row, yeah.

CR:  So you got to know the area.

EL:  Uhm hm, decided to use it in The Big Bounce.

CR:  So when you went up there to pick vegetables you had to live there too?  Did you stay in a bunkhouse?

EL:  I don’t think we stayed.  I think it was just always a day job.

CR:  Really, even Pontiac would be a long way to hitchhike.  You’d have to be out pretty early in the morning wouldn’t you?

EL: Yeah.

CR:  We’ve talked about bullies and bullying.  Many of your plots seem to turn on this kind of schoolyard behavior where the parents or the teachers—the law enforcers—aren’t around on the playground and the law of the jungle or the frontier begins to take hold.  But you didn’t witness any bullying when you were a kid particularly?

EL:  No.

CR:  Why is that subject so interesting to you, I wonder?

EL:  Well, it’s a good idea.

CR:  But it’s not an idea that would occur to everybody.

EL:  Well, I don’t know.

CR:  There’s a recurrent theme that comes up in your writing, the mentor/mentee kind of relationship, the pro and the punk, and Jack Ryan doesn’t seem to have that.  [. . .]  We do learn about his father, a bus driver, and that his parents’ marriage wasn’t a happy one.  You write at one point, “Jack asked himself would he have started breaking and entering if his father hadn’t died.”  And I’m wondering where you got this material for Jack’s father.  Was this based on an adult male that you knew, one of your friend’s fathers?

EL:  I think so.  I’m trying to remember who that was.  His dad was a bus driver.  I’m not sure.

CR:  It wasn’t Maurice’s father was it?

EL:  No.  I didn’t know his parents.

CR:  But it seems to ring a bell that you knew of a marriage like this?

EL:  I have a friend named Jack Ryan.

CR:  But this is a later friend, right?  The one that you got the name from?

EL:  This is an old friend, Jack Ryan.  And he would go up to Joe Buffet’s Bayside Villa as part of the group, after I was married. And it seems to me he lived in Highland Park and his dad was a bus driver.  And that might have been it.

CR:  [. . .]  We talked about your study of literature and philosophy last time. You said that Plato never appealed to you at all, but I didn’t ask you why not, what you didn’t like about Plato.  Can you remember?

EL:  No.  I’m surprised I said that.  I don’t know, maybe of the three, Aristotle was the guy.

CR:  Who was the third?

EL: Socrates.

CR:  He was Plato’s hero.  All of Plato’s dialogues basically feature Socrates.

EL:  Socrates.  I guess, Aristotle though, seemed to me to be the hero of the bunch, smarter than the rest.

CR:  Socrates didn’t appeal to you particularly?

EL:  I liked the idea that he did take poison and that [he] had to, and that he would seem to ask questions of all, in answering the question would ask one back, which was kind of a Jesuit feat.

CR:  Answer a question with another question.  He was always ironic too.

EL:  Yeah.  Once I realized that that’s what the Jesuits are doing, when they get you to answer your own question.

CR:  So you think they got that from Socrates?

EL:  I think so, the Socratic Method.

CR: But you preferred Aristotle.

EL:  Well, I can’t say why.  I didn’t read that much of them.  This was in one class.

CR:  Was this in high school or in college?

EL:  No, in college.

CR: Do you remember anything?

EL:  No.

CR: You mentioned Sartre, I think.  We had a discussion of existentialism a little bit.

EL:  Yeah.  I only read Camus.  I think I’ve only read one of his books.

CR:  Was it The Stranger?

EL:  It might have been.

The Postman Always Rings TwiceCR:  That’s the one that he said was inspired by Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.  He was so struck by the bleakness of that book.  I don’t see the relationship plot-wise but apparently he thought the outlook on life was similar in both of them.[1]  So, back to high school, if you don’t mind. And Latin: was Virgil and The Aeneid at all an important influence on you in high school?

EL:  No.  Certainly not his Aeneid.  No, it was just something that we had to learn. I didn’t have my heart in Latin for any reason, because I never thought of myself as a scholar.

CR:  The reason I ask is I’ve noticed several moments in your writing that remind me of scenes or events in The Aeneid.

EL:  Really?

CR:  Yeah.  There’s a story you wrote when you were writing westerns called “Red Hell Hits Canyon Diablo,” originally called “Tizwin,” and in it Lt. Towner and his guide Matt Cline go to rescue this deserter, Byerlein, who was captured by Apaches, and Lt. Towner outdrinks the Apaches and they all pass out.  And he’s [walking] among them and the leader is wearing the issue belt he took from Byerlein, and when Towner sees it, he starts clubbing [the man] . . . like he flies into a rage.  It reminds me of the very end of The Aeneid, when Aeneas kills Turnus: he’s about to decide to let him live, and he sees the belt of Pallas that he’s wearing, and he flies into a rage.  That’s not there?

EL:  No. [. . .] I had no interest in [Latin].  We were reading it and I’m not even sure how far we got into it in the fourth year of Latin.

CR:  This was in high school?

EL:  High school.

CR:  Could I just ask you a related question?  Is it possible to be influenced by things that you don’t like?  Because I find in my own life I have been in my own writing.

EL:  Well certainly things that you can use in writing, but I don’t think in a positive way, as it would apply to yourself.  In Greek we read Xenophon’s Anabasis but I don’t remember anything about it.

[. . .]

CR:  Do you remember any of your Greek?  Can you read Greek now, at all?

EL:  No.  [Recites the sign of the cross in Greek.] It’s the sign of the cross.  That’s about the only thing I remember.

CR:  It’s just from repetition?

EL:  I’m trying to remember.  Let’s see [begins “Our Father” in Greek] Our Father.  No, that sounds like Latin.

CR:  I just keep harping on the Aeneid because this father/son, mentor/mentee stuff is so important there.  Anchises and Aeneas, they’re fleeing Troy, and then Aeneas becomes a kind of foster dad to Pallas, who’s the son of Evander, Aeneas’s ally, whom Aeneas promises to watch over in his fight with the Latins.  But Pallas gets killed and Aeneas flies off the handle.  Then there’s a character called Mezentius who’s just the worst, most despicable guy: he would make a great Elmore Leonard psychopathic villain.  He’s sacrilegious, he insults the gods, but he has a son he cares about and Aeneas kills his son.  He feels fury and anger, but also it’s the first time he shows any feeling of tenderness.  He receives a terrible wound and can barely sit up, but he gets up into the saddle and goes up against Aeneas.  Inevitably he’s defeated and at the very end he dies defying the gods and spitting insults. He’s the toughest bastard you’ve ever seen.  And he looks like a pattern for so many of your characters.  And Donna Mulry is Circe!

EL: Yeah.

CR: All the transformations in your books seem to be controlled by women and in Killshot especially.  Carmen controls her own transformation by transforming her handwriting. Armand Degas’ grandmother’s the one who is going to turn him into an owl and he wants to be a blackbird, and he ends up shacking up with Donna Mulry, who’s got all those little animals.

EL: [Laughter] Yeah.

CR: It’s just like Circe, with all her men turned to swine, and Armand eats like a pig when he’s there too, just like Odysseus.

EL:  Swanson’s dinners.

CR:  I think that’s a great touch, where Wayne respects the code that demands that you eat what you kill and so forth, and Armand the Native American, the Ojibway, just eats TV dinners and gets fat.  But I mean these are only a couple of examples and I said to myself, “Well, he took four years of Latin.”

EL:  The Latin went nowhere.

CR:  Do you mind if I offer it at some point when I’m writing about you, as a speculation.  I’d say that you deny it.

Road DogsEL:  Sure.

CR:  Because I think there’s some really important stuff going on there that shows you’re working at a very high level.

EL:  Did you see the reviews of Road Dogs?

CR:  I saw a couple of them.  I read Pinsky’s review.  No one panned it did they?

EL:  Yeah, the Detroit Free Press.  They hired a woman who was married to a former priest who wrote mystery stories, William Kienzle.  I don’t know why they gave it to her because she sort of had it in for me.  I wrote the screenplay of Kienzle’s first book, The Rosary Murders.  I had a tough time because you don’t even discover the antagonist until the very end, or at least, what’s going on outside of a bunch of people dying.  And then the director rewrote my script.  So I don’t know why she had it in for me.

CR:  She doesn’t understand how these things work, I guess.

EL:  No, but she said my book is just full of “F” words.

CR:  They are writing that?  This was in the Free Press?

EL:  Yeah.

CR:  I would expect they’d have a bit more sophistication.

EL:  They should be ashamed of themselves. She said she knew everything that was going to happen, it was very trite and the same old thing.  I thought it was a little different.  As adults we don’t even know what happened to Dawn [Navarro].

CR:  There are just a couple other things I want to talk about before returning to Road Dogs.  One thing I learned from Paul Challen’s biography is that you’re an opera buff?

EL:  No.

CR:  Okay, cross that off.

EL:  I’ll say.

CR:  He says you like to attend the opera.

EL:  We signed up for it and we went with a group and we would meet at one person’s house before and have a party, and then we’d go to the opera.  Sometimes we would last through the opera and sometimes we wouldn’t.  It doesn’t make sense to me at all.  The stories are so bad, they’re so trite, and thank God they show up above the stage what the words mean.  But there’ll be two lines there and they’ll go on and on forever.  It doesn’t make any sense to me, opera.

CR:  But you went along with this group.  Was this like a charity related thing?

EL:  No, we were having fun.

CR:  Does Christine like opera?

EL:  No.

CR:  Why didn’t you guys sign up to go hear Bruce Springsteen or something?

EL:  Well, I don’t care for him, but we do go to the jazz service.

CR:  Do you have anyone out there that you really like right now?

EL:  They’re all new.  Brubeck keeps coming along.  He’s still doing Take Five, and that always works.

CR:  Do you like small group improvisation or do you like big band stuff?

City PrimevalEL:  Well there aren’t any big bands anymore but Basie was my favorite, always.  I love Basie and in the late ’40s I would go to clubs here in Detroit, on John R.  I’ve forgotten the names of them now.  There were two or three clubs we’d go to.  One was Sportree’s.  Sportree’s became part of I-75 and Sportree’s is a really good place.

CR:  Which appears in City Primeval.

EL:  Yeah.

CR:  So you’d like to go down there and listen?

EL:  Yeah, and we were the only white people there.  Always my date was afraid, she didn’t want to go.  There was never any trouble.  We’d leave the club and we’d go to an afterhours place and I think we paid 50 cents for a beer and thought that was outrageous.

CR: Do you play yourself?

EL:  No.  In the very early ’50s I met Wild Bill Davison with his cornet.  And he came to our table for a drink and I asked him why do you play the cornet, and he says, “If I play the horn [the trumpet] I’d blow the fucking people right out of this place.”  He says I can teach you how to play the horn in ten minutes.  Came home and I bought a used cornet; never learned to play.

I listen to jazz and it inspires me to write.  Some years ago we were watching Dizzy Gillespie outside and he was playing and having a good time, and I wanted to go home and write.  I get into the mood of it, the beat of it.  Several times a reviewer has assumed that I like jazz, that he can see it in the writing.  I don’t know how.

CR: But I would think the reviewers would automatically assume that you were into rock and roll.

EL:  Oh, no.

CR:  Well, Nine Inch Nails comes up frequently.

EL:  I know, and Aerosmith played a club in Boston and I went there to watch them because this group that I used in my book, the Stone Coyotes, played first.  And then I’d get up and read the scene where I meet the Stone Coyotes and so on.  They’re from around there, Aerosmith, I think.

CR:  Yeah, they’re a local band in Boston.  They’re very popular.  I think their lead singer was sick lately so they had to cancel a tour.

EL:  He fell off the stage.

CR: Yeah, that’s it.  Steve Tyler.

EL:  He’s always swinging around the mic stand.  I think it got him in trouble.

CR:  He looks like Mick Jagger.

EL:  I don’t know that much about the Stones.  They came here one day and they were sitting around in the back.

CR:  Here at the house?

EL:  Yeah.  They were all drinking.

CR:  Were they invited for dinner or a cocktail party?

EL:  No, they had to have some non-alcohol beer.

CR:  Because you’re not going to have that real stuff in the house.

EL:  Well I have beer, I have everything in the house, but I don’t drink it.

CR:  That’s funny, the Rolling Stones drinking non-alcohol beer.

EL:  Well they claimed that they weren’t drinking at the time.  So I got a case of non-alcohol.

CR: So you don’t keep up with rock and roll, or that kind of punk rock, or rap?

EL:  I’ve never cared for punk.  It was just so repetitive.

CR:  But you do find out enough about this stuff to put it in your books.

EL:  Oh yeah.  I ask my researcher, Gregg Sutter.  He knows all the bands.  He can list them from the time he was in high school all the way up, who was doing what.

CR: And I think I read [that he played] in a band himself?

EL:  Well, he did play in a band but this was more recently, like 10, 15 years ago.  I forget what they were playing, but it’s basically rock.

CR:  What about painting.  You said that your dad painted.  Do you like to go to the Detroit Art Museum?  It’s hard to avoid noticing this big mural on your wall.

EL:  [This artist] is out in San Francisco . . . nearby.  He’s right across the bay, Sausalito, and he was coming here for something, I forgot what. I got a letter from a woman who represents him here who said he’s coming to town and “wants to meet you.”  And I met him.  He bought at least two books from me when I was signing out there.  And he knew, of course, that I had a couple of his paintings.

CR:  What’s his name?

EL:  Deloss McGraw.  That’s just “Deloss” there [pointing to the signature on the painting].

CR:  This is his first name.

EL:  Yeah.

CR: So you have several of his paintings.

EL:  We have that and then we have this one in the hall.

CR:  Can I take the recorder with us?

EL:  Of course.

[We pass the Deloss in the foyer and climb the stairs to the second floor] 

Wister AwardCR: This is your second office?

EL:  Well, it’s just business.  I don’t write here at all.  [pointing] I got the Owen Wister award.

CR: Congratulations.

EL:  I should have gotten more awards than the Owen Wister.  [laughter]  I could barely write. This is “A Coyote’s in the House,” original manuscript.

CR:  I liked that by the way. I think you use the Howling Diablos in one of your other books don’t you?

EL:  Yeah.

CR: It was a little bit like a “prince and the peasant” kind of story where the dog trades places with the coyote and has adventures.

EL:  They objected to one thing that I said.  I forgot what it was that was crude.

CR:  Who objected?

Up In Honeys RoomEL:  The New York Times.  But they leave in the part where they’re sitting around smoking grass.  [pointing to tran;sations] This is in Italy, this is in Spanish, but also in Italy it’s “Hitler’s Birthday” because they liked that as a title, which was going to be my title originally.  This is Up in Honey’s Room.

CR:  The sequel to the Comfort to the Enemy.  I really liked that book for so many reasons, and one of them was it just reminded me so much of the Detroit I remember even in the ’50s.

EL:  The guy who looked like Himmler.

CR: Walter Schoen I think.

EL: He was trading in on that [likeness].  I was going to call it Hitler’s Birthday because he was going to do something on Hitler’s birthday, but then his role became less important and I thought I can’t call it Hitler’s Birthday, so, Up in Honey’s Room.

CR:  Nice cover. I read somewhere that you make suggestions for covers.

EL:  Oh, yeah, definitely.  This was my idea.  And this one [for Road Dogs], Greg and I made up.  We just couldn’t think of anything else and the publisher was putting a road in all of their versions.

CR:  So you said that you had some paintings by your dad.

EL:  Oh yeah.

CR:  While we’re up and about.

[We go into an upstairs hallway.]

EL:  That’s the only one I have.  There are two of them.

CR:  That’s your dad’s?

EL:  Yeah. That’s the entrance to, I think it goes into Lake Pontchartrain.

CR: Did he have lessons?

EL: I don’t think so.  He may have.

CR:  Did he paint this when he was a kid?

EL:  Yeah, he was 12 or 13 years old.  And then he became, of all things, an accountant.

CR:  At that age was he interested in these kinds of sea scenes?

EL:  I guess he was, yeah.

CR:  I mean that’s so precocious.

[We go back downstairs to Leonard’s study.]

This makes me wonder if you see any styles in painting, or photography, or music that remind you of your own style, which I think Martin Amis says is planed smooth, that there’s nothing sticking out.

EL:  Well, I’ve got an awful lot of art books upstairs, well photography books.  Not how to shoot but by photographers.

CR:  Art photography.  And you have favorite photographers, I assume.

EL:  I don’t think I have any favorites anymore, really, as it’s harder for me to remember names.

CR:  Were you particularly interested in photography when you were writing La Brava?

EL:  No, I was never interested in photography, only in photographs.

CR:  Do we still have time to return to Road Dogs, and Dawn Navarro?

EL:  Sure.

CR: With her clairvoyance and “channeling” Dawn reminds me of Leanne Gibbs in Maximum Bob, who’s also into past lives.  She has Wanda Grace, the little black girl she channels, and Dawn is into former lives too.  She tells Tico about his former lives.  And it occurs to me that all of the main characters in Road Dogs had former lives in your books.  They’re all characters who appeared in earlier books, they had another life. And often your characters will get another life, and you’ll bring them back, like Bo Catlett, whose grandfather was a cavalryman in the Civil War, in one of your westerns.  And now his grandson appears, as if reincarnated with exactly the same name.  Do you want to talk more about Dawn?  She seemed to appeal to you as a character.

Riding the RapEL:  Well she does because you just don’t know what she’s going to do.  She’s perfect.  Yeah, I like Dawn and the first book she was in, Riding the Rap. I didn’t think that I made full use of her, and that’s why I brought her back, because in the last scene of Riding the Rap you don’t know if Raylan Givens is going to go to bed with her or not.  That’s just left.  And so I brought her back and she’s a lot quicker on her feet now, and she’s meaner.  She’s obviously looking for a big score.

CR:  And she’s so cold blooded.  If you can’t help her, the hell with you, and if you get in the way she’ll kill you.

EL:  And she’s willing to sit there for seven and a half years until Cundo gets out.  That’s a long time for her.  Of course, she’s got little what’s his name, the little gay guy.

CR:  The Monk, you called him.

EL:  Yeah, because that’s what Cundo called him.

CR:  The one who handled all the finances.

EL:  Right.

CR:  So at this point, with a character like this that you really seem to have fallen in love with in a way, is there anything in your mind that gives you a feeling of what might eventually happen to her or what kind of a book she might eventually reappear in?

EL:  Well, I just assume she’s going to get caught and put away.

CR:  Well, we hope so.

Out of SightEL:  Well, yeah, but she wouldn’t have to if I wanted to use her.  Take for instance the Out of Sight marshal, Karen Cisco.  I wrote the first chapter of a new book where she’s now working for her dad–she left the marshal service, goes to work for her dad who has a big investigative service.  He’s a private eye, but he doesn’t really go out anymore on cases.  And she’s working for him and she’s in a bar waiting for somebody to drive up from Miami, because she spots a guy in the bar who she thinks is her fugitive felon.  And the guy comes over and sits at her table.   So I sent this chapter to my agent in Hollywood, and he said, “You sure you want to do this?  He said, “I know it’ll be a good book, but why don’t you do something a little different?”  Then I started reading about the Somali pirates in November of last year.  Now we’re approaching one year later, I’ve finally put a book together and accumulated all this information.  I’m going so fast on it that I haven’t even gotten anything in my notebook, and I always fill at least a third of my notebook.

[He reaches for his notebook]

CR:  Could I take a look as you go through?  What are we looking at?

EL:  My notebook of winning names.  People who won–I haven’t used her yet, Ellie Sorafa, and Anne Bonfiglio, I’ve got to do a little bit more with her, because these people have paid a couple thousand anyway to get in the book.

CR:  There was a contest for people who want to be in your books, or who pay to get their names in your books?

EL:  No, a fundraiser: U of D High, Holy Name, Traverse City Special Olympics.

CR: So people contribute to these schools, or these events, or organizations and in return you agree to put their names in books.

EL:  Uhm hm.

CR:  What if they have names you don’t like? You are so into names.

EL:  Well, like Anne Bonfiglio, I’ve decided to make her the designer of Billy’s yacht.  Howard Goldman . . . I forgot about him.  I don’t know what he’s going to be.  He might be in the next book.  Buck Betherds or Bethards, I’m using him in a very small scene.  But I don’t have much.

CR:  So at this point, as you’re getting near the end of this book, can you already get a feeling for what you want to do next?  What the next book will be?

EL:  No.

CR:  Really, it just sort of comes out of the blue?

EL:  Well, usually at this point I’m thinking of the next book, but this one I’m really into and I want to really make it a winner.

CR:  So this one means a lot to you?

EL:  Yeah.

 


[1] Material from this point until Elmore Leonard’s third response comes from my interview of 8/12/ 09, but I’ve transferred it here to provide better subject continuity.