Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty and Jackie Brown, dead at 87

Elmore Leonard, a prolific author and screenwriter, has died at the age of 87 at his home in Bloomfield Village, Michigan.

Leonard had published 45 novels and was working on his 46th when he suffered a stoke in late July, his longtime researcher Gregg Sutter told The Detroit News in early August.

Leonard started writing western novels in 1950s, and he became well-known after some of his novels were adapted into popular screenplays. Some of his film writing credits included: 3:10 to Yuma, which was produced in 1957 and then remade in 2007, Get Shorty and Jackie Brown, which was directed by Quentin Tarantino and based on Leonard’s novel Rum Punch.

He is also well-known for his 10 Rules of Writing, an essay which The New York Times published in 2001. Here are the very good rules:

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

For more explanation on the rules, see The New York Times archives.

While we’re on the topic of must-reads in The New York Times, Margaret Atwood was also a huge Leonard fan and, in 2002, she reviewed Leonard’s Tishomingo Blues for the paper. In the resulting review, she notes Leonard’s signature use of dialogue to develop his characters, a method where “each character speaks in character.” Atwood writes:

…three racial slurs, two F-words, misogyny combined with lookism, and a sneer at bingo players, all wrapped up in five terse lines. The man who speaks this will surely die. (“Good” characters in Leonard swear differently from the way “bad” characters do.)

Leonard suffered a stroke in late July, for which he was hospitalized. His website said he died “surrounded by his loving family.”

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