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Elmore Leonard: Acclaimed author visits alma mater

By China Sellers
On December 3, 2008

UDM students, faculty and officials welcomed famed novelist and former Titan Elmore Leonard to the McNichols campus Nov. 26.
Leonard, 83, made the rounds following a one-hour talk about his books, career and future projects.
Speaking to a crowd of about fifty students in the Commerce and Finance Building, Leonard shared his witty sense of humor and advice on writing.
The author of more than forty novels, Leonard has seen many of his works make it to the big screen.
Films such as Be Cool (2005), Jackie Brown (1997), Out of Sight (1998), 3:10 to Yuma (1957 and 2007) and Get Shorty (1995) are just a few of the many inspired by Leonard's writing.
But the movies are not always made to his satisfaction.
"Sometimes, it feels very good to have a movie filmed after a book I wrote," he said. "But most of the movies are bad because they are written by screenwriters."
According to Leonard, screenwriters want to be writers. Therefore, they want to put as much of their own writing into the script. As a result, Leonard said, they take most of his writing out.
"When a scene from a movie comes along, I can tell when they pick up that scene from the book," he said. "I know because my characters are fairly calm, and in the movies it's different."
Leonard is not shy about voicing his opinion, especially to a movie director.
"I said to the director of Get Shorty, 'When someone delivers a funny line, you're not supposed to cut to someone else for a reaction because they're all serious,' " he said.
He also said he told the same thing to the director of Be Cool.
"I thought Be Cool was awful, it's terrible," he said. "I told him the exact same thing as I told the director of Get Shorty and he said 'good' and completely ignored me."
Leonard also said that Cedric the Entertainer, who played Sin LaSalle in Be Cool, did not belong in that film or any of his other stories.
"Cedric is telling the audience that's he's funny instead of being funny," he said.
In the 1950s, long before his works inspired movies, Leonard was making $135 a month at an advertising agency. He told students that they need to be determined if they want to write.
"I had to wait until my profit sharing (check) came due and when it did, I left in 1961. I had $11,500, which allowed me to write on my book uninterrupted for one year," Leonard said.
He also suggested that aspiring writers should "find their sound," or their natural way of writing. In order for someone to do such a thing, he said you must do two important things.
"Read, read, read," he said. "Then find someone that you like and copy them because that is the best way."
Leonard said he used to mimic Hemingway a paragraph at a time. He said he would compare his writings to Hemingway to see how well his style fit as a whole.
"I found out that Hemingway didn't have a sense of humor," he said. "But he still is the writer who initially inspired me."
It's been nearly six decades since Leonard earned his bachelor's degree in English and philosophy at UDM in 1950.
He still remembers his time as a student.
"It's all here now; it wasn't here then," he said. "The writing floors and the technology were not here before."
"I think UDM has made much progress over the years and the school is in a position to do many great things."
But Leonard is still waiting for the day when he writes the perfect novel.
"I've been waiting for a better idea everyday, one that will hold the reader," he said. "I come up with fairly mundane ideas, I think, and then I make them work. But the one that I'm on right now about the Pirates might be it.
"Maybe," he added.

 

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