A note on our type problems: J.C. is aware, and is working on it from his vacation in the Upper Peninsula, where wi-fi is something no one’s really heard tell of yet. Good news: This seems to be a home-page problem. In the meantime, if you click the headline, it’ll take you to a separate page (with comments) where everything’s OK. Noted? Noted.
EDIT: Type problem seems fixed, for now. Thanks, brother Jim! Also, a version of the Eaton Beaver clip is now linked in comments. Thanks, Duffy.
It’s a measure of how scattered I’ve been of late that I’ve been sitting here for two days thinking I have nothing to write about, and then — forehead slap — I remember that I went to see Elmore Leonard last Thursday. He did a read/chat/sign at Border’s, supporting his new one, “Road Dogs.”
The reading was brief, just the first page of the novel, which in the usual fashion, starts halfway down the page. Maybe three paragraphs, after which he said, “And that’s what the book’s about,” shut it, and started talking. He was aided in this by his son Peter, who just published his second novel — it’s a father-son book tour. The two chatted back and forth for about half an hour, took some questions, signed some books. Among the highlights:
Peter talked about the party his father threw for the cast of “Out of Sight,” after they wrapped shooting in Detroit. He walked into the dining room to find George Clooney had just arrived and was standing by himself. They chatted for a while, and then “the women heard he was there.” Surrounded.
The “10 rules of writing” were delivered at Bouchercon, the convention for crime-fiction writers, and were something he just whipped up on a legal pad. Today the list is a book, and one of the most often-quoted in stories about him, probably because they’re short, snappy and don’t require much introduction. One of the rules: Never use a word other than “said” to carry dialogue. Another: Use no adverbs. Because they suck. (In the signing line, I told him about the reporter for the Ohio University Post who used “ejaculated” to describe an exclamation. His editor announced to the room: “Someone ejaculated on Tim’s copy.” That was hard to live down.)
My favorites were the stories about the old days, about being called in to a movie set to convince Charles Bronson — I assume this was “Mr. Majestyk” — that yes, his character would have a particular female character with him in the pickup truck during the big chase scene, because otherwise who would be driving when he crawled into the bed with a shotgun to fire at the bad guys? (“I don’t know why the producers couldn’t have told him that.”) But also about the era of pulp fiction, which he barely touched on, other than to say he’d been paid 2 cents a word for “3:10 to Yuma,” “which was the top rate for the pulps.” I wish he’d talked more about this bygone era in American fiction, where so many great writers paid their dues and learned their craft. (I was once lucky enough to interview an expert on the mass-market paperback, and I could have talked to him for hours and hours about cover art alone.) Fiction workshops are all well and good, but there’s something to be said for strong characters, snappy dialogue and the whip of the market as a navigator of plotlines. Every so often Leonard is asked why he switched from westerns to crime fiction, and he always shrugs and notes that that’s what the market wanted at the time. Try telling that to the next MFA you meet.
(That said, my favorite MFA, Lance Mannion, is a great respecter of genre fiction and its writers. So this may not apply to all of them.)
Martin Amis, in an essay about Leonard collected somewhere, described his writing as jazz, and that’s the truth. He said he doesn’t outline his novels, never knows where they’re going to end until they do, and that sounds to me like a nice bebop solo, the trumpeter stepping out to noodle around with phrases, themes and melodies for a while, until he’s said all he has to say and steps back to let someone else take a turn. Leonard is Miles Davis with a pen.
I bought “Road Dogs,” which I’m interspersing with “The Quiet Girl,” two books that couldn’t be more different. If Leonard is jazz, Peter Hoeg is atonality, translated from Danish. I can only recommend one, and I think you know which one it is.
So, a little bloggage? Sure:
A tale of two Michigan economies — Ann Arbor and Warren. From the WSJ.
The right’s talking points on Sotomayor, by Dahlia Lithwick, another writer nearing national-treasure status.
Only in Detroit: A city councilwoman is billed a pittance in property taxes for a decade. How much of a pittance? Try $68 a year. Turns out the city records show her address is a vacant lot. Her reaction: Huh. I wondered about that. Now it turns out she probably won’t have to pay much at all. This city. I ask you.
Only in Detroit Journalism: Yes, I saw the “Eaton Beaver turns 69 today” clip from one of our local TV station’s happy-birthday roundup on the morning show. No, I cannot direct you to it, as the station has effectively wiped out the clip. More proof every news organization needs an editor well-versed in dirty jokes, puns and Johnny Fucherfaster stories.
And now, I have a barn to raise and a day to do it. Onward to the work pile.