Unlike some writers of certain bestsellers who claim to have been to heaven and back and tell us about it, I can't say for certain whether it exists. But I know that for those of us down here in the real world, the celestial light of posterity will most likely continue to shine on the great writer Elmore Leonard, who died this week, following a stroke, at the age of 87.
Leonard was both a brilliant prose stylist and a stylist whose prose was honed to make its style appear natural. His dialogue was sharp without calling attention to itself -- although you'd find yourself reading it aloud, so delightful was it -- and his plots had the nifty craftsmanship of a P.G. Wodehouse story.
Anyone who writes for a living can learn from Leonard: his simplicity, his humor, his tough-minded characters, his depiction of psychological weaknesses and strengths, his attention to the telling detail. And anyone who has become successful should learn from him as well: his humility, his sense of humor, his taking his work but not himself seriously. One of his quotes that I love, from his essay, "Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing," is: "My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."
He was that rare writer who was loved and admired by fellow writers -- who are often the harshest critics -- by the public, and by filmmakers. Many of his books were adapted for movies. And currently on FX is Justified, a smart and offbeat modern western adapted from Leonard's work.
Leonard was also that kind of writer who is so good and has been around for so long that he could be taken for granted. Certainly he wasn't praised as were some of his near-peers such as Saul Bellow (who admired him). That was, perhaps, because he wrote crime novels and thrillers, hardboiled fiction that depicts a world of greed, mendacity, accidental kindness, betrayal, loyalty, good and bad fortune, human frailty and strength. And crime. Ah, that's the thing: crime. Because he included what so affects society -- corruption and crime -- and did it in a genre world, he was sometimes overlooked among the world's great writers.
But every genre is a genre. Literary fiction -- which treats the same things Elmore Leonard did - is simply that genre that pretends to offer us a new perspective on the world. And many of the world's great literature revolves around a crime of some sort (how many crimes are depicted in the Bible?).
Well, Leonard did what literary writers do: he showed us the world. And he was literary in the best sense: he was a great writer who delivered the goods consistently and pleased millions of readers.
He will be missed.
Do yourself a favor, and if you've not yet picked up one of his novels, go to your bookstore, download a digital copy or an audio book: "52 Pick-Up," "Get Shorty," "Out of Sight," "Hombre," and discover the man whom Stephen King called "the great American writer."