Elmore Leonard on the art of writing

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First aired on Day 6 (20/01/12)

Elmore Leonard is one of the undisputed masters of hip, cool, crime fiction.

He's the prolific literary talent behind more than 40 books, including Out of Sight, Get Shorty and Be Cool, novels known for their witty dialogue and gritty realism that were adapted as major Hollywood movies.

elmore-leonard-175.jpgPerhaps one would expect that Leonard derives his inspiration from a life of nonchalant excess and wild nights with shady characters. But the 86-year-old writer told CBC's Day 6 recently that he approaches his work like any other job, clocking in a good eight hours or so a day.

In fact, when he began writing during the 1950s, he was still working at an advertising agency and would wake up at 5 a.m. each day to make the time to get his words down.

 "I was anxious to write. I wanted to sell stories. So I had to begin writing before I put the water on for coffee. Once I wrote a paragraph, I could have all the coffee I wanted."

These days, he says he starts more often than not at around 10 or 11 in the morning. But he still puts in the time.

"You have to have some discipline. It isn't that easy. You have to want to do it a certain way and you have to do it consistently."

Consistency has never seemed to be a problem for Leonard. His latest novel, Raylan, was released this month. The story follows U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, the Kentucky hero of his previous novels Pronto and Riding the Rap, which have been adapted into the hit television series Justified

In Raylan, Leonard continues to explore the underbelly of Kentucky's Harlem County, a small, bucolic place reeling from the loss of the coal-mining industry, the rise of the drug and moonshine economy and widespread poverty. It's amidst this mess that Raylan Givens discovers another grisly way that criminals are making money here: harvesting human organs and body parts.

Although he's in his mid-80s, Leonard's output -- and the quality of his writing -- continues to impress, if not astound. After so many bestselling books, does the process become easier?

"It doesn't get easier, it gets harder," he said. "But it's fun, it better be fun. Otherwise why spend all that time doing it?"

Day 6 writing challenge: Break Elmore Leonard's rules

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From the publisher:

"With the closing of the Harlan County, Kentucky, coal mines, marijuana has become the biggest cash crop in the state. A hundred pounds of it can gross $300,000, but that's chump change compared to the quarter million a human body can get you -- especially when it's sold off piece by piece.

So when Dickie and Coover Crowe, dope-dealing brothers known for sampling their own supply, decide to branch out into the body business, it's up to U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens to stop them. But Raylan isn't your average marshal; he's the laconic, Stetson-wearing, fast-drawing lawman who juggles dozens of cases at a time and always shoots to kill. But by the time Raylan finds out who's making the cuts, he's lying naked in a bathtub, with Layla, the cool transplant nurse, about to go for his kidneys.

The bad guys are mostly gals this time around: Layla, the nurse who collects kidneys and sells them for ten grand a piece; Carol Conlan, a hard-charging coal-mine executive not above ordering a cohort to shoot point-blank a man who's standing in her way; and Jackie Nevada, a beautiful sometime college student who can outplay anyone at the poker table and who suddenly finds herself being tracked by a handsome U.S. marshal.

Dark and droll, "Raylan" is pure Elmore Leonard -- a page-turner filled with the sparkling dialogue and sly suspense that are the hallmarks of this modern master."

Read more at HarperCollns.