10 Questions for Elmore Leonard

The Detroit novelist's neo-western Justified airs on FX. Elmore Leonard will now take your questions

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Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard, bestselling author of crime thrillers like Get Shorty, 31:10 to Yuma, and Out of Sight, died Tuesday at the age of 87, following a stroke earlier this month. Leonard's work inspired dozens of films, including hits like Hombre and Jackie Brown, and created a lurid fascination with Detroit's criminal underbelly. Film adaptations aside, the novels and short stories that Leonard has been continuously writing since 1953 won him the 2009 PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2012 National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In 2010, he answered questions from TIME readers about everything from Hemingway to Hollywood, and even touched on his own criminal tendencies. "I thought I was writing just like Hemingway," he answered a reader. "Then all of a sudden it occurred to me, he didn't have a sense of humor. I don't know anything he's written that's funny."

Partly because of that wry sense of humor, many of Leonard's novels and stories have been adapted into films over the years with varying degrees of success. His work has inspired big blockbusters like Get Shorty and equally big flops like Be Cool, the star-studded mobster film widely panned by critics. But when asked what he thinks of writers who refuse to let Hollywood adapt their work, he said, "I think they're crazy, because it could be good and profitable. I'm always optimistic. I always think the movie they're going to make is going to be good. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't."

Leonard's thugs and con-men have committed everything from insurance fraud to murder over the course of his 50-year career, but Leonard told a reader that if he were to attempt any crime, he would stick to something classic. "I'd probably rob a bank, because it's probably the easiest," he said. "If someone asks you for money and shows a threat in some way, you're supposed to give them the money. You can give a dye pack. You can give them something that will get them caught, but you should give them the money." —Charlotte Alter

This interview originally appeared in the March 29, 2010 issue of TIME.

Of all the films based on your novels, which is your favorite?
Ben Doty, Sycamore, Ill.

Jackie Brown, which [Quentin] Tarantino did. He surprised me. I thought he might be all over the place, but he stayed very, very close to the plot and used quite a bit of the dialogue. He's been kind of a fan of mine ever since he was a teenager and stole one of my books. He got caught.

How does Detroit rate as a "lit noir" city? What about it inspires you?
Lindsey Markham, Sugar Land, Texas

Well, I've lived here since 1934, and I've used Detroit because I remember parts of it that were important in the past and I know the city. I'm too old to move to another city and learn what all the streets are. Detroit is perfect for me.

When did your passion for writing begin?
Rachel Raffeinner, Big Run, Pa.

In the fifth grade, I wrote a World War I play, with the Americans on one side of the classroom and the Germans on the other side. This was '35. I don't know why, but I was influenced by All Quiet on the Western Front. I had seen the movie, and it always stuck with me. We had one performance, and that was it. I wish I had [kept] that play, though.

If you were to carry out one crime, what would it be?
Usman Hotiana, Lahore, Pakistan

I'd probably rob a bank, because it's probably the easiest. If someone asks you for money and shows a threat in some way, you're supposed to give them the money. You can give a dye pack. You can give them something that will get them caught, but you should give them the money.

What was your favorite book as a child?
Carrie Brown, Murfreesboro, Tenn.

I read everything. But then we joined a book-of-the-month club, and I started reading popular novels. I always thought they used too many words, no matter who they were—except Hemingway.

What advice do you have for young writers?
Nicole Nolan, Evansville, Ind.

I would say just start writing. You've got to write every day. Copy someone that you like if you think that perhaps could become your sound too. I did that with Hemingway, and I thought I was writing just like Hemingway. Then all of a sudden it occurred to me, he didn't have a sense of humor. I don't know anything he's written that's funny.

How do you write? Computer? Typewriter? By hand?
Shen Ping, Beijing

By hand. Every word is written by hand. Then I'll type it on my electric typewriter. It took me 20 years to buy an electric typewriter, because I was afraid it would be too sensitive. I like to bang the keys. I'm doing action stories, so that's the way I like to do it. I don't have [a computer]. I don't have e-mail or anything like that. I have a fax machine.

How do you feel about writers who refuse to let their books be adapted into films?
Kevin Ferriter, Helena, Mont.

I think they're crazy, because it could be good and profitable. I'm always optimistic. I always think the movie they're going to make is going to be good. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't.

What's the best book you've read in the past year?
Joe Hoyle, Midlothian, Va.

I haven't read a book in a year. I don't read fiction when I'm writing, and it took me a year to write [my new book] Djibouti. I don't like to be reading a book with a certain style while I'm writing one, because I can be influenced by that.

What's your next book about?
Robb Paulak, Pasadena, Calif.

Djibouti takes place in East Africa, for the most part, and has an array of characters. There's a guy who's a billionaire, and he's giving this girl he likes—she's a runway model—a test. If she can go around the world with him on his yacht and not throw up or become bored, he may marry her. They're characters.

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