Elmore Leonard’s life-changing advice.
By Robert Ferrigno
Elmore Leonard was the worst interview of my life. Not his fault. Mine. He didn’t hold it against me; in fact, he gave me an incredible gift, which tells you plenty about the man.
I was a feature writer for a Southern California daily newspaper at the time, and I leapt at the chance to talk to him when he came through on a book tour. He was my literary hero, writing this lean, graceful prose and dialogue that was absolutely true to the little criminals he wrote about — those overeager psychopaths who were just like the rest of us, but freed of the limitations of long-term thinking and responsibility.
The interview took place in his suite at the Ritz-Carlton. I was nervous, too aware of my struggles with my first novel and in awe of him for making it look easy, which is always the hardest part. I taped the interview, to my great regret. I was pathetic, so overwhelmed that my questions tacked from the sycophantic to the rude as I tried and failed to find the right balance. Mr. L remained cordial and polite throughout the ordeal, a scrawny gent calmly smoking a cigarette while I sweated and stumbled.
Near the end, I confessed to my predicament as a writer. Said I had a full-time job at the paper and a new baby at home and weekends were the only time I had to write and I was making no progress at all. I knew his history, knew he must have some kind of method, some secret. He had worked at an ad agency in Detroit while supporting five kids and writing a succession of paperbacks for ten years before he made enough to quit his day job.