Elmore Leonard: 'To have a clear head in the morning was a new feeling for me'


The biggest thrill of my life was selling my first novelette It was a Western for Argosy magazine in 1951, called "Trail of the Apaches". I'd done a lot of research about the Apache Indians in the 1880s and they seemed like ruthless individuals out to raise hell, which fascinated me. I got paid $1,000 for it and I thought, wow, I'm going to quit my job in advertising, which I hated.

The westerns on American TV in the 1960s were based on stuff that never happened There were 32 Westerns on in 1960, but they all had the same ending of two guys meeting in the street and shooting at each other. It was done over and over, and it was so dumb; it never even took place. I decided to switch over to writing about crime.

I stopped drinking in 1977 after a friend said to me, 'I think you ought to come to an AA meeting' It used to take me a while to get up each morning, then I'd always have a beer before I did anything, and then I tried to hold off till noon. After I stopped, I found I could get up in the morning and feel like writing; to have a clear head in the morning was new for me.

Most of the film adaptations of my books were not any good I wanted to write movies and I wanted to see my books made into good movies, but for some reason they'd just be lame. When I saw the adaptation of The Big Bounce in 1969, I said, this is the second-worst movie I ever saw. Then they re-made it [in 2004] and I thought, why are they doing that? Now it's the worst. At first that sort of thing frustrated me, but I've since learnt to live with it.

White Supremacists are always against something, but they're not a problem They only exist in little pockets down in the South; it's a couple hundred thousand people maybe, compared with 300 million Americans. They look like what they are: ex-convicts with ugly tattoos.

If it sounds like writing, rewrite it I don't want my books to sound like I'm the one who's talking or somehow there behind the scenes. So I always reread what I wrote the day before; it has to sound like these people are feeling and thinking these things, so I'll take words out if it looks like the character is talking too much; after 60 years I've gotten pretty adept at it.

Some of my fondest memories come from hanging out with the Detroit police department The Detroit News asked me to do a piece on the homicide section there, so I spent three weeks with them before I wrote a word. I'd follow these cheerful, friendly guys to the scene of murders and I was surprised by their deadpan humour.

Very few things irritate me, though some commercials on tv manage to There's this guy who owns a construction company selling storm windows, and he comes on several times a day and I think, "Oh god, not you again." My show Justified has a couple of commercial breaks in the evening, but it's really good, so I put up with them.

I don't worry about mortality I'm 85 now, so one of these days my life will end and that will be it. I'm getting kind of tired anyway and my eyes have failed to the point it's hard to read a book.

George Clooney gave such a good performance in the adaptation of Out of Sight that I wrote a sequel to the original book with him in mind. He is so easygoing, he doesn't overdo anything, which is a problem with many of the characters in other film adaptations of my books. I watched him come up from TV and knew he'd be a success.

Elmore Leonard is an American novelist and screenwriter. Season two of 'Justified', based on a Leonard short story, airs at 10pm on Wednesdays on 5 USA. His latest book, 'Djibouti', is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £18.99

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus brought her Bangerz tour to London's O2 Arena last night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis