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

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before