Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyThe Best Blurb I Never Got

  • Sun, 08 Sep 2013 11:25:16    Permalink

    Elmore Dutch Leonard is my hero.His crime stories are great, but its his westerns written at the beginning of his career that really get me. Sentence to sentence Leonard can hold his own with Hemingway, and his plots are so soundly constructed and deeply satisfying that two of them, at least, have been turned into big Hollywood movies Hombre and 3:10 to Yuma.The power of those stories has to do with  the country  in which they occur. Leonard writes about the west in a way that makes the setting seem elemental and timeless. The details he deploys the Sharps rifles or the Hart Huntington Stage Line weld his stories together into a mythic land set in a world that that parallels the place where we, his readers, live.In Elmore Leonards stories the west is a stage on which powerful natural forces display themselves. The sun will kill you if you cant find water. The land will trick you, will change, will trap you, will starve you. The Indians pass in and out like strange, cruel demigods. And in the middle of all this, Leonard sets his characters.Then he tests them, and shows us how they fare. The interesting thing is that these are not coming of age stories. The main character never learns or grows. He is a fully formed  individual when the story begins. Hes been around long enough to know what he can and can not do, and he knows who he is and is not. He simply does his best in the situation that Leonard creates for him. Often the main character triumphs, but sometimes he does not. In those cases he dies. But even that doesnt matter to the story, because we all must die sooner or later, and some stories are simply about the time in which one particular character must die. The truly satisfying aspect of these stories isnt the adventure or the Indians or the landscape, it is the absolute cleanness and clarity of this parallel universe and the people who inhabit it. With each story we can take a little of that fantasy of clarity back into our messy lives.Does it matter to me that Leonard created his west from the pages of Arizona Highways? Not a bit! I admire him all the more for that.So, when my editor asked me who should blurb my crime novel The Old Turks Load blurbs are those short paragraphs of praise from other authors that appear on the back cover of the book my first choice was Elmore Leonard.I was only kidding, of course. There was no chance that a writer of his stature would bother to review the novel of an unknown writer.But the joke was one me. My editor knew Leonard, and sent him the book. A few weeks later, he wrote back, explaining that he was very distracted by personal issues (he was also 86 years old at the time), and that it was difficult for him to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Then he went on to say, Ive read only about 30 pages of THE OLD TURKS LOAD But I like Gibsons writing, the effortless way he tells his story. So Im going to stay with it or get back to it until Ive read the book and can give you a short blurb if you can give me a little time.Alas, it was never to be. After a few weeks he called my editor and told her the distractions had not diminished, and that he would not be able to get to the blurb.Flash forward to another parallel universe, the opposite of Leonards clean west. This universe is a mess. In the middle of it sits Greg Gibson, at a bar, out at the elbows and badly needing a shave, with an empty glass in front of him.I coulda been a best seller, you know. Elmore Leonard liked my writing. What, you dont believe me? Ill show you. He fumbles in his wallet for a grimy piece of paper which he unfolds on the bar, pinning it down with his hands to keep them from shaking. So buy me a drink, will ya?
     RIP, Dutch. And thanks for the note. Youll never know how much it meant to me.

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