I played coy a bit ago, teasing some news. That’s because I don’t like to offer news only to later have to issue a retraction. Now it can be revealed. (Passive voice, ugh. But in context it does read better than “Now I can reveal it.”) Both parties signed the contract rendering this news legit. So, without further blather:
“What are you reading, Ken?” I assume you are asking for purposes of today’s post.
I’m glad you asked. As usual, I have several books going at any one time. This week I finished “The Hunted” by Elmore Leonard. Typically outstanding work. It is also an example of how cell phones have changed everything. The same story could not be written as a contemporary piece. Still, excellent 70’s-vintage Leonard.
Publishing news stirs at the doorstep of Casa Lizzi, and tidings loom and rumble in the distance. It is time, in other words, for an update on upcoming releases from yours truly.
Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules for Good Writing” offers the sage tip “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Wisdom indeed. The problem is that readers are people, and people remain stubbornly unwilling to agree on anything. Including which parts of books they tend to skip.
I’ve written before about the slender paperbacks popular in the 60s and 70s. They no longer make financial sense in today’s publishing market. Not in print, at any rate. But it seems to me they are admirably suited to e-readers. Digital is the new pulp.
When checking up on the status of my book sales on Amazon (who, me obsessive?) I discovered that Amazon was promoting an experimental new publishing model called Kindle Scout. The gist of the program is that readers can help choose which books get published by reading sample chapters and selecting which books they wish to read in full. Readers whose selection is chosen for publication receive a free copy. A nice incentive, I think. It isn’t precisely a democracy, Amazon retains the final choice. But it is an intriguing model.
So you’re asking, “Ken, what the hell? Elmore Leonard didn’t write science fiction or fantasy. What’s a post about him doing on your web log?” To which I say, “Huh?” and proceed to otherwise ignore the question.
It is true that – to the best of my knowledge anyway – Elmore Leonard did not produce any speculative fiction. I wish he had. I’d like to read an Elmore Leonard fantasy. He did cut his teeth on Westerns. You may have heard of a story titled “3:10 to Yuma.” Yeah, that was Leonard. So he could have written pulp sci-fi if he’d wanted. You know the commonplace wisdom – replace six-shooters with blasters and horses with spaceships and your Western becomes sci-fi. Not hard sci-fi, and not necessarily good sci-fi, but it could be. And a good story is a good story no matter the trappings.
Elmore Leonard developed perhaps the most unique writing voice in modern American Fiction. His style is unmistakable. It is immediate, engaging. It is unquestionably a painstakingly crafted style, but it reads as naturalistic, real. He had a tremendous ear for dialogue, rarely writing speech that rings forced or flat. A rare gift.
Hollywood at least appreciated the gift, though the film adaptations flopped as often as they missed. “Out of Sight” and “Get Shorty” soared. “The Big Bounce” didn’t, two tries failing to get it right.
Sadly, we’ll see no more stories from the master of American crime fiction. Elmore Leonard died in 2013. He’ll be missed. But his books will live on. That reminds me, it is time to get back to reading “Bandits.”
The writing savants instruct that we not employ a ten-dollar word when a nickel’s worth will suffice. You will lose the reader if he is forced to consult a dictionary. You risk appearing pretentious.
This is no doubt sound advice. And yet I struggle with it. I like archaic terms, obscure, little-used words and expressions. I enjoy encountering a new word, even if it means heaving open my brobdingnagian 1920’s era dictionary, or hopping onto the web for a quick search. I loved it even as a kid. A new word was a precious find. I hoarded them like gems. Reading L. Sprague de Camp was like a treasure hunt. I’d roll “yclept” about like a shining jewel. An archaism that I valued precisely due to its rarity.
I like the baroque stylings of a Jack Vance, or the dense, lush lyricism of E.R. Eddings just as much as the more approachable, breezy prose of Elmore Leonard.
So I find myself torn. I do err on the side of caution, many of my jewels not surviving the culling of the first draft. Of course infrequency causes the remainder to stand out, and a word that stands out can lead to the very problems the wise and experienced writing gurus warn about. Thus I weed out even more – the story itself being more important than one of my beloved treasures.
But sometimes the nature of the story allows me to indulge. And I do.
What are your thoughts? Does it diminish your enjoyment of a story to stumble across an unfamiliar word?