from issue #1: ‘The Magic Streets of Pittsburgh: An Interview With Lester Goran’ (Part 1 of 3)

Here again is the first part of Matthew Asprey’s extensive interview with the late American novelist Lester Goran (you can click on through all three parts). The interview appeared in Contrappasso issue #1 (August 2012) alongside an unpublished Goran story, ‘Don’t I Know You?’. Contrappasso was honoured to publish two further pieces by Goran – a short story called ‘1908: The King of a Rainy Country’ in issue #3 (August 2013), and his memoir of Charles Willeford in the special Noir Issue just two months ago. The Willeford piece was the last published work to appear during Goran’s lifetime.

Contrappasso Magazine: International Writing

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

[LESTER GORAN was born in Pittsburgh in 1928. In 1960, reviewing The Paratrooper of Mechanic Avenue, the New Yorker declared Goran had “the vitality and true perspective of a born novelist… [his] first novel gives reason for rejoicing.” As of 2012, Goran has published eight novels, a memoir, and three short story collections including Tales From The Irish Club, a New York Times Notable Book of 1996.

In September 2008 I travelled to the University of Miami in Coral Gables where Goran is a Professor of English. I had the opportunity to observe his weekly creative writing class. From 1978 to 1988 he taught this class with Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer. Goran also translated many of the stories to be found in Singer’s late collections The Image (1985) and The Death of Methuselah (1988). Goran memorialised their sometimes…

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Elmore Leonard: The Contrappasso Interviews (complete PDF)

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If you bought the blockbuster print edition of Contrappasso issue 2 (still available here), you probably noticed Anthony May’s 27,000 word, 65-page, never-before-published interview series with legendary crime writer Elmore Leonard. We ran some short excerpts online at the time of publication, but now we’re happy to provide for our online readers the complete interview series in PDF format:

ELMORE LEONARD: THE CONTRAPPASSO INTERVIEWS by ANTHONY MAY

Enjoy.

Contrappasso Extra: Interview with Loren Glass

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Interview with Loren Glass

One of our inspirations here at Contrappasso is the Evergreen Review, the classic journal published by Barney Rosset’s Grove Press from 1957-1973, and revived online since 1998.

This week I traded a few emails with Loren Glass, Associate Professor of English and the Center for the Book at the University of Iowa, to discuss his exciting new book, Counter-Culture Colophon: Grove Press, the Evergreen Review, and the Incorporation of the Avant-Garde (Stanford University Press).

Loren Glass

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MATTHEW ASPREY: When did you first become aware of Grove Press and the Evergreen Review?

LOREN GLASS: I was researching a project on modernism and obscenity and became aware of Grove’s centrality to the post-war campaign against censorship in the US.

So how did you come to write Counter-Culture Colophon? What was the research process?

I went to the Grove Press papers at Syracuse University Special Collections library to look into their materials related to the trials of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer, and Naked Lunch.  I quickly saw that there was a much larger story, one which looked more fascinating and more important than the project on obscenity that I was envisioning.  I spent a total of about two months over a period of two years with that archive.  I also did research in the Donald Allen Papers at UC San Diego and with Barney Rosset’s Papers at Columbia. I interviewed Barney twice, as well as Fred Jordan, Nat Sobel, Morrie Goldfischer, Herman Graf, Claudia Menza, and Judith Schmidt Duow.

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Barney Rosset seemed prepared to risk all financially to further his political and literary objectives. Can you tell us about his vision for society, why he was ultimately so important as a publisher, and why he was left in reduced circumstances in retirement?

I see Barney as a romantic revolutionary.  For him it was all about “sex and politics,” as he repeatedly said.  He was more of a contrarian than a visionary, a sort of left-wing libertarian determined to fight the powers that be but without any carefully articulated idea of what would come next.  In terms of his importance, he was in the right place (NYC) at the right time to really make a difference.  A combination of factors—the paperback revolution, the expansion of the American university, the weakening of censorship—converged to make his efforts at Grove particularly successful.  However, once the cultural revolution he set in motion had succeeded, he became less relevant, and the corporate consolidation of publishing made it more difficult to run a company as recklessly as he did.  He put all his money into Grove, and was barely able to cover his debts when he sold it.

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Barney Rosset (1922-2012)

Daniel O’Connor and Neil Ortenberg’s documentary Obscene: A Portrait of Barney Rossett and Grove Press was released in 2007. It seemed long overdue. Have Barney Rosset and Grove Press otherwise been given their due recognition?

I would say, emphatically, no.  I was astonished that there hadn’t been a book on Grove.  Part of the reason is that they did so much, far more than is covered in the film, or even in my book, though I try to be comprehensive.

The Olympia Press in Paris had a close association with Grove. Olympia’s publisher Maurice Girodias was a colourful character and a dubious businessman. You write about how Barney would eventually come to support him financially. What was their relationship?

Barney called it “deep.”  Dick Seaver called it “a fragile friendship.”  I think they had similar characters in certain ways, but Barney had more access to money and was also a better businessman.  Girodias was notoriously sloppy with contracts and copyrights, and Barney basically cannibalized his entire catalogue.

I love the graphic design of Roy Kuhlman for Grove Press in its classic era. His covers were an endlessly inventive commercial application of mid-century Modernism, as impressive as the work of Reid Miles for Blue Note Records. Sadly there does not seem to be a book in existence celebrating that relationship – or even about his work in general. How important was Kuhlman to Grove?

Kuhlman was central, absolutely, to establishing Grove’s brand recognition, and he was the first book artist to incorporate Abstract Expressionism into cover design.  His daughter, Arden Riordan, is apparently working on a book dedicated to his work.  There’s also an amazing website dedicated to his work with Grove: www.uncoveredgrove.com

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There are rumours Barney Rosset wrote a memoir before his death. Are we likely to see that published?

Barney’s memoirs are being edited by Bradford Morrow for Algonquin.  Rumor has it that he doesn’t say enough about Grove, but rather focuses on his years in China, though I haven’t read the manuscript.

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More information on Counter-Culture Colophon is at Stanford University Press.

Read Loren Glass’s recent two-part feature on Grove at the Los Angeles Review of Books (parts I and II).

Contrappasso at the LARB: An Interview with Clive Sinclair

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Clive Sinclair

Our friends at the Los Angeles Review of Books have taken first dibs on the online publication of ‘El Hombre Valeroso’, our expansive interview with British author Clive Sinclair.

The interview, conducted by Matthew Asprey, originally appeared in Contrappasso issue #2. The LARB had this to say:

ONE OF THE GREAT PLEASURES for us at Los Angeles Review of Books has been the opportunity afforded for serial discovery. In this case, of the extraordinary English writer Clive Sinclair, whose bibliography betrays the influence of everyone from Nabokov to John Ford, but also of the splendid quarterly Contrappasso, a periodical that — like Sinclair — moves restlessly, thrillingly among its interests and concerns. From neglected masters like Floyd Salas and James Crumley, to less-neglected ones like David Thomson and Elmore Leonard, the Sydney-based Contrappasso publishes international writing of the highest order. We are pleased to present Contrappasso editor Matthew Asprey’s interview with Clive Sinclair, below, and encourage you to visit contrappassomag.wordpress.com to discover more.

‘El Hombre Valeroso’ begins:

CLIVE SINCLAIR was born in England in 1948. He is a recipient of the Somerset Maugham Award, the Jewish Quarterly Prize, and the PEN Silver Pen Award for Fiction. He holds a doctorate from the University of East Anglia and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Sinclair’s novels include Blood Libels (1985), Cosmetic Effects (1989), and Meet the Wife (2002); his stories have been collected in Hearts of Gold (1979), Bedbugs (1982), and The Lady with the Laptop (1996). Sinclair’s most recent book is True Tales of the Wild West (2008), an experiment in the new genre of “dodgy realism.”

The following interview is based on a transcript of a conversation I had with Sinclair at his home in London in early 2011. More than a year later, the raw transcript was edited and restructured, supplemented by further questions and answers by email, and finally revised by interviewer and interviewee.

MATTHEW ASPREY: Your first book, Bibliosexuality (1973), is a very obscure title. I’ve never seen a copy. Do you want to tell me anything about it?

CLIVE SINCLAIR: I’d rather not but, since I can see the thumbscrews bulging in your pockets, I’ll oblige. The title is a neologism, of which I remain rather proud, and look forward to one day seeing housed in the OED. Bibliosexuality describes a disorder of the senses in which a perverse relationship with a book is not only desired, but also achieved. In short, the novel offered the world of letters as a substitute for the real thing. The main influence on it would be my time at the University of East Anglia, where I encountered the likes of Malcolm Bradbury, Angus Wilson, Jonathan Raban, and the Sages — Lorna and Victor. I had no idea what I was getting into. I went there in a completely arbitrary fashion and as a complete innocent. The aforementioned practiced what was then called New Criticism, which insisted that the text be examined as an artifact entire unto itself. The very opposite of structuralism, unknown (at least to me) at the time. You — the critic — ask about the author’s intentions and intentionality. For example, that yellow vase on the shelf. Why yellow? You assume everything is there for an artistic purpose. The book that I produced as a consequence was immensely self-conscious. Of course it was heavily influenced by Nabokov. It was full of linguistic resonance and also the sex element, to put it roughly. Portnoy’s Complaint had just come out in 1969. So it was a mishmash of influences. It could have been brilliant. It wasn’t, but it could have been.

MA: How old were you?

CS: Twenty-one when I wrote it….

LARB

Read the complete interview at the Los Angeles Review of Books

or in issue 2 of Contrappasso Magazine, available in Paperback, Kindle Ebook, or other Ebook formats @ Smashwords.

Elmore Leonard Week: Elmore on the birth of Raylan Givens

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ON THE BIRTH OF RAYLAN GIVENS

from ‘In Australia: An Interview With Elmore Leonard’ by Anthony May (Contrappasso #2, December 2012)

Date: 21st February, 1994
Location: 3rd floor lobby, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 93 Macquarie Street, Sydney.

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MAY: Although you start the novel [Pronto, 1993] with Harry, it’s actually Raylan’s novel as much as anyone’s. Who was the original hero?

LEONARD: Harry. I thought that Harry would take it all the way. Then Harry got to Italy and he changed. I mean, I didn’t change him. He changed. This is the way it works out. He gets there in December and it’s cold. When I was there it was towards the end of November and places were starting to close up. I could imagine what it would be like in the summer or even in the fall and everything’s going, everyone’s on the beach. And that’s the way it would have been on his previous trips. Now he gets there and it’s like a different place. He’s got this building that’s got this probably 300 year old leak in the ceiling and it’s just not the same. He can’t be Harry in this place. He meets this woman and he’s talking to the woman and he doesn’t get along with her. He picks her up and he just wants to get rid of her. And she doesn’t see anything in him. He doesn’t entertain her at all. It just doesn’t seem to work. And I thought what am I going to do here? He needs help. I thought, in this frame of mind he’s going to start drinking again and he’s going to get deeper into trouble, more disenchanted with the place.

Now the idea of course was that Raylan was going to get there. I went back a little bit and changed Raylan’s original home from Western Kentucky to Eastern Kentucky to the coal mines. I had to give him a background of having been familiar with violence beyond what he might have seen as a marshal. And Harlan County, I’d been wanting to use Harlan County anyway and got hold of that documentary that won an Oscar about twenty years ago called, Harlan County USA. Bloody Harlan, that’s what it’s known as. That helped me enormously. I got to know him then. I had my researcher look up all kinds of things, not only that movie but he also got me news magazine and newspaper stories about the strike and that time, the early seventies. There was a picture in one of the newspaper stories of a marching band, a high school marching band practising, they didn’t have their uniforms on. Where do they go to school, because Raylan went to that school. The caption said that they’re in Everetts, Kentucky, a coal mining camp. So then I call my researcher and find out what they’re known as, the warriors or whatever, and what the school colours are, and what the Harlan high school colours are, what they’re called and so on. Just little things like that, I think add to it.

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LEONARD: The book I’m doing now [Riding The Rap, 1995], I’m bringing back Raylan. Pronto was optioned but I have it in the contract that I can use Raylan again, that they’re not going to own Raylan. There was a little fight there. I said, well, do you want Pronto or not, because I’m not going to sell it to you unless I can keep Raylan for myself. I want to use him again. And Harry’s in it, and Joyce to some extent. I begin with Raylan wishing that Harry would disappear because he’s as childish as he was at the end of the book and he’s drinking again, heavily. He’s lost his license, drunk driving, and he relies on Joyce to drive him around, although he does drive himself too. And he’s feeling sorry for himself and Raylan wishes he’d disappear. And he does. They don’t know where he went. They’re sure he didn’t go back to Italy because he would have made a big to-do about it. He wouldn’t have just slipped away in the night.

It was funny on this book tour, the one I’ve just done in the States, people asked me, ‘Whatever happened to Dale Crowe, jnr.? He took off in that Cadillac and what happened to him?’ Because he didn’t come back into the book (Maximum Bob) and a lot of people thought he was going to be important to the story seeing as it opens with him. I said, ‘I don’t know, he’s probably driving around in the Cadillac, he’ll get caught. Why not, he’s a dumb kid.’ But just the fact that people asked me about him, I had opened the new one with Raylan talking to a psychic. He knew Harry had talked with this psychic and the psychic was possibly the last person who saw him, at least that anyone knows about. So he goes to see the psychic, not to know anything about himself but to find out about Harry. But the psychic tells him things about himself. I thought, This is a good opening. I like this opening. But there was certainly a scene with Harry and the psychic and if I open with Raylan then I’m going to have to just tell about Harry and the psychic or else flashback. I don’t want to flashback. So somebody has to talk about it, the psychic and somebody else. Why did Harry go to see the psychic? I finally realise that I’m not going to be able to open with Raylan and the psychic. I have to open with something else. And something else and something else until finally Raylan and the psychic is chapter seven.

So I’ve got these other chapters going, I thought, I gotta open with Raylan, he’s my main character and I’m gonna be true to him this time. And then I remembered the people asking me about Dale Crowe. So I opened with Ocala police. Ocala’s a city in Florida state, Ocala police picked up Dale Crowe for weaving and having a broken tail light. They bring him in. They give him a breathalyzer test and then look him up on the crime computer and find out that he’s a wanted fugitive. So then in the next paragraph, Raylan comes to pick him up. Raylan then lets Dale Crowe drive back to Palm Beach County and in their dialogue, you find out some of the things that have happened since Pronto. I thought, That’s the way to get this exposition out of the way. Dale Crowe, jnr. really doesn’t know what he’s talking about, nor does it matter. Nor does he understand why he’s being told this, and yet there is a point in Raylan telling him. He thinks Dale Crowe is a punk kid and there is something in his story about Harry and Joyce that could apply to Dale in a way. Then Dale tries to get away. He tries to hit him but Raylan knows that Dale’s going to try this. As Dale Crowe swings at him, he pops him right in the face with his cowboy boot and then handcuffs him to the steering wheel. Then when they get into town, they get to West Palm, they get off the turnpike and they’re into West Palm, a car hits them from behind. It pops the trunk a little bit so Raylan gets out and goes back and he sees this pickup truck. Two black guys get out of the pickup truck and one of them’s got a gun and it’s a car jacking. The guy says, We’re gonna trade you our truck for your Cadillac. The Cadillac that he was using was a confiscated drug car. So the one black guy goes up to get in the car and get Dale out. Then he calls to his friend and says, Hey, come here. As the guy walks up there, Raylan opens the trunk and gets his shotgun out. He steps over into the road and then he racks the pump, which every lawman knows will get more attention and respect than anything else. And they turn around and there it is, they’re looking at a shotgun. He says, I’ll give you guys some advice, don’t try and jack a car that’s being used to transport a federal prisoner.

MAY: The psychic isn’t Maximum Bob Gibbs wife, is it?

LEONARD: No, but originally I thought that she could be in it. There’s a town north of Orlando called Cassadaga where nearly everyone who lives in the town is a psychic or a clairvoyant or in the spiritualist church. It’s just a county road, and on one side of the road are all the legitimate psychics who are in the spiritualist church. On the other side are the ones who come along because these people had made this area so popular. People come from all over to get readings. So on the other side are a lot of fortune tellers, pseudo-clairvoyants, tarot card readers and so on. And that’s the whole town, that’s it. It’s an unusual town. I was going to use Cassadaga. I was going to set most of the book there but there wasn’t enough to it. I need more bright lights, big city. So I moved my psychic out of there down further into South Florida. Her name is Reverend Dawn Navarro. She’s about 28 years old, she’s good looking and you’re not sure if she really is psychic or not. Except that she tells things to Raylan that he relates later to Joyce that make him wonder if he might have said something. ‘The fact is she knew I was a coalminer from Kentucky, I might have said something.’ Then she calls somebody else. She says, ‘There’s a guy here looking for Harry Arno and he’s a federal officer.’ And the guy she’s talking to says, ‘What kind of a federal officer?’ She says, ‘I don’t know.’ He says, ‘What do you mean, didn’t he show you his I.D., his credentials? Why do you say he’s a federal officer?’ She says, ‘He is, that’s why.’ And at the end of their conversation, she says, ‘He shot someone.’ He says, ‘well, what, he told you about that?’ She says, ‘No.’ She was reading him using psychometry where she holds his hand. She says, ‘No, I felt the hand that held the gun.’

Anthony May’s complete 65-page interview series with Elmore Leonard is available in Contrappasso issue #2, available in Paperback, Kindle Ebook, or other Ebook formats @ Smashwords.

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Elmore Leonard Week: Elmore on Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, and William Friedkin

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ON CLINT EASTWOOD, BRUCE WILLIS, AND WILLIAM FRIEDKIN

from ‘Doing What I Do: An Interview With Elmore Leonard’ by Anthony May (Contrappasso #2, December 2012)

Dates: 1st-3rd July, 1991
Location: Elmore Leonard’s home in Birmingham, Michigan. The interview took place in Leonard’s study across his writing desk.

MAY: When you made that move from westerns to crime fiction, there’s a series of books that you do, Big Bounce [1969], Moonshine War [1969], before you move into that City Primeval world. Mr. Majestyk is also around that period isn’t it?

LEONARD: Yeah, early ‘70’s, original screenplay.

MAY: I was just reading the other day about that, actually. I was reading the Barry Gifford collection, The Devil Thumbs A Ride. He describes Mr. Majestyk as a ‘melon western’, as opposed to a spaghetti western, but does so quite affectionately, I think.

LEONARD: I took Mr. Majestyk from The Big Bounce and named the character, it’s a different guy completely, y’know. But I figured, I need a title, and I know Mr. Majestyk is a good title, and I figured, well, nobody’s read The Big Bounce. I’ll just use that name. Originally, this story was meant for Clint Eastwood. He had called up and said he wanted something new. I had written Joe Kidd, an original, for him. It was shot but not yet released. And he called up and said, Dirty Harry is making a lot of money everywhere, but he only had a few points in it, I gathered. Now he wanted to own his next property. What he wanted really was another Dirty Harry but different. And so I thought of Mr. Majestyk and I called him the next day and told him about a melon grower, just basically the situation, I’d just thought of it that minute. And he called back that night or rather just a little later that night and said he wasn’t seeing him as a melon grower, rather an artichoke farmer because artichokes were grown not far from where he lived.

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LEONARD: The trouble with…Bruce Willis’s screenplay that he gave me of Bandits—I read it and I spoke to him and I said, ‘This guy doesn’t understand, if you want to play yourself that’s one thing, with all this smart aleck stuff. If you wanna do that then it’s quite a different character.’ He said, ‘Yes, yes, I understand.’ I said, ‘Well, look at this line for example, when Delaney’s in the bar and he’s talking to this woman who’s got bruises on her, a go-go dancer. She walks away and he says to his friend, the ex-cop, “y’know every sixteen seconds in the United States a woman is physically abused?” And the bartender says, “you wouldn’t think so many women would get outta line.”’ Now, in the script he delivers the line and then, direction, grins and winks. I said, ‘No, he doesn’t grin, this is the guy’s mentality. Don’t tell the audience anything. If the audience thinks that’s fine, let ‘em laugh. Don’t tell ‘em anything.’ It’s like television, holding up applause cards.

MAY: So Willis is actually going to do the screenplay himself?

LEONARD: Oh, no. He had it done by the guy who rewrote Stick.

MAY: Oh, no!

LEONARD: Well, I haven’t seen it apart from those couple of scenes. It’s also the same guy who did Sudden Impact and City Heat, Joseph Stinson.

MAY: If I remember right, with Stick, they change the dialogue around. They take some lines from Barry Stamm, the millionaire character [George Segal], and give them to Burt Reynolds [as Stick] so the lead gets all the good lines. Reynolds gets to say the funny lines.

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from ‘In Australia: An Interview With Elmore Leonard’ by Anthony May (Contrappasso #2, December 2012)

Date: 21st February, 1994
Location: 3rd floor lobby, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 93 Macquarie Street, Sydney.

LEONARD: I did a script, did I tell you, last year with Billy Friedkin. Paramount had asked me to rewrite a script they had that was not unlike Basic Instinct, which had, that week, made $155 million gross. They had one kinda like it where a cop falls in love with a woman who’s involved in crime. And I said, no I don’t want to do it. But Friedkin was involved and he called and said, ‘Why don’t we do our own?’ So we talked it out over the phone and I wrote one set in Florida. He liked the idea, but he said, ‘I don’t like all these Cubans. Get rid of the Cubans. And the money laundering, and cocaine.’ Well, there was no cocaine in it but the money came from cocaine. There’s a guy who was laundering money for the Cubans and he has money sitting in his house at a particular time and by morning it won’t be there. There’s two and a half million dollars or something that he will send somewhere and by the time it comes back and gets into some land development it’s been cleaned and pressed. So he didn’t like that. He said, ‘Get rid of the Cubans and the money laundering.’ So I got rid of that. No, I didn’t get rid of the Cubans. Oh, and he said, ‘Play down the cop.’ Even though the cop was supposed to be falling in love with the woman. So I added a burglar. A burglar was in the house the night when these guys were with the woman, it’s an inside job, she opens the door for the guys to come in and pick up the money. But there happens to be a burglar in the house that night who we have met just before, posed as a carpet cleaner going through the house to see what he wanted and to unlock a window or something, a French door. So that he’s in the house when all this happens. Friedkin likes the burglar, he likes the girl, he likes the bad guy that comes in to get the money, but he doesn’t like the Cubans. ‘Get rid of the Cubans and the money laundering.’

So I went up to see him but in the meantime he’s married Sherry Lansing. Right in the middle of this deal [Brandon] Tartikoff leaves as Head of Production and Friedkin’s wife comes in as Head of Production. I said, ‘What happens to our deal now?’ They said, ‘Are you kidding, his wife’s running the studio!’ So I said, ‘Here’s the problem, here’s this guy, who’s kind of a wealthy guy, but if he’s not laundering money, what’s he doing with two or three million bucks sitting there in his house, cash?’ And Friedkin said, ‘Let’s think about it.’ I said, ‘My least favourite thing to do is to sit with someone and plot, why don’t I call you?’ So I left and my agent, Michael Siegel said, ‘Why don’t you just forget about it? You’ve gotten paid up to date, you’ve made enough money on this thing. Go write your book.’ I said, ‘I’m gonna give it three hours and see if I could think of why the money would be sitting there.’ So, back to the hotel. The next morning I woke up at five o’clock and I was gonna give it three hours. I was gonna read but I decided to just think instead. And it came in five minutes. Then I had to wait three hours to call Friedkin. So I called him up and I said, ‘There’s a televangelist who uses ESP powers. Open with him. He’s healing this little girl who stutters and he’s trying to get this little girl to say, “Praise Jesus”. And she can’t say it. So he lays his hands on her and does all this stuff. And she says, “Praise Jesus”. And there’s a collection. And the camera watches where the money goes. Some of it goes out to his limo. And the limo goes home and then you see the bag of money go in. There’s the money.’ He says, ‘I love it! Write it!’ It took about three weeks and I sent it to him. In the meantime he has started production on Blue Chips, a basketball picture. So I haven’t heard from him since then.

MAY: And what was that going to be called?

LEONARD: I had a good title for it too, Stinger. The guy who engineers this scam, the heist, is a fishing guy out on Lake Okeechobee and he designs fishing lures. And one of his lures is a stinger. And there’s some reference to the girl as a stinger. She’s the lure. He’s finished with Blue Chips which opened last week in the States but now I hear that he’s doing something with Peter Blatty, the Exorcist guy. So it’s OK with me. There’s so much of that done. They pay a lot of money for a script that just never gets off the shelf. But this is different. I used to write scripts like that for fifty thousand, a hundred thousand. This is six hundred thousand bucks and it’s just sitting there. They don’t care.

More extracts from Anthony May’s Elmore Leonard interviews will appear all week. The complete 65-page interview is available in Contrappasso issue #2, available in Paperback, Kindle Ebook, or other Ebook formats @ Smashwords.

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Elmore Leonard Week: Elmore on Research

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ON RESEARCH

from ‘Doing What I Do: An Interview With Elmore Leonard’ by Anthony May (Contrappasso #2, December 2012)

Dates: 1st-3rd July, 1991
Location: Elmore Leonard’s home in Birmingham, Michigan. The interview took place in Leonard’s study across his writing desk.

MAY: We were talking earlier about the time before you started working with Gregg Sutter, and the research that you used to do for yourself. Were there any sorts of reference books that were useful or was that done from more contingent sources, like you said about picking up material off MTV? Did you have any books that you would go to like crime reports or things like that? Did they help?

LEONARD: No, just the paper. The first time I did the piece for the Detroit News, ‘Impressions of Murder’ [1978], I had not done any research directly with the police. I had with newspapermen, like the crime reporter who took me to the morgue, a crime reporter who dealt with the cops. But I didn’t get into the details of procedures. I think the only research for the most part that I did outside of using settings around Detroit that I knew of or would visit was going to the library. If you look at my research boxes, you’ll see they are envelopes from the early books up to a box or two boxes for Killshot. I’ll show you what I have.

Elmore Leonard in front of police headquarters in 1978. (Detroit News)

Elmore Leonard in front of Detroit police headquarters in 1978. (Detroit News)

MAY: You’ve got notebooks and rolls of film…

LEONARD: I would never go to all this trouble myself. This one is all full of Bail Bondsman News. These are all newspaper pieces about bail bondsmen. This one, I think this one is a tape of ‘Demonstrations of Machine Guns’ and the voice-over tells what the guy’s firing, its rate of fire, the kind of cartridge it uses and all that. So I went through that one and I picked out maybe six or eight machine guns with a few facts and I described a movie that the character in the book had bought at a gun show. And he shows this to his customers who come from Columbia, Detroit and New York. He shows them this movie, you want an Uzi, you wanna TEC-9 and all that. And he sells them on it, see. He tells them how much. [Skipping through research box] Here’s some material on bounty hunters. Bounty hunters sometimes are hired by bail bondsmen.

MAY: And you get to read books like Gunrunning For Fun And Profit? So Gregg Sutter goes down and gathers all this material for you?

LEONARD: Yeah. These are parts of manuscripts. These are interviews with bail bondsmen. Mike Sandy, he’s the guy in the movie. This is the ATF file. This is the eating area [Looking at floorplan of a mall—a location in Rum Punch]. The food service area in the mall. I have about one, two, three scenes which take place in there. I would have never gone to this trouble before, before I had a researcher.

MAY: Presumably different aspects of this research feed into different things. I mean, some of it’s for detail and some of it’s for visualisation.

LEONARD: Yeah. [Still searching boxes] A letter from Medellín, drug capital of the world. So I took a few facts out of that and I have Ordell, the gun dealer, telling the jack boys—he has some young black guys working for him, in Florida, and they are called jack boys—who knock over street dealers and dope houses that love to go into the salt waters and shoot the place up and steal everything. So he’s got these young 18, 19 year old jack boys working for him and he tells them about the boys down in Medellín who are called pisto-locos, who are that version of the Columbian jack boys, and how many of them get killed each year and how they should be so happy that they were born in America.

MAY: A much healthier business to be in here.

LEONARD: Yeah. So I already know how I’m gonna use that material. This is where I break down the paragraphs once I get into the book just to help me find things when I look back.

MAY: This notebook? Does Chili Palmer come back in Rum Punch?

LEONARD: No, but I was considering that.

MAY: Has this complicated things at all, having this amount of material to draw on, or does it make life so much easier?

LEONARD: Oh, much easier. But I don’t have it all at once. All these things didn’t come until the very end. In fact, I thought all my research was finished then I decided I was gonna have more scenes in this big mall than I had originally. And Gregg Sutter was down there, he had gone down there for some reason, so I said, ‘take me some pictures’ and he called the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms agent, who’s part of the Treasury, and asked him a question, some technical thing that had to do with where I was up to in the book.

MAY: And that produces more stuff?

LEONARD: Yeah, right.

MAY: It seems to be such a different job researching this material from researching the westerns.

LEONARD: Oh, yeah. The westerns, what did I use? I did them with this, The Look of the Old West by Foster Harris. I would use just an old catalogue of westerns. And I used my Arizona Highways. I relied on Arizona Highways for my descriptions. I’d find a canyon or something, the kind I want, and then the caption would tell you what kind of rock it was and so on. It’s better than being there. Because when you’re out there you wouldn’t know if that was one kind of rock or another, you know. So using Arizona Highways, that worked.

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More extracts from Anthony May’s Elmore Leonard interviews will appear all week. The complete 65-page interview is available in Contrappasso issue #2, available in Paperback, Kindle Ebook, or other Ebook formats @ Smashwords.

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Elmore Leonard Week: Elmore on Killshot and Detroit

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ON KILLSHOT AND DETROIT

from ‘Doing What I Do: An Interview With Elmore Leonard’ by Anthony May (Contrappasso #2, December 2012)

Dates: 1st-3rd July, 1991
Location: Elmore Leonard’s home in Birmingham, Michigan. The interview took place in Leonard’s study across his writing desk.

MAY: And it’s interesting that you’ve located yourself around Detroit. Just yesterday, as we were driving around the downtown, I thought your novelistic descriptions of Detroit were almost like a guide book to the city. Streets connect, places are there. Do you find that’s more difficult to do when you are dealing with other cities, with Miami or the New Orleans of Bandits [1987]?

LEONARD: No. It’s not more difficult because I find out what neighborhoods I’m gonna use and I study maps. I was always referring to this particular map when doing Rum Punch and Maximum Bob. West Palm, Palm Beach, Palm Beach Shores.

MAY: You say that you don’t think of yourself in that tradition of Chandler and Hammett but that writing is always located within a city.

LEONARD: But if we had lived in Buffalo, then there’s still crime in Buffalo. I didn’t pick Detroit in particular. Some people think I chose Detroit because it was, at the time, the murder capital of the US and it has a reputation. In the movies they were always sending away to Detroit to get a hit man.

I think you can use any place, any place. In Killshot I was gonna make the Blackbird pure French-Canadian. Then I decided it would be too hard to handle his accent all the way through. So instead of being from Montreal he’s from Toronto and he’s half Ojibway Indian. But the idea for his character came from a documentary I saw probably six or seven years ago. It was done in 1979 about the Mafia in Montreal. The filmmakers would run down the street with their mikes trying to interview Mafia figures, y’know, and in one segment you see these two tough guys coming along and they stop ‘em with their mikes and these are the Dubois brothers. And the Dubois brothers think all the Mafia guys are punks. And they’re really tough guys. No respect for, no fear of the Mafia at all. And I thought, I want one of those Dubois brothers. But I gotta change him in order to handle him for 90,000 words.

MAY: I think it works really well in Killshot. Killshot is one of my personal favourites because I think you hit the tone with the husband and wife humour that’s just terrific. But, before I want to talk about that, I want to ask you about the strategy of having two contrasting baddies, baddies that contrast so greatly as Armand and Ritchie do.

LEONARD: Wayne, the ironworker, was gonna be the main character in Killshot but it was so obvious that I had to change it.

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MAY: There was a very good review by Michael Woods in the Times Literary Supplement. It was a review of a number of your books when a whole lot of your paperback books came out in Britain and yet he said that tenderness was a thing you couldn’t do. I thought that in Killshot you actually get round that very well. His review came out in 1985, and by the time you publish Killshot, that relationship between Wayne and Carmen has great tenderness in it.

LEONARD: That was ‘89.

MAY: I liked that stuff was where Wayne goes into his tales of the riverbank, when the ironworker, it’s almost the boy’s aspect. He finds a whole new set of toys on the river and almost a whole new terminology for him.

LEONARD: He likes that big stuff, thousands of tons. When I did his fantasy scenes up on the structure, when he does his fantasy, those are possible ways the story could have developed, directions that the reader might be thinking of. So, as soon as he has fantasized those things, they’re no longer possible. And then the reader might wonder, well what’s gonna happen with him?

….

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MAY: Moving away from your novels for a moment, I’d like to talk about the non-fiction that you’ve written. Can you tell me a little about writing the preface to the book on Detroit? [Balthazar Korab, Detroit: The Renaissance City, 1989].

LEONARD: It took me about three weeks to write two thousand words. Because it’s not something that I had an urge to write. I had no desire to write it. The only reason I did it was because the photographer’s a friend of mine. Then I had to decide, What do I think about Detroit? I had to do some research on its history, and to realise when I think of this city fondly at all it goes back to a time in the 30s and 40s, riding a street car downtown. By the late 50s that was all gone. It had changed completely. It was difficult. I get asked to write non-fiction a lot by magazines and newspapers and I have to explain to them, It’s not what I do. I’m not going to get my sound when I do that. My sound is a non-sound. My sound is the sound of the characters, not me. I don’t want to hear me. I don’t want to see me in there. I don’t know why they don’t understand that in the books I’m not there. I would have to have one of my characters write the piece on Miami or whatever.

MAY: In the case of the book on Detroit, you’re a local celebrity. You’re in a list of things that represent Detroit in this weekend’s Free Press along with the Ford factory. You’re a local identity. You say that Detroit all changed in the 50s. What sort of changes occurred?

LEONARD: The fact that 700,000 people left town and moved out to the suburbs. I think at first because assembly plants moved out. Automotive assembly plants were located all around the country rather than just here. It just became easier to assemble and move around the finished product. I suppose it comes down to foreign competition, especially the Japanese, that the automotive companies here misjudged it. And finally it’s too late. It’s the same thing that’s been happening in large industrial centers all over the United States where worldwide competition beats us in making steel and producing automobiles. We’re not the leaders anymore. Oh, we still produce more cars than anybody but not to the point where we can be cocky about it. I don’t know, everybody doesn’t work in the auto plants but there are the related industries, of course. In Hamtramck, though, there were 40,000 people worked in Dodge-Main in three shifts. That’s a lot. That was probably half the working people in the town. So then they tear that down. Dodge-Main is razed and replaced with a little Cadillac assembly plant that’s full of robotics and it employs maybe 3,000. I don’t know what happened. Best restaurant in downtown Detroit closed last week. London Chop House. It was good. We were there a couple of weeks before it closed. I’d always thought that it was the best restaurant in town. No question about it. I think it just didn’t have the business. People are afraid to go downtown. And I’m sure that you can go there safely. You drive up to the place, somebody takes your car, you walk in, y’know? But they don’t have the lunch trade they used to have because there aren’t as many people in the office buildings downtown. Doubleday bookstore closed on Saturday. There’s nobody downtown. Hudson’s department store and that was it. That was the reason to go downtown. Get on a street car and go down. If you wanted to go to Windsor, just for something to do, you’d ride on the ferry.

MAY: It’s closing down now but what was it like before this? It’s obvious to anyone what downtown Detroit is like now. It’s so easy to experience. You just go down there and there’s no one about. What was it like before the change, back in the 50s?

LEONARD: It was alive. It was a vibrant, big city downtown with a lot of cars and streetcars and buses. In the blocks around Hudson’s department store, it was always crowded. You came up Woodward about three miles from downtown, you came to Grand Boulevard, Fisher Building off to your left a couple of blocks, and five more blocks north of there is where I lived through most of the 30s. And then another ten blocks north of there, in Highland Park, I lived in an apartment building. And then a couple of more miles out to Six Mile Road, when I was going to University of Detroit I lived in an apartment building there by the park. Then two more miles to Eight Mile Road was the next place that I moved when I was married the first time. Followed by Twelve Mile Road. Then we came out to Birmingham in ‘61. That’s from Twelve Mile to Fifteen Mile. Then Joan and I got married in ‘79. I like the city. I used to go to black clubs a lot. That was in the late 40s when I was going to school. I’d go to black dance clubs all the time and some nights I might be the only white guy in there but usually there were a few others. And there was no problem.

MAY: What sort of people used to play there?

LEONARD: Let’s see. There would be small jazz groups up on bandstands behind the bar. In the 40s, when I was in high school, I used to go to Perry Lanes Theatre in the afternoon sometime after school or in the evening to hear the big bands. And they were all black bands in the Paradise. They’d go from the Paradise to the Apollo in New York.

MAY: Do you still listen to jazz?

LEONARD: In my car, I have the radio set on a jazz station.

More extracts from Anthony May’s Elmore Leonard interviews will appear all week. The complete 65-page interview is available in Contrappasso issue #2, available in Paperback, Kindle Ebook, or other Ebook formats @ Smashwords.

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Elmore Leonard Week: Elmore on Rum Punch and Point-Of-View

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ON RUM PUNCH, AND POINT-OF-VIEW

from ‘Doing What I Do: An Interview With Elmore Leonard’ by Anthony May (Contrappasso #2, December 2012)

Dates: 1st-3rd July, 1991
Location: Elmore Leonard’s home in Birmingham, Michigan. The interview took place in Leonard’s study across his writing desk.

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MAY: On dialogue, I came across a piece where crime writers were asked to name their ten favourite books and they had all these lists, and you put down just one book, George V. Higgins’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970). Dialogue is outstanding in that book, and there are a couple of things that I’ve wondered about in relation to that. What does dialogue do that other forms of description can’t? One of the things that I like in your work is the way you extend certain points of view by way of dialogue, you present a character through dialogue, and then you continue it in description, in a very productive way.

LEONARD: Exactly. I don’t know if I mentioned that in the documentary [Mike Dibbs’s Elmore Leonard’s Criminal Records (1991)], but once I decide the point of view of a scene, then that character’s sound will permeate the narrative, will continue on through, because everything you see in that scene is from that character’s point of view and you won’t know what anybody else is thinking until you come to a place on the page where I’ve skipped down a few spaces and got into someone else’s head. And it could be in the middle of a dialogue situation, a scene, where I do it is beside the point but I won’t mix up points of view. I’m a stickler for that because I think I do so much more with it than most writers. With most writers it’s a case of, here’s the scene and the people are talkin’ and then you’re back into the viewpoint of this omniscient author again. I want to keep it down there. I want to keep it in the story.

I was at a Santa Barbara writers’ conference a couple of weekends ago, and I listened to the students, reading. And they all use adverbs, ‘She sat up abruptly.’ And I tried to explain that those words belong to the author, the writer, and when you hear that word there’s just that little moment where you’re pulled out of the seat. Especially by that sound, that soft L-Y sound. Lee. So often it doesn’t fit with what’s goin’ on, y’know. I mean, if a person sits up in bed, they sit up in bed. You don’t have to tell how they sit up in bed. Especially with what’s goin’ on. In this instance, she sat up in bed ‘cause she hears a pickup truck rumbling by outside very slowly and she knows who it is. So you know how she sat up in bed. And in her mind she’s saying, ‘It’s that fuckin’ pickup truck’. She knows it is. And then there’s another, say, half a page or so of inside the character’s head and the phone rings. She gets out of bed and feels her way over and almost knocks a lamp down. And she passes this stack of self-help books, on the desk, and picks up the phone. And I suggested to the young woman who wrote this, ‘Save the fuckin’ pickup, drop the fuckin’ adverb, and put it with the self-help books and it’ll say a lot more about your character.’ See, it’s little things like that. The contrast works better.

MAY: I think that thing of not having a character working like that ‘I’ point of view all the time, by shifting to third person, the way you use that technique of point of view…

LEONARD: Gets a first person sound.

MAY: Yes, it gives a lot of license to that.

LEONARD: The trouble with first person is that you’re so limited.

MAY: Your mentioning self-help books in that young woman’s writing made me think of what seems a recurrent theme in your writing, the different things people use in order to make sense of their circumstances. Way back in 52 Pickup (1974), the Harry Mitchell character is in this situation and all he has is a set of management techniques by which to understand a kidnap and a killing. He has these management seminars, that’s the only thing he knows to use to help organize himself to get through this.

LEONARD: Yeah well, I don’t remember that in detail, but I remember that there was a parallel between the situation in his plant, with the slow-down, and what was happening in his personal life.

MAY: On that idea of characters who do or don’t fall back on failsafe devices for helping themselves, I really liked that reference in the [documentary] to handwriting analysis where Carmen in Killshot (1989) sorts herself out by straightening up her l’s or something like that.

LEONARD: And I believe that could work. You can change your handwriting and improve your personality or your mental state, your attitude. Because you just tell yourself that this is what you’re doing, that’s half of it, y’know? So when she starts writing upright, she picks herself up. But she won’t [analyse] her mother’s [handwriting] because there’s nothing good to say.

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MAY: On point of view and the practice of extending point of view from dialogue into those descriptive passages which follow, I’ve always thought that must be very difficult to translate into film. Have you thought how to get around that or is that just a filmmaker’s problem?

LEONARD: Yes, it’s a filmmaker’s problem and, no, because the thing which makes my stories, my books, the style, and the references that are made using this point of view, are not visual. You lose all that. By the time you take these 359 pages down to 110-120 page script, all of this stuff’s gone. Or, most of it.

One example of really using point of view in this way is in Rum Punch [1992]. Max Cherry, the bail bondsman, is on the phone when this black guy comes into his office and I start out with just this much as Max’s point of view:

Monday afternoon, Renee called Max at his office to say she needed twelve hundred and fifty dollars right away and wanted him to bring her a check. Renee was at her gallery in The Gardens Mall on PGA Boulevard. It would take Max a half-hour at least to drive up there.

He said, “Renee, even if I wanted to, I can’t. I’m waiting to hear from a guy. I just spoke to the judge about him.” He had to listen then while she told him she had been trying to get hold of him. “That’s where I was, at court. I got your message on the beeper… I just got back, I haven’t had time… Renee, I’m working for Christ sake.” Max paused, holding the phone to his ear. He looked up to see a black guy in a yellow sport coat standing in his office. A black guy with shiny hair holding a Miami Dolphins athletic bag. Max said, “Renee, listen a minute, okay? I got a kid’s gonna do ten fucking years if I don’t get hold of him and take him in and you want me to… Renee.”

Max replaced the phone.

The black guy said, “Hung up on you, huh? I bet that was your wife.”

The guy smiling at him.

Max came close to saying, yeah, and you know what she said to me? He wanted to. Except that it wouldn’t make sense to tell this guy he didn’t know, had never seen before…

The black guy saying, “There was nobody in the front office, so I walked in. I got some business.”

The phone rang. Max picked it up, pointing to a chair with his other hand and said, “Bail Bonds.” (pp. 11-12)

[There is a slight variation between the manuscript and the published text.]

So I saved what his wife said to him until a little bit later when somebody else comes in. ‘Cause he’s not gonna tell this guy. But now it’s this guy’s point of view.

Ordell heard him say, “It doesn’t matter where you were, Reggie, you missed your hearing. Now I have to… Reg, listen to me, okay?” This Max Cherry speaking in a quieter voice than he used on his wife.

This is now Ordell’s point of view, see.

Talking to her had sounded painful. Ordell placed his athletic bag on an empty desk that faced the one Max Cherry was at and got out a cigarette.

So then there’s all this from Ordell’s point of view (a little description, then Ordell overhearing Max’s conversation):

[Max] could be Eyetalian, except Ordell had never met a bail bondsman wasn’t Jewish. Max was telling the guy now the judge was ready to habitualize him. “That what you want, Reg? Look at ten years instead of six months and probation? I said, ‘Your Honor, Reggie has always been an outstanding client. I know I can find him right now…’“

Ordell, lighting the cigarette, paused as Max paused.

“‘…outstanding on the corner by his house.’“

Listen to him. Doing standup.

“I can have the capias set aside, Reg…” (pp. 12-13)

So you see this exchange, it’s hard to separate ‘outstanding’ and I’ve put it in the wrong place, that’s why you see that. So you’ve got two different things going on at the same time, in that use of point of view.

MAY: Do you try to develop that as a specific technical interest as you write or is it more an intuitive sense of how the writing is working?

LEONARD: It just happens. I come at it and use it. I like the idea of levels of things going on. To try and do that. Then you come to the end of the scene, he wants to bond a guy out. Costs ten thousand dollars, and he says:

[Ordell] stopped and looked back. “I got one other question. What if, I was just thinking, what if before the court date gets here Beaumont gets hit by a car or something and dies? I get the money back, don’t I?”

*

What he was saying was, he knew he’d get it back. The kind of guy who worked at being cool, but was dying to tell you things about himself. He knew the system, knew the main county lockup was called the Gun Club jail, after the street it was on. He’d served time, knew Louis Gara and drove a Mercedes convertible. What else you want to know? (p. 17)

So now we’re back on Max’s point of view.

More extracts from Anthony May’s Elmore Leonard interviews will appear all week. The complete 65-page interview is available in Contrappasso issue #2, available in Paperback, Kindle Ebook, or other Ebook formats @ Smashwords.

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