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.
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.
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.