Crime great Elmore Leonard’s previously unpublished short stories are finally a reality! To celebrate the Charlie Martz and Other Stories collection, Orion’s Paul Hussey introduces the moving foreword written by Elmore’s son, Peter Leonard.
It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly two years since Elmore Leonard passed away. It’s even harder for me to believe that this year is the twentieth anniversary of reading my first Elmore Leonard novel (Get Shorty). Twenty years. Elmore had been writing since the 1950s, over twenty-five years before I was born. I feel like such a fraud saying I’m a fan of his when I’ve only been reading his work for two decades.
His death still makes me very sad, which is a little irrational seeing as I only met the man once and talked with him for about five minutes, about The Rock amusingly. That’s my claim to fame, I talked with Elmore Leonard about the professional wrestler turned actor The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) and I still think of that now. Meeting Elmore Leonard had a far deeper effect on my life than I’m sure meeting me had on his and I wish he was still alive so I could tell him that my youngest son is named after my favourite of his many wonderfully written characters. I can even imagine how the conversation would go:
‘Hello, Mr Leonard. I named my son after one of your characters.’
‘Oh yeah, what is it?’
The hole he’s left is still massive and the thought of no new works coming out from this legend is a bitter pill to swallow so the release of previously unpublished early short fiction Charlie Martz and Other Stories is a godsend. Just like he was.
Foreword by Peter Leonard
MORE THAN ANYONE, YOU’LL see Hemingway’s influence in Elmore’s early prose. When my father was just starting he told me he would put a blank piece of paper over the page of a Hemingway story and rewrite the scene his way. It’s how he learned to write.
I remember when I was seven or eight, going down the stairs to the basement, seeing my dad at his red desk, a cinderblock wall behind him, concrete floor. He was writing longhand on unlined, eight-and-a-half-by-eleven yellow paper. There was a typewriter on a metal stand next to the desk. Across the room was a red wicker waste basket with balls of yellow paper on the floor around it. Scenes that didn’t work. Pages that didn’t make it.
In retrospect, the room looked like a prison cell but my father, deep in concentration, didn’t seem conscious of his surroundings.
I said, “Dad, what’re you writing?”
“A short story called Charlie Martz.”
I think I said something profound like, “Oh.”
Elmore got the name from his best friend, Bill Martz. Bill didn’t work as well for the character, so he changed the name to Charlie.
While my father was writing the stories in this volume he worked at Campbell-Ewald, an advertising agency, writing Chevrolet ads. For almost a decade he got up at 5:00 A.M. and wrote two pages of fiction before he went to work. His rule: he couldn’t turn the water on for coffee, until he wrote a page. This routine continued until Elmore quit the advertising business. One day he said, “I’m gonna make my run.” Which meant he was going to write fiction full time.
These stories also remind me of growing up with my father. Eating beans out of tin plates while we watched a Western on TV. My dad said beans tasted better on a tin plate and he was right.
They remind me of playing hide and seek with guns. My brothers and sisters and I would hide somewhere in the house and when Elmore found us we’d shoot him. He loved the game as much as we did; he was a kid at heart.
They remind me of the bullfight poster that hung in our family room, a dramatic shot of Manolete holding his sword and cape ready to finish off a charging bull. Elmore loved the idea of the matador, dressed in his outfit, putting on a show, knowing any mistake might be his last.
And they remind me that my father was always writing. I can picture him in the family room, lost in thought, working on Hombre while I was twenty feet away with two friends, listening to the new Jimi Hendrix album. Elmore said he wrote eight pages that afternoon.
I can picture him on Easter break in Pompano Beach, Florida, sitting by the pool filled with kids playing, and surrounded by their parents talking and drinking vodka and tonics, Elmore, once again, oblivious to his surroundings, writing on a yellow pad.
In these early stories you’ll see Elmore experimenting with style, trying to find his voice, his sound. You’ll see him start a story with weather. You’ll see him use adverbs to modify the verb
“said.” You’ll see him describe characters in detail, breaking several of the famous 10 Rules of Writing he developed almost fifty years later. And you’ll also see glimpses of Elmore’s greatness to come.