Elmore Leonard is the coolest man in America. He just turned 85, still smokes, likes Mad Men, thinks Stieg Larsson's books are boring, and couldn't care less about social networking. Ask him about e-books and you can't finish the question before he answers: don't know, don't care.
"I did two interviews last week, both of them started with a digital question. I said, ‘Wait. I write my books longhand.' Long pause. I think I cut out two-thirds of their questions."
Leonard's been writing longhand for 60 years. Before his writing earned enough to keep him and his wife afloat, he worked in advertising in Detroit, pulling down $125 a month until Truman increased the minimum wage in 1949, giving Leonard a $10 bump. So it wasn't quite like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce for young Leonard, banging out copy for Chevrolet ads.
"I never saw people drink so much," he says of Mad Men. "I was in advertising at the end of that time, and we didn't walk around with drinks. We didn't even smoke that much. Those guys always have a cigarette going."
His 44th book, Djibouti, just landed in stores. It's trademark Leonard: all substance, no filler, funny, sometimes outrageous, and instantly knowable as a product of the imagination of a guy who's been called the best crime writer in America. He started with westerns, selling them to pulps that paid two cents a word or less. He caught a break with 3:10 to Yuma, a $90 story that Hollywood picked up for $4,500 in the late 1950s—but he ground it out for decades before hitting the New York Times bestseller list. Now Leonard's books live there; film rights are a hot commodity; and, even if you've never read Leonard, you've surely seen movies or TV shows based on his novels: Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, 3:10 to Yuma (twice), Out of Sight, and on and on. Leonard writes lean, fast, and dialogue-heavy—perfect for film.
By 8:30 the once-a-week Air France was in, the stairway wheeled up and a gang of Arabs and Dara Barr coming off, the Foreign Legion checking out the passengers, seeing could they tell a terrorist they saw one.
The British edition of the book has a cover line calling it a "western on water."
"It's great," Leonard says. "I wanted to use that."
And though the book's just out and he's still doing the press rounds for it, he's already deep into his next: the return of Raylan Givens, the U.S. marshal hero of Pronto and Riding the Rap, and the star of the FX series, Justified, entering its second season and executive produced by Leonard.
"They need real story lines to go with it, so I'm writing three," he says. "What they don't use I'm going to sell as a book."