RARA-AVIS: Re: Leonard's influences (was: Hunter and Leonard)

From: Al Guthrie ( allanguthrie@ukonline.co.uk)
Date: 30 Mar 2003

----- Original Message ----- From: "Dick Lochte" < dlochte@adelphia.net>
> Wasn't Leonard's claim that he had learned nothing from either
> Chandler or Hammett? I don't see how anybody writing in the crime
> field today can say that and mean it. I'm thinking primarily of
> Hammett here. The Black Mask boys, with Hammett as the most
> visible, put a distinctive stamp on crime fiction that influenced
> everything in the genre that came after. I wonder if there was a
> follow up question: if Hammett wasn't an influence, then who?
> Perhaps like Robert Parker, Leonard is a Melville man.

On his website, Leonard lists his rules of writing. http://elmoreleonard.com/archives/010elrules.htm He mentions Conrad, Steinbeck and Hemingway in such a way as to imply they were influential.

There's this from a Guardian interview at http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/crime/story/0,6000,882253,00.html
"Leonard learnt his trade slowly. As a boy, he got into popular fiction from his mother's book-of-the-month club. By the early Fifties, he was reading Steinbeck and John O'Hara. 'I liked the way both always had a lot of people talking,' he says, 'and then I discovered Hemingway. I learnt a lot of my style from him, but he had no sense of humour, so I had to look elsewhere for that.'"

Incidentally (but no less interestingly), in the same article:
" The New York Times critic suggested his Christmas wish was that when the likes of 'Cormac McCarthy, Michael Ondaatje and Toni Morrison, to name but three, looked under their trees, they found that some kind soul had been thoughtful enough to send them a copy of this book' [Leonard's "When The Women Come Out To Dance"] - in order to teach them how to write."

From an NY Times interview in 1983: http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/02/08/home/leonard-23books.html (you'll need to register)
"Mr. Leonard has been compared to Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald but disclaims any literary kinship. ''There's no similarity in style or subject matter,'' he says. ''I was more influenced by Hemingway, Steinbeck, John O'Hara and James Cain.''"

From 1984: http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/02/08/home/leonard-rogue.html
"He doesn't write Raymond Chandler-style detective stories, either. He hasn't read Chandler or Dashiell Hammett in 40 years, and he doesn't think he's ever read a Ross Macdonald mystery."

In the same article Leonard cites further influences:
"Leonard says he learned the importance of dialogue from Hemingway, whom he counts as his principal literary mentor (ahead of - not surprisingly - James M. Cain and - surprisingly - Mark Harris and Richard Bissell, two offbeat novelists from the 1950's from whom Leonard presumably learned something
"about irreverence and humor").

Again in the same article:
"Leonard's own literary voice is stripped-down and clean - again, more like Hemingway than the occasionally overwrought prose of a Raymond Chandler. ''I never, never do images or metaphors,'' he once told an interviewer. ''The second reason is that they slow everything down. The first reason is that I'm no good at them, and I don't do what I don't do well.''"

In 1977 Newgate Callendar makes the now obvious comparison when reviewing
"Unknown Man No. 89": http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/02/08/home/leonard-unknown.html
"But it really is wrong to talk of this writer in terms of Chandler and Macdonald. He has little in common with those two. They are "clean" writers; there is no profanity to speak of in Chandler, and Macdonald has never been an exponent of the verismo school of speech. Leonard is. The real influence on Leonard is George V. Higgins, whose "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" came out about five years ago and marked a breakthrough into the kind of language previously encountered only in paperback books with green covers: Even had he wanted to, Chandler, say, would not in his time have been allowed to reproduce the speech of the criminal subculture, with four-letter words as numerous as cockroaches in a tenement flat."

The Guardian cites his influences as: http://books.guardian.co.uk/authors/author/0,5917,96563,00.html
"A serialisation of All Quiet On The Western Front in the Detroit Times when a child; Richard Bissell; Hemingway (when Leonard first discovered him, he thought "here's a guy I can learn from")."

A couple of observations from Business Week (those of a sensitive disposition look away now): http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/jan2003/nf2003017_0041.htm
"Leonard is one of those man's-man writers whose bare-bones style is influenced by old-fashioned (out-of-fashion, actually) male storytellers such as Ernest Hemingway, John O'Hara, and John Steinbeck....He uses very little description in his stories and none of the windy exposition you'll sometimes find in works by other great crime writers, such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler". And another Hemingway comparison:
"Hanging Out at the Buena Vista, the second story in the new collection, is clearly modeled on Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants, one of the greatest very short stories ever written, and one that Leonard deeply admires."

In another interview Leonard states: http://www.theonionavclub.com/avclub3808/avfeature_3808.html
"It takes 10 or 15 years to get confidence in the style that you want to develop. I saw Hemingway doing it, and I see other writers doing it. I was impressed by John O'Hara's dialogue."


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