RARA-AVIS: Re: Elmore leonard and ROAD DOGS (and tales out of school)

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@sbcglobal.net)
Date: 12 Sep 2010

  • Next message: David Corbett: "RARA-AVIS: Re: Elmore leonard and ROAD DOGS (and tales out of school)"

    David wrote:

    > Turns out Joe has long used the term "road dog," a phrase he picked up in federal stir, and it appears in his book and his one-man show. One of Leonard's assistants contacted him asking if Leonard could use the term, and wanted to know what it meant, how it was used, the nuances, etc. Joe said sure, filled the assistant in, who then went merrily on his way.

    They asked him if they could use the term? If it was in common usage, ev en just in federal stir, why would they need any permission? It's not like he coined the word himself, and you can't copyright the usage of a word in a case like this anyway.

    If so, imagine how Hammett could have made out with "gunsel" or Chandler with the "big sleep."

    > A little while later Joe gets a copy of the manuscript. A very nice note of appreciation appears at the beginning, naming Joe. But then he reads the text, and realizes Leonard has ignored some pretty serious points: such as, you don't sleep with your road dog's girlfriend. (Anyone who knows cons knows respect is a key theme, and disrespect a potentially deadly offense). It's dishonorable, and yet Jack Foley does it in this book (I think, I'm going on hearsay here).

    > So Joe makes some notes on the manuscript, sends it back. Then: nothing. Until the book comes out. Guess what? The note of appreciation has vanished, none of Joe's notes were addressed, and he's feeling a little burned.

    Yes, he does sleep with her. But he's troubled by it, and his betrayal is a major factor in the story. It isn't something treated lightly. I don't think anyone reading the book would think Leonard has ignored the point. And it's partially the guilt that Foley feels that sparks his decisions later on.

    Anyway, notes can be a lot of things. Was the "note of appreciation" part of the actual typeset manuscript, or was it a personal note to Joe, perhaps never intended to be part of the book?

    > Life in the lit world? Yeah. Sure.

    Life in the slammer, too. I'm assuming Joe and his road dogs weren't put in prison for their overwhelming honesty. And I've been on the fringes of publishing and writing long enough to know that lots of people, cons or not, have an exaggerated opinion of their contributions to someone else's fiction.

    I once corresponded with a woman once who intended to sue Dick Francis for everything he had for a) using her life story without her permission, and b) changing it all around so nobody would ever recognize it.

    More recently, I had to contact Robert Skinner, who does the Wesley Farrell books about a 1930s New Orleans nightclub owner, and give him a heads up because another woman (who seemed even more unstable than the Francis woman) was coming to see him. She'd announced to me (presumably because of my web site) that "that bastard" had dishonoured some of her family members, using one of their names, even, stealing their history but changing "all the facts." She was going to the university where Skinner worked (she'd tracked him down through the internet but couldn't get through to him on the phone) to confront him in person and get some "justice". When I spoke to him, Skinner didn't seem overly concerned, but poor sheltered Canadian that I am, all I could think is "Crazy lady with a gun!"

    I don't think she ever even showed up.

    But hey, maybe Joe is telling the truth. There isn't any real honour among thieves (or politicians, for that matter), but occasional outbursts have been spotted. Admittedly, Leonard does, as Lawrence Block so famously put it, "tell lies for fun and profit."

    > But the one-eighty from respect to dismissal, and insertion then removal of the appreciation kinda stinks. Who knows what the whole story is.

    > Joe inquired, the assistant blamed Leonard, I wonder if the lawyers publishers didn't step in. But I can't see myself running out to buy the book.

    That's a shame because, as you said, who knows what the whole story is?

    And really, in the end, it's what's on the page, not how it got there or who put it there, that matters.

    Me, I read it and enjoyed it quite a bit. It's not great Leonard, but it's definitely a fun read, one of his shaggy dog tales about a bunch of mostly affable scoundrels all trying to outfox each other, with some genuinely funny bits, and some great characters. It went down very well with a few beers sitting in the backyard this summer.

    Kevin Burton Smith Editor/Founder The Thrilling Detective Web Site
    "Wasting your time on the web since 1998."

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