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Elmore Leonard on 'Raylan' and 'Justified'

Elmore Leonard discusses the moral ambiguity of his protagonist, the struggle to make good guys as interesting as villains, and his thoughts on 'Justified,' the TV series based on his work.

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Leonard introduced Givens in earlier short stories and novels, but is writing about him now for the first time since cable network FX made the character the centerpiece of the critically acclaimed "Justified" series. Timothy Olyphant plays the role to perfection, capturing Leonard’s wise-guy charm and steely, shoot-em-up bravado. The novel arrives just as "Justified" begins its third season Jan. 17.

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Leonard recently discussed the TV show, the book and what comes next during a telephone interview from his home in Michigan. Following are edited excerpts from that conversation.

On why he wrote "Raylan": I figured I should do something since they were paying me as an executive producer [for the show]. I can’t just sit here, I’ve got to do something. But I didn’t ask them what they were doing and try to tie in with it, I just wrote my own things. It worked out so they could use a little bit here and there.

On how his approach changes because of the TV show: That didn’t bother me because as soon as I met [Raylan] in earlier books, I liked him a lot. He just seemed to work. He seemed easygoing, but serious, too.

But seeing him now [as a TV character] just reinforces my feeling about it. That he’s the guy. [Timothy Olyphant] is probably the best one to do one of my characters. [The late actor] Richard Boone would recite the lines exactly the way I heard them, he was in a couple of movies [based on Leonard works], but this guy’s perfect. He’s the good guy. Richard Boone was always the bad guy.

On whether portions of the book will be used in the show: It already has. There were some references in the second year. They were minor scenes, but they were from the book. I don’t think they did enough with my character who works for the mining company. She was in last year – they may bring her back. I hope they do.

On the novel’s villains, including the murderous mining executive and crooks trading in excised body organs: Well, I don’t know why I decided to do three girls there [as criminals], but then the third girl, who played poker, wasn’t that menacing at all. She wasn’t that bad. So then I added this guy who is dressed like a girl when Raylan shoots him. I have a good time but I take it seriously. Nobody’s laughing or clowning around.

On why he likes Raylan: The fact that he’s not shady, but there is some question about him. The way he disposes, for example, of moonshine. Things that he says about the laws. He’s not 100 percent on the good side.

He does his job and he’s very good at it. And he always has that last line when the bad guy says something, he comes back with a line. It may take me weeks to think of that line, but I go back and stick it in. That’s the beauty of being able to write it in a book. You’ve got time to get everybody’s character the way you want.

On his characters’ tendency to relate to each other no matter which side they’re on: I want the reader to know what’s going on. So there’s never a mystery in my books. You’ll meet the bad guys, I’ll spend enough time with the bad guys because they’re interesting. A friend of mine who is in the publishing business knew I was writing a book and he said, “Have you said anything yet about the good guy? Because I know you spend so much time with the bad guys.”

Because they’re fun. So then you have to make the good guy fun, in order to compete. That’s the challenge.

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