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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On why he chose Kentucky for the setting: Because I used moonshine as the industry going on there. They produce more moonshine than, I think, any state, with the exception of California and Hawaii. All those miners out of work are growing marijuana, trying to make a living.Skip to next paragraph
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On plot elements inspired by his researcher: Gregg Sutter, he sends me material all the time. Constantly. And he arranges things for me. He’s in L.A., but he does everything for me. I couldn’t get along without him. He’s far advanced on all the electronic stuff. He’s got everything. He comes to see me and he shows me things I can’t believe. Stacks of material I need for my research.
On his approach: I’ve always tried to use as much dialogue as possible to keep the thing going. So you know the state of mind of all the people. I don’t have to just sit and describe it. If I get them into a conversation, it’s a lot easier. That’s why I use so much dialogue. Maybe I’m getting lazy, but it seems to me I’m using more dialogue than ever before. You get what they’re thinking out loud.
On finding ideas: It is [harder], because [after] 45 books, I’ve used just about everything. When I get an idea for a book, something appeals to me, it’s usually a character. I’ll see a picture of a female marshal in front of the courthouse in Miami and she’s got a shotgun on her hip and it goes up on an angle. And she’s good-looking. And I say, “I’ve got to use her.”
On Raylan as a contemporary Old West hero: The critics have been calling Raylan a cowboy with his hat. The hat came unexpectedly [with the show]. I had described kind of a businessman’s Stetson, a smaller Stetson. The one all the cops were wearing when Jack Ruby shot [Lee Harvey Oswald].
But evidently he found his own hat and design. It’s perfect. I don’t see him bareheaded. He seems to need a hat to define who he is.
On the quality of the show: It’s got great writers. I’m amazed at the writing. They’re all so real and the accents are so good. They sound like those people
On his next book: I’m writing a book called "Sweetmary." Sweetmary is a privately run prison in Arizona. There are three Apache Indian boys who are 20 and one of them is a bull rider and he wins, he stays on three bulls for eight seconds each in the Indian rodeo and wins $4,000. And he and his two friends, who are bull handlers, all go out to celebrate. They’re having a good time drinking tequila and beer-chasers and the guy at the next table is with immigration enforcement.
He takes exception to these boys and they mouth off at him and he throws them in jail. They don’t have identification. He’s the bad guy.
But I want to bring Raylan in. I need Raylan in this one.
Erik Spanberg is a regular contributor to the Monitor's book section.