Elmore Leonard (YGtCTO Words #60)

Get Shorty

Novel written by Elmore Leonard

Being a working artist means producing work on some sort of regular schedule. This generally means that any artist that wants to support themselves as such has produced a small body of work within a few years. That probably feels like a long time and a lot of work while it is happening, but no one who “discovers” the artist down-the-road necessarily looks at all the work ever created by that lone person. Generally speaking, consumers dip their toes into an artist’s body of work by looking, reading, listening to one piece. If they don;t like it, they may not even give it a full absorption- they walk away or toss the book aside.

It seems to me that a large volume of work mainly serves to present the appearance of legitimacy (the artist has added significantly to our cultural capital) with subsequent attention from a growing audience. This would be the theory of if-you-make-it-the audience-will-appear theory of self-support as an artist. Everyone starts out this way, from Britney Spears to Oliver Stone. Note that this theory is virtually useless for defining how survival funding is received for those difficult initial years.

As an odd side-note, there is probably a good reason to consider how all this applies to earlier models of art that relied on patronage and apprenticeship. In many ways, the democratization of art creation, I suspect, has not damaged craftsmanship so much as created a surfeit of art made equal by commercialization, thus making critics, scholars and general audiences codependent with mediocre artists. Then again, who knows what great artists lived out their lives as shepherds? Doubtless, it still happens, but it seems less likely that someone hasn’t uploaded a video of them playing their flute or whatever.

the work occurs and then the rapid explosion of popularity. (That would be rapid in retrospect. It’s never fast enough in real time.)

Elmore Leonard

What does all this have to do with Elmore Leonard? I started thinking how every author is not for everyone. As readers, we really do go through authors with very personal discernment. That’s fine. We need to discard a lot if we’re going to have time for the words that interest us.

And I think Elmore Leonard is a great example of the sort of writer that people love or skip. His style feels distinctive with its crisp dialogue and precise descriptions. I suspect the people who avoid his work, however, do so because the story-lines can often be brutal.

Also, Leonard feels cinematic to me, despite the accolades for gritty realism. I could see how that might be a turn-off. If you’re reading a book, then you want to read a book, not watch a movie. As for the gritty realism, I don’t know- I’m pretty sure the only criminals that behave like fictional characters are the ones who have seen the movies or read the books. And even they might not be so flamboyant when they’re not being watched.

But none of that matters when the prose glistens like this. Leonard walks this miraculous line where you know those words have sweat poured into them, but you can’t see the seams.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 121 more to go.

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