January 28, 2023

Elmore Leonard’s Detroit or Alison Krauss & Nashville

In the van’s rear window was the sign “Nashville or Bust.” The van’s driver turned onto I-75 and sped south out of metro Detroit, weaving in and out of traffic gone, gone, gone, like Detroit’s done him wrong. Nashville and Alison Krauss here he comes. Ohio state police and their notorious speed traps weren’t going to slow this guy down from pursuing his dream.

Detroiters can make paper airplanes and throw them to Nashville. Rob Bliss, the producer of the Grand Rapids American Pie lip dub music video, had a 2009 ArtPrize where he dropped 100,000 paper airplanes over Grand Rapids. Detroit is in need of a paper airplane party. Or become a sister city to the town of Bust in France.

100,000 paper airplanes dropped over Grand Rapids

Former Detroiter Jack White of White Stripes was named City Ambassador for Nashville. How many more days can metro Detroiters smile with a frown, knowing in their soul it’s almost over, singing the lyrics to Alison Krauss & Union Station’s  Paper Airplane like the van driver with the “Nashville or Bust” sign must have done, the Motown sun growing cold on his shoulder and love for Detroit dying in the rear view mirror.

Elmore Leonard still writing from Detroit, credit Noah Adams/NPR

Elmore Leonard, Detroit’s great crime writer, won’t move or stop writing crime novels which he had been doing by hand for six decades. From a story on Elmore Leonard by NPR last year.

Elmore Leonard, At Home in Detroit

“On a nice day in Detroit, you might take your kids to Bell Isle, near downtown, to feed the geese. Or, if you’re a crime writer, you might set a scene here. Perhaps, in the icy dark, a murder weapon goes into the Detroit River, or a car blows up on the bridge.

Leonard still remembers when Detroit had 700 murders a year. And any tour of Leonard’s city will stop in front of the police headquarters on Beaubien, at No. 1300. Leonard spent long weeks at the station, and in the bars nearby, listening to the homicide detectives. He recalls sitting in the courtroom at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, taking notes about stories that wouldn’t occur to a fiction writer.

‘That house was on fire last time I saw it,” Leonard says, pointing at a red house. ‘That’s the opening scene in Mr. Paradise. Three bodies.’

Three people shot in the head, to be exact, one sectioned by chain saw. The red house from Leonard’s 2002 novel was near a White Castle, close to Tiger Stadium, which a character describes in the book as “that famous old ball park of no use to anybody.”

Pulling up to the curb at that site, Leonard gets a surprise. The stadium was demolished last year; he has fewer words for what remains: ‘Jeez … where … there’s nothing left.'”

Elmore Leonard sticks with what works…

“Every page, from 1961’s Hombre to last year’s Road Dogs, has been handwritten on canary yellow paper. Leonard orders a year’s supply at a time, ’50 pads of 60 pages per pad.’

‘I’ve been using this paper ever since I left the ad agency where they used these pads,” Leonard says. “I like them but I always write in longhand before I put it in the typewriter.'”

Here’s the New York Times on Elmore Leonard’s writing habits in “Leaving Out What will be Skipped“…

“He writes seven days a week in the living room of a nice house in the suburbs here with a No. 5 Pilot Pen on unlined yellow paper. He does not use e-mail or a computer. He types the handwritten pages on an I.B.M. Selectric, which occasionally breaks down from daily exertion.

‘There’s one name in the phonebook who repairs typewriters,’ Mr. Leonard said, adding, ‘he says he can live on $6,000 a year. He lives in a trailer park.'”

And the picture that says where his heart’s at (not Nashville):

Credit: Andrew Sacks for the New York Times

Elmore Leonard will be at the 85th National Cherry Festival in Traverse City on July 2 as part of the National Writers Series. His ten rules for writing fiction (including the first rule never to begin a story with the weather) had the Guardian in the U.K. asking other authors for their rules on writing. Anne Enright, winner of the 2007 Booker Prize for The Gathering, had these ten:

1 The first 12 years are the worst.

2 The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.

3 Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

4 Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.

5 Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn’t matter how “real” your story is, or how “made up”: what matters is its necessity.

6 Try to be accurate about stuff.

7 Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

8 You can also do all that with whiskey.

9 Have fun.

10 Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.


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