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Out of sight, but not out of mind
August 20, 2013 7:03 AM   Subscribe

One of the 20th century's most prolific and well regarded authors of crime fiction, Elmore Leonard, has died at the age of 87, following a stroke two weeks ago. Leonard's novels and short stories were frequently adapted to movies and television, with particular acclaim in the cases of Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, and Justified.
posted by Horace Rumpole (103 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by jquinby at 7:05 AM on August 20, 2013


Elmore Leonard's Top 10 Rules for Writing:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:05 AM on August 20, 2013 [58 favorites]


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posted by Thorzdad at 7:06 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by gauche at 7:10 AM on August 20, 2013


Oh, good heavens -- I hadn't even heard that he had a stroke! :7(

. for all the great stories and simply wonderful dialogue (which was so good that it's scared me off ever trying to write since he will always be up there in the sky, gazing down on my with a little moue).
posted by wenestvedt at 7:11 AM on August 20, 2013


No!!

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posted by skycrashesdown at 7:11 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by ogooglebar at 7:13 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by Iridic at 7:14 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by Hairy Lobster at 7:16 AM on August 20, 2013


Damn.


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posted by Ghidorah at 7:16 AM on August 20, 2013


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I've been dreading this, actually.

When I was dating my (now) wife, I made a lot of road trips from Waterloo (Ontario) to Boston. I listened to audio books on the way, which I got from the library, and the selection tended to be pretty bad. Elmore Leonard was the exception; I always took any of his books that I could find and they never disappointed me.
posted by suetanvil at 7:16 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by tommasz at 7:18 AM on August 20, 2013


An incredible loss. Leonard could write in a way that made you jump for joy — and yet every word pushed the story further. The first chapter of Freaky Deaky blew my mind. In Naked Came the Manatee, his was the only chapter worth reading.

If you haven't read any yet, my favorite is Tishomingo Blues.

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posted by ubiquity at 7:22 AM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some of the movies were good but I liked the books much much better. Stick might have been the first adult book I ever loved. The scene where Stick lands in prison and the baddest dude in the cell block adopts him because he whacked the guy who snitched on him is one that I won't ever forget.
posted by bukvich at 7:23 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


What always amazed me about Mr. Leonard was his ear for speech. His dialogues are in the conversational English we hear every day, and he could write the latest version of street slang effortlessly even though he was decades older than the proponents.
posted by Repack Rider at 7:23 AM on August 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


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posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:27 AM on August 20, 2013


First Ray Barboni, now Elmore Leonard.

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posted by orme at 7:28 AM on August 20, 2013


Ah hell. You know stuff like this is just going to keep on happening until one day it's you. But it still sucks every time it happens.
posted by Naberius at 7:33 AM on August 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


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posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:33 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by dudemanlives at 7:34 AM on August 20, 2013


Elmore Leonard was the literary voice of Detroit.
posted by readery at 7:35 AM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


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I can't remember when I stopped being surprised when I found out something was based on Elmore Leonard, but it happened. That's making your mark on the world.
posted by DigDoug at 7:36 AM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


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A writer who, at his worst, was light years ahead of almost everybody else in the field. Not just in the genres he wrote, but writing as a whole, and a good part of television and movies too.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:37 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The undisputed master of dialogue. Rest in peace, sir.
posted by GrammarMoses at 7:40 AM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sad news, though I guess not all that surprising after his stroke a few weeks ago. Been a fan for 25+ years. As the famous "10 Rules" suggest, Leonard had smart things to say about the process of writing. I liked his unfussy, pragmatic approach to his work, and the results almost always were a lot of fun to read.

He had decent luck with movie/TV adaptations, too, compared to a lot of writers. There were some duds, but just about everyone seems to agree that "Out of Sight," "Get Shorty," "Jackie Brown" (based on "Rum Punch") and the TV show "Justified" all turned out pretty well.

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posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 7:45 AM on August 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I can believe this is happening on a dark and stormy night", said Elmore suddenly!
posted by Renoroc at 7:47 AM on August 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


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Freaky Deaky had one of my fave openings ever
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:47 AM on August 20, 2013


Oh, no. Man's a treasure.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:50 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by drezdn at 7:52 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by epilnivek at 7:52 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by graventy at 7:56 AM on August 20, 2013


Via Rick Prelinger's Twitter, one of the educational short films Leonard wrote while working for Encyclopedia Britannica in the 1950s, The Civil War.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:57 AM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sad to see him go. He was an excellent writer.

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posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:59 AM on August 20, 2013


The sky was a leaden gray as Rumpole sat down to write. "Damn it!" he abruptly grunted, "this FPP has to be perfect!" Setting his well-manicured fingers to the keys of his Dell PC atop his cluttered (to an appropriate degree for a librarian, or, actually, curator), he began to type. Suddenly, the phone rang. "Didja heah the news?" DiscourseMarker exclaimed, in the Boston accent she loved to adopt. "Did I ever!" announced Rompole, his beard closely following the movements of his jaw. "Elmore Leonard has died! I'm writing the FPP now!" But all of this merely precedes the actual thread, which you are waiting to read....

And .
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:02 AM on August 20, 2013 [14 favorites]


Horace Rumple, those rules are awesome.

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posted by angrycat at 8:04 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by polly_dactyl at 8:04 AM on August 20, 2013


He freaking got better and better as a writer in his eighties. That's almost unprecedented. Made me think he set free some hostage Muse in a deal to live forever.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:05 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by mstokes650 at 8:05 AM on August 20, 2013


The sky was a leaden gray as Rumpole sat down to write.

You're standing behind me right now, aren't you.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:09 AM on August 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


The best. I am sad.
Tishomingo Blues was my introduction to EL, and I think I've read every book he wrote, at least once.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:17 AM on August 20, 2013


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Oh, my dad will be so sad.
posted by oneironaut at 8:22 AM on August 20, 2013


He did keep getting better.
The Hot Kid (that 'Justified' is kind of based on) was such a good book.
What I always go back to in his books is his almost shockingly elegant way of putting forth character. Something to aspire to.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:25 AM on August 20, 2013


I do not believe in an afterlife. But if I'm wrong, and there is an afterlife, I hope that Elmore Leonard and John D. MacDonald are living (afterliving?) in the same neighborhood, making the place smarter and funnier and sharper and better.

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posted by bakerina at 8:38 AM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Djibouti got mixed reviews, and it's a little out of character for Leonard. I'm a big fan.

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posted by box at 8:41 AM on August 20, 2013


So sad to hear this. He had such an incredible, elegant voice. In his honor I'm going to take his rules and go be ruthless with my first draft.
posted by PussKillian at 8:42 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by tipsyBumblebee at 8:42 AM on August 20, 2013


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This feels like a piece of home disappearing forever.
posted by The World Famous at 8:59 AM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by vibrotronica at 8:59 AM on August 20, 2013


5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

This rule encapsulates why Robert Ludlum's books are such crap.

Elmore Leonard was one hell of a gritty, real author. He will be missed.
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:01 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by Artw at 9:02 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by Gelatin at 9:02 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by alby at 9:03 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by disclaimer at 9:04 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by Cash4Lead at 9:04 AM on August 20, 2013


Well shit


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posted by Spatch at 9:07 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by clone boulevard at 9:17 AM on August 20, 2013


I discovered Elmore Leonard's books far too late in life. I discovered Westlake and McBain in 7th grade. Leonard would have fit well in 9th.
posted by Ardiril at 9:18 AM on August 20, 2013


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He'd been absent lately from the news etc, so I was worried something was up. I decided long ago that it was pointless to have favorites when it came to writing. There's just so much out there that is good. But if you could see my bookshelf right now, you'd see more Elmore Leonard on it than any other author. I just can't get enough of his take on things, how his people move and speak and think ... and now, sadly, it seems I've got all that I'm going to get.

The Hot Kid (that 'Justified' is kind of based on) was such a good book.

Raylan Givens first popped up in the novels Pronto and Riding The Rap, then later got more Justified-specific treatment in the short story Fire In The Hole.
posted by philip-random at 9:30 AM on August 20, 2013


Also: although I have only spent a total of three days in the area of Detroit I feel like I know the place very well after reading Leonard's books. I found this page on Elmore Leonard's site, where some devoted fans have made a google map of all Leonard's Detroit locations. I clicked on 2650 Florian Street in Hammtramk in street view and the place looks lovely.
posted by bukvich at 9:37 AM on August 20, 2013


You're standing behind me right now, aren't you.

No, but I am a librarian.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:48 AM on August 20, 2013


I am sorry to hear this. I love his writing.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:56 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by scody at 9:56 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by St. Sorryass at 10:25 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by Mental Wimp at 10:34 AM on August 20, 2013


That's sad news. He was the inspiration for my username here at Metafilter. I think it was 2000 when I first came across his writing and spent the summer reading his books one after the other.
posted by Elmore at 10:34 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by fings at 11:00 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by wrapper at 11:04 AM on August 20, 2013


I am going to re-read everything he ever wrote, maybe even the Westerns. I am so glad I got to shake his hand once; I told him it was for luck and he smiled and shook with me. His writing was a map to being an American man.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 11:14 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by doctornemo at 11:25 AM on August 20, 2013


I've enjoyed his novels for many years and I'm sad to hear of his death. He was a master of believable and interesting dialogue, right up there with Raymond Chandler and Donald Westlake.
posted by Agave at 11:36 AM on August 20, 2013


Indeed, one of the greats. However, I take exception with the classification of crime writer. He wrote wonderful westerns, too. 3:10 to Yuma and Hombre are especially fantastic and both were made into terrific films before, I believe, he ever wrote a crime novel.
posted by dobbs at 11:38 AM on August 20, 2013


I think any writer is a fool if he doesn't do it for money. There needs to be some kind of incentive in addition to the project. It all goes together. It's fun to sit there and think of characters and get them into action, then be paid for it. I can't believe it when writers tell me 'I don't want to show my work to anybody'.
Elmore Leonard

If there was anybody that could do action, it was Leonard. He deserved every dime, and I'm glad he enjoyed what he did till the last.*
(*very selfish of me, I enjoyed every book)

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posted by BlueHorse at 11:42 AM on August 20, 2013


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posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 11:44 AM on August 20, 2013


Well, hell. My day was already kinda going crappy and now this.

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posted by caution live frogs at 12:56 PM on August 20, 2013


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posted by Tacodog at 12:56 PM on August 20, 2013


Aw, this is gonna be hard on my husband. He's no big reader and when we met, he'd really only read tech manuals and some Hunter S. Thompson. However, when Justified started, he was delighted to find out that the show was based on a short story by the same dude that wrote "Get Shorty". I happily let him read my copy and he was asking for more. Elmore Leonard quickly became the Other author that he read for fun.

On our last vacation he was asking for something to read on the plane and I gave him the new Raylan collection that was just released. He said that if all the other authors he'd been forced to read throughout the decades of school wrote like Elmore Leonard, he'd read more than two books a year.

Mr. Leonard will be missed.
posted by teleri025 at 1:12 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by UseyurBrain at 1:16 PM on August 20, 2013


First of his books that I read was Ryan's Rules. Leonard hated that title and later editions were under his original title Swag. The book was so great that I bought everything I could find of his, including the westerns. Leonard must have really liked the characters he created because he brought them back in book after book -- until they got killed. I have a project in mind that I may complete some day to set them out on some kind of chart or graph.
Anyways...

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posted by CCBC at 1:29 PM on August 20, 2013


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posted by tenpointwo at 2:00 PM on August 20, 2013


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posted by homunculus at 2:10 PM on August 20, 2013


It has been awhile since I have read Leonard though I have read many of his books. The dialog, the irresistible force, and truly great characters marked him as a master with very few peers (George Higgins might be his only equal when it came to dialog). And every episode of Justified feels like Leonard was sitting in the writers' room. I'll be damned if I know how they do that but am so glad they do.
posted by Ber at 2:21 PM on August 20, 2013


Elmore Leonard, Modern Prose Master, Noted For His Terse Prose Style And For Writing About Things Perfectly And Succinctly With A Remarkable Economy Of Words, Unfortunately And Sadly Expired This Gloomy Tuesday At The Age Of 87 Years Old
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:42 PM on August 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


His injunction against exclamation points still sticks with me. I can't read them now but as sarcasm cues. I regret not reading more of his books: I loved Killshot and Get Shorty.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:46 PM on August 20, 2013


It's more than just the great dialog and the snappy plots. Leonard created a new kind of writing, freeing the crime genre from the noir tropes of haunted men brought low by their terrible desires to something weirder, more chaotic, and more like real life. Things don't happen for a reason in Leonard's books; there's no causation, no moral, only coincidence and accidental entanglement, as one low-level fuckup bumps into another and they destroy themselves and a bunch of innocent bystanders trying to kick each other apart.

This is what life in America is really like now. No mainstream literary author captures this. South Florida is the perfect place to see this in action, because it's where all the rootless losers gravitate, to pursue their dream or just their con game or lottery ticket if that's all they've got.

It's a genre now, with guys like Carl Hiassen turning it into high camp and selling millions of copies, but Elmore Leonard invented it (along with the unheralded great Charles Willeford, similarly drawn to the steamy disaster of Floridian liberty).

I think he's the most important novelist of his time, and will be remembered long after all of the highfalutin Nobelists and other literary prizewinners are forgotten.

I will say, though, that the greatest writer of dialog is George V. Higgins, not Leonard, though he is much more narrowly focused, and Leonard is more of the complete package.
posted by Fnarf at 3:52 PM on August 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


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posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:08 PM on August 20, 2013


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posted by crossoverman at 4:38 PM on August 20, 2013


I regret not reading more of his books

Good news, you can still read them :)
posted by crossoverman at 4:44 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Feel free to add a "before now" to that one.

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posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:47 PM on August 20, 2013


Was visiting my uncle; was bored. Picked up "Glitz". Stayed up until 4 am.
posted by acrasis at 4:59 PM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Also: although I have only spent a total of three days in the area of Detroit I feel like I know the place very well after reading Leonard's books. I found this page on Elmore Leonard's site, where some devoted fans have made a google map of all Leonard's Detroit locations. I clicked on 2650 Florian Street in Hammtramk in street view and the place looks lovely."

That's pretty near Lili's, a now defunct bar that my Uncle Artie tended at, and in fact, got mentioned in Split Images.

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posted by klangklangston at 5:13 PM on August 20, 2013


from LaBrava, 1983:
The Dade-Metro squad-car cop, drinking Pepsi out of a paper cup, said "He pulls the trigger, click. He pulls the trigger, click. He pulls the fucking trigger and I come around like this, with the elbow, hard as I can. The piece goes off—no click this time—the fucking piece goes off and smokes the guy standing at the bar next to me with his hands up. We get him for attempted, we get him for second degree, both." The Dade-Metro squad-car cap said, "Did you know you rub a plastic-coated paper cup like this on the inside of the windshield it sounds just like a cricket? Listen."
posted by Ian A.T. at 7:18 PM on August 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


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posted by humanfont at 7:53 PM on August 20, 2013


First encountered in the oddly compelling film version of 52 Pick-Up. (Note: fictional characters do/say things which are not polite/politically correct).
posted by ovvl at 8:05 PM on August 20, 2013


Leonard and White Castle.
posted by HuronBob at 9:03 PM on August 20, 2013


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What I write travels through his filter.It is good.
posted by qinn at 2:20 AM on August 21, 2013


I had the privledge to meet with Leonard twice.

God speed sir.
posted by clavdivs at 7:24 AM on August 21, 2013


Elmore Leonard: 'What a guy!' says Jackie Collins
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:45 AM on August 21, 2013


Margaret Atwood on Elmore Leonard (2002)
posted by Going To Maine at 9:02 AM on August 21, 2013


Elmore Leonard wrote great opening lines. Here are all of them.
posted by box at 2:41 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Janet Maslin wrote a NYTimes obit.

There are good movies adapted from Leonard novels (“Out of Sight,” “52 Pick-Up,” “3:10 to Yuma,” filmed twice), but they don’t beat their sources.

Mr. Leonard’s endless resilience is one more kind of inspiration he leaves behind. He kept writing, and writing sharply, at an age when many authors are conspicuously past their prime. His prime never ended. And he never ceased to write with the verve of a young and vital mind.

Nor did his sense of humor ever leave him. In “Road Dogs” (2009) he tossed in this exchange between a priest and a gay gangster:

“Up to this time you’ve been chaste?”

“You mean, Father, by dudes? If I like a guy he don’t have to chase me.”

posted by bukvich at 4:39 PM on August 21, 2013


There was this AskMe.
posted by box at 8:02 PM on August 21, 2013


The Onion does it right.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:10 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dangit, beaten to the punch in a way that evades control-F.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:11 AM on August 22, 2013


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