Author Elmore Leonard wins prestigious book award

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Nearly half of Leonard’s 45 novels have appeared on The New York Times’ best-seller list, and he’s hoping to add to that total with his 46th effort _ working title: “Blue Dreams” _ a tale that involves both a rogue Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent and bull riding. He’s written several dozen pages so far.

Despite his advancing age and some recent personal upheaval _ he’s divorcing his wife of nearly 20 years _ Leonard is pressing ahead and expects to have “Blue Dreams” finished “certainly by the end of the year.”

Sitting in his home office at a desk covered with papers, photographs and research materials, Leonard thumbed through the neatly stacked pages of “Blue Dreams,” yanked one out of the pile and began reading.

What came out of his mouth was unmistakable, vintage Leonard _ a crisply written narrative with lines of deadpan dialogue uttered by morally ambiguous characters.

That verbal back-and-forth spoken by fictional people who sound real is what has made Leonard’s writing so distinctive.

“People always say, `Where do you get (your characters’) words?’, and I say, `Can’t you remember people talking or think up people talking in your head?’ That’s all it is. I don’t know why that seems such a wonder to people,” he said.

It’s also why his characters have spent so much time on both big and small screens over the years.

Leonard’s novels and short stories have been turned into 20 feature films, nine TV movies and three series, including the current FX show “Justified,” which stars Timothy Olyphant as one of Leonard’s signature characters, the cool-under-pressure U.S. marshal Raylan Givens.

His all-time favorite adaptation is the 1997 Quentin Tarantino film, “Jackie Brown,” which was based on the Leonard novel “Rum Punch.”

When Tarantino called to ask for guidance ahead of filming, Leonard remembered saying, “Do what you want. I like your work.”

Tarantino is one of many Hollywood heavyweights who bow down at the altar of Leonard.

George Clooney hung out at Leonard’s place while filming the big-screen adaptation of “Out of Sight,” and members of Aerosmith _ in town for a concert _ also visited, taking a dip in Leonard’s pool.

He’ll be 87 in a few weeks. And while the slender, bespectacled man friends call “Dutch” is far removed from his days of riding along with Detroit homicide cops, he still writes every day in eight-hour shifts that are befitting his hometown’s automotive legacy.

Leonard’s father was a General Motors executive, and the future author penned advertising copy for Chevrolet as a younger man.

And Leonard follows the same writing protocols that have served him for decades.

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