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Despite his advancing age and some recent personal upheaval — he’s divorcing his wife of nearly 20 years — Mr. 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, Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Leonard novel “Rum Punch.”

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

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

George Clooney hung out at Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

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

He writes longhand on the 63-page unlined yellow pads that are custom-made for him, and when a page is completed, he transfers the words onto a separate piece of paper using a typewriter.

Mr. Leonard tries to complete a handful of pages by the time his workday ends at 6 p.m.

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