The Writer Up the Block

Yesterday a green VW convertible pulled out of a driveway in front of me. I peered ahead. Gray hair, narrow face. Yep. Elmore. As in Leonard. The novelist. He lives on an adjacent block. We are separated by three houses. Occasionally we cross paths on early morning walks in the neighborhood. One year I noticed his signature five lines above mine on a petition at our local pharmacy. Then yesterday’s sighting. I followed him for a mile or so. (Banish the idea I was stalking him. We were simply on the same road, heading in the same direction.) He peeled off into the shopping center at the corner. A latte at Starbucks? Fruit at the new Kroger? A loaf of rye at Breadsmith?

I think about Elmore every now and then, imagine him writing away. Does his study overlook the front yard with its circular drive and the pillars around which twine magenta hibiscus? Or do his office windows overlook a grand sweep of backyard lawn and a pool?
“Dutch” Leonard has more than forty published novels on me. Right now I’m simply buoyed by some serious agent interest. His novels have been made into movies. My novel has too, if only in my mind.

Sometimes I drive by his house and wonder if Leonard sweats his dialogue, honing and rewriting until the repartee is sharp as a shiv? Or do those inimitable exchanges leave the nib of his pen fully formed? Are his characters leading him in circles or into fertile and entertaining territory? Does he ever look up from his legal pad and wonder if he’ll ever write a sentence as good as his last?

Three houses, close to fifty novels, a handful of movies, dialogue that flies from the page in machine gun bursts. So much separates us. And yet on those occasions when my mind wanders to the novelist up the street I take heart. We’re both striving to get the words down, determined to tell the stories ricocheting around in our noggins. We’re both rooting around in our alternative universes, alert for the precise word or image to fire up our eventual readers. I send a nod of encouragement his way. He might be ahead of me but we’re nevertheless on the same road, heading in the same direction.

(P.S. On a totally unrelated subject. Some time this week will post an essay of mine, written some years ago, linking polishing silver for the High Holidays and the polishing our souls. Some of you have likely read it before, some of you haven’t. Either way, the message endures. Hope you enjoy.)

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4 thoughts on “The Writer Up the Block

  1. Only the Half of It

    I saw him last year at a Scarab Club event. He was very nice, though not too happy with the film version of 3:10 to Yuma, based on one of his stories. He thought the ending was too sweet.
    I do believe he writes longhand on legal pads.
    Please send the link to your essay when it comes out.

  2. cindy

    I loved your Elmore Leonard story. How lucky to have a real live inspiration for a neighbor! Glad to hear he’s still getting around…he’s got to be getting up there in age these days.

  3. cindyscoffeehouse

    Hi, Debra.
    How cool that Elmore Leonard lives so close to you. Would you feel comfortable dropping him a line, telling him you’re a writer who lives three doors away, and wondering if you could pick his brain for a half hour about his writing process? I think it’s worth a try!

  4. Debra

    Nah, wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. Enough just to imagine him writing away up the street.

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