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Being Cool

The Work of Elmore Leonard

Charles J. Rzepka

Publication Year: 2013

Widely known as the crime fiction writer whose work led to the movies Get Shorty and Out of Sight, Elmore Leonard has a special knack for creating cool characters, which for him means characters who are good at what they do. The dope dealers, bookies, grifters, financial advisers, talent agents, shady attorneys, hookers, models, and crooked cops of Leonard's world may be nefarious, but they are generally confident, skilled, and composed, and they cope without effort or thought. In Being Cool, Charles Rzepka draws on more than twelve hours of personal interviews with Leonard and applies what he learned to his close analysis of Leonard's long life and prodigious output: 45 published novels, 39 published and unpublished short stories, and numerous essays written over the course of six decades. Leonard's writing methods and style epitomize how he conceives "being cool." Rzepka delineates the stages and patterns that characterize the author's creative evolution. Like jazz greats, Leonard forged an individual style immediately recognizable for its voice and rhythm, including his characters' rat-a-tat recitations, curt backhands, and ragged trains of thought. Taking being cool as the highway through Leonard's life and works, Rzepka finds plenty of byways to explore along the way.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-v

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pp. vii-ix

I first became interested in Elmore Leonard because I like to read crime fiction and I’m originally from Detroit. It wasn’t until I was working as an En glish professor in Boston, married with family, that a friend told me to read Swag. From the first page, I regretted the delay. What hooked me almost instantly was Leonard’s sense of place. This was ...

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1. Being Cool: Learning Authenticity

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pp. 1-46

If you’ve heard the name Elmore Leonard, chances are you’ve also heard him described as “the Dickens of Detroit.” At one point in his career, this honorific appeared in the publicity pages of nearly every new paperback edition of an Elmore Leonard book and in the columns of nearly every fresh review. Anyone who’s read Leonard can see why, even in its original, diminished form—“A ...

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2. Being Other(s): “Making” Imaginary Friends

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pp. 47-91

The most prominent features of Leonard’s Westerns refl ect the patterns of relationship that shaped his childhood, adolescence, and young manhood. In summarizing that pro cess, we might begin with an imaginative and sociable boy, responsive to the nuances of the human voice and the vicarious thrill of adventure books, Western fi lms, and news accounts of legendary gangsters. This boy ...

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3. Plays Well with Others: Take Five

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pp. 92-134

The first de cade of Leonard’s career as a writer of crime fi ction was interrupted at several points by work that harkened back to his Western phase, such as Valdez Is Coming (1970), Forty Lashes Less One (1972), and Gunsights (1979), and by work on screenplays. The latter include some that sold—The Moonshine War (1970, based on the novel of 1969), Picket Line (1970), American Flag (1971), Joe ...

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4. Choruses: After 1980

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pp. 134-200

In jazz, a “chorus” is a single iteration of a basic song or tune, usually twelve to thirty- two measures long. A jazz performance can comprise dozens of choruses, starting with the first, or “head,” which is typically played as written, followed by successive improvisations on the head’s fundamental chord structure. The results can both surprise and delight, incorporating melodies that ...

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Conclusion: What Happens Next?

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pp. 201-206

Just after Bill Hill closes the deal in Touch that will make Juvenal a media star, Leonard off ers us a glimpse of the evangelical huckster’s thoughts, in free indi-rect discourse. Hill is glad to be back in the saddle and no longer selling motor homes, as he’s had to do ever since Uni- Faith folded: “Work work work. But damn he felt good. Bill Hill was promoting people again and not some dead-ass ...


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pp. 207-210

Works Cited

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pp. 211-216


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pp. 217-225

E-ISBN-13: 9781421410166
E-ISBN-10: 1421410168
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421410159
Print-ISBN-10: 142141015X

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 12 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 858601637
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Being Cool

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Leonard, Elmore, 1925- -- Authorship.
  • Leonard, Elmore, 1925- -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Film noir ǂz United States ǂx History and criticism.
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