The Best Writing of the Week | Elmore Leonard

I’m just finishing up Elmore Leonard’s short story collection, Fire in the Hole.

Nice cover, better insides

The book has nine stories that are all of the very highest quality and I bought it for two main reasons: I wanted to get a taste for Mr. Leonard, whom I had not read before and… it contains a short story, Fire in the Hole, that spawned a tv show (the Raylan Givens character on FX’s Justified). That just had to be a good story. Not only is it good, but I will gladly watch the show to get more of the main character.

As an example, here is a passage from one of the stories, The Tonto Woman, and is an excellent example of how to describe a character, both look and personality, and of writing dialogue that sounds true, like actual people talking and adds tension.

The woman gazed up at him, shading her eyes with one hand. Finally she said, “You look different.”

“The beard began to itch,” Ruben Vega said, making no mention of the patches of gray he had studied in the hotel-room mirror. “So I shaved it off.” He rubbed a hand over his jaw and smoothed down the tips of his mustache that was still full and seemed to cover his mouth. When he stepped down from the bay and approached the woman standing by the stick-fence corral, she looked off into the distance and back again.

She said, “You shouldn’t be here.”

Ruben Vega said “Your husband doesn’t want nobody to look at you. Is that it?” He held the store box, waiting for her to answer. “He has a big house with trees and the San Pedro River in his yard. Why doesn’t he hide you there?”

She looked off again and said, “If they find you here, they’ll shoot you.”

Now… what do we know just from this? From the first sentence: the sun is shining, Ruben Vega is taller than the woman, or at least on something higher. They have met before but he is now different. Second paragraph: Ruben has shaved his beard because he is going gray but he is too vain to admit this to the woman. We then get a sense of what he looks like, and get to know that he is on a horse. The woman is being kept hidden by her husband for some reason, away from his own house. And Ruben will be killed if he is discovered with the woman.

To read the rest of this story, and the other fantastic stories in this book, go buy it now.

Also, shortly after buying the book, I learned that Mr Leonard would be receiving The National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, an award previously won by Philip Roth, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and many more.

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