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Like father, like son/ Elmore & Peter Leonard

Rick Coates - June 22nd, 2009
Like Father,
Like Son
Elmore & Peter Leonard share a passion for writing

By Rick Coates 6/22/09

At the age of 83, crime novelist and pulp fiction master Elmore Leonard remains at the top of his game. Last month he released his 43rd novel, Road Dogs, that is currently on the New York Times Best Seller list. Leonard has built his 56-year writing career around his ability to let his characters “tell the story.”
Elmore Leonard will come to Northern Michigan on Sunday, June 28 as part of the new “Traverse City National Writers Series” created by author Doug Stanton and Traverse City attorney Grant Parsons. Leonard will be joined by his son Peter, who is following in his father’s footsteps. Both authors are currently touring in support of their latest novels. The evening of conversation will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the City Opera House. Proceeds will benefit the college-bound writing students in the Traverse City Area Public Schools and the Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools.

Peter Leonard had no intention of becoming a novelist. While growing up in the household of one of the most famous writers in America, the younger Leonard decided to pursue his father’s first vocation.
“I went into advertising,” said Peter Leonard. “My dad started out as a copywriter for an ad agency. I never aspired to be a novelist, though I have always enjoyed writing.”
He ended up creating his own agency, securing several national ad campaigns. An avid reader, Peter Leonard started to feel the call to write fiction about 10 years ago.
“I wrote my first novel around six years ago. I did go to my father and he felt it was best that he not read it and instead he encouraged me to have one of his former editors read it,” said Leonard. “Well, the editor read it and came back to me and said ‘there are 27 characters in the book. Which one is the main one?’ I responded: ‘Let me get back to you,’ and I just put the manuscript away.”
Leonard went back to the writing tablet. Heeding the advice of the editor, he developed his first published novel Quiver around a central character. The novel was released in 2008 and was praised by several critics.
So what happened to that first novel?
“Well, one thing my father taught me was to never throw anything away because you might be able to use it later,” said Leonard. “That is exactly what I did. I used parts of that first work in my current work, Trust Me.”
Is the younger Leonard frustrated that his works will always be compared to his father’s?
“Not at all. Certainly I understand the obvious comparison,” said Peter Leonard. “But I have also chosen the same genre so there is going to be a comparison for anyone who writes in that style with my father.”

As for the elder Leonard, Elmore has offered his advice, somewhat sparingly.
“I remember when I gave him Quiver, he would call me with these daily updates on how many pages he had read,” said Peter.
“He gave me a couple of pointers. One of his philosophies is eliminate the parts of a novel the reader is going to skip over. On my current book he also made of couple of suggestions as well.”
Because of their father and son relationship, it is only natural to wonder if the younger Leonard is trying to emulate his father, or if he is seeking his own voice.
“My father and I have had this conversation of creating your own voice as a writer,” said Leonard. “He said it takes writing about a million words before you identify your writing voice. So I have a ways to go.”
Leonard found his advertising career both helpful and challenging to writing novels.
“In advertising you have to be able to tell a lot with a few words. For example, in print ads you have 50 to 80 words to tell a story, so from that perspective it has helped. But is has also posed a challenge, because even though I spend all day writing ad copy, I have to shift gears to write novels and it is not easy at times.”

For his first two novels, Leonard would write in the morning before work, take a break during work and then write at night before retiring to bed. He always starts his work longhand.
“I get out the yellow tablet and write and make notes about what I have written,” said Leonard. “I learned this from my father as well; he still does not have a computer. I eventually type out my work and go from there.”
So does he plan to leave the advertising business as his father did (Elmore Leonard left advertising after his novel Hombre was made into a movie starring Paul Newman) to pursue writing novels full time?
“Funny you should ask; I am leaving my advertising agency this week to pursue writing full time,” said Leonard. “It has just become too difficult to squeeze the writing in between advertising projects. I enjoy writing and so we will see where it goes if I focus on it full time. So far it has worked out with my first two books.”
One of the things Leonard is enjoying about his life as a novelist is traveling with his father for speaking engagements.
“He is 83, so I do not know how much longer we will get to do this together. We did about a half dozen trips last year and have that many scheduled already for this year,” said Leonard. “It has been a great experience for both of us.”
Elmore Leonard, who grew up in Detroit and resides in the suburbs of the Motor City has over the years used his hometown as the backdrop for his work. Both Leonards have connections to Northern Michigan, however, and are excited about coming north.
“I have several friends in the area; my mom had a place in Harbor Springs for years and one between Mackinac City and Cheboygan on Lake Huron. So I have spent a lot of time up north,” said Leonard. “We think what Doug Stanton is doing is great and are happy to be a part of it. We are looking forward to the evening, especially the questions.”
Leonard explains the format for the
“Well, both my father and I will speak about writing. We will share anecdotes about our writing lives. For me, that includes growing up around my father and meeting several famous actors who would visit him,” said Leonard. “Then we will take questions and answers from the audience. We enjoy this part as we get a lot of great questions and it is nice to know what the readers want to know.”
The Traverse City National Writers Series presents “An Evening of Great Conversation, Food, and Drink with Master Crime Novelists Elmore Leonard and Peter Leonard” June 28 at Traverse City’s Opera House, 6:30 p.m. Tickets are limited and may be purchased in advance by contacting the City Opera House Box Office at 231-941-8082. Information on both authors may be found at and

Special Treat Of the Event!
Have Elmore Leonard and Peter Leonard Name A Character After You In Their Next Book!
During the evening, people will be able to bid on the opportunity to have their name (or someone they choose) to be used as a character’s name in an upcoming Elmore Leonard or Peter Leonard novel. There will be two lucky winners of the auction-- one person for each novelist.
All proceeds from this generous gesture by the Leonards will be donated to the Traverse City National Writers Series Scholarship Fund

New: Traverse City National Writer Series

The National Writers Series, founded by Doug Stanton and Grant Parsons, is dedicated to bringing to life great conversations with today’s best-selling authors, journalists, and premier storytellers in a lively setting.
The mission of the series is to support the education of area young people seeking careers in writing and the arts. All proceeds from the regular events will be donated to a dedicated scholarship fund. Awards will be presented at an annual Traverse City National Writers Series event.
The series started last month with Doug Stanton concluding his national book tour for his bestselling book Horse Soldiers (currently #2 on the New York Times Best Seller List) at the City Opera House. Stanton and co-founder Grant Parsons are planning on six speakers a year in addition to the special annual affair.
“We plan on this being more than just authors; we will have journalists and screenwriters as well,” said Stanton. “Each guest will be someone who has enjoyed national or international success. The schedule will depend on book tours and movie promotions as that way we do not have to pay travel expenses.”
For Stanton and Parsons this series is intended to serve as inspiration for writers in the region as well as help gifted writers further their education.
“I have never forgotten that Helen Osterlin gave me a scholarship so that I might attend Interlochen,” said Stanton. “It made the difference for me, so we hope the same will come out of this.”
Stanton and Parsons are currently looking at several writers for the next event that will take place sometime in early fall. Anyone interested in supporting the series via donations is encouraged to contact Stanton and Parsons through Grant Parson’s law firm in Traverse City.

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