elmore leonard


I guess I spoke too soon. The other day I was telling you how we'd happily found a university library to work in, thus breaking the monotony of hanging out at mom's condo. The very next day we went, the University of South Carolina locked down on reports of shots fired. Denise immediately Tweeted a photo (shown above) of the steel gate that slid down, effectively trapping us inside the special collections library, where we'd gone to access some research materials. Within seconds, she was contacted by a reporter at CNN, asking for an interview. Another reporter from ABC wrote to ask if they could use the photo. Weird world we live in.

Wi-fi was still up, so I poked around trying to get more info, but it was sparse. Police and SWAT had closed off major streets in the city surrounding the School of Public Health, where the shooting took place. Students all over the campus were doing the same thing I was doing—taking to social media to describe their experiences. 

From my seat in the special collections reading room, I could peer through the gate into the central floor of the main library. Moments earlier, it was packed with students; now it was deserted.

And then, about an hour later, the cops and university gave the all-clear sign, and school was back to normal. Students flowed out of the elevators and resumed their positions with their laptops, phones, coffees, and sandwiches. I gather they had all been ushered to "safer" rooms on other floors, away from the library's glass entryway.

By then the media was reporting that a murder-suicide had occurred. A few of my Tweets ended up Storified in the Charleston Paper's coverage. The Columbia city paper detailed the slaying of a professor by his former wife.

I was impressed by how quickly the university acted. I've never been in a situation like that. Hope it's the last.

    Postcards announcing the university's latest high-profile acquisition.


Postcards announcing the university's latest high-profile acquisition.

Sidenote: This library recently acquired Elmore Leonard's papers. I'm told they're not yet accessioned. I'm working on getting a peek.

Two I'll Miss

Two more authors we lost in 2013 that meant something to me.

Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)

I discovered his books when I was just out of college, broke, living with my parents, and working at a crappy magazine company. I picked up a paperback of Glitz, his breakout bestseller, and it was a revelation. I had never “heard” characters talk this way. They seemed familiar, yet wholly original. I would later read an article by Gregg Sutter, Leonard’s researcher, whose job it was to track down and interview people like the ones Leonard wanted to feature in his next book. Leonard insisted that Sutter type up interview transcripts word for word so Leonard could ape the speaking style of his subjects. That’s one aspect the year-end tributes to Leonard rarely mentioned: the almost journalistic, nonfiction reportage that went into his thrillers. Looking back, I realize that Leonard was the first author who taught me the meaning of third-person limited voice. I can’t believe I graduated as an English/journalism major, took a slew of creative writing classes in college, and didn’t know this terminology. In j-school we just said we were “writing from inside the subject’s head or POV.” I loved a lot of Leonard’s books, though I never did get around to reading them all. I was sad to hear of his passing. 

Barbara Mertz (1927-2013)

She wrote mysteries under a number of pseudonyms, the most famous being Elizabeth Peters, but I first discovered Mertz’s nonfiction writing when I was researching an aspect of ancient Egypt for a book I did this year. Professionally she was an Egyptologist, and she wrote with casual confidence of scientific findings in such a way that you felt as if you were on an archaeological dig with a fascinating, elderly aunt of yours. I picked up a number of nonfiction titles about ancient Egypt in the course of my research, but none of them made those long-dead citizens of the Nile come to life as Mertz did. I’m glad I discovered her books. I don’t know that I could have written those few critical chapters of my character’s backstory without the vision of that world which she brought to life for me. Oddly, I remember thinking, “Geez, this writer’s really good. Who is she?” I looked her up online, and checked out her website. A few weeks later I learned that she had died.