In 1978, he was commissioned to write an article about the Detroit Police Department. He shadowed the police officers for nearly three months. Starting with "City Primeval" in 1980, his crime novels gained a new authenticity, with quirky but believable characters and crisp, slangy dialogue. But sales remained light.
Donald I. Fine, an editor at Arbor House, thought they deserved better, and he promised to put the muscle of his publicity department behind them. He delivered: In 1985, "Glitz," a stylish novel of vengeance set in Atlantic City, became Leonard's first best-seller.
Leonard never looked back.
Hollywood rediscovered him, churning out a succession of bad movies including the humorless "51 Pick-up" starring Roy Scheider. Its director, John Frankenheimer, failed to capture the sensibilities of Leonard's work, and his ear missed the clever dialogue.
It took Barry Sonnenfeld to finally show Hollywood how to turn a Leonard novel into a really good movie. "Get Shorty" was the first to feel and sound like an Elmore Leonard novel.
Then Quentin Tarantino took a turn with "Rum Punch," turning it into "Jackie Brown," a campy, Blaxploitation-style film starring Pam Grier. But Steven Soderbergh stayed faithful to Leonard's story and dialogue with "Out of Sight."
Writing well into his 80s, Leonard's process remained the same.
He settled in at his home office in Bloomfield Township, Mich., around 10 a.m. behind a desk covered with stacks of paper and books. He lit a cigarette, took a drag and set about to writing — longhand, of course — on the 63-page unlined yellow pads that were custom-made for him.
When he finished a page, Leonard transferred the words onto a separate piece of paper using an electric typewriter. He tried to complete between three and five pages by the time his workday ended at 6 p.m.