Learning by experience often is painful. (Ralph Banks)
It’s been a rough week over here at BFTV HQ. For those of you who may not have heard, the legendary Elmore Leonard passed away on Tuesday at the age of 87. He was beloved by many, but I had the honor of knowing him personally, albeit briefly. Through my work on FX’s Justified, which was inspired by his short story “Fire In The Hole” and on which he served as an executive producer, I got to interview Elmore twice, including once in person. Even though we only had those two conversations, he still left a profound impression on me.
I’ve been lucky to learn from not one, but two of the greatest authors in history. When I was in middle school, my mother took me to a book signing by the legendary Ray Bradbury, and told him that I wanted to be a writer. Mr. Bradbury kindly spoke with me for a few minutes and recommended his book Zen In The Art Of Writing to me; that was the first book about writing that made any sense to me. I still have it on my shelf. I always appreciated that the first serious words of encouragement I heard about my chosen career came from Ray Bradbury.
Then there was Mr. Leonard. Somehow in the course of our first interview, the talk turned from Justified to writing, and I shared with him that I’d been writing my whole life. In fact, I admitted, I was in the process of trying to finish my novel House Rules, and was struggling with getting it to the finish line, let alone what I’d do with it once it was completed. Unprompted, Elmore encouraged me to keep working at it. Furthermore, he gave me the name and phone number of his literary agent, and told me to call the agent and tell him that he’d sent me. I finished that novel the same day. And while the agent never returned my calls, it meant the world to me that Elmore was willing to help me, and let me mention his name like that, even though he’d just met me.
I made sure to thank him when we crossed paths in person during an FX network function last year. I hadn’t even expected to be interviewing him, but there we suddenly were. And even though he’d just finished the Justified panel and had other appointments to keep, he answered all my questions and was nothing but polite to me. His longtime researcher, Gregg Sutter, even kept in touch with me afterward. I certainly didn’t know Elmore very well, yet that also makes it all the more remarkable to me that he would make time for me on not one but two occasions.
One of the fundamental tenets of not just my career, but my life in general, is to never stop learning, as a means to become the best possible person that I can be. This week, I’m again aware of how lucky I am to say that I’ve learned something from two authors whose names will go down in history. Both those gentlemen took time out of their days to listen to my dreams, and encourage them. I’m here today in part because those moments gave me the confidence to continue on. I only hope that I’ve made them both proud, because I know my world seems just a little bit smaller without them in it.
For more on Elmore Leonard, you can visit his official website (elmoreleonard.com). You can also read both of my interviews with Elmore at Starpulse: from February 2011 and January 2012. He will be deeply missed.