Every writer has cast-offs, chunks of writing that for one reason or another never quite made the cut.
Few literary cast-offs are as good as "Charlie Martz and Other Stories: The Unpublished Stories," released today by William Morrow. The collection comprises 15 short stories that Elmore Leonard left behind in a box in the basement of his Bloomfield Village home. Eleven of the stories have never been published.
Leonard's daughter Jane Jones recalled that he gave them to her to type up about five years ago. Jane had been typing up his book manuscripts since 1974. Jane thinks he didn't have the stories published because in 1961, he'd had a great success with the novel "Hombre."
"I think because he became more successful, he sold 'Hombre' and that was made into a movie (starring Paul Newman), I'm sure he thought, 'Well these old short stories, I don't really care about these now, I'm on to bigger things.' He never said that, but it appeared to me that way.
"He kind of forgot about them. They were in the basement in a box. I thought they should be published. I called him and said, 'I love these stories, you should have these published.' He said, 'Yeah?' Then that was the end of that!"
After Leonard died in 2013, at age 86, publishing the stories was a goal his children shared.
"Aren't they great?" said son Peter Leonard, a novelist himself. "To see where Elmore started is fascinating. And he just kept getting better."
The stories are from early in Elmore's writing career, starting in 1952, a time when he was finding his voice and trying out different techniques as a fiction writer. Peter remembers his father's bleak basement office at their home on Redwood in Lathrup Village, where he wrote in the early morning before going to work at Detroit's Campbell-Ewald advertising agency, churning out automotive copy.
Interestingly, the 1959 story "Evenings Away From Home" gives a glimpse into the "Mad Men"-era advertising world Leonard knew. The story is about a married art director who flies to Arizona to work with a photographer on a campaign for a sports car. Available women and lots of booze are involved, and Leonard's ability to describe the female form in a bathing suit or out, is unparalleled.
Several of the stories, such as the noir-ish "One, Horizontal," are set at least partly in Detroit circa 1954, a fascinating look at the city at its peak. Others are set in New Mexico, a film set in Hollywood, a military base in Kuala Lumpur, and rural Howell, Michigan.
"Charlie Martz," the title story, a tense Western set in New Mexico, is Peter's favorite. "I just get a kick out of it," he said. "It has some tension and drama, and I always liked my father's Westerns. He was very confident writing Westerns sitting at a desk in suburban Detroit, which is always very funny to me. He read (the magazine) 'Arizona Highways,' which is where he got all his detail."
The signature dryness, the sparse adverbs and adjectives and Hemingwayesque use of dialogue, is all there in "Charlie Martz and Other Stories."
"I don't think he has his style yet, it's budding," Peter said. "Elmore's sound was much more confident, and his characters were more realistic, and funnier. But Elmore fans will really get a kick out of these stories and will take them in the proper context."
One thing the stories remind Peter of is how long it took his father to become so good.
"My dad would always say, 'I just want to get better, I want to improve,' " Peter said. "He forced himself to try to get better. He had editors who helped.
"And he was always lost in concentration; he had an incredible ability to tune things out."
Elmore Leonard was always writing "no matter where we went," Peter said. "In Port Austin, in northern Michigan, he'd be on the beach, writing. If we went to Pompano Beach, Florida, he would be sitting by the pool filled with kids and parents, writing. I don't know how he did it."
New 'Raylan' book
In major news for Elmore Leonard and "Justified" fans, Peter Leonard is writing a "Raylan" book.
The "Justified" series, which just ended, was based upon the Elmore Leonard novella, "Fire in the Hole," about Kentucky-based U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. Elmore liked the series so much that he wrote a novel, "Raylan," as well. Now son Peter will continue the Raylan narrative.
"I'm almost finished with a 'Raylan,' " Peter said. "Raylan goes to Detroit! I'll finish it in a week or so. This is my Elmore tribute."
In other Elmore Leonard news, "Four Novels of the 1980s" — a volume including "City Primeval," "LaBrava," "Glitz" and "Freaky Deaky" — is coming out in September published by The Library of America, with his longtime researcher Gregg Sutter as editor.
And the University of South Carolina, which has the Elmore Leonard archives, will probably do a retrospective on the writer next year.
Peter Leonard's next novel, "Unknown Remains," will come out in May on Counterpoint Press.