Most people knew him from "Get Shorty" or "Justified," or "Be Cool" or "Bandits," and so this may surprise you, me being a crime writer and all, but my favorites are his westerns, "Valdez Is Coming" and "Hombre." Not to say I don't love the quirky, violent, funny crime novels that made him famous -- I do -- but I discovered him way back in my teenage years through his westerns. The first time I met the man, I met him through cheesy, broke-backed, secondhand paperbacks of "Hombre" and "Valdez Is Coming," bought for 17 cents each (I still have them) at the same used bookstore in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I discovered Raymond Chandler.
The second time I met Elmore Leonard ("Dutch" to his friends) was in Montova, Italy, where we were part of a small troop of American writers invited to a fancy literary festival called Festivaletteratura. Despite my being a hardcore fan of his work, our paths had not crossed before, and when arrangements were being made, the high point for me was knowing I would (finally!) get to meet Mr. Leonard. (My personal task was to do so without going all slackjaw fanboy and coming off like a dweeb.) When I spotted him surrounded by our Italian hosts across the hotel lobby, I steeled myself, ran through the little speech I had rehearsed, and politely interrupted his conversation to introduce myself. I didn't want to intrude on their conversation, and I certainly didn't expect to be on the great Dutch Leonard's radar; I simply wanted to express my admiration for his work and come off as a fellow professional (not to mention, an adult), but I was bowled over when he embraced me and launched into an enthusiastic description of my books to the Italians. I was struck stupid by his warmth and generosity, went totally fanboy, and stood rooted in awe. Elmore Leonard was The Man.
Elmore Leonard was also a genius at dialog, character, and human situations, and was a working, writing textbook of same. He was also a great guy, a nice man, and a national treasure. His future work will be missed. He will be missed.