I Try To Leave Out the Parts that People Skip

Elmore Leonard? Marty Asher? Leonore Fleischer? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The funniest and most cogent writing advice I have ever heard was delivered by the best-selling author Elmore Leonard. According to folklore, an aspiring novelist implored Leonard to reveal the secret of his success, and he replied with something like this:

I leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in 1985 within the trade magazine “Publishers Weekly”. Columnist Leonore Fleischer relayed an anecdote from Marty Asher, editor-in-chief of the Quality Paperback Book Club. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Marty said, “Do you want to hear the best quote about publishing that I’ve heard in 20 years?” We whipped out our Ticonderoga #2. “It was uttered by Elmore Leonard (author of Glitz) at the Book-of-the-Month Club luncheon. We were all raving to him about his books, how quickly they move and how good the dialogue is, and Leonard said quietly, out of the comer of his mouth, ‘Yeah, I try to leave out the parts that people skip.'” We’re gonna paste that on the wall over our Selectric.

Many years later in 2001 Leonard penned an essay of writing advice for “The New York Times”, and he included a similar remark. See the citation further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Try To Leave Out the Parts that People Skip

Notes:

  1. 1985 March 8, Publishers Weekly: The Journal of the Book Industry, Volume 227, Number 10, Talk of the Trade by Leonore Fleischer, Quote Page 81, Publisher R. R. Bowker Company (now PWxyz). (Verified with microfilm)

They Haven’t Done Anything to My Book. It’s Right There on the Shelf

Raymond Chandler? James M. Cain? Alan Moore? William S. Burroughs? Larry Niven? Stephen King? Elmore Leonard? William Faulkner? Owen Sheers?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have heard the following anecdote told about Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Stephen King, and Elmore Leonard. A journalist once visited the house of a popular author who had sold the movie rights to several of his novels to Hollywood. The quality of the resultant movies had been lamented by critics. The reporter attempted to commiserate with the writer by saying that Hollywood had ruined his books, but the author led the visitor into his study and pointed to a bookshelf:

They haven’t done anything to my books. They’re still right there on the shelf. They’re fine.

Is this story accurate? Who were the participants?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence for this tale known to QI was published in the New York Times Book Review in March 1969. The influential cultural critic John Leonard visited James M. Cain at his home in Hyattsville, Maryland. Cain had written several best-selling books in the 1930s and 1940s including: “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, “Mildred Pierce”, and “Double Indemnity”. These works were transformed into movies of variable quality. Leonard reported on the remarks of Cain: 1

All the early novels were made into movies. (Hollywood made $12-million from Cain; Cain made $100,000.) He has seen only two of the movies made from his books. “There are some foods some people just don’t like. I just don’t like movies. People tell me, don’t you care what they’ve done to your book? I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf. They paid me and that’s the end of it.”

The citation above was located by top researcher Bill Mullins. In 1974 a book titled “Graham Greene: The Films of His Fiction” referenced the comments of Cain. The phrasing presented matched the version in the New York Times: 2

The American novelist James M. Cain once remarked that he had rarely gone to see the screen version of one of his novels. “People tell me, don’t you care what they’ve done to your book? I tell them, they haven’t done anything to my book. It’s right there on the shelf. They paid me and that’s the end of it.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Haven’t Done Anything to My Book. It’s Right There on the Shelf

Notes:

  1. 1969 March 2, New York Times, Section: Book Review, The Wish of James M. Cain by John Leonard, Quote Page BR2, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1974, Graham Greene: The Films of His Fiction by Gene D. Phillips, Series: Studies in Culture & Communication, Chapter 2, Quote Page 14, Teachers College Press, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York. (Verified on paper)