Elmore Leonard and a barstool


Someone told me to work ‘market positioning’ into the pitch for my novel. I said “What do you mean?” And he said, “Oh, you know … This novel is ‘him-who’ meets ‘so-and-so’. All that.”

So that got me thinking.

Imagine ringing Cormac McCarthy, whilst elbowing Arthur C Clarke gently in the stomach. Clarke groans and McCarthy, it turns out, won’t take your call. Meantime (because you’re multi-tasking, you understand) you’re buying Jean Rhys a G&T and Harper Lee an orange juice, Swift a pint. Which he gazes at in disgust, before swooping out abruptly. The two women stare morosely at their drinks, do not touch them. Well, at least Harper Lee doesn’t (Jean Rhys doesn’t fuss much who’s buying – but then again, isn’t that why you like her?). Now you find yourself eyeing up Elmore Leonard, you can’t help it, his lines are so short and sexy, abrupt about turns and piercing eye-to-eye gazes. You try spinning on your barstool, you pretend you don’t see him. He leaves, or he seems to. Just now you are too upset to notice that much. You lean down hard on the bar, and you cover your eyes: Yes, it’s your ex, right there in the corner. Looking at you with a soft disappointed gaze. You realise that you’ll never get over that bastard, Faulkner. Never. That he’s ruined you. And furthermore, you are doomed, at least in Faulkner’s eyes. Maybe he’ll remember you fondly some day, but honestly that’s about it for now. It’s over between you. His sentences were really always far too long for any woman to reasonably handle. You often had to read and re-read him, just to figure out what was even happening some nights. You down the whiskey Elmore Leonard softly places at your left elbow. “It will be alright.” Elmore says. “You are going to be strong.” His voice is warm and satisfying and you remember how well he always treats women, even though Emily and Charlotte keep trying to warn you against him. “It’s fine”, you tell them. “He might kill me but he won’t patronise me. It’s not nothing, that.” The Bronte girls softly shake their heads and sigh and murmur in a nineteenth century way (you can’t hear what they’re saying, because the bar’s loud). You gather your thoughts. You try to gather your thoughts, but the room softly blurs. There is a terrible searing feeling in your throat. You realise, too late, Leonard’s poisoned your whiskey.

You know, deep down, that Elmore Leonard only wants to kill you in another one of his improbable plot-lines. And is just figuring out the why and how of your death as you take another deep swig of his dark noir-ish whiskey. All the while William Faulkner and Jean Rhys are slipping quietly and discretely, arm in arm, out of the room. It hurts but you know they are right for each other. It’s possible that Jean turns in the doorway, grins at you, thanks you for the drink (and you always did like her). But then again the whole room is blurry, remember? Who can be sure whom Jean’s really thanking. You summon yourself. Raising yourself up to your full height (that screw under the barstool really helps). You glare at their retreating backs: “Blurry is fine.” You say. “Blurry is what I was going for. Actually.” You stop talking. You realise you have gone too far again. “I have something important to tell you all …” You try. But the room is empty. There is only Elmore, slipping into the seat beside you. Murderous intent just written all over him (and you can Tell not Show, I mean, Crikey, who doesn’t know what murderous intent looks like? It’s not like his eyes would flash, or his jaw lock, or a seam of sweat twist, glinting, down his temple. No, course not, that would all just be … Weird. And we know Elmore’s brand of murderous look would be impossibly subtle. And that no-one says Crikey. Not these days. You begin a solemn slow-slide off your barstool, thinking about what subtle murderousness might look like and why no-one ever says Crikey. All that. When it’s such a great word. “Jane.” Elmore says, interrupting your reverie. Did I mention that his voice is warm and satisfying?

“Jane. There are too many words in this pitch. Jane, it’s self indulgent. You are losing the gig now, everyone stopped reading it sixty lines back, if they even clicked on the link, and this all needs an edit now anyway. Possibly a delete.”

Elmore seems to have it all figured out and after all, you like that in an author. You remember that he never talks to women except intently, you decide that’s fine because to meet your poetic standards whatever it is that he’s doing on the barstool next to you, it must end in ‘ly’ and no-one should be realistically seduced, let’s face it. Or at least not in our time. Not slyly or tuberously either. If that’s even a word. You take another swig, you try to meet Elmore’s long gaze. It comes to you that your name is not Jane. It’s a sudden understanding, that is. Right here by the window. You realise you don’t have a market position or a proper genre even and that you never will have one. Sun-light filters in, lights up a dust mote. It’s alright, you think, “There are no palm trees. And I’m almost sure I’m essential to Elmore’s plot.”

“That’s your pitch? You’ve got to be kidding. I mean … No Woman was ever essential to

Elmore’s plot. Sheesh. At least I don’t think so.”


“Hmmm. Please don’t say sheesh. But you might have a point. Okay, try this:

The new novel is Anne Holm after William Faulkner left her for a better writer, Elmore Leonard got her drunk on cheap whiskey, Jonathan Swift kicked her hard in the shin (or maybe the head) and Ursula Le Guin helped her slowly back on to her feet, hobbling and keening to the left a little. Jean Rhys may or may not have at some point in the story stopped by, picked up a drink and left, grinning or not grinning. It’s hard to say which. Only this writing is worse than that, obviously. Because that writing would be too awesome and we would be blinded instantly by the talent, unable to read on, concentrate on the words, anything. Because we’d be blinded. So this is definitely not that kind of writing. It’s not that genre. If there is a genre like that. And please don’t say ‘Sheesh’ again now. You are not a cowboy.”

“This is not a market position either. This isn’t anything. Look … ” Sighs. “No one can sell this. Any of it. I don’t even know what this is.”

“Oh. Okay. Well then definitely don’t read my new novel.”

“Why not?”

“It’ll depress you.”

“I’m not going to read it.”

“I’m posting the link.”

“Why would you do that? When I’m not going to read it?” Sighs. Holds head. “You are doing this All Wrong.”

“Okay, okay. I definitely won’t post it. It is definitely Not Coming Soon.”

“I’m not going to read it.”

“That’s good. Really.”

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Jo Ely

Described as "an intelligent, creative, imaginative, original writer" by Guardian Book of the Year author Trevor Byrne, Jo Ely has been Shortlisted for the Fish International Short Story Prize and has had a short story selected for an anthology edited by New York Times Notable Book of the Year author Sandra Tyler (Woven Tale Press, US ed. 2016). Jo has published short stories, children's books and written interviews with writers for the Woven Tale Press. She also reviews for the world's first online Empathy Library. 'Stone Seeds' is Jo's first novel, published by Urbane Publications (Amazon.co.uk).

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