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‘Justified’s’ Graham Yost: Elmore Leonard Was ‘A Writer-Father to Me’

Showrunner recalls author's rules for writing, storytelling skills

Justified” showrunner Graham Yost became friendly with author Elmore Leonard during the development of the FX drama derived from Leonard’s novella “Fire in the Hole.”

Yost remembered Leonard, who died Aug. 20 at the age of 87, as skilled “raconteur” who adhered to his own strict rules for writing. One of them was to never to use the word “suddenly.” Another was to let the story do the talking and avoid telling the reader what to think about a scene with phrases such as “and then all hell broke loose.”

EARLIER:  Legendary Writer Elmore Leonard Dead at 87

“One of the great fun things about spending time with him was that he was a very friendly guy. He felt like another writer-father to me,” Yost said. “He was very supportive of me and he liked to talk about his writing lessons. His rules are famous. All writers should pay attention to them. He was very plain-spoken in his writing and in real life.”

As a storyteller, “he could really tell a tale but he was never one of those storytellers who would say ‘look at me,’ ” Yost recalled. “He was always sort of quiet but compelling.”

Leonard got an early glimpse of “Justified” during the production of the Sony Pictures TV pilot in 2009. He was duly was impressed by the rendition of the maverick deputy U.S. marshal Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant . Yost was happy about Leonard’s response, but wasn’t surprised.

“In my first conversation with him he said ‘I really like this script’ and I had to joke with him, ‘Of course you do. Half of it is from the novella. I just lifted your dialogue. It’s your words,’ ” recalled Yost (pictured above center with Leonard and Olyphant).

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Elmore Leonard with Timothy Olyphant on “Justified.

Leonard’s embrace of “Justified” was particularly reassuring, Yost said, because the author was always vocal about the adaptations of his work that he didn’t like, such as the 2004 feature “The Big Bounce.”

During his first visit to the “Justified” set, Olyphant suggested that Leonard should write more short stories about the Givens character. That prompted Leonard to pen the novel “Raylan.” Leonard suggested that Yost “hack it up” for stories for the series, and, in fact, threads from the book have been in used in episodes during the past three seasons and will be featured in the upcoming fifth season.

Yost last spent time with Leonard this past fall, when they were in Gotham for the National Book Awards. Leonard made a funny observation when the two ducked out of the ceremony for a cigarette break.

“Elmore looked at me and said ‘It’s good that you smoke,’ ” Yost recalled. “It was a writerly thing. It was just his way of saying that ‘The world tells us not to do this but, eh, it’s not so bad.’ “

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