Peter Leonard is a stellar writer. I know, I’ve read five of his books and have never been disappointed. His work is taut and tense and humorous, sometimes all at once. He takes you on a ride and you don’t really care where it’s going as long as he’s at the helm. It’s the main reason I contacted him for a quick interview. His latest thriller is titled, “Raylan Goes to Detroit,” where he breathes new life into U.S. Marshall, Raylan Givens, a character who his father Elmore Leonard created back in the early ‘90’s. It’s the same Raylan Givens who was the main character of the FX hit series, “Justified.”
I mention his famous father with apprehension, because Peter’s writing acumen is phenomenal all by itself and he deserves more recognition for his body of work. If you like gritty thrillers with realistic characters who speak like real people, then you need to get one of his books. Start anywhere, they all stand alone by themselves. Now here’s Peter:
1-Raylan Goes to Detroit was so satisfying because Raylan reacts exactly how you would imagine. Did you feel any pressure to keep his voice and actions within the framework of his past experiences?
I felt very comfortable stepping into Raylan’s boots. He was like an old friend. And yes, I thought it was important to keep Raylan's sound and attitude from Elmore's previous novels: Pronto and Riding the Rap and his short story: Fire in the Hole.
2- Forgive me if this is too personal, but your novels are so proficient, your father must’ve been very proud of your accomplishments. Was there ever a time that you wished your last name was Shlotsky?
Being Elmore’s son was a blessing and a curse. Probably more of a curse. Every review I received early on compared my first couple books to his forty-five. It was frustrating and unfair but that’s the way it is. However, that kind of negativism motivated me to get better. And now I’m often favorably compared to my father.
3-No matter what the plotline, your readers are led through your stories by interesting characters doing interesting things. These are true page-turners. Do you have to know where you’re going? Or is it all by feel?
I start with a character in a situation and build from there. I know how the book begins and often where it’s going to end. But I don’t know how I’m going to get from point A to point B. I try to keep the reader off balance. I try to create a plot/story that isn’t obvious. If I’m not surprised the reader won’t be.
4-I suspect that you would write thrillers even if you never were paid a dime for them. Is that a helpful criteria for an effective novelist?
I might have written a couple books without being paid. But I’ve always worked for money.
And writing a book, although satisfying and entertaining, takes a lot of time and effort.
5- What future projects do you have lined up?
I’ve just finished a novel called Sweet Dreams. The main character, Kate McGraw is a US marshal and the lone female on the alpha male fugitive task force in Detroit. The character is based on a female marshal I rode with for a few days. I think it’s my best work to date.