"I don't have a trade," he told CNN. "I don't teach or anything. I just love to make up characters and gradually build up a story around them." For example, he said, the "Out of Sight" character Karen Sisco, later the lead of a TV series, was inspired by a newspaper photograph of a shotgun-toting Miami marshal.
He also worked hard. Writing is rewriting, the old saying goes, and Leonard -- who wrote first drafts by hand -- would do three pages to get "one clean, typed page with every word in place."
The key, he said, was to know when to stop. Wise advice from the man who wrote a book called "10 Rules of Writing."
"I don't want it to sound like writing," he said. "Leave out the parts people tend to skip."