"All I had to do was sit at one meeting and listen to the stories to know that I was an alcoholic," he writes. "I admitted it at my first meeting. I opened my mouth and it came to me, 'I'm Dutch, and I'm an alcoholic.' But this was admission before the acceptance."
Still, acceptance came. "I'm doing what I do best," he continues. "I'm doing exactly what I want to do. There is no better situation. I sit and look out the window when I'm writing away, I look out, and I don't believe it. I'm sitting here all by myself, doing this story, getting all excited about it and getting paid for it -- a lot of money."
5. History can work for you.
Sober, Leonard kicked off one of the most amazing second acts in American fiction.
In 1978, he got an assignment from the Detroit News Magazine for a story on Squad 7 of the Detroit Police Homicide Section. His 6,000-word feature, "Impressions of Murder," is a masterwork -- and a core sample of the voicing and reporting that infuses every book he's written since.
Next, Leonard hired former autoworker Gregg Sutter as a researcher. Leonard has never owned a computer. Sutter is better than any computer. He produces exhaustive dossiers, photographs locations and shoots video interviews. He'll find out exactly how to break into a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. All this results in precisely rendered details and characters who sound real and know what they're talking about.
6. If reason doesn't work, get up and kick it in the teeth.
In the early 1980s, Leonard hit his stride with a string of books set mostly in south Florida: "Gold Coast," "Split Images," "Cat Chaser," "Stick" and "LaBrava." Then he was recruited by Sidney Poitier and Walter Mirisch to develop a sequel to "In the Heat of the Night." One idea was to have the movie take place in Atlantic City, so Leonard and his researcher started digging.
By the time the studio canceled the project, Leonard had already started his next novel, "Glitz," and set it in Atlantic City and Puerto Rico.
"Glitz" sold more than 200,000 copies in hardcover. Leonard made the New York Times bestseller list for the first time.
7. Stop playing a role.
Another movie that never got made led to "Get Shorty." Dustin Hoffman wanted to make a film from "LaBrava," and Hoffman, Mirisch and Leonard embarked on a legendary series of marathon meetings that epitomized Hollywood at its most absurd. "Get Shorty," Leonard's 1990 novel, makes a plot about a loan shark who becomes a Hollywood player hilariously plausible.
8. Let it happen.
Leonard doesn't do whodunits or morality tales. Much of his fiction involves witty street or shop talk. Often, it's brutally funny.
Here's one favorite:
In "Freaky Deaky," a cop undergoes a psychological evaluation after a drug dealer is killed by a bomb. When the doctor asks a question he knows the answer to -- how did the drug dealer die? -- the cop says, "We believe the deceased attempted to outrun a substance that explodes at the rate of fifteen thousand feet per second and didn't make it."
9. Keep yourself in suspense.
The working title of Leonard's next novel is "Djibouti" -- the name of the country in the Horn of Africa where 25,000 ships a year ply the sea lanes between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean and Somali pirates have scored multimillion-dollar ransoms.
His heroine, a 35-year-old documentary filmmaker from New Orleans named Dara Barr, has been shooting film of pirates. Al Qaeda operatives are eyeing natural-gas tanker ships as potential weapons of mass destruction, and who's this rich American in a high-tech yacht with his fiancee?
All these characters, including the pirates, converge in post-Katrina New Orleans, where everybody wants to see (or steal) Dara's footage.
In the last few years, Leonard's writing has had an air of -- if not coasting exactly -- scaled-back ambition. "Road Dogs," superb as it is, feels a bit slight. With "Djibouti," it sounds like Leonard is swinging for the fences.
10. We all answer to a higher power.
In the back of Leonard's house, various editions and translations of his books are neatly arranged. Also on display are a couple of signed baseball cards of his namesake, along with awards and his 1985 Newsweek cover.
"I wrote all this?" Leonard says.
Genre books are notoriously perishable, but it's a safe bet that Leonard's best will age like that of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith and John le Carre.
Northrop Frye once distinguished "between the refined writer too finicky for popular formulas, and the major one who exploits them ruthlessly."
Dutch belongs in the majors.