The 85-year-old Leonard, who published his 44th novel this week, said famed writer Ernest Hemingway may be his literary model, but that he turns to the U.S. game show for a window on the American vernacular.
"I listen to the contestants on 'Wheel of Fortune,"' he told Reuters in a telephone interview from his Michigan home.
Leonard's new book, "Djibouti," is set in the Horn of Africa and is populated by pirates, al-Qaeda operatives, an eccentric billionaire, a truth-seeking journalist and her sassy assistant. "I liked the idea of the pirates that get high on (the drug) khat and take hold of a merchant ship and then hold it for ransom. I thought, 'These guys are having a good time,"' he said.
And there was the name of the country, whose port is located near an area where Somali pirates have been hijacking ships. "Djibouti has been one of my favorite words for a long time. It just has a marvelous sound to it," said Leonard, described by the New York Times this month as "a national treasure" and as the most widely imitated crime writer. Leonard is already several hundred pages into his next book and showing no sign of slowing down. "I've always had a good time," he said. "I've been doing this for nearly 60 years and it's always been fun because I got to a style that I liked and I'm very comfortable with. I let the characters tell the story in their voices and I keep my nose out of it."
Leonard, who does not use a computer or own a mobile phone and still writes novels in longhand, said he does not understand why anyone would want to read "Djibouti" as an e-book, or digital book, although it is available in that format. "I like a book," he said. "I love books, that's why I started to write. I like to own books."
"The e-book to me is not much better than a manuscript. I don't think there's any life to it at all, there's no glamour to it, there's no colour in it," he said. "At least a book has a cover."
Leonard takes a different view of movies. There have been 21 feature films, seven made-for-television movies, and three television series and two short films based on his books. Leonard's current project is "Justified," a collaboration with the cable network FX that is centered around Leonard's U.S. Marshall character Raylan Givens from his short story "Fire in the Hole."