Conversations with James Ellroy

Conversations with James Ellroy

Edited by Steven Powell
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Conversations with James Ellroy
    Book Description:

    As a novelist who has spent years crafting and refining his intense and oft outrageous "Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction" persona, James Ellroy has used interviews as a means of shaping narratives outside of his novels.Conversations with James Ellroycovers a series of interviews given by Ellroy from 1984 to 2010, in which Ellroy discusses his literary contribution and his public and private image.

    Born Lee Earle Ellroy in 1948, James Ellroy is one of the most critically acclaimed and controversial contemporary writers of crime and historical fiction. Ellroy's complex narratives, which merge history and fiction, have pushed the boundaries of the crime fiction genre:American Tabloid, a revisionist look at the Kennedy era, wasTimemagazine's Novel of the Year 1995, and his novelsL.A. ConfidentialandThe Black Dahliawere adapted into films. Much of Ellroy's remarkable life story has served as the template for the personal obsessions that dominate his writing. From the brutal, unsolved murder of his mother, to his descent into alcohol and drug abuse, his sexual voyeurism, and his stints at the Los Angeles County Jail, Ellroy has lived through a series of hellish experiences that few other writers could claim.

    InConversations with James Ellroy, Ellroy talks extensively about his life, his literary influences, his persona, and his attitudes towards politics and religion. In interviews with fellow crime writers Craig McDonald, David Peace, and others, including several previously unpublished interviews, Ellroy is at turns charismatic and eloquent, combative and enigmatic.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-105-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xii)

    As a novelist who has devoted much of the latter half of his literary career to both the mythmaking and myth-debunking of American history, James Ellroy has rather fittingly capitalized on his status as one of America’s most sought after interviewees to weave myths about his own life and work. As Ellroy would say to Ron Hogan in 1995, “every interview I give is a chance to puncture the myth I’ve created about my work and refine it.”

    Ellroy’s life story reads like a brutal, hyperbolized realization of the American dream. He was born Lee Earle Ellroy in Los Angeles...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. An Interview with James Ellroy
    (pp. 3-10)
    Duane Tucker and James Ellroy

    With only three novels behind him, James Ellroy must already be considered a major hardboiled writer, an appraisal borne out of the plaudits earned by his first two books.

    Brown’s Requiem(Avon, 1981) was nominated for a Private Eye Writers of America “Shamus” award;Clandestine(Avon, 1982) was nominated for a Mystery Writers of America “Edgar” and won a bronze medal from theWest Coast Review of Books. His third novel,Blood on the Moon(Mysterious Press), was just published.

    All three novels are Los Angeles-set and feature violent, sexually driven heroes; men who are perilously unsympathetic. Beyond that, they...

  6. Don Swaim’s Interview of James Ellroy
    (pp. 11-19)
    Don Swaim and James Ellroy

    Interviewer: Well, I did readThe Black Dahlia, and it looks to me that you spent quite a bit of effort to learn the jargon and the way people talked and the slang and everything.

    Ellroy: Of the 1940s, yeah. I was born in ’48, the year after the murder occurred, and grew up in Los Angeles and have always been obsessed with the Los Angeles of the past, the years before I was born. So it was inbred in me, the interest, the customs, and I read a lot of the novels of that period. So essentially, when it...

  7. James Ellroy
    (pp. 20-24)
    Fleming Meeks

    Dressed in seersucker shorts, tennis shoes, and a crisply starched white shirt, James Ellroy greetsPWat the train station on a Saturday afternoon looking like he just stepped away from a backyard barbecue. At forty-two, the solidly built 6’2”, 195-pound crime novelist, who last month moved with his wife Mary into a rambling fourteen-room colonial house in New Canaan, Connecticut, looks more like an ad exec and an ex-Ivy League footballer than a high school drop-out and former petty thief, golf caddy, and one-time chronic alcoholic.

    But Ellroy’s readers—his ninth novel,L.A. Confidential, is just out from Mysterious...

  8. Doctor Noir
    (pp. 25-35)
    Martin Kihn

    The day his brain stopped, James Ellroy was on a roof. It was his friend Randy Rice’s roof, atop an apartment building at Pico and Robertson in West Los Angeles. This was in 1975—four years before he began writing the incendiary crime novels that have made him rich and may soon make him famous. He was just out of a thirty-day alcohol rehab at Long Beach General Hospital, shoplifting Oscar Mayer bologna for raw fuel. And he was trying to formulate a simple thought:I want to go across the street and buy a pack of cigarettes.

    But he...

  9. Interview with a Hepcat
    (pp. 36-39)
    Brad Wieners

    The day broke the same as midnight, storm of the century wild. No sunrise. There’d be no sunset. Branches everywhere. Lines down. Traffic snarled. San Francisco in the grip of a March tempest.

    Storm of the century or no, the plan remained: meet Ellroy at the Huntingdon, 2 P.M. He arrives at 1:58 during the eye of the storm. He pegs me as the interviewer, “Disheveled, the Ellroy type.” We grab a table in the dining room.

    In person, Ellroy is more soft-spoken than his narrators, but no less crass. His vulgarity however, is not so much rude—it’s not...

  10. Mad Dog and Glory: A Conversation with James Ellroy
    (pp. 40-52)
    Charles L. P. Silet and James Ellroy

    The self-described “Mad Dog” of contemporary crime fiction, Ellroy has led a life as bizarre as one of his ill-fated characters. His mother was murdered when he was ten years old, and in his late teens he dropped out of school and went on the streets, becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, living in abandoned houses, and gorging himself on crime novels.

    By 1977 he sobered up and began writing: first, a classic detective novel,Brown’s Requiem(1981), a genre that he quickly abandoned; next a sex murder book,Clandestine(1982) which was a thinly disguised version of his mother’s...

  11. The Beatrice Interview: 1995
    (pp. 53-60)
    Ron Hogan

    Dig it: Howard Hughes holed up in a hotel suite, strung out on heroin and receiving daily blood transfusions. James Riddle Hoffa at war with the Kennedys. Jack Kennedy ready to jump on anything in a skirt. Sam Giancana and Carlos Marcello scheming to get back the casinos in Havana. Jack Ruby in over his head with some bad, bad men. J. Edgar Hoover sitting in the shadows, watching over everything, listening in through the wiretaps.

    This is the world of James Ellroy’s new novel,American Tabloid, a world where just about everybody’s working two or more different angles. There’s...

  12. James Ellroy: Barking
    (pp. 61-91)
    Paul Duncan

    Interviewer: Hello, Mr. Ellroy.

    Ellroy: Call me Dog.

    Interviewer: Okay, Mr. Dog.

    Ellroy: No . . . just “Dog.”

    If there’s one thing you have to admire about Dog, it’s that he puts on a good show. He swears. He digs up his past and shoves it in the faces of his adoring public. He simulates masturbation on stage. He howls like the Demon Dog of American Crime Literature that he is. What’s even funnier is that so many people take this stuff seriously.

    I have this vision of Dog arriving home after a hard month or two touring, slipping...

  13. Dead Women Owned His Soul
    (pp. 92-98)
    Jesse Sublett

    He should have known he’d have to go back. Not just part of the way. All the way. That’s where the answers are. He should have known because that’s the way it is in noir fiction. He should have known it like Robert Mitchum knew it midway throughOut of the Past. He doesn’t just write noir fiction, he’s lived it. He’s James Ellroy.

    Ellroy began devouring crime novels at the age of ten. Growing up in L.A. in the fifties and sixties was a long walk through hell. He was a voyeur, petty thief, burglar, wino, Benzedrex addict. He...

  14. “Confidential” Commentary
    (pp. 99-103)
    Rob Blackwelder

    “I think that if a writer options a novel to a studio or to film makers in general, then he has an obligation to keep his mouth shut if the movie gets made and it’s all f----- up.”

    So opines James Ellroy, the gruff and sardonic author of the 1950s crime and corruption bestsellerL.A. Confidential. So why is he making press appearances to promote the film adaptation?

    Quite simply, he’s taken with the movie. “I am in the wonderful position of actually wanting to open my mouth and extolL.A. Confidentialthe film.”

    In San Francisco for a day...

  15. Lunch and Tea with James Ellroy
    (pp. 104-113)
    M. G. Smout and James Ellroy

    Jeez, the man’s a giant. The person towering over me and shaking my hand looks nothing like the photo commonly found in his books—the one where he looks like a squat, chubby, neofascist British politician circa 1950. “Great hair. If I had hair, I’d have it like yours.” The man is a charmer and I am won over in one sentence. He then asks about my background and says how much he likes the north of England, Manchester and so on. Americans are like that, they can go on autopilot extracting basic social information, but Ellroy’s probings seem genuine....

  16. James Ellroy: The Tremor of Intent
    (pp. 114-124)
    Craig McDonald

    James Ellroy, circa May 2001: a crime novelist at the crossroads.

    At fifty-three, Ellroy was three-quarters of the way through an international book tour that had taken him across France, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain. Ellroy was pushing across North America.

    In September, he planned to return to Europe to kick off what he had dubbed, “the Axis Tour.”

    It was an unprecedented campaign conducted by an author renowned for audacious book promotion. Maybe the biggest tour ever conducted by an established American author.

    Ellroy’s extraordinary efforts were paying off:

    The Cold Six Thousand, Ellroy’s largest and most ambitious novel,...

  17. Interview: James Ellroy
    (pp. 125-131)
    Keith Phipps and James Ellroy

    James Ellroy is a man with few secrets. After spending his early years drifting from one sordid situation to another following his mother’s still-unsolved 1958 murder, he beat back a handful of addictions in the ’70s, found steady employment as a caddie, and began writing. His autobiographical work—most memorablyMy Dark Places, his 1996 memoir/true-crime account of his mother’s death—is unflinchingly honest, and he brings the same unblinking directness to the bad guys and the clay-footed heroes of his crime fiction. Early efforts likeBrown’s RequiemandKiller on the Roadearned him a cult following, but he...

  18. James Ellroy: To Live and Die in L.A.
    (pp. 132-148)
    Craig McDonald

    In May 2001, I sat down with James Ellroy in the lobby of an Ann Arbor, Michigan hotel to discuss the second volume of his Underworld U.S.A. Trilogy,The Cold Six Thousand. The novel, the sequel to his hugely successful and much acclaimedAmerican Tabloid, had just become the first of the author’s hardcovers to crack theNew York Times’ best-seller list.

    At fifty-three, Ellroy was three-quarters of the way through an international book tour that had taken him across France, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain. Ellroy was starting to push across North America.

    It was an ambitious publicity campaign...

  19. James Ellroy: The Black Dahlia, L.A. Confidential
    (pp. 149-157)
    Peter Canavese

    Though he has yet to have a screenplay produced, author James Ellroy scored big in Hollywood when Curtis Hanson filmed the much-laudedL.A. Confidential, adapted from Ellroy’s novel. Ellroy’s other books includeAmerican Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, The Big Nowhere, White Jazz, and the autobiographicalMy Dark Places. The documentary filmFeast of Deathretells the story ofMy Dark Placesby following Ellroy around L.A. Ellroy came to San Francisco’s Four Seasons Hotel to talk upThe Black Dahlia, Brian De-Palma’s film of what may be Ellroy’s most celebrated novel.

    Interviewer: In 1947, Betty Short was cut in...

  20. Engaging the Horror
    (pp. 158-168)
    Steven Powell

    Interviewer: InKiller on the RoadMartin Plunkett has a fantasy he dubs “Brain Movies” which bears some similarity toThe Big Nowherewhere Danny Upshaw uses a technique dubbed “Man Camera.” Why the presence of cinematic techniques in your novels?

    Ellroy: I love movies, and I’m a voyeur is the best and most direct answer. You know about my childhood. I was going around looking in windows and peeping and perving out here and there. And there’s a great deal of this in this novel I’m writing now. And imagery, particularly when it comes to women and sexuality, is...

  21. Coda for Crime Fiction
    (pp. 169-175)
    Steven Powell

    Interviewer: Your early novels featured many references to music such as Anton Bruckner,¹ rock ’n’ roll, black bebop jazz. Why the link between music and crime in your novels?

    Ellroy: There’s not so many references to rock ’n’ roll, they’re here and there.Brown’s Requiemmirrors my flat-out obsession with classical music and Bruckner, the Romantic composers, a line that started with Beethoven and Bruckner—the enormousness, the idea of spiritual transcendence. The idea of seeking God, transmogrification, the bigness of it, the complexity of it has always floored me. And I’ve got a big poster of Bruckner. It’s an...

  22. James Ellroy: The Art of Fiction
    (pp. 176-188)
    Nathaniel Rich

    Interviewer: You were away from Los Angeles for twenty-five years. Why’d you come back?

    Ellroy: One reason:Cherchez la femme. I chased women to suburban New York, suburban Connecticut, Kansas City, Carmel, and San Francisco. But I ran out of places, and I ran out of women, so I ended up back here.

    Interviewer: Did you miss the city?

    Ellroy: While I was away, the Los Angeles of my past accreted in my mind, developing its own power. Early on in my career I believed that in order to write about L.A., I had to stay out of it entirely....

  23. The Romantic’s Code
    (pp. 189-200)
    Steven Powell

    Ellroy: When I was a kid going through the L.A. County jail system, invariably there was a Mexican drag queen called Peaches. Now by and large the county jail back then was safe, but it would take fourteen/sixteen hours to get across, it’s a very big facility. And it was all warrant checks with early mainframe computers, and you go through one tank, one cage about the size of this entire apartment to another to another, and there were periods of isolation. You’d get a blood test. You’d get deloused. There’d be a chest x-ray. There’d be questions about your...

  24. James Ellroy Previews Blood’s a Rover
    (pp. 201-204)
    Art Taylor

    On Tuesday, September 22, Alfred A. Knopf will publish James Ellroy’sBlood’s a Rover, the third and final installment of the Underworld U.S.A. novels that began withAmerican TabloidandThe Cold Six Thousand. The new book is not only a fine finish to that trilogy but also strikes me as both Ellroy’s most ambitious novel (drawing on seven different perspectives) and the most accessible entry into the trilogy. As with its predecessors,Blood’s a Rovercontinues to explore how private lives can impact very public and highly political events, spanning in this case from the aftermath of the King...

  25. Star of the Noir: An Audience with L.A. Confidential Author James Ellroy
    (pp. 205-211)
    Alix Sharkey

    Somewhere between the low-rent end of Hollywood and the mansions of Hancock Park stands an Art Deco tower with a temperamental elevator. On the third floor, at the far end of a carpeted hallway, an apartment’s blood red walls are hung with vintage photos of L.A. crime scenes. Cops with fedoras and overcoats. Sprawling corpses. Dark stains on the sidewalk.

    Beethoven and Bruckner glower across the living room at a black and white photo of two boxers mid-punch. It’s 3 pm but the blinds are down and the table lamps have that forties nightclub glow, romantic and sickly. Black leather...

  26. James Ellroy and David Peace in Conversation
    (pp. 212-218)
    David Peace and James Ellroy

    Interviewer: Pete Bondurant appears as a minor character inWhite Jazzand then becomes one of the principal characters inAmerican TabloidandThe Cold Six Thousand—is that where the spark for the whole Underworld U.S.A. trilogy came from? With you wanting to run with this character, to see where Pete took you?

    Ellroy: There was an overlap that began with my reading of Don DeLillo’s novelLibra. I saw that it was so superbly done that I couldn’t write another book specifically about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But that’s when I began to see that the...

  27. Index
    (pp. 219-222)