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      home : book reviews : The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus

The Sub-Definitive Ellroy on Ellroy

The collected soundbites of James Ellroy

Sickness Rains James Ellroy is a tireless promoter of his books and has given more interviews than he can remember. Instead of a small selection of Ellroy soundbites, we decided to give you a big, fat bunch of them. Some of these quotes are out of context – and the context was humour.

On his Writing and his Methodology

‘The novel where you have absolute control, that’s what I live for, that’s what I breathe for.’

‘Structure’s very important to me, form, complexity, density, plot, all these things. I like the contained, rigorously plotted, dense, complex book where every word and gesture means something.’

‘The characters don’t write the book, I write the book.’

‘I don’t want chance and luck, I want perfection. I want absolute perfection.’

‘I assume the persona of Dudley Smith when I write him. It’s fun because he’s more intelligent than anyone else, he’s hyperverbal, I can let my mind go… part of me is going yeh, yeh, Dudley you’re the king.’

‘Germany is a big fat fuckin’ drag. They’re an oppressed bunch of people, an angry bunch of people, suppressed, repressed and frankly I think they should be beaten into submission before they try to take over the fuckin’ world. However, German methodology, German meticulousness will give you a rich, big, broad, deep, densely populated book.’

‘All good writers, great writers, bring a certain thematic unity, a certain native intelligence, and a certain innate gift for the craft… that can only see you so far. You get to that point, that dividing point, and you say to yourself, "How can I write better novels?" richer books, darker books, books that show greater diversity…’

‘I go into every book fighting off a certain level of anxiety, because I want to make it better than the previous book.’

‘What a lot of people don’t realise is, as deeply engrossed in the books as I get, as thrilled and moved by them as I am, as much as they mean to me – and believe me, they mean everything to me – I can also shut it off.’

‘You know, in autobiography you have to tell the truth. In novels you just make it up and they pay you more money.’

‘Crime Rules, Other Fiction Drools.’

Of The Black Dahlia: ‘I was obsessed with Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia case for many, many years. Unconsciously this was a story which had been building up in me for many, many years and it was a story which was deeply lodged in my unconscious, had tremendous meaning for me… The hold the book has over a lot of people is the result of the fact that it kicked around in my head for that time. I’m grateful now that I’ve exceeded The Black Dahlia in both critical acclaim and sales with American Tabloid. That makes me happy.’

‘I have a very well-hung consciousness and a very developed application of the craft. What’s going on in my unconscious, sometimes I’m just not sure, much as I try to plumb it.’

Of his short story Gravy Train: ‘There was some stuff they made me cut. There are some pit bulls that get on the loose. In the original version the pit bulls run into a gay bar and chew up a bunch of men who have AIDS, and so you’ve got pit bulls which have AIDS running around. I was asked to cut that.’

Of White Jazz: ‘I think it’s a great book. I think there’s never been anything like it and I don’t think there ever will be.’

Of American Tabloid: ‘Place it on the bookshelf between my last masterpiece and my next masterpiece.’

Of American Tabloid: ‘No, it’s not a mystery. Fuck mysteries, fuck crime novels, fuck the private eye form, fuck the police procedural form, I’m so tired of it I could die.’

On Being a Writer

‘I always wished I had a brother or sister. I grew up alone. And developed an imagination because of it.’

‘When I quit drink and drugs, I realised that what I had wanted before had been an identity. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be able to front a great image and seduce women with it.’

‘I have one great goal: to be the greatest crime writer of all time.’

‘I always wanted to be a great novelist.’

‘I love being interviewed. Being a rich and famous writer is a blast.’

‘You know, I’m a God in France, and I like that, but I get these French critics who say, "You muzzt be in terreeble pain to write zee books," and I say, "No froggy, you don’t understand, man, I’m having a blast."’

‘I don’t think life is shit, I think life is a big, fat fuckin’ Double Whopper with cheese.’

On Other Writers and Artists

‘Have I read Nietzsche? Fuck, no.’

Of Freud: ‘Another of those motherfuckers I’ve never read.’

Of James Lee Burke: ‘Oh fuck. The wind blew in from the bayou, it ruffled the trees… Oh, fuck you.’

‘I want to be the Tolstoy of my generation – an author incidentally whom I’ve never read.’

Of Frank Sinatra: ‘Oh fuck him, he’s no threat. He’s a complete shitbag.’

Of Quentin Tarantino: ‘He is a jive-ass, punk, rock ‘n roll obsessed, nihilistic, bullshit motherfucker.’

‘Beethoven’s my hero. He’s the ultimate, man. Fuckin’ hops me up, man. I write hopped up books because I listen to Beethoven.’

On his readers

‘Anybody who doesn’t like my books can kiss my ass.’

‘All I want is for people to look at my books on their own terms and let me bark a little bit now and again because, you know, I work hard. I don’t drink, don’t take drugs or chase strange women. So cut me some slack, let me bark. And drink out of the toilet and wear a flea collar. That’s all I ask.’

‘You get it or you don’t. If you get it, great. If you don’t, kiss my ass, go fuck yourself and I’ll send my dog over to pee on your grave.’

Geneva Hiliker Ellroy was strangled by person or persons unknown on 22 June 1958 when Ellroy was ten years old. The Black Dahlia is dedicated to her memory: ‘Mother: Twenty-nine Years Later, This Valediction in Blood’. Ellroy is currently working with retired LA County Sherrif Detective Bill Stoner to reinvestigate the case. The book, My Dark Places, will be part autobiography, part biography of Ellroy’s mother and Stoner, and part murder investigation. It’s due in 1997.

On his Mother

‘Yeah, she got wacked. Snuffed out. The case was never solved.’

‘I forced some tears out that Sunday – and none since.’

‘I realised that this was a great story that the media would eat up. So I told it, sold lots of copies of my book and boosted my career.’

‘The woman refused to grant me a reprieve. Her grounds were simple. My death gave you a voice and I need you to recognise me past your exploitation of it.’

‘I went to the office of the L.A. County Sherrif’s Homicide Bureau and I saw my mother’s file, I saw the pictures of her nude on the morgue slab, pictures of the body where it was dumped, I read all the police reports and it was just as shocking an experience as you’d think it would be. I realised: this isn’t over. I’d understood for a long time that my mother’s death was the formative event in my life, that’s why I write the books that I write today. That’s a simple cause and effect to understand and a simple trajectory to chart. But I didn’t realise the extent to which the debt is unpaid, the extent to which I had exploited her death. The extent to which I really need now to recognise her and honour her.’

‘There are moments when I am alone with it. It’s like I’m with the ghost of my mother, and increasingly the ghost of a killer. I feel like I’m getting a handle on it. Maybe.’

Ellroy was a speed addict and alcoholic in his youth. He slept rough and broke into people’s houses – mostly so he could sniff women’s undergarments and masturbate. He spent time in County Jail as a result. When he was thirty-one he quit drink and drugs and started writing.

On Delinquency

‘That’s Peggy Zader’s place. I knew her. Her panties, specifically.’

‘I used to drink short dog bottles of Thunderbird. I can recall the taste even now and how they get it down I’ll never know. What does it taste like? It tastes like shit.’

‘Basically I’m the nice guy version of these right-wing, badass, sociopathic cats. People think I’m "cutting edge". I am such a square. I am appalled by all this lowlife shit, though I also revel in it.’

‘I was completely perverted. I find it amusing now. I’m really happy for the life I have. I’m now 46. I have been a reasonably decent, civilised and successful human being for a good deal longer than I drank, used drugs, sniffed underwear, broke into rich people’s houses and went to jail.’

‘Speed heightens your sexual desire. I took Benzedrex inhalers. You choke the chicken for twelve hours at a pop. It almost killed me.’

‘I wasn’t a tough guy. I didn’t go to prison. I was a masturbating, panty-sniffing, wimpy little fuckin’ sneak-thief drug-addict and alcoholic.’

‘Would I recommend nearly killing oneself as a way to start writing? No, I would not.’

Despite the violence and corruption Ellroy portrays, all his works are profoundly moral in their key themes of redemption and retribution.

On morality and the law

‘I have a very strong conscience, I have a strong moral sense, I have a strong resolve not to hurt other people, I’ve never been violent. I have understanding for monsters but I have no basic empathy for them.’

‘I think the criminal should be dealt with harshly. I understand full-well that there are societal forces which formed them, and generally family trauma as well, but in the end I don’t consider that sufficient mitigation for mercy.’

‘I have a strong belief in God. I think God’s watching. I haven’t been to church since Eisenhower was president, I had a moderate protestant upbringing. I can’t say I believe in Jesus Christ, but I think God is watching and I’m gonna be judged for my deeds on this earth.’

‘I believe in God, strongly. I have a kid’s belief in the Almighty. I try to lead a moral life because I believe I’m going to be judged. I honestly think I’m going to be judged on the basis: "How hard did you work? Did you take the easy way out?"’

‘What sort of God do I believe in? An all-knowing, stern and benevolent figure.’

‘I have a strong will to be a decent human being. I was an indecent human being for many years and behaved badly and stole and did all kinds of stupid, silly, self-destructive things, and I have a strong resolve not to do those things any more.’

‘Dudley Smith? That Irish cocksucker’s dead and good riddance.’

‘My moral sense comes as a result of a lot of time just spent lying alone in dark rooms, brooding, which I like to do.’

‘I despise profligacy.’

On Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy

‘Bill Clinton is never gonna say, "I like James Ellroy". Bill Clinton is much too smart.’

‘Jack had hair. Thirty years ago my old man would look at Jack Kennedy on the tv and he’d sit and say, "What a fuckin’ head of hair". Now I see Bill Clinton on tv and I don’t even open my mouth and my wife goes: "Yeah, what a fuckin’ head of hair".’

‘I was not upset by Kennedy’s assassination. I was just a little shitbird nihilistic fifteen year old kid, and I thought it was cool that somebody gunned down the Prez. The Cuban missile crisis didn’t scare me because I thought it would be cool if the bomb went off.’

Some of these statements were made by Ellroy in my presence or directly to me. Many others were scavenged shamelessly from recent articles so I can’t vouch for their reliability. They all seem plausible.


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