October 7th, 2009 AARON MESH | Special Section Stories
 

James Ellroy

     
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IMAGE: Marion Ettlinger

You really should read: American Tabloid

The meanest shitheel in American letters, Ellroy whet his pen on bare-knuckle noir sleaze-o-ramas like L.A. Confidential, then decided that the entirety of U.S. history was crime fiction. Slicing his sentences off at the knee, inserting confidential memorandums from J. Edgar Hoover, and escalating the violence (his paragraphs now read like they’re sprinting to keep from sticking in a slick of congealed blood), he has disinterred the urtext of conspiracy theories, a trilogy that culminates in this fall’s Blood’s a Rover. 2 pm Saturday, Oct. 10. Powell’s Stage.

What’s your personal writing ritual?

I hire researchers who compile fact sheets and chronologies for me. I extrapolate from the information to create fictional characters and rewrite the private infrastructure of large public events. The outline for my new novel, Blood’s A Rover, is a densely packed 400 pages. Then I write, rewrite, rewrite and rewrite until I have a perfect ordering of story, characterization, milieu and style.

What are your favorite themes to write about (or that you’re most guilty of rehashing)?

I have only two themes: No. 1—history; No. 2—bad men in love with strong women.

The most beautiful word in the English language is: Love.

What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place, and why?

The novel that has most informed me is Libra by Don DeLillo, his recounting of the conspiracy that led to the death of JFK, largely seen through the eyes of Lee Harvey Oswald. I credit Mr. DeLillo for the inspiration for my Underworld U.S.A. trilogy: American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand and Blood’s A Rover.

Fight Club time: If you could fight one author (or critic), who would it be and why?

I rarely take note of the names of dismissive or penny-ante critics, but you could go out, find all of them, and put them alone in a room with me and I’d be the only one to walk out alive.

Name a book you think is highly overrated. Be honest.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

Dream project:

Next fall, look for my memoir: The Hilliker Curse from Alfred A. Knopf. Dig it: It’s the story of women and me.

Most recent nightmare:

That my married girlfriend goes back to her husband.

Your cure for writer’s block:

The necessity of earning a living.

Pessimistic question: Will you keep writing even after people stop reading?

Don’t be a dipshit: People will always read.

Cautiously optimistic question: Obama? Discuss.

What impresses me most about the president is his sustained realization that leaders must imitate the virtue they wish to express, which in his case is poise and composure. Over time, it will be revealed whether or not the imitation has a grounding in spiritual reality. In conclusion, Obama is the most gifted American politician since Ronald Reagan.

Share one thing you’ve had to change in your everyday life thanks to our current recession.

I spend more money; I tip more lavishly; I treat the world more generously; I roll the financial dice; I refuse to succumb to fear.

 
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