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Conversations with James Ellroy

Steven Powell

Publication Year: 2012

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 Ellroy covers 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, was Time magazine's Novel of the Year 1995, and his novels L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia were 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.

In Conversations 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 In interviews with fellow crime writers Craig McDonald, David Peace, and others, including several previously unpublished interviews, Ellroy is at turns charismatic and eloquent, combative and enigmatic.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Series: Literary Conversations Series

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pp. ix-xi

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...


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pp. xiii-xvi

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An Interview with James Ellroy

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pp. 3-10

All three novels are Los Angeles-set and feature violent, sexually driven heroes; men who are perilously unsympathetic. Beyond that, they differ markedly in texture and scope. Brown’s Requiem is the story of Fritz Brown, an ex-cop car repossessor and a “private eye” in name only, accurately described...

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Don Swaim’s Interview of James Ellroy

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pp. 11-19

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...

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James Ellroy

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pp. 20-24

Dressed in seersucker shorts, tennis shoes, and a crisply starched white shirt, James Ellroy greets PW at 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...

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Doctor Noir

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pp. 25-35

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...

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Interview with a Hepcat

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pp. 36-39

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 directed at anyone— and the result is, ironically, a more open exchange. He says “yeah” as a period or a comma, a downbeat between phrases that sounds on tape like...

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Mad Dog and Glory: A Conversation with James Ellroy

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pp. 40-52

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...

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The Beatrice Interview: 1995

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pp. 53-60

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...

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James Ellroy: Barking

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pp. 61-91

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...

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Dead Women Owned His Soul

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pp. 92-98

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 through Out of the Past. He doesn’t just write noir fiction, he’s...

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“Confidential” Commentary

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pp. 99-103

The story is told from three points of view, those of a trio of rival LAPD detectives. Two of them, the politically savvy Boy Scout Ed Exley and the temperamental vigilante Bud White, are played in the film by relative newcomers Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe. Detective Jack Vincennes, a very...

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Lunch and Tea with James Ellroy

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pp. 104-113

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...

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James Ellroy: The Tremor of Intent

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pp. 114-124

However the public image and reputation for wild readings he had spent more than twenty years cultivating had begun to tire and trouble the author. Like Ernest Hemingway’s Papa persona, Ellroy’s craftily conceived and constructed public image attracted fans, reporters, and filmmakers...

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Interview: James Ellroy

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pp. 125-131

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...

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James Ellroy: To Live and Die in L.A.

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pp. 132-148

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 acclaimed American Tabloid, had just become the first of the...

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James Ellroy: The Black Dahlia, L.A. Confidential

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pp. 149-157

Though he has yet to have a screenplay produced, author James Ellroy scored big in Hollywood when Curtis Hanson filmed the much-lauded L.A. Confidential, adapted from Ellroy’s novel. Ellroy’s other books include American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, The Big Nowhere, White Jazz, and the autobiographical...

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Engaging the Horror

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pp. 158-168

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...

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Coda for Crime Fiction

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pp. 169-175

There’s not so many references to rock ’n’ roll, they’re here and there. Brown’s Requiem mirrors 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...

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James Ellroy: The Art of Fiction

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pp. 176-188

A lot of it is simple biography. I lived here, so I was obsessed with my immediate environment. I am from Los Angeles truly, immutably. It’s the first thing you get in any author’s note: James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. I was hatched in the film-noir epicenter, at the height of the...

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The Romantic’s Code

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pp. 189-200

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...

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James Ellroy Previews Blood’s a Rover

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pp. 201-204

On Tuesday, September 22, Alfred A. Knopf will publish James Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover, the third and final installment of the Underworld U.S.A. novels that began with American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. The new book is not only a fine finish to that trilogy but also strikes me as both...

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Star of the Noir: An Audience with L.A. Confidential Author James Ellroy

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pp. 205-211

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...

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James Ellroy and David Peace in Conversation

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pp. 212-218

There was an overlap that began with my reading of Don DeLillo’s novel Libra. 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 harbingers of the assassination started to percolate...


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pp. 219-222

E-ISBN-13: 9781617031052
E-ISBN-10: 1617031054
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617031038
Print-ISBN-10: 1617031038

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Literary Conversations Series

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Subject Headings

  • Authors, American -- 20th century -- Interviews
  • Ellroy, James, 1948- -- Interviews.
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