Thursday, August 19, 2010

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF JAMES ELLROY?



It occurred to me that in my post on writers James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard I forgot to include a sample of Ellroy's writing. Ill make up for that here with a couple of brief Ellroy interviews.  He writes the way he talks, so this should give you an idea of what the writing's like.




Ellroy talks in short sentenses with short words.  It's a very lean style.  In the interviews he comes off as obsessive, which doesn't surprise me.  I think all good literary stylists have compulsive disorders.  They write whether they get paid for it or not. You have to write an awful. awful lot to get the kind of feel for words that they have.

The trick is to avoid getting seduced by your own beautiful words, and to never neglect the content. Good writing is always about something that's worth knowing.




YouTube has several videos where Ellroy talks about Elizabeth Short, the famous "Black Dahlia" whose corpse was found surgically cut in half in Hollywood in the forties. His own mother was murdered when Ellroy was a kid, some (not Ellroy) believe by the same killer. The two murders are always on Ellroy's mind. I'm surprised that Ellroy is able to keep focused on a subject he's spoken and written about so frequently through the years. Maybe this is another example of how you have to be an an obsessive compulsive in order to write well.

 Maybe the tragic crimes gave him a nucleus around which he could grow a compulsion. Maybe the best writers need compulsions for fuel and deliberately set about to acquire and nurture them. Or maybe I'm trying to over explain something that's simple and doesn't need an explanation. I don't know. Anyway, I love the way Ellroy talks.

25 comments:

thomas said...

I don't think Ellroy's mother was the Black Dahlia. Her name was Elizabeth Short, and she was quite young. I believe Ellroy's mother was murdered and that the killer was never found. The Black Dahlia case just resonated with him.
His personality kind of puts me off. A nerdy Mickey Spillane?

RooniMan said...

Judging from the way he talks, his books must be fantastic.

Vincent Waller said...

He is the fellow who's mother was murdered while he was a kid?

Anonymous said...

Ellroy's mother was not the Black Dahlia. His mother WAS murdered--but her name was Geneva Odelia. The victim known as "Black Dahlia" was Elizabeth Short. Two different people.

Chris said...

Liked the links. Ellroy's mother was not the Black Dahlia case. He wrote a book about the Black Dahlia case--he was somewhat obsessed about it.

He also wrote an autobiographical book (My Dark Places) about his mother's murder, his decline into drug use, the original police attempt to find the killer, and his current reinvestigation with a retired L.A.P.D. detective. It's worth checking out.

Anonymous said...

Ellroy's mother was NOT The Black Dahlia! His mother was Geneva Hilliker, murdered in 1958 in El Monte, CA. Ellroy obsessed on the Black Dahlia as a way of dealing with his own mother's senseless killing and feelings he wasn't able to confront at the time. Read "My Dark Places" for the full picture. Also, check out his upcoming memoir, "The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women" out September 7th.

Paul Penna said...

For a real trip, listen to Ellroy on the commentary tracks (joining film noir maven Eddie Muller) on the DVDs of "Crime Wave" and "The Lineup." I guarantee you've never heard anything like it.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

To all: Holy Mackerel, did I goof that one up! I went back and rewrote the section on Ellroy's mother. I recently got Ellroy's book about the Dahlia murder but I haven't read it yet.

Paul: Thanks for the tip! I'll look for those disks!

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched all the clips yet, due to my poor internet connection, but judging from what I've seen, James Ellroy seemed like quite an articulate, sophisticated fellow.

By the way, I checked out The Fountainhead at the library. I love how Ayn Rand makes the characters in the book feel like people you'd know from real life without the writing actually coming across as writing, so to speak. I really feel sorry for all those students who had to read Anthem. They must have hated it if it was her worst book.

Eric Noble said...

Absolutely fascinating!! I will have to read some of his work. He sounds like a very intelligent, and very intense human being.

The way he talks about how he goes over his writing again and again to get that right feeling for dialogue and narrative is something I think might be helpful in the world of animation. Artists going over the boards, layouts, animation, etc. again and again would help produce a better product. It's what gave us the great cartoon classics like the best of Disney or Warner Brothers. I would like to se that nowadays.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Roberto: You're reading The Fountainhead!? When you finish let us know what you thought about it.

MrGoodson2 said...

I really enjoyed Ellroy's commentary on CRIME WAVE.

http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/2010/06/men-without-hats-james-ellroy-and-eddie.html

I'm also a big Elmore Leonard fan . IN FACT, I've made an attempt to read ALL of his work. Even his westerns. Love Justified of course.
Heh, I actually bought the copy of 50s copy of Argosy that has his first story.

My new obsession is Charles Willeford. (Miami Blues) Read all that can be had of his work. Just now polishing of his Bio- Willeford.

Nathan W. said...
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Nathan W. said...
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Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Mr. Good, Nathan, Paul: Thanks a million for the links. I took your advice and ordered Crime Wave and Lineup from Netflix so it shouldn't be long before I have Ellroy's commentaries in my hands. I'll look up any link I haven't tried yet over coffee tomorrow morning.

Mr. Good: Willeford? Can you give me a recommendation? I just got two Woolrich books from the library. One was called The Cornell Woolrich Omnibus. The other...hmmmm...oh, yes: Rendesvous in Black.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Thomas: A nerdy Mickey Spillaine...yeah, sort of. I just read Elmore Leonard's Swag and I see a little of Jim Thompson iand Raymond carver in it.

Paul Penna said...

Both Crime Wave and The Lineup are also great time-capsule glimpses of 1952 L.A. and 1957 San Francisco, respectively, each with extensive location photography.

Jorge said...

Man, back in the day, Conan was the best straight man to crazy talk show guests in history!

James Ellroy, Tracy Morgan, Norm MacDonald, Harland Williams...

ComiCrazys said...

When Ellroy dies, he must definitely be played by John Malkovich in the movie.

thomas said...

E -

I think that a while back on the SHADOWPLAY blog, They did a rundown of films that are based on Woolrich books.But you probably already know this.

Not exactly in the same genre, but related, is Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train,Talented Mr. Ripley.

Jenny Lerew said...

The Demon Dog! You've gotta love him. Or fear him. Or all of the above. He seems to have no barriers to sharing information about himself, which when you can write like he can is fascinating stuff.

His memoir about the women in his life is coming out any second now...that'll be something. Yes, he's quite a stylist and a hell of a character. He also does some ride-along commentary on the DVD of one of my favorite films of recent times, "Zodiac"--not really adding much besides gushing over the actors' and directors expertise and-again-sharing TMI on himself in the process. It's great fun and what a voice!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Comic: Malkovitch? Good choice!

Thomas: Highsmith's work is great! I think I'll re-read them.

Nathan, Mr. good: I still haven't watched these videos yet, but tomorrow over morning coffee.....

Jorge: True!

Jenny, Chris: Just like you, I'm looking forward to his new book. I like him best when he writes the way he speaks. I just read part of his "City Primeival" and was disappointed because it didn't have enough of the way Ellroy talks in it. I have a feeling this book will be better.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Nathan: I finally got around to viewing links I'd neglected before. Thanks for putting up with my procratination.

Hodel's Dahlia book looks interesting. I saw a TV special that argued the case in the book, and which featured Hodel and Ellroy. It was chilling. Hodel grew up in a beautiful house, though. His dad might have been a murderer, but he sure had good taste in architecture.

Mr. Goodson; Interesting blog. I read the piece about Ellroy's commentary, and read a couple of archived articles. sounds like an interesting guy.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Nathan: Tim Carey...I forgot! I watched the video. It was good in a way, but frustrating in another way. Cassavetes relies too much on improvisation.

Even so, it reminded me of conversations I've had with talkative strangers in the past. You never know if they're crazy or not. Talk like that makes me sad, because you sense that they could have achieved wonderful things if only they'd had the luck or skill to find the right situation.

Nathan W. said...
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