Ellroy in 2011
|Born||Lee Earle Ellroy|
March 4, 1948
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Crime writer, essayist|
|Genre||Crime fiction, historical fiction, mystery fiction, noir fiction|
|Notable works||Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy|
Underworld USA Trilogy
Lee Earle "James" Ellroy (born March 4, 1948) is an American crime fiction writer and essayist. Ellroy has become known for a telegrammatic prose style in his most recent work, wherein he frequently omits connecting words and uses only short, staccato sentences, and in particular for the novels The Black Dahlia (1987), The Big Nowhere (1988), L.A. Confidential (1990), White Jazz (1992), American Tabloid (1995), The Cold Six Thousand (2001), and Blood's a Rover (2009).
Ellroy was born in Los Angeles, California. His mother, Geneva Odelia (née Hilliker), was a nurse, and his father, Armand, was an accountant and a onetime business manager of Rita Hayworth. After his parents' divorce, Ellroy relocated to El Monte, California, with his mother. When Ellroy was 10 years old, his mother was raped and murdered. Ellroy later described his mother as "sharp-tongued [and] bad-tempered", unable to keep a steady job, alcoholic and sexually promiscuous. His first reaction upon hearing of her death was relief: he could now live with his father, whom he preferred. The police never found the perpetrator, and the case remains unsolved. The murder, along with reading The Badge by Jack Webb (a book comprising sensational cases from the files of the Los Angeles Police Department, a birthday gift from his father), was an important event of Ellroy's youth.
Ellroy's inability to come to terms with the emotions surrounding his mother's murder led him to transfer them onto another murder victim, Elizabeth Short. Nicknamed the "Black Dahlia," Short was a young woman murdered in 1947, her body cut in half and discarded in Los Angeles, in a notorious and unsolved crime. Throughout his youth, Ellroy used Short as a surrogate for his conflicting emotions and desires. His confusion and trauma led to a period of intense clinical depression, from which he recovered only gradually.
Ellroy dropped out of school and joined the US Army for a short while. During his teens and 20s, he drank heavily and abused Benzedrex inhalers. He was engaged in minor crimes (especially shoplifting, house-breaking, and burglary) and was often homeless. After serving some time in jail and suffering from pneumonia, during which he developed an abscess on his lung "the size of a large man's fist," Ellroy stopped drinking and began working as a golf caddie while pursuing writing. He later said, "Caddying was good tax-free cash and allowed me to get home by 2 p.m. and write books.... I caddied right up to the sale of my fifth book."
After a second marriage in the mid-1990s to Helen Knode (author of the 2003 novel The Ticket Out), the couple moved from California to Kansas City in 1995. In 2006, after their divorce, Ellroy returned to Los Angeles. He is a self-described recluse who possesses very few technological amenities, including television, and claims never to read contemporary books by other authors, aside from Joseph Wambaugh's The Onion Field, out of concern that they might influence his own. However, this does not mean that Ellroy does not read at all, as he claims in My Dark Places to have read at least two books a week growing up, eventually shoplifting more to satisfy his love of reading. He then goes on to say that he read works by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.
In 1981, Ellroy published his first novel, Brown's Requiem, a detective story drawing on his experiences as a caddie. He then published Clandestine and Silent Terror (which was later published under the title Killer on the Road). Ellroy followed these three novels with the Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy. The novels are centered on Hopkins, a brilliant but disturbed LAPD robbery-homicide detective, and are set mainly in the 1980s.
Dialog and narration in Ellroy novels often consists of a "heightened pastiche of jazz slang, cop patois, creative profanity and drug vernacular" with a particular use of period-appropriate slang. He often employs stripped-down staccato sentence structures, a style that reaches its apex in The Cold Six Thousand and which Ellroy describes as a "direct, shorter-rather-than-longer sentence style that's declarative and ugly and right there, punching you in the nards." This signature style is not the result of a conscious experimentation but of chance and came about when he was asked by his editor to shorten his novel L.A. Confidential by more than one hundred pages. Rather than removing any subplots, Ellroy abbreviated the novel by cutting every unnecessary word from every sentence, creating a unique style of prose. While each sentence on its own is simple, the cumulative effect is a dense, baroque style.
While his early novels earned him a cult following and notice among crime fiction buffs, Ellroy earned much greater success and critical acclaim with the L.A. Quartet--The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz. The four novels represent Ellroy's change of style from the tradition of classic modernist noir fiction of his earlier novels to what has been classified as postmodern historiographic metafiction.The Black Dahlia, for example, fused the real-life murder of Elizabeth Short with a fictional story of two police officers investigating the crime.
In 1995, Ellroy published American Tabloid, the first novel in a series informally dubbed the "Underworld USA Trilogy" that Ellroy describes as a "secret history" of the mid-to-late 20th century.Tabloid was named TIMEs fiction book of the year for 1995. Its follow-up, The Cold Six Thousand, became a bestseller. The final novel, Blood's a Rover, was released on September 22, 2009.
After publishing American Tabloid, Ellroy began a memoir, My Dark Places, based on his memories of his mother's murder, the unconventional relationship he had with her, and his investigation of the crime. In the memoir, Ellroy mentions that his mother's murder received little news coverage because the media were still fixated on the murder of mobster Johnny Stompanato, who was dating actress Lana Turner. Frank C. Girardot, a reporter for The San Gabriel Valley Tribune, accessed files on Geneva Hilliker Ellroy's murder from detectives with Los Angeles Police Department. Based on the cold case file, Ellroy and investigator Bill Stoner worked the case but gave up after 15 months, believing any suspects to be dead. After the final pages of My Dark Places, a contact page is provided, stating: "The investigation continues. Information on the case can be forwarded to Detective Stoner either through the toll-free number, 1-800-717-6517, or his e-mail address, email@example.com." In 2008, The Library of America selected the essay "My Mother's Killer" from My Dark Places for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime.
Ellroy is currently writing a "Second L.A. Quartet" taking place during the Second World War, with some characters from the first L.A. Quartet and the Underworld USA Trilogy returning younger. The first book, Perfidia, was released on September 9, 2014. The second book is titled This Storm  which has a release date of May 14, 2019. It was released May 30, 2019, in the United Kingdom, and June 4, 2019 in the United States.
A Waterstones exclusive limited edition of Perfidia was published two days after its initial release and included an essay by Ellroy titled "Ellroy's History -- Then and Now". Ellroy dedicated Perfidia "To Lisa Stafford." The epigraph is "Envy thou not the oppressor, And choose none of his ways" from Proverbs 3:31.
Ellroy in collaboration with the Los Angeles Police Museum and Glynn Martin, the museum's executive director, released LAPD '53 on May 19, 2015. Photography from the museum's archives are presented alongside Ellroy's writings about crime and law enforcement during that era.
Early in January 2019, Ellroy- possibly typing it himself- posted news on the website jamesellroy.net, quote "I'm digitally illiterate, so you've got to gas on the fact that I'm breaking baaaaaaaaad from tradition, in order to post this announcement." Ellroy posted that he had been inducted into the Everyman's Library series. Three Everyman's Library editions will be reprinted: The L.A. Quartet, The Underworld U.S.A. Trilogy, Volume I and The Underworld U.S.A. Trilogy, Volume II. The release dates for these editions, as well as This Storm: A Novel, is June 4, 2019. James Ellroy stated "Stay stirringly tuned to this website for further updates." and simply signed the finished post, Ellroy with a dog's pawprint below it.
In the fall of 2017, Ellroy investigated the murder of Sal Mineo. Reminiscent of how he investigated his mother's unsolved murder, Ellroy worked with Glynn Martin, an ex-LAPD officer, the LAPD Museum's current executive director, and co-author of LAPD '53. Ellroy wrote about this investigation for The Hollywood Reporter in digital form on December 21, 2018, and it also appeared in published form in the December 18th, 2018 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In media appearances, Ellroy has adopted an outsized, stylized public persona of hard-boiled nihilism and self-reflexive subversiveness. He frequently begins public appearances with a monologue such as:
Good evening peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps. I'm James Ellroy, the demon dog with the hog-log, the foul owl with the death growl, the white knight of the far right, and the slick trick with the donkey dick. I'm the author of 16 books, masterpieces all; they precede all my future masterpieces. These books will leave you reamed, steamed and drycleaned, tie-dyed, swept to the side, true-blued, tattooed and bah fongooed. These are books for the whole fuckin' family, if the name of your family is Manson.
Another aspect of his public persona involves an almost comically grand assessment of his work and his place in literature. For example, he told the New York Times, "I am a master of fiction. I am also the greatest crime novelist who ever lived. I am to the crime novel in specific what Tolstoy is to the Russian novel and what Beethoven is to music."
Ellroy frequently has espoused conservative political views, which have ranged from a vague anti-liberalism to authoritarianism. In an October 15, 2009, Rolling Stone interview, Ellroy said that in the 1960s and 1970s "I was never a peacemaker; I was a fuck-you right-winger." He has also been an outspoken and unquestioning admirer of the Los Angeles Police Department (despite his explicit depictions of brutality, corruption and Machiavellian bureaucratic scheming in the LAPD that appear in some of his works), and he dismisses the department's flaws as aberrations, telling the National Review that the coverage of the Rodney King beating and Rampart police scandals were overblown by a biased media. Nevertheless, like other aspects of his persona, he often deliberately obscures where his public persona ends and his actual views begin. When asked about his "right-wing tendencies," he told an interviewer, "Right-wing tendencies? I do that to fuck with people." Similarly, in the film Feast of Death, his (now ex-) wife describes his politics as "bullshit," an assessment to which Ellroy responds only with a knowing smile. Privately, Ellroy opposes the death penalty and gun control (he owns more than 30 guns). Of the current political environment, Ellroy told Rolling Stone in 2009:
I thought Bush was a slimeball and the most disastrous American president in recent times. I voted for Obama. He's a lot like Jack Kennedy--they both have big ears and infectious smiles. But Obama is a deeper guy. Kennedy was an appetite guy. He wanted pussy, hamburgers, booze. Jack did a lot of dope.
Ellroy has subsequently denied voting for Obama and admitted that most of his statements on modern politics are willful misrepresentations.
Structurally, several of Ellroy's books, such as The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, American Tabloid, and The Cold Six Thousand, have three disparate points of view through different characters, with chapters alternating between them. Starting with The Black Dahlia, Ellroy's novels have mostly been historical dramas about the relationship between corruption and law enforcement.
A predominant theme of Ellroy's work is the myth of "closure". "Closure is bullshit", Ellroy often remarks, "and I would love to find the man who invented closure and shove a giant closure plaque up his ass." In his works characters often die or vanish quickly before otherwise traditional closure points in order to capitalize this idea.
Ellroy has claimed that he is done writing noir crime novels. "I write big political books now," he says. "I want to write about LA exclusively for the rest of my career. I don't know where and when."
Several of Ellroy's works have been adapted to film, including Blood on the Moon (adapted as Cop), L.A. Confidential, Brown's Requiem, Killer on the Road/Silent Terror (adapted as Stay Clean), and The Black Dahlia. In each instance, screenplays based on Ellroy's work have been penned by other screenwriters.
While he has frequently been disappointed by these adaptations (such as Cop), he was very complimentary of Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland's screenplay for L.A. Confidential at the time of its release. In succeeding years, however, his comments have been more reserved:
L.A. Confidential, the movie, is the best thing that happened to me in my career that I had absolutely nothing to do with. It was a fluke--and a wonderful one--and it is never going to happen again--a movie of that quality.
Here's my final comment on L.A. Confidential, the movie: I go to a video store in Prairie Village, Kansas. The youngsters who work there know me as the guy who wrote L.A. Confidential. They tell all the little old ladies who come in there to get their G-rated family flick. They come up to me, they say, "OOOO... you wrote L.A. Confidential.... Oh, what a wonderful, wonderful movie. I saw it four times. You don't see storytelling like that on the screen anymore." ... I smile, I say, "Yes, it's a wonderful movie, and a salutary adaptation of my wonderful novel. But listen, Granny: You love the movie. Did you go out and buy the book?" And Granny invariably says, "Well, no, I didn't." And I say to Granny, "Then what the fuck good are you to me?"
Shortly after viewing three hours of unedited footage for Brian De Palma's adaptation of The Black Dahlia, Ellroy wrote an essay, "Hillikers," praising De Palma and his film. Ultimately, nearly an hour was removed from the final cut. Of the released film, Ellroy told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Look, you're not going to get me to say anything negative about the movie, so you might as well give up." He had, however, mocked the film's director, cast, and production design before it was filmed.
In 2008, Daily Variety reported that HBO, along with Tom Hanks's production company, Playtone, was developing American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand for either a miniseries or ongoing series. In a 2009 interview, Ellroy himself stated, "All movie adaptations of my books are dead."
In a 2012 interview, when asked about how movie adaptations distort his books, he remarked, "[Film studios] can do whatever the f-k they want as long as they pay me."
Dear readers, Ellroy fans, and seditious sustainers of the American literary tradition: This is James Ellroy--the Demon Dog of American Literature himself--baying at you from his posh pad at an undisclosed location in the American West/Near Midwest. As you may know, I'm digitally illiterate, so you've got to gas on the fact that I'm breaking baaaaaaaaad from tradition, in order to post this announcement.
I've been inducted into the prongingly prestigious Everyman's Library. I'm now in the achingly august company of hotshots like Albert Camus, John Updike, Chinua Achebe, Katherine Mansfield, Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller, and the kooly contemporary Joan Didion and Salman Rushdie--kats who, of kourse, I've never read.
Why mince words, kats? June 4, 2019 announces my confounding canonization in the hellaciously hallowed halls of the Great American Novelist Brigade!!!!!
The Demon Dog will be putting his pustulent pawprint on yet more kalamitous kommuniques. Stay stirringly tuned to this website for further updates.