Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...
SEARCHING FOR THE DARKEST FEARS
WHY SAY IT? JAMES ELLROY IS ASKED. Instead of putting other crime novels down as "tepid compared to mine," and declaring, "I want to be the greatest crime novelist who ever breathed," why not just think it? Behind his little round specs, Ellroy's eyes blaze as he spitfires the answer: "I say it because it's what drives me."
There used to be a football player, Ted Hendricks of the L.A. Raiders, who was known as the Mad Stork. The name could fit Ellroy. At 6'2" and 190 lbs., he's bouncy and loose on the outside, coiled and steely on the inside. After his mother's murder when he was 10 and his father's death when he was 17, he spent years as a vagrant and alcoholic in his native L.A. before drying out, starting to write (he says he reads only boxing mags and hasn't cracked a crime novel since he started writing them) and making caffeine "my only drug."
In White Jazz, he's out to disprove "the tired notion that you need sympathetic characters to engender reader sympathy. The identification I would wish is at the level of darkly shared secrets. What is the reader's darkest fears? Will my reader connect on that level or be repelled? That is the risk I take. My goal is to redefine the language of hard-boiled crime fiction—the populist voice of American tragic realism. To be the greatest is the overweening desire of my life. I don't have outside interests. I'm hungry. At 44, after 10 books, it's not abating."