Tuesday, February 09, 2010

James Ellroy's one cranky dude

Upon the recent publication of the last part of his Underworld USA trilogy, Blood's a Rover, in France, James Ellroy has been on a big publicity blitz over there. I just got around to reading a very entertaining interview with him in the weekly mag Les Inrockuptibles. Here's my (somewhat hasty) translation of a few choice exchanges between Ellroy and journalist Serge Kaganski. (Confusingly, the French title of the book is Underworld USA.)

SK: One of the things that stick out in the book is the racism of some of the characters, starting with Hughes and Hoover, and the frequent use of racist language in your dialogue.
JE: [interrupting] I see where you're going, let me explain.
SK: Wait, I'm not insinuating that you or your book are racist, but are you fascinated by racist language just the way you're fascinated by slang or ghetto speak?
JE: Hey! You're interrupting me here! Don't interrupt me! Okay… [goes on to talk about his characters]
SK: But what's your relationship toward that racist language? Is it simply realism? Are you fascinated by it?
JE: It doesn't bother me at all. I like the various forms of the American language. I like racist insults. I like using Yiddish words. I like slang. I like hipster talk. I like jazz speak…
SK: So for you, racist expressions are a purely literary device?
JE: Ask me questions! You're just interpreting my answers!

A bit later…

SK: You like writing only about the past. It's both great and a pity. America is very interesting right now with Obama in the White House.
JE: I don't care at all! I've already said it but you don't seem to listen. I don't care about the modern world. I don't go to the movies, I have no Internet, no cell phone, no TV, I don't read newspapers. I have an assistant who takes care of my bills. I live like a hermit. I don't want to know what's going on in France, I don't give a shit! I just want to live only in the world I create.
SK: But you live now!
JE: No, wrong answer! Okay, I live now, I go to the supermarket, I see what's around me… But history, politics, the news don't interest me at all, and I'll never write about these times. So give me a break with Obama!
SK: You enjoy confirming your reputation as a conservative?
JE: Yes, absolutely, I'm a conservative. Beyond that, I don't comment on my political opinions. I don't like computers, I don't like digital technology, I don't like crowds in the streets. I like looking back and focus on something that's controlled, organized and programmed in my head. That's the kind of place where I like to live, that's where I'm comfortable, safe. But though the world of today doesn't interest me at all, I'm still very happy to be alive.
SK: You're held as one of the greatest American writers—
JE: It's true!
SK: —are you also a reader? Which novelists do you value?
JE: I don't read at all. I know nothing about current culture. I'd still mention one writer, Don DeLillo, whose Libra inspired American Tabloid.

Ellroy goes on to talk about how except for L.A. Confidential, he doesn't care about the screen adaptations of his books, he's only in it for the money they bring him, etc. The conversation switches to his stay in Paris. Typically, Ellroy sticks to his hotel and goes out only to do his promo rounds.

SK: But how can you not be interested in travel, in the pleasures of change and discovery?
JE: Sir, how to put it? I don't give a shit about all this! I love women, being alone, my fictional world, classical music, and dogs. That's a lot, and it's enough to fill up my life. Today I have a regular girlfriend, an American, so I don't ogle women anymore. But before, yeah, I looked. In that respect, there's a bit of myself in some of my characters.


Anonymous said...

Ellroy's a great writer. He's also a great bullshit artist. Such as saying he never reads others' work. These days, it's near impossible to peruse a crime novel rack without seeing Ellroy's blurbs on the backs of other novels. John Burdett's "Bangkok 8" for example. Or the new book by Marcia Clark.

As for only writing about the past, it's easier in one other important way: Dead people can't sue you.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I think we all know by now that you don't need to read a book to blurb it!