James Ellroy interview
Blood’s a Rover is most 'redemptive, romantic and accessible’ to date
Iconic US author James Ellroy has just reached the end of an epic literary trail. Claire Sawers speaks to the man who creates history within a cultural vacuum
The final part in James Ellroy’s Underworld USA trilogy comes as a hefty, rewarding brick of a book and is already being hailed as his masterpiece. Following up American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand, Blood’s a Rover is a blazing, epic 650-page fusion of real events – including Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy’s assassinations, Howard Hughes’ attempted takeover of Vegas, and the rise of the extreme right – and gloriously imagined fiction. But despite the crime novelist’s staggering attention to detail, Ellroy, whose LA Confidential and The Black Dahlia have both been made into films, claims he lives in a cultural vacuum. ‘I’m not being disingenuous when I say that,’ he insists, chatting on the phone from a London hotel room. ‘I don’t follow modern culture at all. I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t use the internet, I don’t read newspapers or books. I never go to the movies.’
So how, exactly, does he create these awe-inspiring worlds of double-dealings, political upheaval and brutal crime from inside his vacuum? ‘I have a team of researchers that compile the chronologies for me,’ he explains. ‘But then I just lock myself in a room and make the rest of it up. I’ve always been very good at narrowing my focus. I’ll write for six or seven hours, and then when I’m done, I lie around in the dark. And I think.’ It’s presumably during these thinking sessions when the good stuff comes to him – the spiderweb of conspiracies and odd romances, the cast of bent cops, militant leftie women and twisted megalomaniacs – which provides him with the colour he needs to paint over the black and white of history.
For the events in Blood’s a Rover, set between 1968 and 1972, Ellroy has had almost 40 years to think up what might have been going on behind the scenes. ‘I was 20 in 1968. Back then I was mostly drinking, using drugs, or peeking at women through their windows at night. I was dabbling in petty crime too. It takes many, many years for history to come to me.’ Ellroy describes Blood’s a Rover as his most ‘redemptive, romantic and accessible’ novel to date, and an indication of where his writing may be heading in the future. ‘It’s much less dark than previous books. In the last 100 pages or so, the tone softens, it becomes more elegiac, more reflective.’
Although he won’t give any clues about his next novel, in the meantime he will be releasing a memoir, The Hilliker Curse, a companion piece to My Dark Places, a blend of autobiography and investigative journalism where he discusses the murder of his mother. She was strangled when he was 10, and although he spent over a year working with the LAPD to find her killer, the crime remains unsolved. With such a preoccupation with crime – real and imagined, political and personal – does Ellroy ever feel he can’t escape the sinister, dark side of life? ‘You know, I have fun with it. I love my male characters, and I’m in love with the women. At the end of the day, I live to write the books. I’m not someone who relaxes. I don’t relax, I brood.’
Blood’s a Rover is published by Century on Thu 5 Nov. Ellroy appears at Borders, Glasgow and Glasgow Film Theatre on Thu 5 Nov.