1. “[…] it’s a classic case of mankind profiting from tragedy. You like that? It sounds like a definition of literature in a nutshell”.
2. “Entertaining the reader stands as a bottom line. Beyond that, I want to create a verisimilitude that will give my readers the feeling of being uprooted from their daily lives and thrust into the heart of an obsession. My responsibility is to combine the natural, raw power of the crime novel form with my own narrative gifts to build an obsession so compelling that the reader will willingly move with its flow –regardless of where it takes him”.
3. “I tihink that cultivating a literary vision entails developing an affection for things the way they are. Write it down the way it is, reach into your own soul for whatever it takes to provide illumination, and give it to the reader. Maybe your vision will inspire compassion, maybe it won’t. The important thing is to look at things the way they are and not to flinch, then look at yourself the way you are and not to flinch. Only the reader should flinch –but only momentarily. You have to compel him to need to know the way you need to know”.
4. “Being mellow is okay, if you aspire to becoming a piece of cheese. The trouble with being a piece of cheese is that someone is likely to spread you on a cracker and eat you”.
5. “I don’t wanna be influenced by other writers. I don’t wanna live in words. So if I have spare time, I would just as soon see friends or brood: stare up at my ceiling with the lights off and some music on the radio”.
6. “I want my readers to have an ambiguous response to my characters. I want my readers to identify with my characters on the level of their hidden agendas”.
7. “[...] Every book has to be conceived as bigger, better, stronger, and more stilistically evolved than the book that preceded it, or I am fucking up big time and should be considered a second-class citizen”.
8. “I want to thrill; I want to horrify; I want to titillate. I want to shock. I’m getting more obsessive as I get older, and I’m getting more controlled and more contained in my obsessiveness. I want to jolt my readers out of their everyday lives and share muy obssesions with them. I want them to obsessively read my books”.
9. “The style of the book is always set, directly linked, directly derived from, the story”.
10. “Each book, I think, is darker, more dense, more complex, and more stylistically evolved than the previous book. [...] The bottom line is this: if you don’t like my books you can kiss my ass”.
11. “No psycho could write these books. Nobody who isn’t superbly disciplined, who doesn’t attempt to lead a healthy, moderate, well-contained, decent life would have the energy to write books like this”.
12. “Morality in literature is largely the expositing of moral acts and their consequences, the karmic price of the perpetrators of the immoral acts, for having committed them. In than sense, I think the books are very moral”.
13. “Interviewer: How would you describe your own prose?
Ellroy: Precise. Emphatic. They asked Ayn Rand once to give –an interviewer asked Ayn Rand, “Give me an epigraph –give me an epilogue for your life.” And she said, “My books are my life, and the epilogue is the four words ‘And I mean it.’” That’s what I would say”.
14. “Interviewer: How do you begin writing a novel?
Ellroy: I begin by sitting in the dark. I used to sleep on the living-room couch. There was a while when that was the only place I felt safe. My couch is long because I’m tall, and it needs to be high backed, so I can curl into it. I lie there and things come to me, very slowly.
Interviewer: What happens after the sitting-in-the-dark phase?
Ellroy: I take notes: ideas, historical perspective, characters, point of view. Very quickly, much of the narrative coheres. When I have sufficient information –the key action, the love stories, the intrigue, the conclusion- I write out a sypnosis in shorthand as fast as I can, for comprenhension’s sake. With the new novel, Blood’s a Rover, this took me six days. It’s then, after I’ve got the prospectus, that I write the outline.
The first part of the outline is a descriptive summary of each character. Next I describe the design of the book in some detail. I state my intent at the outset. Then I go through the entire novel, outlining every chapter. The outline of Blood’s a Rover is nearly four hundred pages long. It took me eight months to write. I write in the present tense, even if the novel isn’t written in the present tense. It reads like stage directions in a screenplay. Everything I need to know is right there in front of me. It allows me to keep the whole story in my mind. I use this method for every book”.
15. “Interviewer: What happens after you finish writing a book?
Ellroy: I go over it, editing fifty pages a day. I send it toa a typist, who enters the changes. Then I proofread it once –make some more additions and substractions. At that point, there are two sets of corrections. In copyediting, I continue to make small changes. Every opportunity that I have to reach perfection, I take”.
16. “Why do I do that? I wanna write books that are dramatically inviolate, deeply historical, suffused with verisimilitude, teeming with great human stories and the history itself, and I want a seamless interplay of plots. And so you’d better plan all that shit out or it won’t fly dramatically. So no one has written the books I’ve written. No one has ever written books that started out to be mysteries, then crime novels, then historical crime novels, then plain historical political novels because nobody that I know of has the patience or the stamina to outline like this”.
17. “Put a character within a context of action and their philosophy, their heart, their soul is up for grabs. Then the larger forces at play explicate their character because their physical shifts of loyalty will define who they actually are. When I look at literary fiction [...] I’m amazed at how bad it is because these people don’t have to tell the complex and dense story with big shit at stake. And so it’s not storytelling by implicationn at all. It’s just arid descriptions or overrushed descriptions of small moments, and they tell you everything that a person is in the moment. And some people find that very artful. And I don’t. I wanna a big story about events that where bigger than anything I might interact within. [...] And I don’t give a shit about some fuckhead who has an epiphany in a phone booth while walking to the store to buy a newspaper, à la Raymond Carver. Small lives mean nothing to me. I hate irony. I dislike satire. I hate nihilism and squalor and smallness”.
18. “I live a very, very simple interior life that allows this stuff to build in me and come to me slowly over time. And the voices come to me. And the situations come to me. So I don’t think about very many things. And those few things I think about, I think about intensely. So I am able to take small bits of information and infuse them with verisimility”.
* Conversations with James Ellroy, Edited by Steven Powell, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2012.