James Ellroy comes across as being a difficult man to interview. It’s not that he clams up – he seems to love doing interviews – or only says boring stuff. But his schtick-to-vaguely-serious-answer ratio is highly variable, depending on what kind of mood he’s in, how much press he’s been doing lately and so on, and is in any case quite hard to judge. Choose the wrong day, or press the wrong button, and you’ll get something like this (from a 2006 New York Times Magazine interview):
I am a master of fiction. I am also the greatest crime writer who ever lived. I am to the crime novel in specific what Tolstoy is to the Russian novel and what Beethoven is to music.
Props, then, to Stefanie Marsh from the Times, whose recent Ellroy interview is a minor classic of the genre. Her best move was pretty simple: getting hold of the Playboy serialisation of Ellroy’s thoughts on his relations with women, and on the nervous breakdown he had after finishing The Cold Six Thousand. This enabled Marsh to tell us that Ellroy’s ex-wife had the following complaints about his deportment: ‘You drove around Carmel in shit-stained trousers. My parents heard you jacking off upstairs. You peeped women while you walked Dudley [the dog].’ It seems especially cool/disturbing that the former Mrs Ellroy couched these complaints in Ellroy-speak, though I’d guess that the quoted lines are his paraphrase in the Playboy essay, which was called ‘Why I Chase Women’.
Ellroy provided Marsh with a list of the women he fantasised obsessively about during his breakdown. They were ‘Anne Manson, the former principal conductor of the Kansas Philharmonic; a lesbian FedEx courier; and the Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter’. All he’d ever wanted from life, he said, ‘was to write great books, live a big life, know God and commune with women of great substance’. (Meaning women not like ‘young women in LA – pierced, lacquered, varnished, enhanced, tattooed’ – who ‘could not have coarsened themselves more. It’s only a brief moment before they say “it’s like” or “I’m like”’.) We’ll probably hear a great deal more about this when Ellroy – a ‘lunatic romantic’ (Marsh) and ‘tenuously reformed pervert’ (himself) – starts promoting the book that Playboy was serialising, The Hilliker Curse.