10 Questions for James Ellroy

The L.A. Confidential author has a new memoir, The Hilliker Curse. James Ellroy will now take your questions

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James Ellroy

Does it help with the grief over losing your mother to write about crime and criminals?Jeanette Yates Lightfoot, WALLA WALLA, WASH.
On my 10th birthday, my mother Jean Hilliker hit me brutally. I recalled a book I had read on spells and witchcraft. I summoned her dead. She was murdered three months later. It's a burden of guilt that I have carried for over a half-century. My mother mediates my relationships with women. Her death induced in me a tremendous curiosity for all things criminal. I had to go out and write.

How did you acquire the knack for writing such colorful lingo?Stephen Harris, BUENA PARK, CALIF.
I love scandal language. I love racial invective, language that is vulgar. I spent my early life reading, reading, reading, reading, reading and reading. I read crime books primarily, so I know cop jargon.

What books do you read?Jaskaran Dhillon, SACRAMENTO
There's one non-Ellroy book in my pad, and it's my beloved Erika Schickel's memoir, You're Not the Boss of Me. I have read enough. I don't enjoy cultural intrusions. I'm not on the Internet. I don't watch movies or television. I'm like a big, strong — albeit kind — predatory animal in his den. I only want the hides of my victims surrounding me. The hides of my victims are my books.

Do you have a favorite book?Nasir Jaralla, OMDURMAN, SUDAN
There is You're Not the Boss of Me. There's also Don DeLillo's novel Libra. His take on [John F.] Kennedy's assassination is the physical, spiritual, metaphysical and moral genesis of my novel American Tabloid.

What events have changed Los Angeles the most since the 1940s and '50s, which you often write about?Alexander Lovering, LOS ANGELES
I don't know. I'm from Los Angeles. It would be disingenuous for me to ascribe a timeline, since my relationship to Los Angeles is largely fictional, extrapolated partially from fact, mostly filtered through my imagination. L.A. is in my bones. It's in my blood. It's where I go back to when women divorce me.

How do you think a more diverse LAPD has affected race relations in Los Angeles?Justin Sherin, NEW YORK CITY
I don't buy [that premise] — the overly militaristic, corrupt, fascistic LAPD. I think it's a figment of the overheated liberal imagination. As the racial, ethnic and language complexion of Los Angeles has changed, so has the complexion of the LAPD. And that's all for the good.

Will you ever write a contemporary story?Henrik Knobe, HALMSTAD, SWEDEN
No. I'm going back to an even earlier time for my next quartet of books. I've ignored the culture for years. It holds no sway for me. I like going back and rewriting history to my own specifications.

Are people born good writers?Stephen Seome Ntsoane, PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA
No. You have to read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read and read. As you read, unconsciously you assimilate the rudiments of style and technique. And when it comes time for a person to begin to seriously write, they either have it, or they don't.

What are the best and worst things about having one of your books adapted into a film?Jon Friedman, NEW YORK CITY
There's no downside. A good film, even a bad film, will most likely spark book sales, and they give you money for the rights. The color green is always flattering. There are some movies, like L.A. Confidential, that you want to see. There are some movies, like The Black Dahlia, that you want to flee. Ironically, Black Dahlia sold me a lot more books.

Do you think the Black Dahlia murder will ever be solved?Robert Zelinski, BAGHDAD
No. The solution is entirely irrelevant. The killer is dead. The overriding issue here is misogynistic violence. My mother's murder also remains unsolved. There will be a final meeting way up there. I'll ask her what happened. She'll tell me. I will not know in this lifetime. It's just fine.