“I Don’t Live in the World”: An Interview With James Ellroy

The crime writer opens up about his mother’s murder, his love of dogs, and his new novel, This Storm. Just don’t ask him about Donald Trump.

Eric Spitznagel
GEN
Published in
11 min readJun 13, 2019

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Photo: Ulf Anderson/Getty Images

InIn one of the opening scenes of the 2001 BBC documentary Feast of Death, James Ellroy tells a story about his encounter with an elderly fan in a Kansas video store. She’s effusive about how much she enjoyed the movie L.A. Confidential, which was based on Ellroy’s bestselling novel of the same name — part of his now-iconic L.A. Quartet series.

“Kim Basinger was so beautiful,” she tells him. “What a wonderful, wonderful movie. I saw it four times.”

“Listen, Granny,” he interrupts her. “You loved the movie; did you go out and buy the book?” She admits that she hasn’t, and Ellroy snaps, “Then what the fuck good are you to me?”

It’s a quintessential Ellroy moment. “The modern master of hard-boiled fiction,” as he has been called, has a profane, confrontational demeanor that wouldn’t seem out of place in his own fiction. Ellroy came by his world-weariness honestly: When he was just 10 years old, an unknown assailant strangled his mother. The mystery continues to haunt him. (He has tried in vain to find the murderer.) Since then, Ellroy has…

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Eric Spitznagel
GEN
Writer for

I’m a writer and editor, and the author of a dozen or so books, including "Old Records Never Die: One Man's Quest for His Vinyl and His Past."