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The James Ellroy Trilogy

August 10, 2018

The publication of The Big Somewhere: Essays on James Ellroy’s Noir World marks the completion of what I informally describe as the James Ellroy trilogy, three critical works I have produced studying the life and work of the Demon Dog of American crime fiction.

I have discussed my aims and aspirations for each book elsewhere, for instance in ‘Story Behind the Story’ articles for The Rap Sheet. However, whenever writers look back at previous work (and I advise that you don’t do it too often), you’re liable to remember different details about the project every time. So, in the following post, I want to give some brief thoughts on each book with the hope that they will be of interest to hardcore Ellroy readers, casual fans and maybe even some potential converts.

Conversations with James Ellroy

Editing this book gave me the chance to get my own interviews with Ellroy in print and to publish, for the first time in some cases, other great interviews that Ellroy has given throughout his career. For instance, I was delighted to transcribe and publish Don Swaim’s superb 1987 radio interview with Ellroy.

University Press of Mississippi gave me a budget for purchasing the rights to publish each interview, and my job was to track down the copyright holder. This proved more difficult than it might seem at first. I was informed, during my enquiries, that the final editor of legendary crime fiction magazine Armchair Detective was missing and wanted by the IRS!

The first interview to feature in Conversations, a 1984 interview Ellroy gave to Duane Tucker for Armchair Detective has become a source of some debate among Ellroy scholars. Tucker told me he never conducted the interview and suspected Ellroy had used his name to write the interview himself. I received an evasive response from Ellroy when I put this to him. I wrote up my findings in the book, stating how I believed Ellroy had written the interview himself as a canny way of generating publicity. He was an unknown crime writer at the time, and by writing the interview himself it could be read as an early formulation of his Demon Dog literary persona.

Let’s just say I was ninety per cent sure Ellroy wrote the interview when I edited Conversations, and over the past few years, I have become one hundred per cent sure.

James Ellroy: Demon Dog of Crime Fiction

This monograph was adapted from my doctoral thesis, and it’s probably the book I’m the most fond of. In the book, I expand on my theory that Ellroy’s Demon Dog persona was far more than a publicity generating device. I argue that Ellroy has crafted the Demon Dog alter-ego as a way of formulating narratives both on the page and, to some extent, external to the novels.

Both the thesis and book were really built on my research at the James Ellroy archive at the Thomas Cooper library, University of South Carolina. Located in the beautiful city of Columbia, the Thomas Cooper library is an extraordinary place to visit. While I was there, they were hosting an exhibition on Scottish poets. Every morning when I arrived at the archives reading room, the first thing I’d see was the typewriter Joseph Heller wrote the original manuscript for Catch 22 on. The Ellroy papers revealed a treasure trove of secrets, and the University’s archive has also acquired the papers of crime writing legends Elmore Leonard and George V Higgins.

Needless to say, it’s the perfect place for a writer to be inspired.

The Big Somewhere: Essays on James Ellroy’s Noir World

Perhaps my most vivid impression of working on this book is how far things have progressed for Ellroy, in terms of the critical work that is being produced on him, since I first began my thesis on the author in 2006. It was a privilege to work with established Ellroy scholars such as Jim Mancall and Anna Flügge, as well as such talented writers as Rodney Taveira and Nathan Ashman, both of whom are writing their own books on Ellroy.

I can see the day when Ellroy is read and studied with the same enthusiasm and fervent scholarship as Charles Dickens or Edgar Allan Poe are today, which is justified as I believe him to be a storyteller of the same calibre.

The Big Somewhere

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2018 8:57 am

    Is the price likely to come down on these books …?

    • August 10, 2018 10:57 am

      Conversations with James Ellroy is already reasonably priced. The other two are unlikely to come down. My advice for these two titles – inter-library loan.

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