Friday, February 12, 2010

Ellroy and me: The Final Countdown

Some things you need to know about James Ellroy:

1. he doesn't like journalists or interviewers
2. he likes women more than men
3. he doesn't like fans
4. he wants to control the interviewing process (I believe he controls those made by women reporters by flirting)

Okay, I know I'm not necessarily the world's best interviewer, even when I conduct them in Finnish, but you'd think the interviewee would want to take some of the responsibility. Apparently not, when we talk about James Ellroy. Just before me he talked with a young female reporter who asked what Ellroy's first impression of Finland was and such pretty light-fare stuff. Ellroy seemed relaxed and talked with his feet up on the coffee table. Okay, I can handle this, I told myself - being of course very, very nervous about the whole thing.

But when I walked up to Ellroy and told him I'm a fan and have been reading his novels for over 15 years, I noticed instantly he stiffened up and went into a defensive mood. What gives here? You don't want to hear someone likes your novels? That shouldn't be my problem, should it? I can understand there are fans who are pains in the ass, but I wouldn't call myself that.

We started off pretty well, though, with me speaking in rather clumsy English - I don't know why this sometimes happens, but it just did. Then I made a mistake in my questions: I asked Ellroy about Haiti. "Haiti?! What have I got to say about Haiti?!" Well, I tried to reason, you write about Haiti in Blood's a Rover, CIA and the mob are taking it over... "Wait, wait, it's not Haiti, it's the Dominican Republic, they are two different things." Oops! I had got fixated on Haiti for some reason and honestly thought it's Haiti they are invading with casinos and all and hadn't bothered to check my copy of Blood's a Rover. My bad, totally. Apparently after that I was nobody in Ellroy's books: total moron who hasn't even read the books. I said I was sorry about my mistake, but it was all downhill from there.

Especially when I wanted to talk about politics. I think Ellroy's books are hugely political - they are mostly about how politics and the negative feelings (anger, jealousy, lust, aggression) intertwine in national and global level -, but clearly he doesn't want to talk about that. I know he's said that he doesn't want to write about later times, i.e. Nixon, Carter, the Bushes, Reagan etc., but I still wanted to ask about that, especially the Reagan era. "Don't you think there would be many fascinating characters, like Oliver North..." At this point, Ellroy gets mad, waves a finger at me and yells: "Don't! Stop right there! Reagan is one of my heroes. I'm sure history will prove him right. He defeated Communism." This, of course, made its way into my article and has, perhaps deservedly, become somewhat of a cult item, alongside with Ellroy's rant that he hates Communism, since he doesn't want to pay more taxes. "Look at Sweden! They pay fucking huge taxes and they are still all drunks." I seriously don't know what Ellroy meant with this.

But as I said, I got a great article about this. I had to write it on spot, in two hours and send it along right away, the article of 5000 characters. I knew instantly that I had to write it from the viewpoint of the author getting angry at the interviewer. It worked miraculously well. This is one of the best pieces I'll ever write, period. Someone said to me that it was better than the interview published in Helsingin Sanomat, the largest newspaper in Finland. Don't know about that, but at least it was different from any other interview Ellroy made during his three-day visit in Finland.

Any new info from Ellroy himself? Well, he'll have a new book out next Fall: The Hilliker Curse is about the women in his life. And he'll be writing another quartet set longer back in time. He'll abandon the stylistic excess (he didn't want to elaborate). He's not going to write the Warren Harding novel.

I'll post the interview here. Use Google to try to make sense out of it. Hope it works. And here's, with a Google translation, a short news item about how Ellroy got mad at a Swedish reporter, mainly for similar reasons.


Unknown said...

Even if I can't read the interview, this is a great story.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Juri, it sounds like you ended up getting a better interview from a pissed off Ellroy than you would've gotten from a cooperative one. I'd love to see an English translation of this.

Juri said...

Dave: I think that's probably true. I have a nagging feeling Ellroy knew it himself.

Doesn't Google give an English translation of the text I posted in my Finnish blog? Google sometimes does that - or at least suggests it - automatically. I won't promise anything, but I'll see what I can do.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, man, i wish I could read Finnish. I heard Ellroy read a few months ago, and one of my overriding impressions was that the men was in control every second, the wild man image. It would be nice to read about him slipping out of control.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

adrian mckinty said...

You know they do go into Haiti several times in Blood's A Rover. Two major characters actually die in Haiti.

Juri said...

Adrian: yeah, I do know that, but I was asking Ellroy about Haiti, because - oh, this is embarrassing - the mafia and CIA are making it into a new Cuba. That's where I was wrong and I think in that point Ellroy was right to get pissed off.

Peter: doesn't the Google translation link work that I posted in another post:

It is awkward and, as Todd says, pretty much Babelfish (and "they" think Blood's a Rover is really Turbulent Blood!), but it at least gives hints of what I wrote.