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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Crime Writer James Ellroy On 'This Storm'

 June 5, 2019 at 10:37 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Sometimes it takes more than one book to tell the whole story, especially when that story involves mid century Los Angeles crime writer James Ellroy has already peeled back the curtain on Las secret history in the post war years in his La Quartet series, most famously in the novel La confidential. Now he's out with a second novel of this second La Quartet, a novel about Los Angeles, its police force, it's culture and corruption during World War II. It's called this storm. James Ellroy is an internationally bestselling author, winner of numerous awards and accolades and the self-described demon dog of American literature. He'll bring his book to her, to San Diego this weekend. Mr L Roy, welcome to the show. How are you? I'm quite well, thank you very much. You know, uh, in looking at this storm, the timeframe is new year's eve, 1941 to May, 1942 the month just after Pearl Harbor. What are some of the ways Pearl Harbor and the start of the war changed? La La Speaker 2: 01:06 got electrified La Libido ISED people were terrified. La was under eminent threat of Japanese sea and air attack. And in researching the storm, I came across a great deal of newspaper coverage on parties, parties in nightclubs on the swing and sunset strip parties and private homes and one must assume a great deal of unwanted pregnancies and a great deal of unwanted, unplanned for kids expected in the fall of 42 it was a swinging time. It was in many ways in Los Angeles, defined by the grinding shame of the Japanese internment and since I wasn't born there and since I write historical novels for a living, for me it was a gas. Speaker 1: 02:05 As you're describing your book, this storm is multilayered and multilayered again with all the things you just mentioned, plus stolen gold Nazis, communists, murders on this book tour, how are you describing the book to the people who come to your signings? Speaker 2: 02:22 Well, I'm trying to get new converts to the Ol Roy Cannon and I described this dorm as a historical romance. You got hard charging Americans over the World War Two generation. The stakes were very high in each and every one of the protagonists in this book are in there occasionally empathetic, occasionally not empathetic ways. War profiteers. They see the war as an opportunity. Do you see any heroes in the book? Of course, yeah. There's Elmer Jackson. He was, he's a real life character though. Co-Opted fictionally. Elmer had the dubious distinction of having invented book call girl you Elmer, shame on you. But I go to his deep molten passionate human core in this book. Speaker 1: 03:21 Now this storm is both a sequel and a prequel. Well it has many of the same characters that you had in the first book of this series per video and who started in your La Quartet series about La after the war. What is your process and keeping their storyline straight? Speaker 2: 03:40 Well, there's the original La Quartet, which I wrote a good many years ago, and for novel set between 1946 and 1958 followed by the underworld USA trilogy three novels set between 58 and 72. And what I've done is take characters real f in fictional from the first two bodies of work and place them in La during World War Two, uh, significantly younger people. And I had to go back and reread my own books and compile fact sheets and chronologies so that I didn't write myself into it Speaker 1: 04:16 error. Have you already envisioned the complete relationship up for the entire two series? Is that already something that exists in your mind? Speaker 2: 04:25 In my mind, yes. And I'm still working out the overall plot for the third book. Speaker 1: 04:32 Anybody who's read your novels knows that your written word has a definite rhythm and pacing to it. Is it important to you, what's your pros? Sounds like? Speaker 2: 04:42 Yes, I do everything deliberately and the outline for the storm as 465 pages and having a superstructure that detailed means that I can ride gigantic books dramatically. Inviolate character in violet, very, very detailed police investigations and having such a superstructure allows me to live improvisationally in a the language that you just commented upon and then be the overall improvisational quality of the individuals saying so you've got a very, very, very controlled fever dream. So it's like jazz. Yeah, to a bebop kittens Speaker 1: 05:28 now in recreating the dark places of La during the forties you use a lot of racial and sexist slurs that are from that time. Our culture is getting more sensitive to those attitudes and to that language. So do have you run into any problems about that with your editors or your readers? Speaker 2: 05:46 Nope, I have not. It's 1942 and I don't pay attention to the culture today. I ignore it. I've never used a, I don't watch television or read newspapers or magazines. I have no cell phone as far as I'm concerned. It is 1942 and it's this immersive quality to my language and to my great curiosity about that time that gives the books the power that they possess. Speaker 1: 06:20 What does the title this storm refer to? Is that Churchill's the gathering storm Speaker 2: 06:25 in a sense. It is, yes. It's a crib together. Half Ellroy, the title of the novel, the storm, and then this savaging disaster, which is part of a letter that the great British poet w h od and wrote to his friend Christopher Isherwood, also a great writer. And I patched the two together in fictionally because you can do that. It's got the big F on the spine for fiction, and it's about the passion of the protagonists of this book. It's about the passion of the bad sides, the evil access powers fighting roll toward to the the Soviet Communist. They're the bad guys. And then you've got a, a merry band of ex-officio Los Angeles policeman and a couple of the women that are in love with, and they're the good guys. And Man, this is a big cast of passionate human beings. Speaker 1: 07:30 James Ellroy will be speaking and signing copies of his book, this storm, this Sunday afternoon and mysterious galaxy bookstore and Mr l Roy, thank you so much for your time, Speaker 2: 07:41 Liz. Kevin, it was a blast.

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James Ellroy will be speaking about his new novel "This Storm" Sunday at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments