September 19th, 2014

My Dad On Meeting James Ellroy

Barnes and Noble at Harold Square is an old four story building with columns 
everywhere and a section set aside for authors to speak on the top floor flanked 
by sections on Rock Music and Historical Biographs.  I got there about 4:40 and 
was told by a hyperactive cashier at the cash register on the fourth floor that 
the seating would be open at 5 p.m.  When I went to look over the seating he 
yelled at me, supposing I guess that I was going to jump overr the purple ropes.  
So I went downstairs and bought Perfidia from a sane employee.

  (There was a time element) , so I thought I should get a seat at 5:00 so I would be 
first in line for an autograph.  In fact, a dowdy little man was ahead of me and 
he apparently went to all author signings in NYC, got the books signed, and sold 
them on line  for a profit. A neat cottage industry, but he didn't seem very 
happy about it.   A young man who could have been anything from Sri Lankan to 
South American sat on the other side of me smelling heavily of cigarettes, pot, 
and alcohol, and he, at least, was a fan of Elroy.  "I'm from Brooklyn,"  he 
said,  "and I'm sure I smell like it."  He was quite delighted I was getting the 
signature for you.  

  Elroy came in and dominated the audience from the beginning, certainly not 
apologizing for being late, and addressing us with a long stream of alliterative 
insults:  Perverts!  Prevaricators! Pedants!   Panty Sniffers!  Pot Smokers! 
Etc.   He makes quite an impression, especially being on a raised dais and being 
so tall.  He has his act down perfectly.   He went on to talk about the Japanese 
Internment and how his mind was somewhat stuck in 1941.  He spoke for about 10 
minutes and then read from Perfidia, specifically from Reminiscenza and  Kay 
Lake's Diary.  He was clearly prepared for any dizzy question the audience would 
ask.  He called everybody "Brother" or occasionally "Boss" except for women.

  I was most interested that he wrote the novels long-hand, making every 
sentence perfect before writing the next.  A real plodder.  He has no cell phone 
and no computer, which, he said, keeps him in character for books set in the mid 
20th century. He employs great researchers. When one man tried to see a 
resonance between 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, Elroy told him he was welcome to find 
anything he wants in the novels, but HE was only writing about 1941, period.

  At the end he shouted out:  "Who wants to ask me why I write?"  and, of 
course, we all yelled the question.  He answered with a really good reading of 
the first stanza of Dylan Thomas' "In My Craft and Sullen Art." 

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

That was the best part.

He remembered you and Christine or said he did and left a reminder in the 

One Christmas present down.