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Don Swaim Interviews

Audio Interview with James Ellroy

James Ellroy, author of The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential and American Tabloid, captures the sounds, language and sites of the 40s in mystery novel The Black Dahlia.

The Black Dahlia, which has more recently been made into a film, is based on the true story of a murder case of 1947 in LA. A 22-year-old woman was found sexually assaulted and sliced in half five days after she went missing. Once the press discovered that, while alive, this young woman dressed completely in black hoping the sophisticated look would make her an easier cast for Hollywood movies of the time, she was dubbed with the nickname "Black Dahlia."

The story was all over the press, mainly because such horrific events rarely occurred during that time. The press ate it up and kept it on their front pages for six straight weeks. Needless to say, the L.A. police were under great pressure to solve the case. In reality, the case remains unsolved, but Ellroy did solve it in his novel.

Ellroy's strange obsession with this case and with detective novels in general ever since boyhood is likely the result of his mother's murder. When Ellroy was 10, his mother was found strangled to death in the bushes new the local high school. The case was never solved.

From that day forward, he devoured detective novels and dreamed of one day becoming a novelist. Once he recovered from his alcohol and drug addiction and moved on from his life of petty crime, Ellroy finally realized his childhood goal.

To listen more about Ellroy's life and the details of the actual story behind the Black Dahlia, click on the link below.

Listen to the James Ellroy interview with Don Swaim, September 16, 1987
(19 min. 21 sec.)

MP3 File

These files are for your personal use only.
Classroom use is permitted.
Redistribution is not permitted.

Upping the ante with every book, Ellroy's continues to produce quality detective novels set in the 40s and 50s Los Angeles for his quartet. The final episode, White Jazz, is the topic for this interview.

He talks of his continuous interest of this period and of Los Angeles. He was born in LA. and grew up obsessed by crime, like many kids of that time. But this situation surrounding his mother's death, which he described in the previous interview, may have also contributed. White Jazz delves even further into his interest with LA's police and political corruption of the time.

Ellroy wanted to represent the dark and violent atmosphere of the environment by utilizing a different writing style. He doesn't use complete sentences except for in dialogue.

His goal is to recreate aspects of American history through crime novels. So, he says he's bidding adieu to California and will cover the secret history of the United States from 1957 - 1968, including items such as: John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, the mob, Jimmy Hoffa, the Appalachian conclave in upper New York state.

"It'll be an epic for the whole family," he said.

To hear more about his book and his future aspirations as writer, click on the link below.

Listen to the James Ellroy interview with Don Swaim, September 15, 1992
(24 min. 55 sec.)

MP3 File

These files are for your personal use only.
Classroom use is permitted.
Redistribution is not permitted.

 

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For over a decade, many of the best writers of the English language found their way onto Don Swaim's daily two-minute CBS Radio show, Book Beat . His New York-based program was derived from longer interviews, sometimes 40-minutes in length. Found exclusively here, Wired for Books proudly webcasts these conversations in their entirety using RealAudio.

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