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Donostia Book Club

My name is Slawka Grabowska. I organize Donostia Book Club. We meet every month to discuss previously chosen books or short stories. Check out our FB page! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Donostia-Book-Club/105225566276875?ref=hl

Meeting James Ellroy, Back in April...

The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy

James Ellroy... Have you heard about him? I hear many ´Nos´... But you've heard about ¨L.A.Confidential¨? Of course you have! So, he´s the guy who has written it. Yep. It´s based on a book!



James Ellroy is a self-proclaimed king of literature. ¨Who wants to read Marquez, Cortazar or Herta Muller? But they all read me!¨. He seems to repeat it whenever he gives an interview. And listening to him at Gutun Zuria (Literature Festival in Bilbao, April 2015), I couldn't help but ask myself if he really believes it. I've read Marquez, Cortazar and Muller. And I´m just half-way through my first novel by Ellroy... After all, he admits he doesn't read critics of his works, nor does he use internet. How detached from reality is he? Not long ago I wouldn't even recognize Ellroy's name. Yes, I knew the films, but never heard about the author... Dressed in a trench and Hawaiian shirt he seems one of the characters from his own novels.


He likes to call himself ¨pit-bull of literature¨, but at times he seems more of a clown. In the middle of the talk I realize it all is just an act. He sells himself and he does it well, there are many impressed by his carefully built character. Everything is well measured. He talks about his mother´s murder, absent father, his married lover, women in his life. But how much of that is real? He doesn't hesitate to share some gore facts from his childhood, but he gets angry when asked about other authors.


So: what kind of person is James Ellroy? Unimpressed by his act on the stage, I put myself in a line to sign a book. Yes, the one i still haven't finished. ¨Black Dahlia¨, I have to say it´s good. Not just a cheap crime novel, but a social analysis hidden behind the crime story. Very vivid descriptions of Los Angeles in the 1940's make it an ambitious novel.


The familiar excitement sets in: I´m going to talk to an author, to someone who creates fictional worlds and makes a living out of it, my personal kind of hero... Fishing the paperback out of my bag I feel momentary ashamed for not buying a hardcover, hoping the pit-bull part is not going to be the real one. And you know what? James Ellroy in person is nothing like James Ellroy on the stage. He's actually NICE! Open and friendly doesn't hesitate to take a selfie with me (my first ever!) and he patiently answers my questions. He seems genuinely interested in a short conversation we have, while he signs my copy of ¨Black Dahlia¨. Asked about some advice for an aspiring author, he says: ¨Just write. Don't question yourself. Write. The huge probability is, it's no good. Not what you write, not what I write. But don't think about it: write. You´re never gonna know if what you write is really good. I don't!¨. Huh! I knew it! All was just an act and in front of me stands a real human being, modest and unsure, but determined to succeed. 


I come out from the meeting happy and sure I will not only finish ¨Black Dahlia¨, but read his other works. Because James Ellroy is not a pit-bull, not a clown, he´s just a very good writer selling his works in a world where books need some crazy promotion to be noticed.