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James Ellroy details his search for love in Playboy

The crime fiction writer says his mother's unsolved murder led him on a quest for the perfect woman.

March 28, 2009|Scott Timberg

Amy Grace Loyd -- the literary editor who scored a coup by bringing National Book Award-winning novelist Denis Johnson to Playboy last year with a serial novel -- calls Ellroy "a good fit" for the magazine.

"One of the things about Playboy," Loyd says, "is that it's always been a marriage of high and low. Ellroy has innovated genre fiction into something more sophisticated, but he's also driven by appetite, driven by urges."

Loyd is with Ellroy in Hancock Park, following as he leads the video crew past a row of houses that goes from Spanish revival to mock Tudor to Florentine in the space of half of a block. She playfully pulls her Egyptian cotton shawl over her head each time he goes too far.

Walking down 2nd Street, Ellroy waxes rhapsodic: "Girls in sherbet-colored gowns going to cotillions, Marlborough girls in uniforms. . . ."

As for his current taste in women, he says, "I want rectitude, brain power and passion."

But: "Quite often I take what I can get."

'Spiritual document'

A few days later, Ellroy is talking again, this time in the Rossmore Avenue Art Deco-era condo where he has lived since 2006. The place is decorated with framed Deutsche Grammophon records, black-and-white photos of 1940s and 1950s Los Angeles and dozens of copies of his books. He's an exemplar not just of romanticism, he says, but of the "symphonic romanticism" he learned from Beethoven and Bruckner.

"The Hilliker Curse," he believes, is "a spiritual document. There's never been a male memoir like this one. It was the desire to consistently update my state of mind and spiritual condition pertaining to women. To honor the women I've been with, to chart this journey of transcendence."

He discusses the three great loves of his life -- ex-wife Helen Knode and two other women he prefers not to name -- and describes the evenings he spends stretched out on his couch, speaking to them in his mind.

And yet, he claims, he's no longer exorcising a demon, as with "My Dark Places," but exploring his obsessive soul.

"I'm made for obsessiveness," Ellroy says. "I'm built for it. I'm big and skinny, and I run at a high rev. I love to be alone most of the time. I'm emotionally hungry, I'm horny, I have a profound conscience. I have never messed around with a cheesy woman."

Will "The Hilliker Curse" destroy his tough-guy image?

It may, he says, but "only with a bunch of authenticity-seeking young men. You know how men seek authenticity through the most specious and vile male human beings?

"Thinking artists like Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson are authentic. Au contraire. It's puerile. Real guys love God, Beethoven and women."

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