Sunday, April 26, 2009

James Ellroy liked my hat, and more from the Festival of Books

It's the last weekend in April, and that means I spent my day at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

The Festival was blessed with pleasant weather for a change (which was a big relief to those of us who suffered through last year's hellacious scorcher). I did plenty of shopping, and attended a publishing panel, and picked up information about the Sisters in Crime mystery writers group. It was, as usual, a treat to commune with so many like-minded book lovers.

The undoubted highlight was a panel by Mr. James Ellroy,  author of L. A. Confidential, Brown's Requiem, The Big Nowhere, Clandestine, and many others. Mr. Ellroy looked extremely dapper in a gray seersucker suit with bow tie and a handkerchief in his breast pocket, and was full-on entertaining as he sang the praises of his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, and in particular the Knopf Borzoi mascot (trust me, it all made sense at the time). After the panel I brought a copy of American Tabloid for him to sign. He said, "Like the hat!" (I wore my black fedora), and I told him that I had recently finished my first mystery manuscript and that I got inspiration for it from his books*, particularly The Big Nowhere and L. A. Confidential. Mr. Ellroy seemed rather moved by this, and signed the book with "Congrats!"  Mr. Ellroy, you are one of the good ones, and I'll certainly be on the lookout for your new book, Blood's A Rover, this September.

As for shopping, I picked up Ellroy's Because the Night, along with The Grifters by Jim Thompson, Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh, Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison (which I'll always think of as Stop Pushing! Stop Pushing! thanks to a Harlan Ellison joke), Saving Angelfish by Michele Matheson, and the coffee-table book Horror Cinema (which I can't actually leave on the coffee table because it's full of squicky pictures). This ought to beef up the to-be-read shelves a bit.

All this and I got to meet up with my friend from Readerville and BookBalloon, the sweet and ever-lovely Lynn! She looked like she was having a very good time. Big hello to Lynn (and thanks for getting me the panel tickets, which went on sale when I was busy last Sunday). It was good to see you!

*Mr. Ellroy's books were particularly instructive in how to introduce characters who have plenty of backstory. Instead of serving the backstory up in a big glut, he shows the characters doing interesting things, and drops hints of past unsavoriness. This intrigues the reader, and later Mr Ellroy provides the details of the backstory. I used this technique in my manuscript Undertow, and also touched on themes of fundamentally flawed characters that are always in Mr. Ellroy's books.

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