About the Life of James Ellroy, American Crime Fiction Writer

Lee Earle “James” Ellroy was born to Geneva Odelia and Armand Ellroy in Los Angeles, California, on March 4th, 1948. His parents both highly valued education and reading, and both of his parents held college degrees – a rarity in his generation. Just a few years after he was born, his parents divorced, and he moved to El Monte, California, with his mother, Geneva. However, when Ellroy was only ten years old, Geneva was raped and murdered, and the police never solved the case – an event that eventually sparked Ellroy’s interest in writing crime fiction. Ellroy then moved in with his father, Armand.

In his teens and twenties, Ellroy struggled with his rapidly deteriorating mental health. By the time he reached high school, his home life had declined substantially as his father became increasingly negligent. A gangly, awkward teenager, Ellroy felt alienated at school and engaged in socially destructive behaviors, including ranting about Nazism at his largely Jewish high school. Then, in 1963, his father suffered a stroke, and Ellroy reluctantly became his caregiver. Two years later, Ellroy dropped out of school to join the US Army, but only three months after signing up, Ellroy had himself discharged by faking a stutter for the Army psychiatrist. After his father died later that year, he began to actively abuse alcohol and drugs, namely Benzedrex inhalers. As a result of his addiction, he was often engaged in minor crimes such as shoplifting and burglary, and he often was homeless.

After serving time in jail and developing a serious case of pneumonia, however, Ellroy decided to become clean and sober in 1977; he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and he has remained sober ever since. After sobering up, Ellroy became a caddy at a golf club in order to support himself while pursuing his passion, writing. Then, in 1981, Ellroy published Brown’s Requiem, his first novel, which drew heavily on his caddying experience. He then published Clandestine, an Edgar Wallace award nominated novel, and after writing and publishing a handful of smaller books, he published the first volume of his well-known L.A. Quartet series, The Black Dahlia, in 1987.

In 1988, Ellroy married Mary Doherty, a phone company executive, but they divorced soon after. He then married Helen Knode, a journalist and novelist, in 1991, and he moved to Kansas City with her in 1995. After divorcing Knode in 2006, Ellroy returned to California, where he currently lives. Ellroy has continued to publish his writing and considers himself a recluse, possessing few technological amenities and largely insulating himself from the outside world.

The Biography of James Ellroy

Though Ellroy has not written a distinct autobiography, some of his works serve as memoirs of his life. In an interview about his writing, Ellroy claimed that in his works, he “figured out how [he] could use [his] mother’s death, reduce it to sound-bites and sell books.” Furthermore, his 1996 book My Dark Places acts as both a memoir and attempt to find his mother’s killer. In one essay, titled “Where I Get My Weird Shit,” Ellroy makes the claim that novels are simply mislabeled autobiography.

In Destination: Morgue!, Ellroy includes his own autobiography among accounts of infamous murder cases as well as an investigation into the justice of the death penalty. A section in Destination: Morgue! titled “My Life as a Creep” describes Ellroy’s life during his teens and early twenties, where he got expelled from high school for inflammatory remarks about Nazism and slavery, joined the Army and got discharged for faking a stutter, and became addicted to drugs and alcohol. Throughout Ellroy’s work, he alludes to elements of his past, slowly revealing his personal story to his readers.