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The defining incident in Ellroy's life was the murder of his mother when he was 10 years old, an event that has appeared in several of his books. In 1996 Ellroy took time off from his fiction to write My Dark Places, a factual account of his attempt to find his mother's killer 38 years after the fact. He hired a detective and reinvestigated thousands of old leads. They did not find the killer, but Ellroy is not disappointed. "I suspect part of the whole dynamic of Jean Hilliker Ellroy and me is that I'm not going to know and I'm not meant to know... Closure is bulls___--it's not worth anything." Far from burying the demons that had haunted him since childhood, the exercise brought him to "a level of maturity and of erotic intensity that I think The Cold Six Thousand shows. I couldn't have got there if I hadn't gone snout to snout with my mother's death."
The journey into his mother's past made him more reflective. His instinct now, he says, is to write more "explicative books. My characters are getting older, thinking more about what it all means. I won't go back to writing crime novels." He is already planning his next novel, which will continue the politics-as-crime theme through Nixon and the Vietnam War and up to Watergate. He hopes to have it finished in 2 1/2 years, completing what he calls "the Underworld U.S.A." trilogy. He also has a book in mind about Warren Harding's presidency and "the rumors that some of his family was black."
Ellroy lives a quiet life in Kansas City, Kans., with his wife Helen Knode, "whom I love more than my life and would happily die for," and his bullterrier Dudley, which chases female joggers through his neighborhood. After years in a drug and alcohol haze, he takes care of his health, eating well and working out regularly. At 53, he says, he is still "10 years from the top of my game." He travels tirelessly around the world to promote his books as they come out, then returns to his six-bedroom house in Kansas City--to think. "I've got a den there where I can call epiphanies on."
Epiphanies come in assorted shades of darkness for Ellroy. His critics call him a crazed voice of violent depravity. But Ellroy, like his bullterrier alter ego, cares little for the analysis. Ellroy just barks.