RARA-AVIS: Gault & Ellroy

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 11 Apr 2001

The convention panel that featured James Ellroy and William Campbell Gault was at a Bouchercon back in the mid-80s. It almost had to be the one in New York where John D. Macdonald was the GOH.

Ellroy was new on the scene and certainly not carrying anything close to the reputation he earned in the next decade. A few had read him, others had heard of him as promising but many of the convention goers didn't know him from Adam's housecat. As was his intent, he certainly made an impression at this event from the first sight of him wearing knickers to his tone and attitude during the discussion. Today, it might not seem as over-the-top but at the time it reeked of pretension and boorishness.

The panel topic was something along the lines of "mystery writing as literature." The audience reaction to Ellroy's performance gradually shifted from amusement at the spectacle to irritation and some hostility. At some point, Ellroy decided to read an example of great literature in mysteries. He did not name the writer but launched into the reading and it went a bit long. Worse yet, the writing was not that impressive. It sounded like it belonged in the "hey, ma, look I'm writing" school of overdone prose. This impression was partly due to the selection of material but perhaps more to do with Ellroy's reading that dripped pretension.

When he finally stopped there was a moment of silence and from down the panel Gault asked "Who wrote that?"

A loud and triumphant sounding Ellroy proudly announced, "Ross Macdonald!"

Still silence. Then Gault said simply, "He shouldn't have."

The audience burst into laughter as the builtup frustration and tension released.

Certain of the details have faded with time but others on this list were at that convention and might fill in the gaps or remember it differently.

Since then Ellroy has proven his talent many times over and found a significant audience. Now and then I hear he still can excite and agitate the crowd at appearances.

Gault, as most of you know, was a friend of Ross Macdonald's and THE BLUE HAMMER was dedicated to him.

Richard Moore

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