I’m not one of those guys that’s all, “Oh, I wish I could write like so-and-so!” That always seemed backwards to me. If anything, I want to write like me, but I want to be as talented or as in control of my talent as another, more popular writer. Usually, when I read something that really knocks my socks off, it makes me want to up my game so that I can give that feeling to somebody else. That type of skill is jealousy-igniting. Like this bit from James Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover, which I have helpfully liberated of context. All you really need to know is that Scotty has 18s on his tie where he once had 16s, and Scotty is a cop. Read:
Crutch gulped. Scotty always loomed. He carried two .45’s and a beaver-tail sap on a thong. Bobby and Phil guzzled beer and snarfed pizza. They turned the backseat into a zoo trough. Crutch pointed to Scotty’s tie.
“You had 16’s last time.”
“Two male Negroes robbed a liquor store at 74th and Avalon. I just happened to be in the back, holding a Remington pump shotgun.”
Crutch laughed. “It’s the record, right? Fatal shootings in the line of duty?”
“That’s correct. I’m six up on my closest competitor.”
“What happened to him?”
“He was shot and killed by two male Negroes.”
“What happened to them?”
“They robbed a liquor store at Normandie and Slauson. I just happened to be in the back, holding a Remington pump shotgun.”
This probably reads very differently when it isn’t bookended by Ellroy’s rapid-fire jab-jab-hook prose style, but it got me good when I read it. I went back and read it again, I liked it so much. I like how Ellroy stacks meaning upon meaning without ever really coming right out and saying what he’s talking about. It’s there in the bit about Crutch gulping as Scotty looms. The droll repetition of “two male Negroes,” the implied shadiness on his closest competitor’s death… there’s a story lurking around back here, and Ellroy’s hinting at the barest edges of it and making you wish you knew more.
It’s good writing, basically, and I feel like that sort of writing only comes from when you’ve learned to both respect your own talent and your audience.
I’ll have more to say, I’m sure, as I make my way through this book. Ellroy’s one of those guys who makes me mad/jealous/amazed/entertained when I read his books.