… I flunked the eleventh grade and got expelled. I decided I wanted to join the marine corps, because I wanted to be a shit kicker, which I certainly was not. I did not want to go to Vietnam, I never thought about Vietnam. I had a vague desire to shoot guns.
… If you think I’m skinny now, at a hundred and seventy pounds, picture me at a hundred and forty. I got shipped out to Fort Polk, Louisiana. Flying bugs all over the place. Right away, I went from being a big egotistical bully to a craven scaredy-cat dipshit.
This (above and below) is from The Paris Review Interviews: The Art of Fiction No. 201 which features James Ellroy. Picking it up mid-interview:
Is that when you started writing — after your father died?
The first thing I did after he died was snag his last three Social Security checks, forge his signature, and cash them at a liquor store. From ’65 to ’75, I drank and used drugs. I fantasized. I swallowed amphetamine inhalers. I masturbated compulsively. I got into fights. I boxed — though I was terrible at it — and I broke into houses. I’d steal girls’ panties, I’d jack off, grab cash out of wallets and purses. …
photo from Wikipedia
[ … ]
Still, writing couldn’t have been exactly in the forefront of your mind at the time.
But it was. I was always thinking about how I would become a great novelist. I just didn’t think that I would write crime novels. I thought that I would be a literary writer, whose creative duty is to describe the world as it is. The problem is that I never enjoyed books like that. I only enjoyed crime stories. So more than anything, this fascination with writing was an issue of identity. I had a fantasy of what it meant to be a writer: the sports cars, the clothes, the women.
But I think what appealed to me most about it was that I could assume the identity of what I really loved to do, which was to read. Nobody told me I couldn’t write a novel. I didn’t live in the world of graduate writing schools. I wasn’t part of any scene or creative community. I happened to love crime novels more than anything, so I wrote a crime novel first. I didn’t buy the old canard that you had to start by writing short stories, and only later write a novel. I never liked reading short stories, so why the fuck should I want to write one? I only wanted to write novels.
Read the whole thing. It’s good. [ link ]