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My Mother and the Dahlia

My mother’s name was Geneva Hilliker. She dropped the “Ellroy” when she renounced my father. I laud her repudiation and commend her desire to live without a male-surname appendage. She haunts me in deep and unfathomable ways. I often travel her life at a brisk or painstakingly slow mental speed. I start in rural Wisconsin and end on an access road in L.A. The in-between stops are often filled with conjecture. I lived with her for ten years. The passage of time marks my childhood memories suspect. I later granted her a rich dramatic status and further distorted my memory. I did not know her in life. I am determined to know her in death. Summaries of her forty-three years often provide insight. Brevity enhances my process of refraction.


Turning to Memoir

Memoir, in a way that sounds melodramatic but is true, saved me as a writer by allowing me to give voice to my experience. Also by demanding that I read and research in the areas of neurology, cognitive science, virology, and philosophy of mind, so I could begin to grasp the facts of my case more fully, so I could discover—and make sense of—what happened to me. And by forcing me to put shards of memory back together, to create some sort of window into my past, so that I could see who I was and connect him with who I had become.


Heavy Metal Music Will Save Your Life

I spent three years as a rock music critic in El Paso, Texas, which was where I lived at the tail end of the eighties and where I came of age, in a sense—grew old enough, that is, to recognize that heavy metal was, essentially, tribal in nature and that it had everything to do with rhythm and aggression and desire and conquest and physical release and death, which is to say, with sex.

A Weekend at Montauk

Max Frisch’s Montauk, packed with these dissolving moments, is one of a small handful of works toward which I feel proprietary, if not downright possessive. I alternately want to pass the book along to everyone I know and to keep it close like some private vice, though I’m not sure what underlies this latter impulse. It’s not as though I believe that a book can be leached or diminished by its enthusiasts. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll find out that my responses and identifications are not nearly as unique as I have imagined them to be.

Writing Life: Pinch Me; or, How Stephen King Changed My Life

Last year, two days after Christmas and around three that afternoon, I passed out in the foyer of my home in Montclair, New Jersey. I hadn’t even had a drink, and I considered that fact, lying there on the hardwood floor, staring up, coming back to myself. It’s odd how exhaustion works its way through denouement, scattershot dysfunction, and emotional chaos. The damn thing apparently crashes into tiny moments of clarity.

Some Thoughts on Sylvia Plath

The woman next to me was astonishing in her stillness. She appeared perfectly composed, quiet, almost fixed in her concentration. She was softly pretty, her camel's hair coat slung over the back of her chair and a pile of books in front of her. Her notebook was open, her pencil poised. Everything seemed neat. This was Sylvia Plath.

Uncle Jeff Davis

When the Davis Family Association has its biennial meeting, The Magnolia Inn turns out the oil riggers and makes room for the relations. In front were parked three Cadillacs, a Toyota Camry and a truck that looked as if it had run into a deer and been driven through the swamps with the 10-point buck stuck on its hood.



Sadly, Emily Couric did not live to see a final season of life; her hair never turned gray and her figure never went slack, After a gallant 15 month battle against pancreatic cancer, she died at age 54 on October 18, 2001. A Democrat, she was the first woman state senator from central Virginia. Had she lived, she was deemed almost certainly to become Virginia's first woman lieutenant governor, and—perhaps ultimately—the Old Dominion's first woman governor. But in her relatively short life, she achieved more than most achieve in a full lifetime. A mother, author, civic leader, and devoted wife of Dr. George Beller, chairman of the department of cardiology at the University of Virginia Medical Center, she was, as a long-time friend observed at the time of her death, "a true profile in courage."


Mr. Crockett

His first name, Wilbury, had a slightly frivolous sound, like that of a furry character from Beatrix Potter or A.A. Milne, but no student would have thought of using it, even behind his back, for Mr. Crockett was the antithesis of frivolity, and his control over his troops would have been the envy of boot camp drill instructors. These troops were students in English classes at Wellesley High School, in a conspicuously affluent suburb a dozen miles west of Boston. So affluent, in fact, that a number of its sons and daughters were sent off to the private boarding schools that have long been a major industry in New England. Those who remained found a several-tiered program in English in the local high school. And those who chose the top tier discovered that Mr. Crockett was their instructor in English 21, 31, and 41—the three-year sequence that stretched from the tenth to the twelfth grade. This unusual sequence created an unusual opportunity that education schools, for which Mr. Crockett had little regard, call student-teacher interaction. Five classes a week, nine months a year, three years. That's a lot of interaction, and while everybody cut gym and skipped social studies and foreign language from time to time, no one missed Mr. Crockett's invariably stimulating, sometimes frustrating, and relentlessly challenging classes.