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How to Talk to Your Hero (Just Ask)

02/08/2011

I saw an interview with Cameron Johnson a while back. This is a guy who made his first million before he graduated high school and at age 15 was appointed to the board of a company in Tokyo. He did things like sell Beanie Babies for a profit and he was also one of the pioneers of selling gift cards at a discount. Anyway, the interview. He won the reality show Oprah’s Big Give. I don’t generally watch reality TV and I definitely don’t watch Oprah but from what I can tell, it was a show where people run around with money and help people and charities the best way they can. How Johnson won was he managed to get the Blue Man Group to play a charity at this school and to donate $10,000 to the school. Do you know how he did that? He asked. That’s it, he just asked the Blue Man Group.

That philosophy of “just ask” stuck with me.

In September of 2009, James Ellroy was about to release a new book, thus finishing a trilogy he started in the late 90s. I’d been waiting for this book for about 8 years; James Ellroy is my favorite writer by a long degree. His books were so dense and frenetic and violent. He was a writer’s writer. I wanted this book.

I started looking online for any book tour he might do for Blood’s a Rover, I wanted to meet the guy and get some books signed. While looking, I came across a website that said “James Ellroy is now giving interviews and advance copies of the new book for review” and then it listed his publicist’s email address and phone number. Ok. “Just Ask”.

I emailed the publicist (from my work email because it had the company signature and it looked all cool and official) and I told her I’d like to interview James Ellroy for ChuckPalahniuk.net and I’d like a copy of Blood’s a Rover for review. I figured if I can’t interview the guy, I’d at least get his new book for free. Keep in mind, I hadn’t even asked the webmaster at ChuckPalahniuk.net if I can interview someone for the site yet. I’m not employed at the site, I was just a member on the forums. I could be screwing myself.

Ten minutes later, James Ellroy’s publicist emailed me back and said sure he’d love to do an interview and when would I like to interview him?

Really. It worked. “Just Ask” worked. I must have stared at my computer screen for an hour. It didn’t feel real. I even told her in my reply that I could interview him via IM but apparently James Ellroy isn’t very computer literate so in 4 days I’d be calling James Ellroy in LA. I OKed it with ChuckPalahniuk.net (whew!) and wrote down tons of notes and potential questions.

I knew I had to record this interview so I internet-researched voice recorders and cell phone recorders and I drove around to 3 or 4 Best Buys before finally stopping at Radio Shack and finding everything I needed for this ridiculous interview I still couldn’t believe I’d nailed.

Two days after the initial email, I received a very nice hardcover copy of Blood’s a Rover, even though I wasn’t going to review it because there was already a review for it up on the website. I just knew how easy it was to get an advanced copy because I’ve received them so easily before. Just Ask.

I took the day off work even though the interview only took about 20 minutes. With my heart in my throat I called James Ellroy and he answers “Hi, James Ellroy, who’s this?” and I instantly recognized his voice. It was incredibly difficult not to act like a dumb fan. I wanted to sit and BS with the God of American Crime, the Demon Dog himself but I kept it professional. If he didn’t give me an answer I liked, I rephrased it and I made him answer. I had to pull out tricks I’d learned from all that self-help stuff I used to read.

The whole time I’m on the phone, I’m expecting him to get mad and end the interview but it never happened. In fact, the whole week before the interview, I expected his publicist to email me and tell me it was cancelled. Besides, who was I anyway? Just some scrub out of his league or something. Anyway, if Ellroy didn’t like a question, he told me he’s not going to answer it. That simple.

I was scribbling on my notes the whole time and my voice was shaky and quiet the whole time but i pulled it off. I told him I’d email him when the interview went live and he said “Please do” and we hung up. I’d just sat on the phone with my hero for 20 minutes. And all I did was ask.

Where does that leave me now? Well, sometime this year the interview will be published in a collection of James Ellroy interviews. I did back flips when i received that email. I went on to interview Garth Ennis (of Preacher and Punisher fame) and now ChuckPalahniuk.net has been pulling interviews from some pretty big names since mine. I like to think I opened the door and set the standard for it.

Just Ask.

http://chuckpalahniuk.net/interviews/authors/james-ellroy

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