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Cover of FEARLESS JONES by Walter Mosley
9.19.03
Arts and Culture:
Walter Mosley
More on These Stories:
On Writing and History

Not many people had heard of Walter Mosley until one day back in 1992, Bill Clinton announced Mosley was one of his favorite authors. Mosley had been a secret pleasure, known only to avid readers. But since then, his books have been translated into 21 languages.

He's hard to pigeonhole — Mosley's mystery novels featuring Easy Rawlins and Fearless Jones have been read by millions. DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS was made into a movie starring Denzel Washington. But Mosley also writes science fiction, short stories and non-fiction. This year, Mosley came out with a strictly political work, WHAT NEXT: A MEMOIR.

Here are some online-only excerpts of Mosley's interview with NPR Correspondent Deborah Amos. He talks about the craft of writing and the pull of history.

(Find out more about Mosley and read an annotated bibliography.)





MOSLEY ON THE WRITING LIFE

Walter Mosley worked as a computer programmer for many years before he published his first novel.

"I took up writing to escape the drudgery of that every day cubicle kind of war. It wasn't... I did the work. I enjoyed the work. But it didn't satisfy part of me. So I started writing, thinking that I would write and I would work, you know, at programming for the rest of my life. And that would be fine. And I was surprised that I started getting books published and I could move out of that one career into the other."

MOSLEY ON HIS WRITING PROCESS

"The truth is, I never conceptualize a book before I start writing it. I always start with a first sentence like, "I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy's Bar," which is the beginning of DEVIL AND A BLUE DRESS.

I wrote that sentence. And the book I knew was in there, but I didn't know what that book would be. But I know that I was confident enough in the language that I could follow it. I don't ever know where I'm going. Because one of the wonderful things about writing, which is different than working in programming, you don't need to know. You could just write and discover where you're going. And it's a great deal of fun.

Once you grab onto the that sentence, and it talks about a world that's in somebody's voice, it's in a place and a time, that gives me the confidence to know that I can move on with it. And I can do that work. 'I was surprised to see a white man walking into Joppy's Bar.' Well what does that mean? You have to find out more. But I know it in my heart where it's going to go. Makes me happy."

MOSLEY ON PLOT

"All writing is that structure of revelation. There's something you want to find out. If you know everything up front in the beginning, you really don't need to read further if there's nothing else to find out.

You might know who did the killing. But you might not know why they did the killing. You might know that the man crossed the ocean on the boat. But you don't know what drove him there or how he changed in going across that ocean. So there always has to be something that you want to know."

MOSLEY ON BEING LABELED A MYSTERY WRITER

"I didn't start off being a mystery writer. I became that. And when I wrote, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, I didn't know it was going to be a mystery. It just was. I write mysteries. I'm also a science fiction writer. I'm also a writer of non fiction. I'm also a literary writer.

There's many things that I am. And all of those things come together at some point. If somebody wants to limit me, you know and they'll say, 'Well, this is Walter Mosley, the mystery writer.' I don't like that. Because I do many things. So why do you pick that one thing? And then it's always an economic reason. 'Well you sell more of these books than you those books.' Not a good reason."

MOSLEY ON HIS MYSTERY READERS

"People were reading me from all kinds of backgrounds because they wanted to read mysteries. The fact that they learned about, you know black people and black lives and stuff like that, was just something added for them."

MOSLEY ON AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND FICTION

"When I write the Easy Rawlins series — the character has to change... You know you can't just make him a different person in every book. And the other thing is I want to map that migration through the deep South and to the West of black people. Because one of the things — and this is because we haven't been that involved in the center of the literary world, people of color — a lot of our histories are left out of the fiction. We don't have a history in the literature. Because you know for a long time we weren't published. I mean some people were published. And that's changing now. Now there are a lot of black, African-American writers who are writing about a lot of different parts of the country, a lot of different economic groups and genders. And it's kind of wonderful."

MOSLEY ON AN UNEXPECTED AMERICAN HERO

"Walter Mosley wrote an article for THE NEW YORK TIMES early in 2003 describing one of his personal heroes. That article was called "I'm Still Living in Al Bundy's America."

"Ed O'Neill's a great actor. And he really brought out that character. It's the same reason that you liked Jackie Gleason, you know Ralph Cramden. We live in America. And we make these fantasies about what life is like, you know the perfect home, you know the father and the wife and the children. Everybody loves each other.

And there's a kind of a balance that only gets upset because of external things, which you know you can always overcome. There's always money. There's always a job. Well, Al Bundy is more like most Americans are. They're at the very edge.

The height of their life was when they got four touchdowns in a single game in high school. I see that kind of dysfunctional life as a big part of America, not all of America, but a big part of America. And watching that show, it makes me laugh. Because I said, 'God, this is what it is. And he's telling the truth.' And that's why I'm laughing, because he's been telling the truth about so many people's lives in America. The fact that he fights every day against all of this, and doesn't kill himself, which he says in one of the shows makes him a winner. And to some degree I agree with that."

Additional Interviews with Walter Mosley

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