When President Bill Clinton announced that Walter Mosley was one of his favorite writers, Black Betty (1994), Mosley's third detective novel featuring African American P.I. Easy Rawlins, soared up the bestseller lists. It's little wonder Clinton is a fan: Mosley's writing, an edgy, atmospheric blend of literary and pulp fiction, is like nobody else's. Some of his books are detective fiction, some are sci-fi, and all defy easy categorization.
Mosley was born in Los Angeles, traveled east to college, and found his way into writing fiction by way of working as a computer programmer, caterer, and potter. His first Easy Rawlins book, Gone Fishin' didn't find a publisher, but the next, Devil in a Blue Dress (1990) most certainly did -- and the world was introduced to a startlingly different P.I.
Part of the success of the Easy Rawlins series is Mosley's gift for character development. Easy, who stumbles into detective work after being laid off by the aircraft industry, ages in real time in the novels, marries, and experiences believable financial troubles and successes. In addition, Mosley's ability to evoke atmosphere -- the dangers and complexities of life in the toughest neighborhoods of Los Angeles -- truly shines. His treatment of historic detail (the Rawlins books take place in Los Angeles from the 1940s to the mid-1960s) is impeccable, his dialogue fine-tuned and dead-on.
In 2002, Mosley introduced a new series featuring Fearless Jones, an Army vet with a rigid moral compass, and his friend, a used-bookstore owner named Paris Minton. The series is set in the black neighborhoods of 1950s L.A. and captures the racial climate of the times. Mosley himself summed up the first book, 2002's Fearless Jones, as "comic noir with a fringe of social realism."
Despite the success of his bestselling crime series, Mosley is a writer who resolutely resists pigeonholing. He regularly pens literary fiction, short stories, essays, and sci-fi novels, and he has made bold forays into erotica, YA fiction, and political polemic. "I didn't start off being a mystery writer," he said in an interview with NPR. "There's many things that I am." Fans of this talented, genre-bending author could not agree more!
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Good to Know
Mosley won a Grammy award in 2002 in the category of "Best Album Notes" for Richard Pryor.... And It's Deep, Too! The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992).
Mosley is an avid potter in his spare time.
In our 2004 interview, Mosley reveals:
"I was a computer programmer for 15 years before publishing my first book. I am an avid collector of comic books. And I believe that war is rarely the answer, especially not for its innocent victims."
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In the summer of 2004, Mosley took some time out to answer some of our questions about his favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?
The Stranger by Albert Camus probably had the greatest impact on me. I suppose that's because it was a novel about ideas in a very concrete and sensual world. This to me is the most difficult stretch for a writer -- to talk about the mind and spirit while using the most pedestrian props. Also the hero is not an attractive personality. He's just a guy, a little removed, who comes to heroism without anyone really knowing it. This makes him more like an average Joe rather than someone beyond our reach or range.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- Its beauty and strangeness.
The Stranger by Albert Camus -- As stated above.
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny -- The magical humanity that is possible in our imagination.
The Simple Stories by Langston Hughes -- The deep love and understanding of the working class African American character.
The Country Girls trilogy by Edna O'Brien -- Because she is one of the best writers in the English language.
The Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot -- These poems -- though I still don't completely understand them -- move me to ecstasy.
Kindred by Octavia Butler -- The mud of my existence finds its beginning in Butler's grounded prose.
An Alien Heat by Michael Moorcock -- The first book I read that brought me out of myself and into the furthest reaches of possibility (at least at that time).
Their Eyes Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston -- It opened the door of linguistic possibility that finally allowed me to become a writer.
The Galton Case by Ross Macdonald -- This, and many others of the author's work, is the essence of noir.
What are some of your favorite films?The Third Man
Adventures in Babysitting
Night of the Living Dead
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I never listen to music when I write. But I love all kinds of music (except for polka).
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Books as gifts is a difficult concept. It depends on the person and the time in their life. For instance, a person who has been sick might do well with a book about curative teas, a child might need adventure, an older citizen might enjoy history.
Do you have any special writing rituals?
I have no rituals as a writer. I write 350 out 365 days a year -- at least. Writing is my love, not my superstition.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
My life as a writer has been pretty easy (no pun intended). I started writing seriously in 1986, and my first novel was published in 1990. However the first story that I ever published in a little literary magazine, "Voodoo," was later found in manuscript form in some editor's desk. That editor, not realizing that the story had been published a year earlier, sent me a rejection letter, saying, "This story really is not right for us...."
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
There aren't many things that a writer has to do. You have to write, of course, and be critical of your own work. In order to be discovered, you should call the editors of books you think are like yours in some way. Ask the editor (or their assistant) who the agent is. Call the agent and tell them that you have written a book that has some sympathy with the book they represented. Ask will they look at your work. Agents are important. Finding an agent that might care for your work is more so.
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|Walter Mosley Home
Good to Know
|In Our Other Stores|
|Walter Mosley Movies
Signed, First Editions by Walter Mosley|
|Devil in a Blue Dress, 1990|
|A Red Death, 1991|
|White Butterfly, 1992|
|Black Betty, 1994|
|RL's Dream, 1995|
|A Little Yellow Dog, 1996|
|Gone Fishin', 1997|
|Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, 1998|
|Blue Light, 1998|
|Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History, 2000|
|Fearless Jones, 2001|
|Bad Boy Brawly Brown, 2002|
|Six Easy Pieces: Easy Rawlins Stories, 2003|
|What Next: An African American Initiative Toward World Peace, 2003|
|Fear Itself, 2003|
|Man in My Basement, 2004|
|Little Scarlet, 2004|
|Cinnamon Kiss: A Novel, 2005|
|Life out of Context, 2006|
|Fortunate Son, 2006|
|Fear of the Dark, 2006|
|Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel, 2006|
|This Year You Write Your Novel, 2007|
|Blonde Faith, 2007|