Talking with Multi-Genre Writer Walter Mosley

Jean Estel, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Since publishing his first novel Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990, Walter Mosley has consistently written some of the most beloved crime fiction depicting the ongoing struggle at the heart of America: racism and race relations. Mosley is best known for his series featuring black Los Angeles detective Easy Rawlins, but he’s also written album notes, science fiction, short stories, screenplays, and won a PEN Lifetime Achievement Award. In the spring issue of The Paris Review, Thomas Gebremedhin spoke at length with Mosley about how he started writing, literary longevity, black male heroes, publishing, and the mystery genre.

INTERVIEWER

Do you plot your novels in advance?

MOSLEY

No, I just start writing. I don’t have any plan. I wait to find out where it goes. Sometimes I do an outline, but even then, that’s not really a plan, because I don’t really follow it. The novel is bigger than your head. A novel is a gigantic, rambling, incredible thing. All you can do is start. Roy Lichtenstein, who I knew quite well actually, would say the reason most painters fail at art—not at painting, but at art—is because they know what the picture is going to be before they approach the canvas. So the whole idea that there are things you should say or want to say or have to say—fuck that.

INTERVIEWER

Charcoal Joe is your fourteenth Easy Rawlins book. You once said that the eleventh novel in the series, Blonde Faith, was going to be your last, yet you continued writing. Why do you keep returning to Easy? What is it about him?

MOSLEY

When I finished Blonde Faith, I couldn’t see another book coming out of Easy. I couldn’t even imagine it. I realized, finally, that I’d reached the border of my father’s life and was entering into the world of my life. I decided if I wrote from that vantage point, from that point of view, I could write the novels exactly the same but with my experience forming it, rather than the experiences of my father and his generation.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have an end in mind?

MOSLEY

I don’t know if I have an end plan. It depends who lives longer, Easy or me.

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