Walter Mosley is one of most successful crime novelists today. His Easy Rawlins series, based on the character of the same name, has been a multiple bestseller. His latest novel, The Long Fall , features the debut of his new detective, Leonid McGill, a black man whose father was a communist and whose great-grandfather was a Scottish slave owner.
Mosley took readers questions via e-mail this week. These are his responses:
John Ochwat, Beaverton, OR I was hoping you could talk a little about your process for coming up with ideas for your next book(s). I've written two books, a process I find exhausting on top of holding down a day job and raising kids. Where do you turn for inspiration? How do you keep from getting burned out?
Walter Mosley When I was working full-time and writing I produced two novels, Gone Fishin' and Devil in a Blue Dress . I found that waking up early, very early, in the morning and doing my work then, before anyone else was up, captured the best part of my creative energies. This meant that I didn't give the absolute best to my job but I did well enough.
I think the ancient Greeks (and probably others) had it right when they said that art in humans comes from the muses. It is something inside us called out by our daily devotion to the art. I never question or try to define inspiration – I just return to the well every morning.
Those points made, working and raising children takes up a lot of physical, and creative, energy. I commend you for it.
Max Arambulo, Toronto I just finished reading Six Easy Pieces [ed. note: Six Easy Pieces is a collection of short stories featuring Easy Rawlins] At the most basic level, I loved following Easy around again. I haven't followed him around L.A. since the early part of the decade and I'm looking forward to reading the last couple novels in the series. But is the novel a better form for the genre than the short story? For other genres, I prefer short fiction, but it seems like the novel really allows the noir/detective genre's best features to shine. Do you agree? How would you defend the short and what would you say are its strengths?
Walter Mosley I think Raymond Chandler's short stories were brilliant, also many of Hammett's Continental Op stories. Noir is a mood that can be captured in a simple description. Some detective stories need a larger canvas because the plot includes many stories and cannot be confined to a smaller space. Six Easy Pieces is much more like the hybrid novel-in-stories: a piece is missing and Easy, though he may not be fully aware of it, is searching it out.
Albin Forone from Canada I'm interested in how writers are reacting to the new online and electronic methods of merchandising their work. Have your works been or are you interested or worried to have them marketed via Kindle, as audiobooks, the new Google Books deal, or other means? Personally, I still buy books but am increasingly reading e-books and listening to audiobooks. (My main complaint about audiobooks is that I tend to doze off listening to them, so either have to re-listen at length to get to the right place, or obtain a text to expedite the process: I think an electronic version of the written text should be a mandatory adjunct to audiobooks.)
Walter Mosley I also fall asleep listening to recorded books. Most people I know who have a productive relationship with audiobooks listen on long commutes or in the car on vacation. As I live in New York City, and fly everywhere else, I don't have that advantage.
When I hear complaints about other electronic media, a kind of techno-dialectic is brought to mind. Homer, I imagine, would say that ink and stylus limit the story-teller's memory. He'd be right. Christian scribes might contest movable type, saying that writing and rewriting text in some way keeps the spirit of the language alive. They also are correct. There is no doubt that e-books take away the tactile experience to some degree. This new form might also, in time, take away some of the linear intentions of the writers.
Technology forms and reforms our culture(s) again and again; sometimes with our awareness, sometimes not. And something is always lost in the trade-off. This minor tragedy is something we deal with from childhood, when we lose fairy tales, into adult life, where love deepens, fades, and often dies.
Ralph Swanson, Gabriola, B.C. Easy Rawlins is a wonderfully round character. Do you find stories through a character like this, through a situation you develop for a character, or through a plot-line? And do you outline much before starting a first draft?
Walter Mosley This is an impossible question because of the complexities that it stirs up. Of course I can give you answers. Yes – I often find my way into a story through character. Plot allows me a map of the direction that this character almost always resists. And outlines sometimes come to me – sometimes not. But these answers are lacking.
This question is impossible (within the confines of this form) to answer but it comes up all the time – so much so that I have written a monograph to fully answer it. The tiny book is called This Year You Write Your Novel . In those 90-odd pages I have written everything I know about novel writing.
Urban Slim from Canada Hello Walter. Love your work. Just reread Walking the Dog earlier this month. Can you describe an average writing day for you (hours spent writing, word count each day, etc.)? Also, do you think that writers need agents in this day and age? Should a writer seek out an agent or publisher first?
Walter Mosley You definitely need an agent. There are too many grey areas, legal terms, and ever-changing landscapes of the business for a writer to be able to keep up.
I write three hours a day (first thing in the morning), 360 days a year (giving up five days for morning events, colds, and emergencies). I reread what I wrote the morning before and try to get down another thousand words.
Bert Szoghy, Quebec City I read the first two Easy novels a while ago. In the second one, A Red Death , Easy is called in about his taxes and he barely resists the temptation to kill (not assault, assassinate ) the taxman he meets right there in the man's office. My question is, do you think Easy's character flaw is innate, or did his circumstances cause him to go a little crazy and become that dangerous? Or do you simply believe many of us have such isolated moments of homicidal urges?
Walter Mosley Easy's not flawed – he's human. Humans have a hard time living in society because their basic natures are never fully civilized. The reason we read about people like Easy is so that we can see the struggle and hope for the best.
Tom G from Upper Ottawa Valley I remember a quote from an early Easy novel, something like: "Your only job is to survive your own rage." I think it was the character Easy speaking. In the last Easy novel, it doesn't seem like the character was successful, or at least that was the message I took from the book. I am wondering if there was a conscious intent to finish the series with an underlying message that supports the whole series, or perhaps a more immediate reason. Please keep writing. The messages I take from your books are more important to me than the incessant messages I receive from my national leaders. I may have read your entire works, including essays.
Walter Mosley Thank you for your kind words, Tom. Intention and hindsight are synonymous in my writing life. All my writing is immediate but often I can see the hand of another, at least partly unknown, intelligence at work. This I attribute to unconscious intentions and to forms held together by the art and also by the language we all live by.