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29 November 2001



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Walter Mosley: A Seat at the Table December 2001

Walter Mosley, born and raised in Los Angeles but a resident of the East Coast since 1972, is best known for the "Easy Rawlins" mystery series, beginning with Devil in a Blue Dress (1990). It was made into a 1995 movie, and spawned five sequels. Though compared to Raymond Chandler and Chester Himes and often labeled a mystery writer, Mosley considers himself a novelist whose work includes mysteries. His first science fiction work, Blue Light, appeared in 1998. Futureland, a near-future collection of nine linked stories, was published in November 2001. (One section, "Little Brother", is published in the December 2001 Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.) He lives in New York City’s West Village.

for books by Walter Mosley

Photo by Beth Gwinn

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘‘‘Sometimes I get upset with science fiction because of its elitist nature, which is funny because only within the genre itself can it be seen as elitist. ... Futureland is partly a reaction. Watch the beginning of Star Wars, and you see all these blond, blue-eyed, white-skinned soldiers. You think, ‘God, so this is what the future’s like! The white people killed all the black people and Asian people and native peoples, and it’s all Europeans in the future.’ Of course they tried to fix it, but they never really did. Either you’re white or you’re an alien or you wear a mask (‘cause you might be black under there, with that deep voice). This is the fantasy — it’s less speculation about what’s going to happen and more the future you would like to have. So I wrote a book in which there’s a plot to kill all those people. If you can identify sequences on a genome and you can create a virus that turns on when it recognizes those, then you create a disease to kill those people. You can kill the Jews, you can kill black people, you can kill all kinds of people. It doesn’t work in this book, but that was my notion. Within that notion, I wanted to talk about a larger world and all kinds of interrelations between people, and how people understand each other — the things that interest me. I’m interested in what happens inside the mind. In this book, a couple of times, somebody’s mind is in someone else’s mind. ’’


‘‘I’ve always read science fiction. There are two choices when you’re a boy: either you can read the Hardy Boys or you can read Tom Swift. I wasn’t interested in the Hardy Boys. And criminal mystery wasn’t so interesting to me. I didn’t really care who did it or why, or anything like that. Adventure was much more prominent in Tom Swift or other things like pirates, Treasure Island. I just enjoyed them more — a world where things were more fantastic. Maybe, every once in a while, I would be amazed by some possibility, but the possibility was always to do something.

‘‘The first so-called novel I ever read was Winnie the Pooh. I loved it. You can call it a kind of passive fantasy — it’s just like the world. After that it was Danny Dunn and Voyage to the Mushroom Planet. Then Tom Swift. At ten, I really got serious about comic books. Marvel was it, and was it for a long time! Comic books play a really big part in young black children’s lives. It’s a way to get beyond the limits of the world. Especially Marvel’s comics, because the heroes always have all these problems. And you have the concept of the hero/villain from another race, like the Submariner — he’s a villain to America, but he’s a hero to his own people. And even if you’re his enemy, you can see those heroic notions. Not long after that, I branched out. I was reading Herman Hesse. Journey to the East is certainly a book of fantasy! (I also think it’s the best book he wrote.)’’


‘‘Blue Light is kind of like speculative fiction. I was trying to create an alien intelligence there. Octavia Butler said the funniest thing to me. She said she read Blue Light and I asked, ‘Did you like it?’ She said, ‘Yes, it’s very good, but it’s not science fiction.’ ‘It’s not?’ She goes, ‘No.’ ‘Why not, Octavia?’ ‘No science.’

‘‘Most people in my line of work don’t think of me as a mystery writer. I write mysteries, but I’m also writing about the lives of a lot of people in America who haven’t been written about before. A lot of people in universities look at my work as literary - ‘He has a way of making language immediate, while still adhering to the old concepts of novel and story and character development,’ etc. A lot of people want me to be a mystery writer. They get mad at me when I write RL’s Dream or Blue Light or Futureland.’’

... ‘‘Blue Light and Futureland are the only two books I wanted to read again after I’d written them. I like my books, but I’ve worked on them so hard, I don’t want to read them anymore. But the notion of speculation brings me back to them. There’s a place to shoot off into the future.

The full interview, and bibliographic profile, is published in the December 2001 issue of Locus Magazine.


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