Mosley's Detective Calls It Quits
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
When does a detective call it quits? Sometimes when the writer who made him up says it's time to take the bullets out of the revolver and move on.
Novelist Walter Mosley introduced readers to Ezekiel Easy Rawlins almost two decades ago. Now he's published "Blonde Faith." It's the tenth book in the Easy Rawlins series. When Mosley told me this would be his last Rawlins novel, I wondered if it he was like a politician saying he'll never run again or a boxer saying, this is my last fight.
Mr. WALTER MOSLEY (Author, Easy Rawlins Series): They mean it when they say it. I mean it right now. You know, the thing is, is that I thought the other day about how many books I have in my head. And I realized I don't have a long enough life to write all the books that are in my head. I've done Easy Rawlins. I really - I've covered it. I could stop writing Easy and write all these other books I have to write.
Like for instance, I want to a write a series of novellas - science fiction novellas called "The Cross Town Omnibus to Oblivion." And there are five novels I haven't - the only thing that they have in common is a theme. And the theme is, is that in each one of these novellas, a black man destroys the world. You know, there are so many, so many things to write.
CHIDEYA: You have - among the genres, you have essays/polemics, you have speculative fiction, erotic fiction, you had your book on writing, which gathered a lot of fans. What do each of those genres do for you that's different in terms of how you feel as a writer and how you present yourself to the world?
Mr. MOSLEY: You know, it's so interesting being a black man in America writing anything. Because for so long, we've been kept out of so much that almost anything I enter - it's not the first time, it's one of the first times. Anybody, you know, black has ever written this kind of work. And so that's kind of very interesting to me.
You know, in a country that's so unbelievably dominated by the concept of capitalism where people, you know, just - they really like - I specialize. I put the left front tire on the Pinto. Okay fine. If you're building cars, maybe you need somebody that does that. But in my life, you know, as a writer, I can go anywhere. I can do anything. And if I want to say something that's different, I may have to find a different genre to say it.
And if I'm going to, you know, criticize America's so-called war on terrorism, I'm going to have to do something, you know, political. It's going to have to be a polemic, as you say.
CHIDEYA: When you think about - and I'm just going to be really honest here - where your money comes from, I'm assuming most of it comes from your fiction and most of that comes from the Easy series. Do you feel, in a way, that you have this freedom that comes from a certain commercial success where you can do all these other things?
Mr. MOSLEY: It's pretty much an interesting issue though. I mean, because you know - nobody's ever happy enough. You know, like, you know - somebody said, well, you know, you're doing really good. Well, I could say, well, look at James Patterson, look at Mary Higgins Clark, they're doing 30 times better than I am economically.
But, you know, the issue is, is that, you know, I'm making enough to live. I'm writing books that I think, you know, that are important to me. I'm writing about black male heroes, which hardly anybody has ever done ever in America and even today. I'm having a good time. I'm writing books that I think, you know, that are important. And also I have a career as a literary writer, no matter where I'm writing. And I - that's so important to me. You know, that - where I can be taken seriously as, you know, as a man of letters, you know, actually in this world.
CHIDEYA: Let's go back to Easy. You paint a picture of his family, which has this network of family by love or family that has been taken in and you've got in this book an Asian-American girl, a Latino guy. You paint this picture, on the one hand, of this very multi-ethnic Los Angeles that can stick together in a very familial sense, and then also, this hard and fast colored line beginning to break down.
How did those two ideas of the kind of multi-racial L.A. and the black-versus-white L.A. oppose each other in this book? Why did you choose to kind of put them together and play at this point in time in this series?
Mr. MOSLEY: It's an interesting - I mean, it's an interesting question. You know, a lot of people, for instance, if they're not a Chicano or Korean or Japanese or whatever, forget those people.
So you have a lot of black people writing about black Los Angeles. And there is a black Los Angeles, but the black Los Angeles is seasoned and tempered by Chicanos and Koreans and Japanese and other Asian, you know, populations, and some by white people and certainly, by the Jewish population.
And so to write a book about Los Angeles that pretends that Los Angeles is black or white is almost as bad as the old guys writing books about Los Angeles in which Los Angeles is only white. It doesn't make sense. Now, of course, before the riots, there were two colors - white and not white.
And all of us who were, you know, Japanese, Korean, black, Chicano, we all got along. We understood each other. We worked together. We lived together. The riots changed that. But Easy comes from a moment of consciousness before the riots. And so he's still able to see a greater variety. And, you know, there are still a lot of people that work together. A lot of people only want to concentrate on conflict, but there are a lot of people who get along and understand each other.
CHIDEYA: You have this cast of characters that, again, spans this different racial classifications and cultural classifications. At the same time, you have Easy's mentor who you mentioned from time to time being Jewish. But you don't have a lot of Jewish characters in the book, although that's personally part of your heritage. Is there a reason why you chose to go down the path of really focusing on African-American life and then not, kind of fleshing out Jewish-American life?
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah. Well, you know, I mean, a lot of people write books about Jewish-American life. And there's some very good books, you know, all through kind of our history. And as I say many times, there are hardly any writers about black American - black male heroes in America, ever - now or ever in our history. And so it's, you know, it's a task I've kind of - I've taken on with not necessarily a conscious decision, but certainly a decision.
And, you know, the Jewish characters in my books are wonderful and I love them. And they've been in all the books, but they're not, you know, it really is a - they really are novels that are, you know, peopled by African-Americans.
CHIDEYA: Well, Walter, thanks so much.
Mr. MOSLEY: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Writer Walter Mosley created the black literary icon Easy Rawlins. Mosley's 10th and last novel featuring my super detective is out now. It's called "Blonde Faith."