by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & alter Mosley, who vaulted to fame in the early '90s by virtue of his novel featuring detective Easy Rawlins, Devil in a Blue Dress, and a recommendation from President Bill Clinton, isn't just a genre writer. And he isn't just a popular author. He's a genre writer who has achieved popular and critical success because of his genre-busting ways. But by writing in a wide variety of genres -- detective stories, science fiction, young adult fiction, mysteries, political essays, erotica (in his latest novel, Killing Johnny Fry) and more -- and by bending the conventions of each form, Mosley has become a bit of a maverick.
On Friday night at EWU, he'll speak on the topic of "A Writer's Life, Easy Rawlins Style." "What that talk is about is the life of a writer in its broadest sense, what it takes," Mosley says. "When most people think of the life of a writer, they think it's all bright and beautiful. And in some ways, that's true. But there are other parts of it -- technical parts, emotional parts -- when the writer feels completely isolated."
Asked what his moments of isolation are like, he laughs and says, "I'm not going to tell you."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & aving published in so many different genres, Mosley stood up for genre fiction when asked to serve as editor of The Best American Short Stories in 2003, even persuading his co-editors to include some examples of genre fiction in the collection.
With his Easy Rawlins novels, Mosley seems to have internalized the conventions of hard-boiled detective fiction and then given them a twist, creating a new kind of detective-protagonist -- an African-American working-class man with a past who changes and develops as the decades slide by in the 10 Rawlins books released so far. (An 11th Easy Rawlins entry, Blonde Faith, will be published in October.) Does a good genre writer read and read until he's mastered the rules -- and then write and rewrite until he bends them?
"I don't really know," says Mosley. "But I don't really read the best examples of genre writing to find out how to do it. If you look at the really great ones -- Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Georges Simenon -- you can read them all you want, but they're not gonna tell you how to sell a lot of books today.
"Now, there are other writers -- I won't mention any names -- who sell millions of books, but they're not great writers. The problem with success is that it doesn't have to do with money. Happiness and success have little to do with money."
As an example of distinctive genre fiction that breaks through the self-imposed constraints of a particular genre's conventions, Mosley cites Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. (By coincidence, we were talking on the very day that Bradbury was awarded a special-citation Pulitzer Prize.)
"I would go so far as to say that it is more important than any book written in the last century," Mosley says. "It's not the best written novel, but it speaks to problems that we have today, and that we will still have in 200 years -- international, political, psychological, cultural. Now, you can't just read Fahrenheit 451 and imitate Ray Bradbury -- I couldn't just imitate him.
"For one thing, that book wouldn't get published today. People wouldn't buy that book -- it's not science fiction, not the way that's commonly understood."
Mosley himself has experimented with the conventional forms of science fiction, even blending one genre with another. His young adult novel 47, for example, merges time travel into a slave narrative. While that may sound like an outlandish mixture of forms, Mosley is aiming there at depicting young African-Americans as proactive and powerful, rather than helpless and enslaved.
Essays on race and politics are also important to Mosley, as in What Next: A Memoir Toward World Peace, his 2003 response to much of America's incredulous response ("Why do they hate us so much?") in the aftermath of the al-Qaeda attacks. "What I say is that African-Americans understand how the rest of the world responded to us in the aftermath of 9/11. It's impossible for African-Americans to believe totally in the American dream, having come out of slavery," Mosley says. "So we have that experience, we know what it's like to be mistreated. Having been beaten and lied to and imprisoned, we understand how the rest of the world sees [the United States]."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & n Saturday morning at the Spokane Club, Mosley will deliver a lecture based on his new book, published just this month, with the encouraging title of This Year You Write Your Novel. "I'm going to make a presentation suggesting that the process of writing a novel can be extraordinarily accessible," he says. "You don't have to have a great education to write. People don't need some great master to tell them how to write a book. Nobody had to take a class on how to write a novel -- Homer and Dickens didn't. Writing belongs to all of us.
"What I intend to present, in the simplest terms, are the basic things a writer needs to write a novel. That's why I wrote this book."
Part of Mosley's common-sense advice about the writing life is that writers have to become accustomed to rejection. But wait a second. We're talking about Walter Mosley here -- more than two dozen books published, his very first Easy Rawlins book turned into a movie starring Denzel Washington, Bill Clinton's favorite author. When was the last time Walter Mosley had to deal with rejection?
"The last time I sent out a short story," Mosley replies. "At least eight publishers rejected Killing Johnny Fry. The last couple of short stories I wrote, the big magazines all rejected them. I've gotten nothing but rejection from The New Yorker."
But then Mosley reveals a trace of the security that an established writer like himself possesses and that a fledgling writer lacks. "As long as you know they'll take you sooner or later, then rejection is just something you deal with," he says.
For an established author, rejection slips don't carry quite the sting they do for beginners. For a prolific and versatile writer like Mosley, rejection is just code for how not to write the next book. Once or twice a year, however, the next book always arrives.
Walter Mosley appears at EWU's Showalter Hall on Friday, April 20, at 7:30 pm. (Montana poet M.L. Smoker, a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, will also read at this event.) Tickets: $16-$20. Call 325-SEAT.
Mosley will lecture ("This Year You Write Your Novel") on Saturday, April 21, at 9:30 am at the Spokane Club. Tickets: $10. Call 623-4284 or 838-0206.