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10 Quick Questions for Walter Mosley

Latest mystery, ‘Every Man a King,’ explores injustice, family ties and the downfall of pride

spinner image walter mosley wearing black suit jacket and black hat against red background
Maarten De Boer/Contour by Getty Images

Award-winning author Walter Mosley, 71, has written more than 60 titles in a wide range of genres, including nonfiction, mystery, science fiction and graphic novels. His latest book, Every Man a King, follows investigator Joe King Oliver on a dangerous assignment to uncover whether a white nationalist is being set up on murder and espionage charges.

When did you realize — Hey, I really can write?

I was in my mid-30s working for Mobil oil as a computer programmer, a consultant. I started writing in sentences instead of doing my [programming] and said, Hey, this is pretty cool. I can do this.

Do you remember the first book you read and loved?

Absolutely. The first book from end to end was basically a collection of stories, but it was Winnie-the-Pooh. That was the first book I read from beginning to end. Boy, did I love it. 

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Have you written any children’s books?

One, 47, which is a young adult novel. ... I [also] wrote a comic book [The Thing, a six-issue series published in 2021], but comic books are kind of adult fare nowadays. It was really fun to do. I was very glad to do it. I’ve been a comic book fan my entire life.

If you could have a superpower like one of your favorite comic book characters, what would it be?

One of the powers I really love — in a subset of Marvel Comics called The New Universe — there was a guy called the Witness, and he could go anywhere and be anything, but no one could touch or see him. I’ve always liked that power. I mean, if you think about comics, any power you have is going to get you in trouble, which is the whole thing about Spider-Man. The Witness’ [power], that’s a pretty cool one. Not only invisible but intangible. I can not see or touch you, and you can not see or touch me. It’s wild.

What’s on your reading list right now?

I’ve been getting back into [Herman] Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener [Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street]. I was teaching at Sundance just recently in the screenwriters lab, and one of the fellows had written a script that was very much like [Melville character] Billy Budd. I think that’s what brought me back to Melville. There are science fiction writers I love: Roger Zelazny, who I think is just wonderful. Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss. I have a science fiction book coming out in the middle of the year from Grove Atlantic called Touched. A lot of modern science fiction, I’m just not interested in. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not bad writing, and I understand what it’s doing. It doesn’t strike me as some of the older science fiction does.

spinner image book cover of every man a king by walter mosley; back of man is shown in between words
In Mosley's newest novel, an investigator becomes entangled in a dangerous case when he's asked to find out whether or not a white nationalist is being framed for murder.
Mulholland Book

As a crime novelist, do you read any other crime novelists?

I stopped reading crime novels as a rule quite a while ago. ... The thing is, [with] a real well-crafted mystery, you don’t know where you’re going, and it gets deep, deep, deep into you. I remember this one time, I was writing this [book about private investigator character Easy Rawlins], and when I finished reading it, I said to myself: You know, this looks familiar and I realized I had taken somebody else’s plot. I really stopped after that. … It’s funny because mysterious things are insidious that way.

You’re in the writers’ room for FX’s show Snowfall. What's more fun, writing a book or working in a writers’ room?

Oh my God. Writing a book is so much more fun than writing for the screen. The kind word to use about writing for the screen is that it’s “collaborative,” but it’s not like you’re collaborating with Herman Melville and Roger Zelazny, Octavia Butler. What you’re doing is collaborating with producers saying, “The audience won’t like this, or I don’t understand that.” It really is challenging, and I don’t mind doing it — it pays well — but when I write a novel, that’s just me writing. And if an editor has something to say, I listen, and maybe I do something about it, and maybe not.

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Are you working on any of your books/characters for the small screen?

Lots of them. I have a book called Parishioner that I’m trying to do a series about. I’m trying to do Easy Rawlins with Apple. I’m also trying to do a Western for Apple. ... There’s a movie — you can say I cowrote it because I wrote the first draft, the director changed it somewhat, so we cowrote it — based on my book The Man in My Basement that we’re supposed to be shooting in the middle of next year.

What’s on your to-watch list?

I recently realized that I never saw the first two years of Remington Steele. I just love the writing on it, and because it’s a silly comedy, people don’t know that, but it’s right on point. … I’ll watch the great old films. It’s a great joy to me. My favorite old film is The Third Man.

Any travel plans in your future?

One of the episodes I wrote for Snowfall had to be shot in Ghana, and I went there. I thought it was beautiful. That was wonderful. I just came back from Utah for Sundance. I hadn’t been there in three years. It snowed every moment I was there. That’s my traveling. I travel for work. I usually have a good time doing it, and it’s the only time I do it. Vacation stopped being of interest for me quite a while ago. It’s like, I understand if you have some kind of job working like I used to, as a programmer, [where] you do want to get away, [but] I love my life. I get up every day and I’m writing. What could be better? If I go away, I still get up every day and I’m writing.

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