Author Walter Mosley Speaks to Almost 300 in Newport News

Known as a prolific writer, Walter Mosley has published 30 books, starting with “Devil in a Blue Dress,” in 1990. But the mystery writer, novelist and social commentator says his readers are just as vital as his writing.

“If readers don’t turn the page, the book was never written,” Mosley told a crowd of almost 300 people the evening of Oct. 28 at Christopher Newport University’s Ferguson Center for the Arts. He described readers as peers and partners. “All reader’s interpretations are unique,” he said. “They create their own stories as they read. … Ideas grow and change.”

Mosley’s author talk on “The Literary Life” and book-signing were presented free to the public by the Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium, a partnership of seven public and academic library systems on the Peninsula. Free tickets were distributed for the event in September to the public in each of the member libraries. In addition, the Consortium libraries held book and film discussions about Mosley’s work led by local scholars in the months leading up to his appearance.

The Consortium, which was formed in 2006, allowed 900 people to hear the author Amy Tan in September 2007, and plans to present best-selling authors each year to encourage reading and discussion about books on the Peninsula. The event was sponsored in part by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and donations from local organizations and individuals.

Often asked how he is able to churn out so many books, Mosley said it is unconscious, just as is all creative work. “The problem is trying to look in from the outside and describe how you do it,” he said. “I don’t know.” But, he said that he does know that he has to write for three hours every day. “All I need to do is write every day.”

His writing has produced a popular series of mysteries based on the black detective Easy Rawlins. His first Rawlins novel, “Devil in a Blue Dress,” was made into a film starring Denzel Washington. Other books in the series include The New York Times bestseller “Little Scarlet,” and “Blonde Faith.” His latest releases are “Tempest Tales,” and “The Right Mistake.” In March, he said he plans to present a new mystery series. Many of his book and films are available in the local libraries.

Mosley told the rapt audience seated in the intimate 440-seat Music and Theatre Hall that language is everything, and that it is all around us.

But Mosley described an unglamorous literary life, as well. All writers have a different point of view, he said, and are uncomfortable in their skins. They are reaching for something unpredictable that they don’t understand. And no book is ever finished, he said, because the writer never considers it quite right.

He described the writer’s life as one in which no one wants to publish your work, and no one wants to read it. “Even your friend who hasn’t read your book in seven months says she’ll get to it on vacation.” You’re rejected, misunderstood and ignored, he said. “Then you’re envied for those things. They describe the magic of living in the ether of literary life – if they only knew.”

Even so, Mosley said writing is the main act of his life. “Writing is everything for me. It is beyond anything I hoped for. My writing has become me — the heart of me, the soul of me.”

Although he said he didn’t think about becoming a writer until he was in his 30s, he said he was influenced by the stories told by his family, and especially his father. “Everyone in my family had a story to tell. I liked my father’s stories best,” he said. Emphasizing the importance of the stories and the audience to the literary life, Mosley said his father would always stop whatever he was doing to listen to his son tell a story, and he was always entertained, despite the young Mosley’s stumbles and false starts. “He helped make me a writer,” he said.

In addition to being a writer, Mosley describes himself as a social commentator, and he infused his talk with politics and racial issues. “All my books are political and speak about today,” he said, including those set in the past and future. And he described his new Internet-based endeavor, “Making Democracy,” as a new type of storytelling that allows people to come together based on interests — not political parties — to change the country.

Answering questions from the audience, Mosley talked politics, explained the meaning of some of his novels and characters, and described his racial identity as the son of a black father and Jewish mother.

Following his talk, he signed books for a long line of fans, including DeLevay Miner of Hampton. “I thought it was very interesting,” she said of his talk. “It’s a great way to see and learn about him as a person and how people influence him. You wouldn’t know that from reading his books.”