Tag: Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley

The Long and the Short of It (Books I Saved to Read in Mexico)

For me, the anticipation of a trip is often as pleasurable as the actual journey. Wherever I go, I always bring books. Choosing them is more important than picking what clothes I will pack. The criteria for which books get saved for a trip is: 1.) Do I need time to relish a particular book written by an author whose releases I eager await? 2.) How many of these tomes can I fit in a suitcase without breaking the travel budget with excess baggage fees? 3) How much can I test the patience of my saintly husband who is still gallant enough to insist on carrying the heavier bags?

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What I Learned from Walter Mosley

   I recently had the honor and privilege of interviewing Walter Mosley, who was the Guest of Honor at the New England Crime Bake, which I co-chaired this year with Edith Maxwell. I thought getting to interview Walter was a reward for my hard work preparing for Crime Bake until I realized the man had written fifty-four books in less than thirty years. Time magazine says Mosley is a “writer whose work transcends category.” I learned he has not only written several fabulously successful crime series, including the beloved Easy Rawlins series, but he has also written sci-fi, literary fiction, erotica, a political monograph, and a writing book. And awards, he’s won them all, even a Grammy. In short time, my excitement over interviewing Mosley bordered on terror.            It shouldn’t have. Walter is a very smart, funny, and warm individual. Here’s a few things I learned from him over the weekend: 1. Why you should write everyday.            When I worked day and night as a lawyer, mediator, and adjunct law professor, this writing “rule” infuriated me. Never mind that I worked twelve hours a day and spend the same amount on weekends writing. It didn’t seem to count. I regarded it as a rule that emphasized form over substance. It felt like another way to shame people who are struggling to write. God knows there is enough of that already. But then I learned about unconscious writing from Walter. 2. You don’t have to be holding a pen in your hand to be writing.            Here’s another hardline I resent. If you aren’t putting words on paper or on a screen, you are not writing, or so say the Writing Police. To me this has felt like an insult. I spend hours thinking about what I will write, what I have written, and why I am writing words that become paragraphs, and then pages. Some of my hardest work is in my head before I use my words. It turns out, I may be guilty of “unconscious writing” according to Walter. Unconscious writing works best when you show up everyday and make an effort to find your words because there is a bonus to this. When you think you are done writing for the day, your brain runs on an unconscious level that is later revealed when you return to the page. Now I get why you should write every day. It’s so you can connect with your unconscious mind. 3.Writing is rewriting.            I’ve heard this a thousand times. I knew revision is where it’s at. But hearing, “The first draft is a little more of an outline of the novel you wish to write. Rewriting is where you make the story into song,” was liberating for me as a panster. I’ve tried outlining, even with moderate success, but I always feel constrained by the process. Writing a first draft on a keyboard without an outline excites me as if I’m playing a musical instrument and the words are my notes. There’s plenty of time for the somber business of revision. My first draft IS my outline.  4.        A novel is larger than your head.“The writer creates herself while telling a story about somebody else.” Mind boggling. I’m still thinking about this gem. 5.        Write without restraint. Edit but never censor your words. Telling the truth is the first tenet for Walter Mosley and it applies to writing and everything else.    

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History and Mystery and Crime Bakes

 I returned home from New England Crime Bake late Sunday night. I spent a wonderful weekend in Woburn, Massachusetts meeting old friends, meeting Facebook friends face-to-face, and making new friends. I participated on a great panel, moderated by fellow Missdemeanor, Michele Dorsey, where we discussed mash-ups/cross-genre novels, what they were, how they came to be, and what they mean for the publishing industry. Hank Phillipi Ryan complemented me on my panel performance. (How cool is that?) I spent time chatting with conference attendees about medicine and whiskey. I got to hang out with the incomparable Walter Mosley. And I heard Mr. Mosley, Frankie Bailey, Bill Martin, and Elisabeth Elo talk about how they use history in writing mystery. This panel especially intrigued me, as I’m a history buff. The past fascinates me. Not so much the big, well-known stories—although as I discover the version of history I learned in school as “fact” may not have been 100% accurate, I’ve re-examined some of the big stories and found them more interesting than I originally thought—but the history of everyday people. How did Regular Jane and Average Joe earn their living? What did they wear? What did they eat? What did they think about the “big” stories, stories that were news to them, not history? How fitting that Crime Bake is held in one of the most history-filled areas of the United States. I wondered why our hotel was decorated with sewing machines, shoe lasts, and photos of old bills for footwear, some Google sleuthing revealed Woburn’s leather tanning industry dates back to the 1600s. Woburn is near Boston, a historical treasure trove, but it’s also near Salem, home of the infamous Witch Trials and location of the house made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne as The House of the Seven Gables. I made time for a side trip to Salem and spent a sunny afternoon learning about the Turners and Ingersolls (the house’s real-life owners) and Hawthorne. I had no trouble understanding why the mansion (and his cousin who owned it) inspired Hawthorne to make it the centerpiece of his novel. Are you a history fan? Are you a names and dates kind of history buff or do you prefer the stories of the not-so-famous people who lived on the dash between the dates? Or the more thoroughly researched stories of the famous which goes beyond the popular myths and shows them to be humans who accomplished things? What historical person or period would you want to experience in a novel?

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Meeting heroes

I can date the moment I became interested in Tudor history. It was back in the 1990s, when I was a young mother and happened to pick up Alison Weir’s book, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Enthralled is not too strong a word to use to describe my reaction. Since then I’ve read all her books, and for the last two weeks, I’ve gotten to spend time with her as I traveled around England as part of her Tudor tour. I’m happy to report that she’s just as lovely and smart as I would have hoped, but that led me to ask my fellow Miss Demeanors: Have you ever met any of your heroes? How did that go? And this is what they said: Tracee: I can’t say that I’ve met one of my heroes – perhaps I don’t have a concrete fix on who they would be! I’ve certainly met people I admire and I’ve never had a bad experience. In fact, I’ve always been amazed that they are in fact nice ordinary people despite their ‘day jobs’ or worldwide fame. In particularly I had this experience when I met Juan Carlos of Spain. I was struck by how difficult it must be to live your life entirely in the public eye, yet remain gracious and quite frankly normal. I had quite a different experience when I met Viktor Yushchenko at the papal funeral. I only knew that he was president of Ukraine and married to an American. When he shook my hand I confess that half of my brain thought, oh my gosh this is what they meant by horribly disfigured by the failed assassination attempt with dioxin. (This was only months afterward.) At the exact same time, emphasis on exact, the other half of my brain thought, I have never met such a handsome charismatic person. Which is a little insight into what real charisma can do for a person. While not a hero of mine, he was memorable and charming, and certainly I won’t forget meeting him. Robin: I’ve gotten to meet not one but two of my heroes (so far), Dean Koontz and Joseph Finder. I met Mr. Koontz at a book signing (his, not mine, darn it). I met Joe Finder at a conference and went full fan girl on him before I could stop myself. He handled it with good grace and humor. A cool aspect of that encounter is that Hank Phillipi Ryan is the one who introduced us. She’s also fabulous. Alexia: I heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak but there were about a gazillion people attending the lecture so I didn’t get anywhere near him. I’ve heard Walter Mosley speak at conferences twice but I confess I never worked up the courage to actually meet him. I felt kind of like Dorothy in the courtyard of the Great and Powerful Oz. Jonathan Kellerman wasn’t my hero until I met him at Left Coast Crime. He turned out to be so normal instead of a Big Name Author who couldn’t be bothered with the hoi polloi. He even came over to me and congratulated me on my Lefty win. So now he’s my hero. Michele: I’ve always been politically active so I’ve had the opportunity to meet many political figures that I admire, although few qualify as heroes. My real heroes are writers. In 1988, I bought a debut novel in hardcover for one of my early trips to St. John, taking a chance on a new author. The writing and plot in A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George blew me away. I’ve read every book written by her since then, loving that she still sends me to the dictionary almost thirty years later. In 2015, I got to meet Elizabeth at the New England Crime Bake and to take a class with her. She is a gifted and generous writing teacher. At an earlier Crime Bake, I had breakfast with Sue Grafton whom I’ve traveled almost the entire alphabet with for twenty years. She was more interested in what writer Ang Pompano (on her other side) and I had to say, than in regaling us with tales about her. She shares a wry sense of humor with her protagonist, Kinsey Milhone. I have to include Hank Phillippi Ryan as another hero. She is a very talented writer, but also is the most generous and inclusive author I know. She gladly encourages, supports, and launches new and veteran writers. Hank epitomizes how sharing a writing community can and should be. Paula: I’ve had the good fortune to meet many of my heroes, all of whom are writers. Starting with Alice Hoffman. I collect first editions of her work, and so I go to her signings, where I’ve met her several times. She’s as wonderful as her books. I made her laugh once, and that was a very good day. I’ve also met Lee Child, the loveliest man ever. And Elizabeth George and John Updike and Stephen King and Elizabeth Berg and William Kent Krueger and Judy Blume and Julia Cameron and, well, I could go on forever, because I’ve been going to writer’s conferences and books signings forever. On my list to meet next are Louise Penny and Mark Nepo and Abigail Thomas. And if I ever make it to that big writer’s retreat in the sky, I hope to meet Maya Angelou and Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen and Shakespeare and Nora Ephron and Agatha Christie and….  

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