Friday, February 14, 2020

Easy Does It

Discuss a source of inspiration you’ve derived from a black American author. How has their work affected yours?

by Paul D. Marks

Many things and many people inspire me one way or another. But as a mystery/crime writer, I really enjoy Walter Mosley and his character Easy Rawlins. And as much as I like Easy, I might even like his sidekick Mouse more.

Pretty much anyone who knows me knows I have a thing for L.A., past and present. LA history. LA culture. And novels and movies set in the City of the Angels. Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress (1990), the first Easy Rawlins novel, hits all those bullet points and I was blown away when I first read it when it came out. And, much as I Iike Easy, I really like his psychopath friend, Mouse. Not someone you want to get on the wrong side of but certainly someone you’d want to have your back when the you-know-what hits the fan.

I like how Mosley weaves in the history of the times he’s writing in. He has the ability to drop you into the time period so you really get a feel for what it was like to live in that time and society. His keen observations on society and race are peppered throughout his stories. I also like that he focuses on the social issues of the times, while still keeping the fast pace and intrigue of a hard-boiled crime novel.

Here in the opening lines of Devil in a Blue Dress you have a great example of voice. We get a taste of the narrator’s (Easy Rawlins’) personality and we want to know more about him. Yes, we’re intrigued by the white man who walks into the room, but the real grabber is Easy’s reaction and the little tidbit of his history that we learn about. His character draws us in:

I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy's bar. It's not just that he was white but he wore an off-white linen suit and shirt with a Panama straw hat and bone shoes over flashing white silk socks. His skin was smooth and pale with just a few freckles. One lick of strawberry-blond hair escaped the band of his hat. He stopped in the doorway, filling it with his large frame, and surveyed the room with pale eyes.

I had spent five years with white men, and women, from Africa to Italy, through Paris, and into the Fatherland itself. I ate with them and slept with them, and I killed enough blue-eyed young men to know that they were just as afraid to die as I was.

In White Butterfly, set in 1956 Los Angeles, Mosley and Easy deal with a series of murders of black women that go unsolved until a white woman is murdered and then the LAPD comes to Easy for help. Mosley comments on a well-meaning white librarian and provides us with insight into the complex relationships and racial tensions of that time:

…I was unhappy because even though Stella was nice, she was still a white woman. A white woman from a place where there were only white Christians. To her Shakespeare was a god. I didn’t mind that, but what did she know about the folk tales and riddles and stories colored folks had been telling for centuries? What did she know about the language we spoke? I always heard her correcting children’s speech. “Not ‘I is,’ she’d say. “It’s ‘I am.’” And, of course, she was right. It’s just that little colored children listening to that proper white woman would never hear their own cadence in her words. They’d come to believe that they would have to abandon their own language and stories to become a part of her educated world. They would have to forfeit Waller for Mozart and Remus for Puck. They would enter a world where only white people spoke. And no matter how articulate Dickens and Voltaire were, those children wouldn’t have their own examples in the house of learning—the library.

In my writing, I write all kinds of characters, including, black men and women. Howard Hamm in Ghosts of Bunker Hill is a black P.I. There are several black characters in the Duke Rogers series (White Heat and Broken Windows), and also in my upcoming novel The Blues Don’t Care, set on the L.A. homefront during World War II. And you could say that at least in part they were inspired by Walter Mosley, Easy Rawlins and Raymond ‘Mouse’ Alexander.


And now for a little BSP:  I’m running a free promotion for people who subscribe to my newsletter. You can get a FREE e-copy of my novel Vortex. Just subscribe. And if you’re already a subscriber and want the novel contact me via my website or e-mail and I’ll send you the link for the download.

I'm also excited to announce that I've got a new book coming out in 2020: The Blues Don't Care. It's a little different for me. It's set in 1940s Los Angeles jazz scene during World War II. I hope you'll keep checking in for more news on this exciting new release.


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Dietrich Kalteis said...

I can see the Mosely influence in your new one, Paul. I'm really enjoying The Blues Don't Care.

GBPool said...

Writers write what they know from their own perspective. I add characters that fit the story. I use accents in their dialogue to make a few characters different from the rest especially if they have something important to say. And as any good writer knows, nobody should speak unless they enhance or advance the story. I just hope people don't start demanding a certain racial balance in all stories or certain outcomes or ban certain words or thoughts. I like to read lots of different views of life. And I read a lot.

Jacqueline Vick said...

Loved that movie, Devil in the Blue Dress. I think Denzel Washington said it best when someone commented about certain words or traditions belonging to a race and he said, "It's culture. Not race." (I'm paraphrasing.) I come from a different culture than someone who grew up on the city, or someone from a Hispanic neighborhood. None are bad. All are different. It's difficult to recognize other cultures when one hasn't been exposed to them. That's why I'm not in favor of dividing up bookstores or libraries into African American fiction and Hispanic fiction etc. It keeps people from discovering new writers. I probably wouldn't have read "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" or "Singing in the Comeback Choir" or the many Pamela Samuels-Young thrillers I've enjoyed or Gary Phillips, Walter Mosley etc. if they had been categorized, because I would have thought they weren't written for me.

Susan C Shea said...

Mouse is a character for the ages! Good characters and good writing top everything. We're looking at black writers specially this month because they have too often been denied the audiences they deserve by being passed over by publishers. Mosley is now a VIP in any crime fiction list and isn't that a gift to readers?!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Dietrich. Glad you’re enjoying it!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Gayle. And I certainly agree with you that there should be no banning or censorship.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Jacqueline. That’s a good point about not dividing things up.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Susan. And I couldn’t agree more, “Good writers and good writing top everything.”

Anonymous said...

I read one of Walter Mosley’s stand-alones, Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore. Beautifully written but, to use a cliche, not for the faint of heart.

Paul D. Marks said...

I haven't read that one, Maggie. But I'll put it on my list.