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Walter Mosley: On writing, publishing and politics

Bridgit Brown | 11/1/2011, 8:40 p.m.
In his latest thriller, Walter Mosely tells...

In his latest thriller, Walter Mosely tells the story of Ptolemy Grey, a 91-year-old African American man who suffers from dementia.

When Reggie, his favorite great-grand nephew, is murdered in a drive-by shooting, Grey is forced to come to terms with reality.

He does so with the help of a very young woman named Robin and an anti-aging drug that he gets from a deal with a doctor whom he sees as the personification of evil.

How Grey finds out who murdered Reggie and why is at the center of “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey.”

 Mosley has written more than 34 books including the Easy Rawlins mystery series, which will soon debut on national television. His book, “Devil in a Blue Dress,” was adapted into a movie starring Denzel Washington. Having written across the literary genres, Mosley has won many awards, including an O. Henry Award, a Grammy and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

What inspired “The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey”?

My mother suffered from dementia and the book had a lot to do with her issues and writing about them made me happy. This is a book that a lot of people find accessible. It illustrates what it’s like to be someone who has dementia or to be worried about someone who has it. I enjoyed writing it.

Are you one of the few writers in America who is able to make money off of writing?

Everyone who writes and publishes makes money, but the truth is that I make enough money to live off of the writing. Even when I did work full time, I still wrote. I can’t write for more than three hours per day though. That’s not possible for me. So when I worked full time, I would write for three hours and then I would go to work. It’s the same thing now, but I don’t have to go to work.

What is happening in the publishing industry with regard to writers in general and black writers in particular?

That’s an interesting question and a hard question to answer because really the issue is more about what’s going on with publishers. Publishing has never really been a business, and so now that it kind of is and that it’s changing daily with the economy and also with technology, the publishers themselves are having a great deal of trouble identifying how to deal with what to publish, who to sell to and how to sell.

This is usually the problem that publishers have, and they haven’t really figured it out. They figured out something with 10 or 12 major writers and about 10 or 12 major subsets, which change, but other than that they’re kind of lost and so it’s kind of important for us to figure out what publishing is and how it works.

Now Amazon.com is publishing books and a lot of the big publishers are having problems. A lot of small publishers are doing really good work, but it’s hard for them to get distributed. Newspapers are closing up their book reviews, and people aren’t reading papers anyway. It’s a mess, but it has to work itself out.