I didn’t read Devil in a Blue Dress until grad school but the first line still grabs me.
“I was surprised to see a white man walk in to Joppy’s bar.”
Good Lord, are you allowed to write that?
See, up until then I understood the tenants of fiction to be that you write for “everyone”. Down the middle. No political statements, no ruffling of feathers. It intrigued me. My reader’s brain said, “Yes, please. Do continue, Mr. Mosley.”
And that’s how I met Walter Mosley, at least on the page. Not only did he also go to Goddard College (attended but not graduated) but he was writing in a genre that I wanted to write in. And he was a black man. Unapologetically black. UNAPOLOGETICALLY BLACK.
And the book was good too. Really good. Damn good.
I have been privileged through the years to meet some literary heroes. Cristina Garcia, like, legit knows my name AND she’s read my writing AND she’s dope as hell AND she’s a really good dancer! Junot Diaz is also DOPE as hell and quick with that tongue lashing. Marjorie Liu has probably given me the BEST writing advice ever. My grad school advisers – Aimee Liu and Micheline Marcom are just ridiculously talented and amazing and pushed me to be better than I could imagine I was.
So, I’ve been lucky. But Walter Mosley? Get out of my face. If I could tell that man how he made it alright for me to go into mystery writing…
I got my chance! Earlier in March, he came to Murder by the Book to talk about his latest novel, Down the River Unto the Sea.
He was delightful and funny. I also noticed how many black readers were in the room. This is significant because, for the most part, I usually see more affluent, white readers in the room for book readings and signings. This was so refreshing to see.
When I got to Mr. Mosley to sign my book, I could FEEL myself freezing. I pushed through it. Who knows what when I would see him again. Who knows when I would get the opportunity to tell this person that they influenced me at a critical part of my writing life.
But, when I went to say all these things and decided against. Not because I froze again but because sometimes you just need to let your heroes stay heroes.
I wanted to keep him on that pedestal because that was where I aspired to be. One day I do want to have that conversation with Mr. Moseley but I’d rather have it as a colleague. I’d rather have a beer with him and talk shop rather than steal a couple of seconds in a book signing line.
So, I took my signed book and had a lovely dinner with friends. I know I’ll have that beer with Mr. Mosley one day. But for right now, I want him to still teach me how to write by continuing being a fan.