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Free Radical

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The author has even written a superhero screenplay called Black Angel, as well as an audacious young-adult novel called 47 (out this past spring), a heroic story set on a realistic slave plantation. Mosley gave his protagonist, a young child, magical powers, he says, to solve a problem he’s found in getting young African-American readers to confront this part of their history: “Kids don’t like to read about slavery because they’re always victims.”

It is the irony of Mosley’s life that as his work has gotten wilder and more aggressively political, his life has become increasingly sweet and even comfortable. “Often as a writer, you think of other writers,” Mosley plainly admits. “But who would I want to trade places with?”

“Easy’d just go right down there to help people,” says Mosley about New Orleans. “Mouse would be shooting at the National Guard.”

Indeed, his routine sounds downright dreamy: Every day, Mosley, a City College grad who has lived in New York for two decades, wakes up and writes—often, he says, in the nude—for four hours in his Greenwich Village apartment, which contains an impressive collection of thousands of comic books. His current work is that “pornographic novel,” in which he will follow the advice of a City College instructor who told him that sex writing “shouldn’t be nice, it should sound nasty.” Sometimes he works on a side project, like the Middle Passage film script he wrote for HBO. Recently, he adapted a screenplay from a friend’s history of Robespierre, and completed work on an art-book reproduction of his favorite Fantastic Four comic books for Marvel. Often, he spends afternoons behind a pottery wheel at the 92nd Street Y.

But despite this remarkably varied creative output, he has hardly given up on the pleasures of classic hard-core dialogue. In fact, he says he can pinpoint the moment he came up with his favorite line in the forthcoming Fear of the Dark. In the novel, Mouse and two men are racing down the street with a corpse in the back of their truck. One man panics, worried the cops will pull them over. “Mouse gets mad,” Mosley explains excitedly. “He says, ‘You don’t have to worry about that. It’s their widows, their fatherless children, have to worry about that.’ ”

Mosley rocks back in his chair like a magician amazed by his own trick.

“I’m so happy with that line,” he brags, beaming. “Damn, that’s tough! It’s so hard-boiled.”

The way he tells it, he had no more plan for that scene than he does for his career—and is just as eager to see what lurks around the next corner. “Writing’s like the city,” he says. “You go outside, you start walking, and you see where it takes you.”


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