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In my March 9th post I talked about wanting to know as much as possible about the lives of the protagonists in the mysteries I read. I said I felt most strongly about knowing about female protagonists, but really it applies to males also.

In the April 5th issue of TIME magazine (magazines always are dated a week ahead of the actual date of issue) there’s a Q & A column interview of Walter Mosley, creator of the Easy Rawlins and Leonid McGill series.  Two of Mosley’s comments seem to me to support what I wrote.

The interviewer asked if Mosley tries to focus on character over plot.  Mosley’s partial response:  “With the original hard-boiled detectives, there was no connection to the world.  No mother, no father, no friends, no dog.  With a person like that, there can’t be character development.” My sentiments exactly.  If I know nothing about the back story of a detective (such as Sam Spade or the Continental Op, to name two classic dicks), my personal involvement is limited.  I don’t know why they behave the way they do, what propels them, why they keep involving themselves in such dangerous situations (assuming it’s not just because it’s their job), so I somehow don’t fully relate to them.  But when I know more about the detective (V. I. Warshawski, Kinsey Milhone), I feel personally connected and more able to understand their motivations.  I know these books are works of fiction but a good author draws you in, and for the time you are reading, these heroes or heroines are as real to you as your family and friends.  That’s the mark of a true novelist.

The other comment that Mosley made that resonated with me was when he was asked how much of a character’s life was apparent to him when he first started to write about him.  Mosley said, “I just finished the first chapter of the third Leonid McGill book.  And I’m still learning about him.  And I will be learning about him until I come to the last book.” To me that means that McGill is as real to Mosley as if he were an actual person, not merely a character in a mystery novel.

My hat is off to Walter Mosley for so eloquently expressing what I feel, that regardless of the genre the novelist’s duty is to make his character believable and ever-changing works in progress.  Just the way “real people” are.

You can learn more about Walter Mosley at his web site.


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