First impression, Walter Mosley, author and consulting producer/writer on FX’s “Snowfall” for the past two seasons, has a distinctive and comforting voice. His cadence reminded me of jazz. He confessed that he doesn’t like his voice suggesting that it’s nothing special.
I will agree to disagree.
But it was exactly Walter Mosley’s voice—on the page—that the late John Singleton wanted when he first approached him to be a part of the writing team of FX’s “SnowFall.”
Walter Mosley is simply one of the most versatile and admired writers in America. Always in motion to create new work he’s the author of more than 50 critically-acclaimed books including his novel “John Woman,’’ “Down the River” and “Unto the Sea,” which is an Edgar Award finalist for Best Novel as well as the bestselling mystery series featuring Easy Rawlins. Mosley has a global following and his work has been translated into 25 languages and includes literary fiction, science fiction, political monographs, and a young adult novel. His short fiction has been widely published, and his nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times and The Nation, among other publications. In 2013, he was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame and is the winner of numerous awards, including an O. Henry Award, the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award, a Grammy and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Based in New York and Los Angeles as a consulting producer and writer, Singleton wanted him to be his expertise to the show which chronicles the true story of the crack epidemic. Winding the clock back, it’s the summer of 1984, and it’s snowing in Los Angeles. In season three of FX’s “Snowfall,” crack cocaine is spreading like wildfire through South Central and like a wildfire, it continues its path of destruction, changing the culture forever. As addicts grow and bodies drop, the police are finally waking up to this growing epidemic, and Sergeant Andre Wright, played by Marcus Henderson, has set his sights on budding kingpin and next-door neighbor Franklin Saint, who is played by Damson Idris. While local law enforcement fights to stem the tide, Teddy McDonald, played by Carter Hudson, and the CIA are working hard to make sure the flow of cocaine into L.A. doesn’t stop. To continue funding the war against communism in Central America, Teddy will need to find new routes into the United States using Gustavo “El Oso” Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and what’s left of the Villanueva family. As the stakes and losses continue to mount, our players truly begin to understand the destructive force they have set in motion and must reexamine their motivations and the cost of continuing forward from here.
Here is an edited phone conversation with author and consulting producer Walter Mosley.
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL: You have a great voice, Mr. Mosley.
WALTER MOSLEY: Really? I will accept that. I don’t think that.
LAS: What is your role as a consulting producer on FX’s “Snowfall?” I understand from press notes that you wrote episode three, which I screened, and half of episode nine which, I’m told, is being edited. How did this journey begin for you?
WM: Four years ago, John Singleton called me and told me that he was doing this show and it’s about the advent of crack between 1983 and 1988 in Los Angeles and how these Black people were dealing with the CIA and how the CIA was using that money to pay for the war in Nicaragua. I said so what do you want?
LAS: And what did John want?
WM: He said that he wanted me to come in and sit in the room and I want you to respond to things that are happening. I need you to be my other side basically in the room. For a couple of years, I did that. The first year, we were just thinking about the show. By the second year, the show existed. The third year, I was doing the same work, but on top of that someone said, well Walter, as long as you’re here and you are a writer, why don’t you write. So, I wrote an episode in the second season and I wrote an episode and a half in the third season. So, it’s gone like that.
LAS: You wrote episode three in the third season called “Cash and Carry.” Can you share how you shaped that episode?
WM: That’s hard to answer. You asking that question is like asking a whole bunch of different questions. What’s so interesting is that all writer rooms work differently. I was in a writers’ room where there were eight or nine people and we would sit around and discuss the arc of the whole season. Like, the whole season is a big story. And then, what are the independent stories? And along the way you get assigned a story, like, ‘you’re going to do number three’. I said, ok, that’s fine.’
LAS: So that’s what happened in FX’s “Snowfall” writers’ room? It begins with conversation.
WM: We’re talking about it. How Franklin is going to Panama City and then to Mexico and then to Costa Rico and then there is the Nicaragua connection. And there’s stuff going on in America and pretty much we outline what the story is going to look like. The interesting thing about it is this is that even once the story is outlined and once you give it to the writer—which was me in this case—the writer writes all kinds of stuff. There is a kind of identity, a signature of the writer in any episode. But on the other hand, I’m also following what the other eight or nine writers are thinking about that episode.
LAS: Can you push in a little bit about the signature of a writer in any episode?
WM: It’s really easy to tell my writing versus other people’s, because I write differently. But at the same time, I have to follow the story of the whole 10 episodes to make sure that everything fits and not only because of the aesthetics, but also there is a story that we’re trying to tell, and we don’t want to mess that up. Was that a good answer or did I go a different way?
LAS: You gave me a Walter Mosley answer and a sneak peek into “Snowfall’s” writers’ room, so thank you. As a novelist, you write alone. How does it feel being in a writers’ room?
WM: It’s just different and working on a show like this, we are very much together and I like both things. It was great with John. You know John was a great guy.
LAS: I heard that.
WM: He’s kind of wonderful and he was working hard to express what it was like to live his life in South Central and he was so committed to that. So, when he asked me to do it, I had to say yes because John was a major guy. I did love it.
LAS: Director Dallas Jackson shared some great stories on how John helped him get his film career going.
WM: John was like that almost every day of his life. There are hundreds of people whom he made their careers. Hundreds not dozens.
LAS: Hundreds? That’s amazing.
WM: One of the hard things about being Black in America is the pressure. If you’re Black in America you have all kinds of pressure on you but John said it was his job to help his people. His job.
LAS: His job.
WM: In talking with him he would say to me it’s our job to help our people.
LAS: Our job is to help our people. I agree.
WM: Those are the two things that he would say to me: it’s mine or it’s ours.
If you could not do it, if you failed, if you messed up, well then you did, and that was ok, but he was committed to giving you a chance.
I know so many people who have major careers that were started by John. He was a great man.
LAS: You know where FX’s “Snowfall” is going can you share?
WM: (laughing) And you do too, all you have to do is look it up. There was crack. There were Black people and they were selling crack. They made millions of dollars. It made lives. It destroyed lives but it was also underneath supported by the CIA and Ronald Regan and all those people. And John said, I just want to tell the truth.
FX’s “Snowfall” episode 3 entitled “Cash and Carry” airs on July 24.