Holy trinity

SA Cosby: “The holy trinity of Southern fiction is race, class and gender” | Polar

VSrhyme writer SA Cosby hit the American literary scene last year when her novel Blacktop Wasteland, a heist thriller set in his native Virginia, has dominated Amazon’s chart of mysteries and thrillers. In addition to being named New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year, he won a THE Times and is currently being developed for theaters by producer Erik Feig. Cosby’s new book, Razor blade tears (released, like its predecessor, by Headline), is a revenge thriller that confronts homophobia in various communities in the Deep South. The rights to the film were purchased by Paramount Players.

Have you been surprised by the success of Blacktop Wasteland?

You were already a writer, but what was life like before?
He had a kind of punk rock philosophy. I was working with a small independent publishing house, very good people. My first detective story, My darkest prayer, went out with them and when you work with a freelance they do whatever they can but you have to do a lot. I drove in my car with a trunk full of books, toured bookstores, [attending] events. It was really kind of a catch-as-catch existence.

So what happened Between My darkest prayer and Blacktop Wasteland?
There is a worldwide mystery convention called Bouchercon in Florida. I went there to promote My darkest prayer, distributing it to all those who would like to listen to it. One of my friends, Eryk Pruitt, was moderator of a panel on detective fiction from the South and he asked me to participate. At the end of the event, a lady stood up and made an obtuse and somewhat racist comment about the south and how she missed the good manners of the pre-war period. Eryk invited me to answer and I was like, “Ma’am, I understand that you miss this period but, you know, for people like me, this period of good manners and etiquette was not so great. … ”I was a little smart. People laughed and it broke the tension in the room. After the event, an agent called Josh Getzler approached me and said, “I loved what you said. I loved the way you treated this lady. I loved your ideas on southern fiction. Are you working on something now? I was a little shy. I had met people in the past who said they were agents. It did not work. But I spoke to a friend who was already attached to Josh. He said, “If you sign with him, it will change your life. My friend was right, he changed my life. I worked 60 hours a week as a manager in a hardware store. Now I write full time.

What about southern fiction? What does this mean to you?
I say that the holy trinity of Southern fiction is race, class and gender. Such are the foundations of the great books of the south, whether that of William Faulkner Light in August or Flannery O’Connor’s Wise blood. For me, the best southern fiction takes the hypocrisy of the South, a region that seeks to imbue itself with religion and moral rigidity, and mixes it with the reality of a multitude of social, sexual and sexual contexts and situations. class.

You were raised 40 miles south of Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederation …
I can give you a better one. I live in a small town where there is a Confederate statue in front of the courthouse where we will be judging cases, legal and civil. I went to a school – Lee-Jackson Elementary – named after Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson, two Confederation soldiers who, if they had what they wanted, would always have me in a field to pick. cotton ! It creates this incredible mental angst but also this mental toughness because on every piece of land that a Confederate apologist walks on today, someone who looks like me has bled, worked, cried, sweated and died. I will be damned if I abandon it or if I give them a foot, an inch, a hectare, a millimeter. When people read my books, they see the African American characters in my books and talk about their strength and depth of character. It is I who pay homage to the people I knew and to the people who came before me and who suffered such unworthy outrages.

What are you writing at the moment?
I’m working on a southern gothic murder mystery, tentatively titled All sinners bleed, about the first black sheriff in a small southern town in 2017, right after Trump was elected.

Did the Derek Chauvin trial influence the plot?
Oh yes. Honestly, I didn’t think he was going to be sentenced. I have seen so many guilty police officers get away with murder. I want my character to try to reform his police, but what he’s going to learn, and what I’m learning as I write the book, is that it’s hard to do that because in a small town the MP you want to fire is linked to the president of the city council, or the member you want to punish for his behavior is linked to the Commonwealth prosecutor.

Do you read a lot while you write?
At one point, I didn’t. I was afraid it would influence my style. What I learned is that this will never happen. Your style is yours. I have a very particular style. I write long sentences. I like the comparisons (maybe too much, according to some reviews). I like to write esoterically. I pontificate and write poetry in the midst of shootings. It’s my style. It’s the SA Cosby style. Now that I recognize it, I can read a book while I write a novel. I actually finished three books while I was writing Razor blade tears.

What were they?
Black wood
by Michael Farris Smith; The number by Kathe Koja; november road by Lou Berney. The three of them are fabulous writers, but they each have their own style and it’s very different from mine.

What are you reading at the moment?
Just finished Bathroom by PJ Vernon. Just started The forest of missing stars by Kristin Harmel, which is a WWII novel.

Razor blade tears through SA Cosby is published by Headline (£ 18.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy on guardbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply