Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode 13 · 1 month ago

WB S1E13: Ron Block with Kristin Harmel with S.A. Cosby

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

WRITERS' BLOCK: Ron Block and Kristin Harmel Interview S.A. Cosby about his deeply felt, award winning book, Razorblade Tears

...what that story. Fantastic. So I wentfrom I went from sleeping in the dodge journey selling my books to workingwith Flat Aaron and be on the new york times bestselling. Look at that. Welcome to the friends and fictionwriter's Block podcast, five new york times bestselling authors, one rockstar librarian and endless stories join mary Kay andrews, Christine Harmel,Christie Woodson, harvey paddy, Callaghan, Henry, mary Alice Munro andRon Block As novelists. We are five longtime friends with 85 books betweenus. I am Ron Block. I am so glad you've joined us for fascinating authorinterviews along with Insider. Talk about publishing and writing. If youlove books and are curious about the writing world, you're in the rightplace. Welcome to a new episode of Friends and Fiction Writer's Blockpodcast on this episode, we're chatting with new york times best selling authorS A Cosby whose razor blade tears came out this summer, hit the new york timesbestseller list and was a book of the month pick in july and it was so welldeserved. It's a book that I and my other host loved so much his 2020 novel,Blacktop Wasteland was the New york Times Notable book, a good Read choiceaward nominee and on NPR's Best books of 2020 list and his previous novels byDarkest Prayer and Brotherhood of the Blade have met with plenty of a claimto he lives in southeastern Virginia, which also happens to be the area hewrites so vibrantly about. I am Ron Block and I'm Christine Harmel, youknow, we're both fans of essay Cosby whose work has been called gritty andheartbreaking and dark, thrilling and tragic. Prior to becoming a full timenovelist, he worked as a bouncer, construction worker in retail manager.He even worked once for six hours as a mascot for a major fast food chain inwhat he calls the world's hottest costume. And I might have to disputethat because I used to wear a costume a handful of times for a minor leaguebaseball team. So sean we can discuss that later. His backstory isfascinating and so is razor blade tears, which the Washington post calledprovocative, violent, beautiful. And moving to and the Milwaukee Journalsentinel hailed as a tour de force poignant, action packed and profoundwelcome to the podcast Sean, we are so happy to have you, thank you so much. Idon't know if I can live up to all that praise and the introduction, but I'lldo my best. Well one needs only pick up razor blade tears and they will get itExactly. So first up sean, we would love to have you tell us a little bitof what the book is about. And as kristen mentioned, we did both love thetagline on your publisher's website is a black father, a white father tomurdered sons, A quest for vengeance. Now who doesn't want to read that,right? It's kind of the perfect shorthand description though, butthere's so much more, Can you tell us more about? Yeah, thank you. So raisingthe tears is a story of ICT, Randolph and Buddy Lee Jenkins, two fathers, oneblack, one white, both ex cons who at the beginning the book are notified bythe police that they're married. Sons Isaiah and Derek and interracial gaycouple have been murdered and what appears to be random hate crap. Bothlike and Buddy Lee decided to investigate the crime after it seemslike the police investigation installed. Both these men are men who are wellacquainted with violence and violence is sometimes the only way they know howto communicate. And unfortunately that translated to their relationships withtheir sons, neither one of these men were able to accept their sons fullyfor who they were. And so they decide to give them in death, the love andprotection they didn't give them in life. So it's a story about revenge,grief, guilt, but also about redemption...

...and masculinity and manhood and alsothe, what I like to call the holy trinity of southern fiction, which israce, class and sex. I guess you could throw religion in there is an addendum,but it's definitely a story that was very um challenging for me to write andto get right and I'm just so overwhelmed by the way people havereceived it and reacted to it. I think it strikes a lot of chords. Yes, itabsolutely does. And those reactions are so well deserved Sean. I mean it'sjust a book that grabs you and doesn't let you go I think on so many levelsfrom the plot to the underlying message. So I was particularly struck by howefficiently this book blows stereotypes wide open and forces us to confrontboth racism and homophobia, both the big, obvious pictures of both things,but also the little things the little prejudices we carry with us. I mean onits surface this book is kind of this classic revenge thriller, which wecould easily pick up for its fast paced plot and quite honestly for the actionand bloodshed for into that sort of thing. But it's also deep, like it isdeep, deep, deep and there were times as I listen to this on audio book thatI went back and had to repeat passages again and again because of that depthand because of that insight there were things I just wanted to listen to overand over. So sean, I'm really interested in the genesis of the story.Did you start off by thinking okay, I'm going to tackle prejudice head on ordid you start out with the story and that element kind of grew naturally outof I think really the ultimate genesis of the story was twofold. One is alittle comical and what is kind of serious one of I guess the comicalissue was I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who's also awriter and both of us are approaching 50 years old, I just turned 48 augustfor, and we were talking about being men of a certain age and both of ushave worked very physical manual jobs over our lives, and we were talkingabout, you know, I wouldn't want to be a bouncer now, like I was a bouncerwhen I was in my twenties or thirties, and we were just talking about how time,you know, time, father, time is undefeated, you know, and uh what is it,what does it feel like when you have a few more yesterdays than tomorrows andwhat is it that you're going to leave behind? What's your legacy and how youtreat people? So that was sort of a complaining about being old, you know,remember what I didn't have to get up with sound effects and so that was sortof the comical, I didn't have a good knee and a bad name. Um so that wassort of a comical aspect of it, but um I guess on a more serious note, I had afriend, a very good friend who went to school with, who was, who came out tohis family a few years ago and um, you know, they were a normal black southernbaptist family, uh you know, uh politically liberal, but sociallyconservative is, I think the phrase and it didn't go well, they weren'taccepting, very accepting and I remember having a beer with him a fewdays later and uh he said, you know, maybe I should just kept it to myself,you know, and I'm paraphrasing, but that was basically the gist of what hesaid, and for me, that was so devastating, because I was like, Icouldn't imagine not being the full version of myself with people who aresupposed to love me unconditionally, you know, I've never, you know, like Ihad a complex relationship with my mother and and my father uh and I lovethem both, but you know, it was, you know, your parents and so there is acomplexity there, but I never felt unloved before because who I was, youknow, and I wasn't always the best, I wasn't always the greatest son, youknow, I used to I used to get a lot of bar fights when I was younger, I hadhad a wild streak in me and uh you know, I know I put a lot of gray hairs in mymama's head and so even that I just never felt, oh man, you have no idea,but even that I never felt unloved. And so, um you know, I decided to mailthose two things together, those two ideas, those kind of desperate ideasabout time and and what time is, you...

...know, and I think I saw uh I saw apiece of graffiti in new york city one time, uh you think you have time, butyou don't, and so I wanted to kind of mail that theme with the idea ofacceptance and talking about. I always write from the perspective of telling agood story and they're using a good story to talk about. Things areimportant to me, whether it's like a blacktop wasteland, whether it's tragicand toxic masculinity, generational trauma, poverty and were raised by twoyears, whether it's about homophobia and stuff like homophobia and class andrace and the the the unfortunate definitions of masculinity that havekind of been forced it upon us, especially in the rural area,especially in the south. Um, but I don't go into it thinking I'm going togive you a message. I've said this before. Nobody wants a three, nobodywants a 300 page sermon. And so I think as a writer, my job is it's sort of uhit's sort of like a magic trick. You know, it's sort of like being DavidBlaine, look over here, misdirect you with a trick. And then over here isreally, you know, behind the scenes, is me talking and kind of whispering inyour ear and, you know, talk about things that maybe are difficult to talkabout up front. So I think that's the magic trick of being a writerregardless of genre Sean. You're giving away all our secrets, all of our writersecrets. I'm going to kick me out of the International Writers Association.I'm taking furious notes here Sean. You know, it's so interesting to hear wherethe idea of this started. But then to think about how it developed and I kindof like how you compare it to a magic trick, but how much of that magic isintentional in a way and how much of it is happening to you as you right. Imean are you writing this story and thinking, okay, here's a message. I'mgoing to hone in on this a little bit more deeply or does it kind of justcome to you as the characters develop and you set them in motion on the pageand they kind of do their, for me it has to come naturally from theinteraction of the characters because I think it seems it will ring false ifyou force it in there if you sit down and you know, there was, there was amovie a few years ago as a comedy movie. I can think of the name of it, but theywere, it was a parody of very socially conscious movies. And every couple ofscenes they have a guy show up and he would yell message and so you can't dothat as a writer. And so for me like what I can buddy leave, I wanted theissues that I wanted to talk about two arrive organically in theirconversations and so when you first meet them, you know, they're not to acertain sensibility, they're not likeable character. And so they becomemore likable as the more they talk, you know, and I used the fact that I setthe story in southeastern Virginia where it takes 40 minutes to getanywhere. Um forced them to sit in a truck or a car and forced them to talkto have conversations that I've had with people that I've had with friendsof mine and and and also conversation with the people that I think uh, we'reyou know at various degrees of compatibility with my own thoughts. Andso for me, that message or that that that theme, I guess that thematic uhmessage is coming through in the conversations and the dialogue and theactions and the way they work together. Um and I think it has to be that waybecause anything else rings false. It's it, you know, again, nobody wants tohave something forced on them. It's easier to talk about it between thesethe dialogue between these two characters as they bring up theseissues and as they work through the issues. Um then the reader can see thatand understand it. It's fascinating. It's such a great tool if it buildsempathy and people without, even without, like you said, message messageputting that out there. Um, I there's a lot in the book that we deal with a lotof judgment. So people meet each other,...

...like buddy lee and I they're totallyjudging each other because their skin color because their backgrounds and umthe sons are judged because of their sexuality and um, some of the othercharacters we meet along the way, They're all judged. I I think therelationship between Buddy lee and ICG really taps into that and exemplifiestheir friendship building just from learning to know more about each other.They're both guilty of judging their sons and we get to see them confrontedwith their own biases. That opens them up uh to empathy and understanding. SoI'm curious how much of that comes from the path that you've walked. You'vetold us something about that. But I wondered if there was anything you hadto add to that having been misunderstood misjudge, especially as ablack man living in the south. I mean, I've been on both ends of that. I mean,I've been misunderstood and judged and people have if they forced theirpreconceived notions about me. I remember being in high school and I waslike, I've always, I'm still a huge reader. Um actually reading three booksright now, uh, a round robin tournament, but I remember being in high school andI remember, I think it was eighth grade, you got to pick your elective class,you gotta pick a class that you want to take because you want to do for fun and,and I wanted to take civics. I love talking about government, I still in apolitical junkie, even in these toxic times, I'm still a political junkie. Ithink I'm the only person that watches c span for fun. Um, and so, uh, Iwanted to take civics and the high school guidance counselor at the time,she said, well, wouldn't you be happier taking building trade? And I said, well,I mean building trades, cool. No, no shade on building trade, but I reallywant to take civic and I think you'd be more comfortable in building trades.And I'm like, I mean, no offense to you. But I grew up really poor. I've alreadytaken building trades and I thought to repair my steps at my house. I had tolearn how to run plumbing lines and fix washing machines and you know, I was ashade tree mechanic at 15 because we couldn't afford a mechanic, you know,to go to an actual garage, you know? So, you know, I learned how to change water,uh, change the water pump when I was like, in my team. So I said, I don'tthink I really need that. And that teacher actually forced me To go in thebuilding trades for one, the first method of 8th grade. Yeah. And Iremember telling my, I didn't tell my mom at first, I didn't tell my mom forlike three weeks and then finally, I was so bored because seriously, Ialready knew how to do a lot of this stuff because of our situation. So Itold my mom and my mom was like, okay, we're going to school and my mom wasdisabled. So it was, it took a lot for her to get and get into school. Youknow, she was walking on two games at the time and so we go in and she tellsthe teacher, you know, she's like, he's going to go into civics next semester.And the guy who counsel was like, well, you know, he's already missed asemester. He'll have to get all A's just to pass the class. And my mom,she's like, he'll get all A's and she's like, I'm not gonna have to force him.He's that smart, he's my boy and I did, you know, and so that's a preconceivednotion that, you know, it's one of the things that you just looked at me andso you're a black man, so you need to work with you and there's nothing wrongwith working with your hands. Everybody in my family. The men that I look up to,it will always work with your hands. But the idea that is forced upon youthat it's not your choice is difficult. That being said, I've also grew up onthe other side of that. I grew up in a very hyper masculine environment, Youknow, I grew up in the area, you know, like my brother likes to joke when wewere like when he was 12 and I was eight, uh we saw my grandfather doingsome work with a skill saw and uh he cut the tip of his thumb off and hepicked it up and put it in a bag for the ice and drove himself to thehospital. Remember my brother turning me? He's like, we can never cry for therest of our lives, crying is done. And so I grew up in this very hypermasculine environment. So I grew up in this very hyper masculine, we grew upbehind the bar. I remember seeing my first bar fight when I was like 16. Andso just this hyper masculine environment and a terrible and anunfortunate side uh unfortunate side effect of that was you had this idea ofmasculinity and masculinity at all...

...costs, you know? And so you could nevershow vulnerability. You could never show your uh for lack of a better word,uh your more metro sexual side, your feminine side, let alone if you happento be a young man or young woman or someone who was L. G. B. T. Q. Youcould never show that. And so I was I and that I'm not proud of that, but I'mactually ashamed of it. But I was a part of that hyper masculinity, youknow, And so you picked on people if you thought they were feminine, youdidn't want anybody to pick on you because, you know, God, God forbidsomebody thinks you're weak. Yeah. And so as I grew and I had a I had a veryloving mother, Very and very loving, but sort of misunderstood father. And Ihad family members who we're very, very empathetic, who loved to read and loveto talk. And so as I grew, as I got older, I was able to understand that mydefinition of masculinity and somebody else's definition of masculinity is notthe final definition and that that doesn't whatever somebody elsedefinition is, doesn't matter. And so that idea of judgment and passingjudgment on people and as as Ron just said, passing judgment as a deflectionwas very much a part of my young adulthood, young childhood, you know,by the time I got to my twenties and going to college and stuff, I hope, andI felt like I had educated myself and in a way that made me look at that witha more critical eye, but I definitely am aware of it. And so I grew up aroundpeople like, like Buddy lee I go around people like Racing. I go around peoplewho are defined by what they feel that masculinity is and they're too afraidto be vulnerable. And so I really was able to naturally put that in the book.That wasn't something I had to research. I just I know how those people talk, Iknow how they think. And so I'm able to use that now the difference betweenBuddy lee and I and somebody like Racing is but really in a car on ajourney of self discovery, some people may feel like that's sort of, you know,pie in the sky, but it's my book so I can do it, you can do it. I'm justgoing to say here sean that you and I are going to get a drink sometimebecause you've just described my whole life, it's just I'm just sitting herekind of getting a little emotional that somebody else understands that gets it.So thank you. Oh man, Well thank you for saying that. I mean that's the, youknow, at the end of the day, that was, that was one of the reasons I wrote thebook because I think we have such, especially where I'm from, especiallyfrom the rule South. There is such a difficulty with empathy andunderstanding different points of view and perspective and I really wanted towrite the book as a challenge. You know, really the people that should read, Iwant everybody to read the book and I'm so thankful the reaction that the bookhas got, but really I hope that people like people who are like I can butreally read the book, but not so much like I can Buddy leave their sons anddaughters are dead. You know, don't waste time. You know, I wrote, I wrotea line in the book that time is like Quicksilver, you know, it slippedthrough your hands and then envelopes you at the same time and I think that'strue. I think, you know, there there are friendships and there are pettygrudges that I used to hold that, you know, as you get closer to the midcentury mark, they don't matter. It doesn't matter. It really doesn't, youknow, little things that you hold in your heart, you know, like holding agrudge. I think it's an, it's an ancient, uh, I think it's a buddhistsaying that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for theother person to that. And I think so many people do that. And so the bookwas really about time. It's about don't waste time, you know, and, andultimately it's about that, but at the same time, it's also, you know, there'sa lot of action. There's a lot of violence. Um, and I'd like to talkabout the violence for a second because I've got some questions about it. Um,it is an incredibly violent book. But I, I wrote that if you ask me like, whatwas one of the things that you did on purpose? The violence is extreme as itis on person because I felt like...

...knowing men like I can, but knowing menlike that, that the only way they know how to communicate is through violence.Violence and the violent actions are their communication and their rage andtheir guilt. It's what drives the extremists of their violence. You know,that first scene or that scene where, uh, and I'm not gonna give anythingaway for anybody to read the book. But that scene where I can, buddy lee areinterrogating someone in Ike's garage. That scene escalates and escalates andescalates because of Ike's guilt. It escalates because of Buddy lee's guilt.It escalates because of their grief. And so it goes from interrogation,maybe smacking somebody around to what ends up happening. And because of that,they don't know how that's the only time that in the beginning of the bookthat Ike is able to express just how hurt he is in front of another person.He holds it in all the time. And you're not seeing where he's using the tool ina very violent way. And he was like, you're the one that killed him, aren'tyou? You did it, you did. And and that's the only way he knows how toexpress himself at that time, as the book goes on, I tried to broaden hiscommunicative abilities. I tried to broaden his perspective. So, by thetime you get to the end of the book, and the characters who, who havesurvived and their relationship it rings true because he's trying to getbetter. And so the violence is just for me, it is just emblematic of the depthof their grief. I mean, that's that's their communication tool at that pointin the book, right? Like, that's the only way they know how to communicate.And so, yeah, the ark that these these characters travel throughout the courseof this book. It's incredible because I mean that's exactly what it does. Youcan see all of this emotion and this anger and they don't know how else toexpress it except for the violence. And you wrote that absolutely perfectlysean. I um yeah, like I said at the beginning, that's not the kind of bookI normally lean toward, but you couldn't have written it any other way.And I loved every second of it. That's not normally my kind of thing. It wasawesome. So funny because I was just, I was sending my editor notes for my nextbook and it's about it's a murder mystery, southern gothic murder mysteryabout a serial killer and she remarked, she's like, this is so less violentthan reasonably. I know because I'm talking about I'm using it in differentways. She's like, I'm just shocked that the serial killer book is not asviolent as a revenge mystery novel book. But I but I also I'm using, I'm using awe're going to talk about that new book in a little bit because we definitelywant to sneak peek of that. We want to hear what you're working on. Um but youknow, I also wanted to say quickly just before we move on. I was thinking asyou were talking that especially when you mentioned how so much of whatunfolds between buddy lee and like happens when they're havingconversations in the car, right? It strikes me that even the violence,right? Like that's the way they're having a conversation at the beginning.These are the things that begin to open them up and begin to kind of take theblinders off and force them to look at each other and force them to look atthemselves. And especially with you saying that you're very interested inpolitics. I just think that's a really just an interesting thing to thinkabout the conversation. Does that that the more you talk to someone from adifferent walk of life, the more clearly you see them. And to me thatwas a message that your book really delivered, not to get too far into theweeds about politics, but um I don't think I don't think that being amoderate person is a bad thing. I think we come to a point in some politicalarenas where being a moderate is a dirty words. I don't believe that. Ithink more people are more moderate and people actually admit to being um thatdoesn't mean that, you know, I'm going to blindly or blithely standby withsomebody disrespects me or tries to disrespect my rights. But what thatmeans is I can listen to your point in...

...your conversation and see where we'recoming from. I think it was James baldwin who said we can disagree aslong as our disagreement isn't rooted in your inability to see me as a humanbeing. So you know, I think that was really what I try to do with I can andBuddy Lee has had them having conversation. Another thing I did onpurpose which I think in hindsight was kind of funny. Um I often have duringthe course of the book people call Buddy lee and I'm out on there, I don'tknow, I'm not gonna curse but call them out on their Bs. People call them outconstantly on their Bs, whether it's Isaiah's co workers at the newsorganization you work for whether it's Isaac's wife, whether it's thecharacter we meet later on a tangerine, whether it's Margo uh Buddy Lee'sneighbor, people call them out constantly. And I think well I know Idid that because I wanted them to be confronted with their mistakesconstantly because I think that's the only way you change. You have to facewhat you've done wrong and then you can begin the process, you know I said thisin another interview, but redemption is not a gift. People think that's a giftthat somebody gives you, you know, redemption is like this 1000 piecejigsaw puzzle and you have to do the work or put them together and then onceyou put it together then you can show it to people, you know, here's what Idid, I did the hard work and so I really wanted that to hit home in thecourse of an area and you did it, you did it so beautifully because each timethey had conversations as their friendship grew in, their biases becameless, they would have a conversation with somebody like Margot and theywould talk about what they've learned and you could just see the growth inthere in everything that way. So that's exactly perfectly said thank you. Well,and that's kind of a perfect segue into the next question because we're talkingabout Sean how you say things so perfectly. You know, we've talked abouthow we love the plot of this book and the message behind it. Um, but Sean thelanguage, we have to talk about the language and I want to read you a quotewhich I read to you. I know you know the one I'm going to read because Iread it to you a few weeks ago when we talked, but it's a quote I want to readto everyone because every time I read it I just, it's just so smart. It makesme laugh and it's so funny. So you're describing a woman pulling up to asecurity gate in a wealthy neighborhood and you say I expired a silver BMW inthe rear view mirror driven by a woman with the most severe, I want to speakwith the manager haircut he'd ever seen. She zipped by them doing at least 30MPH. Like she had some dalmatians in the trunk that she needed to make intoa coat. I mean it's amazing. I know, I read uh I know I read a funny, a funnyquote, but this book is just filled with these one liners that are just sowise and unexpected and that just capture things perfectly, but don'tdwell on them. Like you, you give us that like perfect moment and then justmove on. Yes. And they're so focused and so perfect and it's just brilliantwriting. So can you talk a little bit about these just clever tidbits um,which there are hundreds of in the book and how they make it kind of from yourbrain to the page. Like is this first draft magic or does this come duringthe revision process? I can't talk about that at all. I'm kidding. Uh justa, you know, a lot of the humor. Um, I grew up again, I refer to my familybecause I love them. But I grew up in a very gregarious family, a household. Igrew up around a lot of backyard orators and barbecue philosophers andstorytellers and raconteurs. You know, I remember many saturday or sundayevening where we sit around and my uncles and my grandfather would passaround a mason jar of moonshine and everybody, somebody would try tooutline somebody with the biggest haul to hill and I just remember that, thatrhythm, that feeling of that when I write, you know, I used those oneliners and humorous observations to...

...move the story along sometimes because,you know, I do right, kind of, you know, there's a lot of humor in my books, Ido right, but I do generally right. I'm talking about dark subjects and so forme, uh the humor is a palate cleanser sometimes. Uh it's a way to move thestory along without being disingenuous. Um I said this was something I saidthis to a friend about, I said I've reread the book myself after it cameout and uh I said, man, I gave buddy lee the best one liners, but I guessthe best threat. And so uh but I think for me, I love language, I literally inlove with words. Um, one I wrote a post about this on social media today. Oneof the things that I missed so much in, in, you know, suffering through thispandemic is going to a restaurant or a bar and not eavesdropping for content,but he's dropping to listen to the way people talk, how people talk, howpeople engage in dialogue. You know, and you know, the stop and start of aconversation between strangers or people on the first date or thecomfortable rhythm of a conversation between people have been friends foryears. Uh the way you have a, you have a table with four people, somebody'sgonna be the quote unquote alpha dog and other people deflect to him or her.And just the way that rhythm the dialogue works within the context ofusing it also has pros and how pros, You know, I write, I tend to write mydialogue vary very uh naturalistic lee, you know the way my characters talk,you know, those characters aren't pontificating in long soliloquies. Andthen I use my third person omniscient narrator to be a little more poetic, bea little more purple if you will with the pros. Um because I think creatingthis sort of dichotomy between the way my characters are and if you want toimagine them in real life and my conversation and then stepping out andhaving this third person narrator be sort of this greek chorus that candescribe things a little more esoteric lee for me, that creates a reallyinteresting stylistic feeling in the book. So you can have like and Buddylee talking about, you know, drinking Hennessy and and complaining about, youknow, their their mistakes and you can have the character step back and talkabout, you know, how, you know, time time makes loyalty uh thin, you know,and most people can shed like a snake skin, you know, and you so you can havethese sort of more poetic statements from an observer who's sort of outsidethe action and then have the real characters that are within the action,talking to more naturalistic or more down to earth way. And again for me,that dichotomy creates an interesting stylistic feeling in the book. Um andso that's where a lot of my uh one liners and observations come from. Imean, most of its first raft because I hate rewriting. I know that's aterrible thing to say is a writer, I uh most of his first draft, some of hissecond draft. And and also working with a really great editor, uh my editor,Christine and Patrick and is a really interesting editor gets me. Um it'sfunny, it's funny because we have very little in common. She's, you know,someone from the Upper west side of new york who lives in Connecticut, you know,I'm a southerner. Uh you know, uh you know, uh works, you know, live down inthe south, but we get each other on an intellectual level and she understandswhat I'm trying to do when I write. And so mostly what she does is just verygently steer me one way or another. Uh If anybody just read my books, I am, Ihave a terrible addiction to similes and metaphors, but I have to sometimesbe brought back from the precipice a little bit, which is good. But but butI think that's also uh you know, you have to be as a writer, no yourstrengths, your weaknesses and your indulgences. And I think that'simportant. And so when I write, when I write the first draft, I go over and Ilook at are the places where I'm gonna...

...tab it overboard with the, similar withthe metaphors with the purple prose, like I called it. And on those places,can I scale back on the other hand, are the places where I'm a little tooutilitarian, where the language needs a little more flavor, a little morepopular uh, to be pumped up a little bit, so to speak. And so that is for me,another part of the aspect of writing is really fun. Um, you know, makinggoing through the second draft and seeing where the story can be improved,um looking for plot holes because I hate plot holes in anything, includingmy own writing. Um, and so I think that's where the language comes on. Buta lot of it is just being a southerner, being growing up in a southernenvironment and growing up with uncles who knew how to turn of phrase andcousins and aunts who could be humorous and just, there's something incrediblyintrinsically beautiful about the language of the south. And, and youknow, I just, I just, I'm very, I think I'm very blessed and very lucky to havebeen born here. It's a huge talent and I also just want to interject anotherone of my favorites from the book, just to tease our listeners into wanting topick it up. You could have easily said that somebody was just being needed tobe careful. But no, you said careful as a long tailed cat in a room full ofrocking chairs and I was like, oh my God, this is perfect. So Kristenmentioned in the beginning that you worked as a bouncer, constructionworker, retail manager. And even as a mascot on your way to becoming a newyork times best selling author, you too can have a mascot throw down in aminute. Exactly. I've also read that your first two books are published byan independent publisher and that you were basically traveling around with atrunk full of books to bookstores and events. I think there's a lot ofaspiring writers who are going to connect with that story and the peoplein the beginning who can learn from your story. So, could you mind tellingus a little bit more about your journey and um kind of how you got where youare? Yeah, so basically, oh man, I started seriously thinking about beinga writer, one of about 16 or 17 and I had a really good english teacher inthe 11th grade mr bone who really inspired me to be a writer. Um, but itwas a long kind of securities route to getting published. Um I went to a lotof different, uh, went to college, dropped out of college, had to takecare of my mom who was ill for a while. And so finally I started writing againin my mid twenties and I was very lucky to meet some folks who helped me alongthe way in my writing journey. I started writing short stories um tryingto, I really wanted to be a horror writer, I wanted to write sci fi andhorror, I want to be the next Clive barker and it wasn't connecting. And Ilook back on those stories now and I realized all my horror stories werereally just crime stories with monsters. You know, it was just so uh they alwayshad crime settings, they're always criminals that ended up being attackedby, you know, l guitars from beyond the void. Um and so uh what ended uphappening was, and this is a true story. Um I had a friend who was a bellydancer and she went to new york city and to do a performance and after theperformance, her and her troupe went to a bar and the manager of the bar was aguy named Todd Robinson who used to publish and edit a quarterly crimemagazine called thug lit. And when she came back from new york, she said, hey,I talked to this guy, he's looking for writers for his crime magazine, Youshould sit in my story. And I'm like, I don't know, I see, and I sent him astory that got published and then things just started to fall into place.I met a lot of great folks in the crime writing community. I wrote a lot ofshort stories. Eventually I got one short story nominated point award,another one was got a distinguished mentioned in the best american mysteryshort stories. Um and so I just kept trucking away. And then eventually Igot what a publishing company out of Maryland called Entry Publishing. And Isent them my, my short crime novel, My Darkest Prayer. And they liked it, theyreally enjoyed it and they took it on...

...and they published it. And anybodywho's working the independent publisher knows that, you know, those those folksworked really hard, um but they're limited in what they can do. And soyou've got to sort of have this punk rock mentality. And so that's where thetruckload of paperbacks came from. Me and my friend eric prove who's a greatwriter from north Carolina renaissance man, He's a writer, filmmaker, owns abar, he's just an all around great person. He and I uh may of 2018, we dida seven city tour, we did seven live readings in seven cities and every livereading, we sold our books. You know, we were together for a week in ajourney and a dodge journey and we, we had a lot of adventures that week. Ineed to write an article about that one day because how we met these peoplethat there were folks that like took us on like, oh, you can stay with usbecause we're patrons of the arts and, you know, crazy Nazi for work stories,but ultimately what ended up happening was later that year um about a con,which is a huge mystery and crime uh, convention that takes place around thecountry in different cities was taking place in ST Petersburg in florida. Andso I saved a bunch of money and I flew down there and I had my backpack withmy books in it, you know, And was walking around handed out to anybodythat would take an advanced copy. And uh eric was putting together a panelfor Southern crime fiction and he asked me that I want to be on it. And I wassort of reticent because I was like, you know, I don't really have a youknow, this is a little small book who wants to see me? And he was like, oh,make it on this panel would be fun. And it was fun. It was one of the most funpanels ever been on. It was me, Ace Atkins, uh, Steph post Alex segura. Andof course ERic and we had a blast, man. We had so much fun. And then we talkedabout all the aspects of southern fiction, which I said that the trinityis raised class sex. You know, when the quad trinity, I guess the only religion,and at the end of this panel, a lady got up and she said, uh, why have acomment? Not so much a question? And I remember Ace Atkins lean next to me andhe nudged me my arm and he said, here we go. So basically this lady said thateven though the antebellum period of the south was hard for quote unquotesome people, she missed the etiquette and the beautiful cute dresses and, andthe style of that period. And so then I said, I said, I know, I know you missit. I know it's hard. You know, I bet you feel like you're becoming aminority United States now. Me and you're gonna work through this together,We're gonna get through this together. Me and you and everybody laughed andkind of broke the tension in the room and I was getting ready to leave thepanel and the guy came up to me, I spend again, I swear to God this istrue. A guy comes up to me, shakes my hand and says hi, my name is joshKesler and I'm an agent and I really like what you were talking about thispanel. Do you have anything? I know you said you got a book coming out laterthis year, but do you have anything you're working on? And at the time Iwas working on what became black type of Eastland. And so I said, yeah, I'mworking on this heist novel with african american mayor leave. He said,well here's my card when you get back home, you know, polish it up, send itto me and hopefully we can work together. That was in october of 2018,I sent it to him in December of 2018. He sold it in February of 2019 for atuba bill. And that's how I got was like, oh my God, what was that story?Fantastic. So I went from, I went from sleeping in the dodge journey sellingmy books to working with Flat Aaron and be on the new york times bestseller.Look at that. You know, one of the things I love about that story you'vegot where you were by being yourself by being authentic by writing what was inyour heart by saying what was in your heart? Like you get exactly where youwere meant to be. I, I just, I love that. I love, I love when the journeyis authentic, it takes you where you're supposed to go. So sean, can you tellus a little bit about what you're working on next? So I've read thatyou're working on a southern Gothic murder mystery about the first blacksheriff in a small southern town In 2017 just after Trump has been elected.Can you tell us a little bit about that...

...and where this book came from? Yeah,sure. So basically, um, it's tentatively titled all the centersbleed. Um, and it was basically me wanting to talk about some issues thatagain are close to my heart that are part of the southern malu, so to speaka meal. You how you? Re pronouncing. Um, so it's talking about of course, again,race and class and religion. Um, but also talking about um the also talking about um, you know,uh, policing in America, what does that look like when you're a police officerof color? And so, uh, that definitely is something that I am very interestedin discussing And hopefully it'll be out in 2022 or the beginning of 2023.It sounds wonderful. Well, speaking of that the last year and a half havereally been tumultuous as you alluded to in the country, not just because ofCovid, but because of Ahmad are very Brianna, taylor George Floyd protestsof black lives matter and all this push for police reform and accountability.But you're working on this novel. What's the experience been like for youin terms of writing about a law enforcement officer while livingthrough the real time reckoning that we're dealing with right now? I mean,on a personal level, it's been incredibly uh, it's dredged up a lot ofcomplex feelings. Um, because I am someone who has experienced negativereactions or negative interactions with police officers, but at the same time,I have family members who are police officers, are family members who haveserved on, you know, have been sheriff deputies. And I think for me, I want touse this book to talk about the microcosm of policing in a small town.Um as opposed to tackling maybe the larger issues in more metropolitanareas because that's what I know better. I know that aspect of it. I know, youknow, unfortunately a lot of times the kid who bullied you in high school isthe kid is going to pull you over five years later because he's he or she is adeputy. A lot of times, the deputy can't be held accountable because hiscousin is the district attorney or the commonwealth attorney. And so a lot oftimes, sheriff's oversight committees, town councils find themselves hamstrungbecause of the 6° of separation that everyone has in a small town. And so Ireally, really want to talk about that. But for me, on a personal level, it hasbeen difficult because, you know, I think, you know, I've had negativeinteractions with police, like that positive interaction with police, youknow, I think that's the thing to, again, that sort of model, I don't saymoderation, but that's sort of shifting perspective, you know, and I'm veryblessed that, you know, I've had the negative interactions didn't result inme being killed. And so for on a personal level, it's just it's reallydressed up a lot of complex feelings that I'm trying to work through as Iwrite the book, because, you know, on the one hand, it is a book about thatand policing and what it looks like a small town and a police officer ofcolor, but on the other hand, it's also about, you know, this mystery that'sgoing on this serial killer, murder mysteries that happened in a small townand how religion plays a part in the divisions in small towns? You know, Ithink it was Malcolm X that said there's no more segregated place onearth and sunday morning in America. And I think that's still true. I grewup in a small town of 8000 people. We have 18 churches. And so it's somethingthat I really want to examine and I want to really examine how religionaffects people socially, psychologically, in that small townsettings. It's been something I've done a lot of research, more research onthis than anything I've ever written before, because there's certain thingsthat I definitely absolutely want to get right. But also it's a lot of mybooks are, it's very emotionally cathartic as well, you know, and Ithink as writers are best work so often comes from those complex issues thatfeel personal and that we kind of have to work through our own experienceswith to find our way into them, if that...

...makes sense. So, I can't wait to seewhat you do with this. I'm just so excited and I can't wait to see all theparticularly all the incisive, wonderful turns of phrase you come upwith. I can't wait, I'm going to start printing bookmarks with all your quotesor something? So, finally, not today, we'd love to know, do you think thatthere's a message to what you're writing? Is there something you hopepeople walk away with after they finished reading Blacktop Wasteland orrazor blade tears or this next novel? In other words, do you think thatthere's kind of an underlying theme or message that runs through all yournovels that kind of points to who you are and how you see the world? I thinkfor me, the thing that really ties all of my work together, whether it's myfantasy novel, Brotherhood Leader, my early Private Eye novel, Darkest Prayeror my later work, there is this idea of this belief that I have that the worldis that the real world sits on a really very fragile axis. And there are a lotof times the guilty go unpunished and the Righteous are forsaken. And when Iwrite, because I'm writing, because I create those worlds, I do my damnedestto make sure that that's not happening in my fictional world, you know, evenif sometimes it looks like the guilty might get away and they don't get thefull punishment they deserve, or sometimes it may look like people arenot being publicly breed it for their actions. Ultimately, things are setright. I think it's sort of this idea that there is a bit of vengeance andit's a bit of justice in the world and that good people can actually triumphif they do the right thing. And I think that's sort of this weird dark optimismthat I have that I think it runs through my books that you know thatsometimes doing the right thing means getting your hands dirty and doing theright thing is never easy, but it's always worth it. So I think I have thisweird sort of this weird sort of dark ted lasso optimism that runs through mywork and I think it's just a reflective of my personal worldview and how I seethe world on the individual level. Yeah. And we're so grateful for that. Wellsean you're in my new best friend, whether you like it or not, we can'tthank you enough for joining us here on the podcast, but also we're so gratefulfor the books that you write great literature these past few years. It'snot only kept us on the edge of our seats, but it also generates a lot ofthought and empathy. And you are a master at this and we're all better forthe words. So where can our listeners learn more about you and your work andwhat's coming up? Yeah, the best place to find me is usually on my twitterhandle at Black Lion King 73. I'm always posting either random uh randomthoughts that I have at three o'clock in the morning when I'm trying tofigure out the sending them for a punch and hit and kick and uh you can find methere or on my facebook page essay called the author. I love hearing frompeople, I love interacting with folks. The one thing is that I always wantedas a writer is just for people to read my work and enjoy it. And the fact thatpeople do seem to be doing that is the culmination of a dream come true. Nice,Nice. Okay, thank you all for tuning in to the Friends and fiction Writer'sBlock podcast. If you're enjoying our conversations, please tell a friend andsean. Thank you again. Thank you guys for having me. Thank you so much. Thankyou for tuning in to friends and fiction Writer's Block podcast. Pleasebe sure to subscribe, rate and review on your favorite podcast platform, tunein every friday for another episode and you can also join us every week onfacebook or Youtube where you can see our live Friends and fiction show thatairs at seven p.m. Eastern Standard time. We are so glad you're here.

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