Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode 13 · 11 months 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 went from I went from sleeping in the dodge journey selling my books to working with Flat Aaron and be on the new york times bestselling. Look at that. Welcome to the friends and fiction writer's Block podcast, five new york times bestselling authors, one rock star librarian and endless stories join mary Kay andrews, Christine Harmel, Christie Woodson, harvey paddy, Callaghan, Henry, mary Alice Munro and Ron Block As novelists. We are five longtime friends with 85 books between us. I am Ron Block. I am so glad you've joined us for fascinating author interviews along with Insider. Talk about publishing and writing. If you love books and are curious about the writing world, you're in the right place. Welcome to a new episode of Friends and Fiction Writer's Block podcast on this episode, we're chatting with new york times best selling author S A Cosby whose razor blade tears came out this summer, hit the new york times bestseller list and was a book of the month pick in july and it was so well deserved. 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 choice award nominee and on NPR's Best books of 2020 list and his previous novels by Darkest Prayer and Brotherhood of the Blade have met with plenty of a claim to he lives in southeastern Virginia, which also happens to be the area he writes so vibrantly about. I am Ron Block and I'm Christine Harmel, you know, we're both fans of essay Cosby whose work has been called gritty and heartbreaking and dark, thrilling and tragic. Prior to becoming a full time novelist, 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 in what he calls the world's hottest costume. And I might have to dispute that because I used to wear a costume a handful of times for a minor league baseball team. So sean we can discuss that later. His backstory is fascinating and so is razor blade tears, which the Washington post called provocative, violent, beautiful. And moving to and the Milwaukee Journal sentinel hailed as a tour de force poignant, action packed and profound welcome to the podcast Sean, we are so happy to have you, thank you so much. I don't know if I can live up to all that praise and the introduction, but I'll do my best. Well one needs only pick up razor blade tears and they will get it Exactly. So first up sean, we would love to have you tell us a little bit of what the book is about. And as kristen mentioned, we did both love the tagline on your publisher's website is a black father, a white father to murdered sons, A quest for vengeance. Now who doesn't want to read that, right? It's kind of the perfect shorthand description though, but there's so much more, Can you tell us more about? Yeah, thank you. So raising the tears is a story of ICT, Randolph and Buddy Lee Jenkins, two fathers, one black, one white, both ex cons who at the beginning the book are notified by the police that they're married. Sons Isaiah and Derek and interracial gay couple have been murdered and what appears to be random hate crap. Both like and Buddy Lee decided to investigate the crime after it seems like the police investigation installed. Both these men are men who are well acquainted with violence and violence is sometimes the only way they know how to communicate. And unfortunately that translated to their relationships with their sons, neither one of these men were able to accept their sons fully for who they were. And so they decide to give them in death, the love and protection 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 also the, what I like to call the holy trinity of southern fiction, which is race, 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 and to get right and I'm just so overwhelmed by the way people have received it and reacted to it. I think it strikes a lot of chords. Yes, it absolutely does. And those reactions are so well deserved Sean. I mean it's just a book that grabs you and doesn't let you go I think on so many levels from the plot to the underlying message. So I was particularly struck by how efficiently this book blows stereotypes wide open and forces us to confront both 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 on its surface this book is kind of this classic revenge thriller, which we could easily pick up for its fast paced plot and quite honestly for the action and bloodshed for into that sort of thing. But it's also deep, like it is deep, deep, deep and there were times as I listen to this on audio book that I went back and had to repeat passages again and again because of that depth and because of that insight there were things I just wanted to listen to over and 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 or did you start out with the story and that element kind of grew naturally out of I think really the ultimate genesis of the story was twofold. One is a little comical and what is kind of serious one of I guess the comical issue was I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who's also a writer and both of us are approaching 50 years old, I just turned 48 august for, and we were talking about being men of a certain age and both of us have worked very physical manual jobs over our lives, and we were talking about, you know, I wouldn't want to be a bouncer now, like I was a bouncer when 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 and what is it that you're going to leave behind? What's your legacy and how you treat 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 sort of the comical, I didn't have a good knee and a bad name. Um so that was sort of a comical aspect of it, but um I guess on a more serious note, I had a friend, a very good friend who went to school with, who was, who came out to his family a few years ago and um, you know, they were a normal black southern baptist family, uh you know, uh politically liberal, but socially conservative is, I think the phrase and it didn't go well, they weren't accepting, very accepting and I remember having a beer with him a few days 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 he said, and for me, that was so devastating, because I was like, I couldn't imagine not being the full version of myself with people who are supposed to love me unconditionally, you know, I've never, you know, like I had a complex relationship with my mother and and my father uh and I love them both, but you know, it was, you know, your parents and so there is a complexity there, but I never felt unloved before because who I was, you know, and I wasn't always the best, I wasn't always the greatest son, you know, I used to I used to get a lot of bar fights when I was younger, I had had a wild streak in me and uh you know, I know I put a lot of gray hairs in my mama'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 mail those two things together, those two ideas, those kind of desperate ideas about time and and what time is, you...

...know, and I think I saw uh I saw a piece of graffiti in new york city one time, uh you think you have time, but you don't, and so I wanted to kind of mail that theme with the idea of acceptance and talking about. I always write from the perspective of telling a good story and they're using a good story to talk about. Things are important to me, whether it's like a blacktop wasteland, whether it's tragic and toxic masculinity, generational trauma, poverty and were raised by two years, whether it's about homophobia and stuff like homophobia and class and race and the the the unfortunate definitions of masculinity that have kind 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 to give you a message. I've said this before. Nobody wants a three, nobody wants a 300 page sermon. And so I think as a writer, my job is it's sort of uh it's sort of like a magic trick. You know, it's sort of like being David Blaine, look over here, misdirect you with a trick. And then over here is really, you know, behind the scenes, is me talking and kind of whispering in your ear and, you know, talk about things that maybe are difficult to talk about up front. So I think that's the magic trick of being a writer regardless of genre Sean. You're giving away all our secrets, all of our writer secrets. 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 where the idea of this started. But then to think about how it developed and I kind of like how you compare it to a magic trick, but how much of that magic is intentional in a way and how much of it is happening to you as you right. I mean are you writing this story and thinking, okay, here's a message. I'm going to hone in on this a little bit more deeply or does it kind of just come to you as the characters develop and you set them in motion on the page and they kind of do their, for me it has to come naturally from the interaction of the characters because I think it seems it will ring false if you force it in there if you sit down and you know, there was, there was a movie a few years ago as a comedy movie. I can think of the name of it, but they were, it was a parody of very socially conscious movies. And every couple of scenes they have a guy show up and he would yell message and so you can't do that as a writer. And so for me like what I can buddy leave, I wanted the issues that I wanted to talk about two arrive organically in their conversations and so when you first meet them, you know, they're not to a certain sensibility, they're not likeable character. And so they become more likable as the more they talk, you know, and I used the fact that I set the story in southeastern Virginia where it takes 40 minutes to get anywhere. Um forced them to sit in a truck or a car and forced them to talk to have conversations that I've had with people that I've had with friends of mine and and and also conversation with the people that I think uh, we're you know at various degrees of compatibility with my own thoughts. And so for me, that message or that that that theme, I guess that thematic uh message is coming through in the conversations and the dialogue and the actions and the way they work together. Um and I think it has to be that way because anything else rings false. It's it, you know, again, nobody wants to have something forced on them. It's easier to talk about it between these the dialogue between these two characters as they bring up these issues and as they work through the issues. Um then the reader can see that and understand it. It's fascinating. It's such a great tool if it builds empathy and people without, even without, like you said, message message putting that out there. Um, I there's a lot in the book that we deal with a lot of judgment. So people meet each other,...

...like buddy lee and I they're totally judging each other because their skin color because their backgrounds and um the sons are judged because of their sexuality and um, some of the other characters we meet along the way, They're all judged. I I think the relationship between Buddy lee and ICG really taps into that and exemplifies their 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 confronted with their own biases. That opens them up uh to empathy and understanding. So I'm curious how much of that comes from the path that you've walked. You've told us something about that. But I wondered if there was anything you had to add to that having been misunderstood misjudge, especially as a black 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 their preconceived notions about me. I remember being in high school and I was like, I've always, I'm still a huge reader. Um actually reading three books right now, uh, a round robin tournament, but I remember being in high school and I 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 a political junkie, even in these toxic times, I'm still a political junkie. I think I'm the only person that watches c span for fun. Um, and so, uh, I wanted 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 really want 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 already taken building trades and I thought to repair my steps at my house. I had to learn how to run plumbing lines and fix washing machines and you know, I was a shade 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't think I really need that. And that teacher actually forced me To go in the building trades for one, the first method of 8th grade. Yeah. And I remember telling my, I didn't tell my mom at first, I didn't tell my mom for like three weeks and then finally, I was so bored because seriously, I already knew how to do a lot of this stuff because of our situation. So I told my mom and my mom was like, okay, we're going to school and my mom was disabled. So it was, it took a lot for her to get and get into school. You know, she was walking on two games at the time and so we go in and she tells the 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 a semester. 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 preconceived notion that, you know, it's one of the things that you just looked at me and so you're a black man, so you need to work with you and there's nothing wrong with 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 you that it's not your choice is difficult. That being said, I've also grew up on the other side of that. I grew up in a very hyper masculine environment, You know, I grew up in the area, you know, like my brother likes to joke when we were like when he was 12 and I was eight, uh we saw my grandfather doing some work with a skill saw and uh he cut the tip of his thumb off and he picked it up and put it in a bag for the ice and drove himself to the hospital. Remember my brother turning me? He's like, we can never cry for the rest of our lives, crying is done. And so I grew up in this very hyper masculine environment. So I grew up in this very hyper masculine, we grew up behind the bar. I remember seeing my first bar fight when I was like 16. And so just this hyper masculine environment and a terrible and an unfortunate side uh unfortunate side effect of that was you had this idea of masculinity and masculinity at all...

...costs, you know? And so you could never show 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 happen to be a young man or young woman or someone who was L. G. B. T. Q. You could never show that. And so I was I and that I'm not proud of that, but I'm actually ashamed of it. But I was a part of that hyper masculinity, you know, And so you picked on people if you thought they were feminine, you didn't want anybody to pick on you because, you know, God, God forbid somebody thinks you're weak. Yeah. And so as I grew and I had a I had a very loving mother, Very and very loving, but sort of misunderstood father. And I had family members who we're very, very empathetic, who loved to read and love to talk. And so as I grew, as I got older, I was able to understand that my definition of masculinity and somebody else's definition of masculinity is not the final definition and that that doesn't whatever somebody else definition is, doesn't matter. And so that idea of judgment and passing judgment on people and as as Ron just said, passing judgment as a deflection was 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, and I felt like I had educated myself and in a way that made me look at that with a more critical eye, but I definitely am aware of it. And so I grew up around people like, like Buddy lee I go around people like Racing. I go around people who are defined by what they feel that masculinity is and they're too afraid to 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, I know how they think. And so I'm able to use that now the difference between Buddy lee and I and somebody like Racing is but really in a car on a journey 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 just going to say here sean that you and I are going to get a drink sometime because you've just described my whole life, it's just I'm just sitting here kind 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, you know, at the end of the day, that was, that was one of the reasons I wrote the book because I think we have such, especially where I'm from, especially from the rule South. There is such a difficulty with empathy and understanding different points of view and perspective and I really wanted to write the book as a challenge. You know, really the people that should read, I want everybody to read the book and I'm so thankful the reaction that the book has got, but really I hope that people like people who are like I can but really read the book, but not so much like I can Buddy leave their sons and daughters are dead. You know, don't waste time. You know, I wrote, I wrote a line in the book that time is like Quicksilver, you know, it slipped through your hands and then envelopes you at the same time and I think that's true. I think, you know, there there are friendships and there are petty grudges that I used to hold that, you know, as you get closer to the mid century mark, they don't matter. It doesn't matter. It really doesn't, you know, little things that you hold in your heart, you know, like holding a grudge. I think it's an, it's an ancient, uh, I think it's a buddhist saying that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to that. And I think so many people do that. And so the book was really about time. It's about don't waste time, you know, and, and ultimately it's about that, but at the same time, it's also, you know, there's a lot of action. There's a lot of violence. Um, and I'd like to talk about 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, what was one of the things that you did on purpose? The violence is extreme as it is on person because I felt like...

...knowing men like I can, but knowing men like that, that the only way they know how to communicate is through violence. Violence and the violent actions are their communication and their rage and their 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 anything away for anybody to read the book. But that scene where I can, buddy lee are interrogating someone in Ike's garage. That scene escalates and escalates and escalates 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 book that 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 in a very violent way. And he was like, you're the one that killed him, aren't you? You did it, you did. And and that's the only way he knows how to express himself at that time, as the book goes on, I tried to broaden his communicative abilities. I tried to broaden his perspective. So, by the time you get to the end of the book, and the characters who, who have survived and their relationship it rings true because he's trying to get better. And so the violence is just for me, it is just emblematic of the depth of their grief. I mean, that's that's their communication tool at that point in 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 course of this book. It's incredible because I mean that's exactly what it does. You can see all of this emotion and this anger and they don't know how else to express it except for the violence. And you wrote that absolutely perfectly sean. I um yeah, like I said at the beginning, that's not the kind of book I 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 was awesome. So funny because I was just, I was sending my editor notes for my next book and it's about it's a murder mystery, southern gothic murder mystery about a serial killer and she remarked, she's like, this is so less violent than reasonably. I know because I'm talking about I'm using it in different ways. She's like, I'm just shocked that the serial killer book is not as violent as a revenge mystery novel book. But I but I also I'm using, I'm using a we're going to talk about that new book in a little bit because we definitely want to sneak peek of that. We want to hear what you're working on. Um but you know, I also wanted to say quickly just before we move on. I was thinking as you were talking that especially when you mentioned how so much of what unfolds between buddy lee and like happens when they're having conversations 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 the blinders off and force them to look at each other and force them to look at themselves. And especially with you saying that you're very interested in politics. I just think that's a really just an interesting thing to think about the conversation. Does that that the more you talk to someone from a different walk of life, the more clearly you see them. And to me that was a message that your book really delivered, not to get too far into the weeds about politics, but um I don't think I don't think that being a moderate person is a bad thing. I think we come to a point in some political arenas where being a moderate is a dirty words. I don't believe that. I think more people are more moderate and people actually admit to being um that doesn't mean that, you know, I'm going to blindly or blithely standby with somebody disrespects me or tries to disrespect my rights. But what that means is I can listen to your point in...

...your conversation and see where we're coming from. I think it was James baldwin who said we can disagree as long as our disagreement isn't rooted in your inability to see me as a human being. So you know, I think that was really what I try to do with I can and Buddy Lee has had them having conversation. Another thing I did on purpose which I think in hindsight was kind of funny. Um I often have during the course of the book people call Buddy lee and I'm out on there, I don't know, I'm not gonna curse but call them out on their Bs. People call them out constantly on their Bs, whether it's Isaiah's co workers at the news organization you work for whether it's Isaac's wife, whether it's the character we meet later on a tangerine, whether it's Margo uh Buddy Lee's neighbor, people call them out constantly. And I think well I know I did that because I wanted them to be confronted with their mistakes constantly because I think that's the only way you change. You have to face what you've done wrong and then you can begin the process, you know I said this in another interview, but redemption is not a gift. People think that's a gift that somebody gives you, you know, redemption is like this 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle and you have to do the work or put them together and then once you put it together then you can show it to people, you know, here's what I did, I did the hard work and so I really wanted that to hit home in the course of an area and you did it, you did it so beautifully because each time they had conversations as their friendship grew in, their biases became less, they would have a conversation with somebody like Margot and they would talk about what they've learned and you could just see the growth in there 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 talking about Sean how you say things so perfectly. You know, we've talked about how we love the plot of this book and the message behind it. Um, but Sean the language, we have to talk about the language and I want to read you a quote which I read to you. I know you know the one I'm going to read because I read it to you a few weeks ago when we talked, but it's a quote I want to read to everyone because every time I read it I just, it's just so smart. It makes me laugh and it's so funny. So you're describing a woman pulling up to a security gate in a wealthy neighborhood and you say I expired a silver BMW in the rear view mirror driven by a woman with the most severe, I want to speak with the manager haircut he'd ever seen. She zipped by them doing at least 30 MPH. Like she had some dalmatians in the trunk that she needed to make into a coat. I mean it's amazing. I know, I read uh I know I read a funny, a funny quote, but this book is just filled with these one liners that are just so wise and unexpected and that just capture things perfectly, but don't dwell on them. Like you, you give us that like perfect moment and then just move on. Yes. And they're so focused and so perfect and it's just brilliant writing. 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 your brain to the page. Like is this first draft magic or does this come during the revision process? I can't talk about that at all. I'm kidding. Uh just a, you know, a lot of the humor. Um, I grew up again, I refer to my family because I love them. But I grew up in a very gregarious family, a household. I grew up around a lot of backyard orators and barbecue philosophers and storytellers and raconteurs. You know, I remember many saturday or sunday evening where we sit around and my uncles and my grandfather would pass around a mason jar of moonshine and everybody, somebody would try to outline somebody with the biggest haul to hill and I just remember that, that rhythm, that feeling of that when I write, you know, I used those one liners 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, I do right, but I do generally right. I'm talking about dark subjects and so for me, uh the humor is a palate cleanser sometimes. Uh it's a way to move the story along without being disingenuous. Um I said this was something I said this to a friend about, I said I've reread the book myself after it came out and uh I said, man, I gave buddy lee the best one liners, but I guess the best threat. And so uh but I think for me, I love language, I literally in love with words. Um, one I wrote a post about this on social media today. One of the things that I missed so much in, in, you know, suffering through this pandemic 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, how people engage in dialogue. You know, and you know, the stop and start of a conversation between strangers or people on the first date or the comfortable rhythm of a conversation between people have been friends for years. Uh the way you have a, you have a table with four people, somebody's gonna 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 of using it also has pros and how pros, You know, I write, I tend to write my dialogue vary very uh naturalistic lee, you know the way my characters talk, you know, those characters aren't pontificating in long soliloquies. And then I use my third person omniscient narrator to be a little more poetic, be a little more purple if you will with the pros. Um because I think creating this sort of dichotomy between the way my characters are and if you want to imagine them in real life and my conversation and then stepping out and having this third person narrator be sort of this greek chorus that can describe things a little more esoteric lee for me, that creates a really interesting stylistic feeling in the book. So you can have like and Buddy lee talking about, you know, drinking Hennessy and and complaining about, you know, their their mistakes and you can have the character step back and talk about, 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 have these sort of more poetic statements from an observer who's sort of outside the 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 and so that's where a lot of my uh one liners and observations come from. I mean, most of its first raft because I hate rewriting. I know that's a terrible thing to say is a writer, I uh most of his first draft, some of his second 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's funny, 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 in the south, but we get each other on an intellectual level and she understands what I'm trying to do when I write. And so mostly what she does is just very gently steer me one way or another. Uh If anybody just read my books, I am, I have a terrible addiction to similes and metaphors, but I have to sometimes be brought back from the precipice a little bit, which is good. But but but I think that's also uh you know, you have to be as a writer, no your strengths, your weaknesses and your indulgences. And I think that's important. And so when I write, when I write the first draft, I go over and I look at are the places where I'm gonna...

...tab it overboard with the, similar with the 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 too utilitarian, where the language needs a little more flavor, a little more popular 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, making going through the second draft and seeing where the story can be improved, um looking for plot holes because I hate plot holes in anything, including my own writing. Um, and so I think that's where the language comes on. But a lot of it is just being a southerner, being growing up in a southern environment and growing up with uncles who knew how to turn of phrase and cousins and aunts who could be humorous and just, there's something incredibly intrinsically beautiful about the language of the south. And, and you know, I just, I just, I'm very, I think I'm very blessed and very lucky to have been born here. It's a huge talent and I also just want to interject another one of my favorites from the book, just to tease our listeners into wanting to pick it up. You could have easily said that somebody was just being needed to be careful. But no, you said careful as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs and I was like, oh my God, this is perfect. So Kristen mentioned in the beginning that you worked as a bouncer, construction worker, retail manager. And even as a mascot on your way to becoming a new york times best selling author, you too can have a mascot throw down in a minute. Exactly. I've also read that your first two books are published by an independent publisher and that you were basically traveling around with a trunk full of books to bookstores and events. I think there's a lot of aspiring writers who are going to connect with that story and the people in the beginning who can learn from your story. So, could you mind telling us a little bit more about your journey and um kind of how you got where you are? Yeah, so basically, oh man, I started seriously thinking about being a writer, one of about 16 or 17 and I had a really good english teacher in the 11th grade mr bone who really inspired me to be a writer. Um, but it was a long kind of securities route to getting published. Um I went to a lot of different, uh, went to college, dropped out of college, had to take care of my mom who was ill for a while. And so finally I started writing again in my mid twenties and I was very lucky to meet some folks who helped me along the way in my writing journey. I started writing short stories um trying to, I really wanted to be a horror writer, I wanted to write sci fi and horror, I want to be the next Clive barker and it wasn't connecting. And I look back on those stories now and I realized all my horror stories were really just crime stories with monsters. You know, it was just so uh they always had crime settings, they're always criminals that ended up being attacked by, you know, l guitars from beyond the void. Um and so uh what ended up happening was, and this is a true story. Um I had a friend who was a belly dancer and she went to new york city and to do a performance and after the performance, her and her troupe went to a bar and the manager of the bar was a guy named Todd Robinson who used to publish and edit a quarterly crime magazine 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, You should sit in my story. And I'm like, I don't know, I see, and I sent him a story 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 of short stories. Eventually I got one short story nominated point award, another one was got a distinguished mentioned in the best american mystery short stories. Um and so I just kept trucking away. And then eventually I got what a publishing company out of Maryland called Entry Publishing. And I sent them my, my short crime novel, My Darkest Prayer. And they liked it, they really enjoyed it and they took it on...

...and they published it. And anybody who's working the independent publisher knows that, you know, those those folks worked really hard, um but they're limited in what they can do. And so you've got to sort of have this punk rock mentality. And so that's where the truckload of paperbacks came from. Me and my friend eric prove who's a great writer from north Carolina renaissance man, He's a writer, filmmaker, owns a bar, he's just an all around great person. He and I uh may of 2018, we did a seven city tour, we did seven live readings in seven cities and every live reading, we sold our books. You know, we were together for a week in a journey and a dodge journey and we, we had a lot of adventures that week. I need to write an article about that one day because how we met these people that there were folks that like took us on like, oh, you can stay with us because 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 the country in different cities was taking place in ST Petersburg in florida. And so I saved a bunch of money and I flew down there and I had my backpack with my books in it, you know, And was walking around handed out to anybody that would take an advanced copy. And uh eric was putting together a panel for Southern crime fiction and he asked me that I want to be on it. And I was sort of reticent because I was like, you know, I don't really have a you know, 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 fun panels ever been on. It was me, Ace Atkins, uh, Steph post Alex segura. And of course ERic and we had a blast, man. We had so much fun. And then we talked about all the aspects of southern fiction, which I said that the trinity is 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 a comment? Not so much a question? And I remember Ace Atkins lean next to me and he nudged me my arm and he said, here we go. So basically this lady said that even though the antebellum period of the south was hard for quote unquote some people, she missed the etiquette and the beautiful cute dresses and, and the style of that period. And so then I said, I said, I know, I know you miss it. I know it's hard. You know, I bet you feel like you're becoming a minority 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 and kind of broke the tension in the room and I was getting ready to leave the panel and the guy came up to me, I spend again, I swear to God this is true. A guy comes up to me, shakes my hand and says hi, my name is josh Kesler and I'm an agent and I really like what you were talking about this panel. Do you have anything? I know you said you got a book coming out later this year, but do you have anything you're working on? And at the time I was working on what became black type of Eastland. And so I said, yeah, I'm working 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 it to 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 a tuba 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 selling my 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've got where you were by being yourself by being authentic by writing what was in your heart by saying what was in your heart? Like you get exactly where you were meant to be. I, I just, I love that. I love, I love when the journey is authentic, it takes you where you're supposed to go. So sean, can you tell us a little bit about what you're working on next? So I've read that you're working on a southern Gothic murder mystery about the first black sheriff 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 centers bleed. Um, and it was basically me wanting to talk about some issues that again are close to my heart that are part of the southern malu, so to speak a 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 officer of color? And so, uh, that definitely is something that I am very interested in 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 have really been tumultuous as you alluded to in the country, not just because of Covid, but because of Ahmad are very Brianna, taylor George Floyd protests of 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 you in terms of writing about a law enforcement officer while living through 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 of complex feelings. Um, because I am someone who has experienced negative reactions or negative interactions with police officers, but at the same time, I have family members who are police officers, are family members who have served on, you know, have been sheriff deputies. And I think for me, I want to use this book to talk about the microcosm of policing in a small town. Um as opposed to tackling maybe the larger issues in more metropolitan areas because that's what I know better. I know that aspect of it. I know, you know, unfortunately a lot of times the kid who bullied you in high school is the kid is going to pull you over five years later because he's he or she is a deputy. A lot of times, the deputy can't be held accountable because his cousin is the district attorney or the commonwealth attorney. And so a lot of times, sheriff's oversight committees, town councils find themselves hamstrung because of the 6° of separation that everyone has in a small town. And so I really, really want to talk about that. But for me, on a personal level, it has been difficult because, you know, I think, you know, I've had negative interactions with police, like that positive interaction with police, you know, I think that's the thing to, again, that sort of model, I don't say moderation, but that's sort of shifting perspective, you know, and I'm very blessed that, you know, I've had the negative interactions didn't result in me being killed. And so for on a personal level, it's just it's really dressed up a lot of complex feelings that I'm trying to work through as I write the book, because, you know, on the one hand, it is a book about that and policing and what it looks like a small town and a police officer of color, but on the other hand, it's also about, you know, this mystery that's going on this serial killer, murder mysteries that happened in a small town and how religion plays a part in the divisions in small towns? You know, I think it was Malcolm X that said there's no more segregated place on earth and sunday morning in America. And I think that's still true. I grew up in a small town of 8000 people. We have 18 churches. And so it's something that I really want to examine and I want to really examine how religion affects people socially, psychologically, in that small town settings. It's been something I've done a lot of research, more research on this than anything I've ever written before, because there's certain things that I definitely absolutely want to get right. But also it's a lot of my books are, it's very emotionally cathartic as well, you know, and I think as writers are best work so often comes from those complex issues that feel personal and that we kind of have to work through our own experiences with to find our way into them, if that...

...makes sense. So, I can't wait to see what you do with this. I'm just so excited and I can't wait to see all the particularly all the incisive, wonderful turns of phrase you come up with. I can't wait, I'm going to start printing bookmarks with all your quotes or something? So, finally, not today, we'd love to know, do you think that there's a message to what you're writing? Is there something you hope people walk away with after they finished reading Blacktop Wasteland or razor blade tears or this next novel? In other words, do you think that there's kind of an underlying theme or message that runs through all your novels that kind of points to who you are and how you see the world? I think for me, the thing that really ties all of my work together, whether it's my fantasy novel, Brotherhood Leader, my early Private Eye novel, Darkest Prayer or my later work, there is this idea of this belief that I have that the world is that the real world sits on a really very fragile axis. And there are a lot of times the guilty go unpunished and the Righteous are forsaken. And when I write, because I'm writing, because I create those worlds, I do my damnedest to make sure that that's not happening in my fictional world, you know, even if sometimes it looks like the guilty might get away and they don't get the full punishment they deserve, or sometimes it may look like people are not being publicly breed it for their actions. Ultimately, things are set right. I think it's sort of this idea that there is a bit of vengeance and it's a bit of justice in the world and that good people can actually triumph if they do the right thing. And I think that's sort of this weird dark optimism that I have that I think it runs through my books that you know that sometimes doing the right thing means getting your hands dirty and doing the right thing is never easy, but it's always worth it. So I think I have this weird sort of this weird sort of dark ted lasso optimism that runs through my work and I think it's just a reflective of my personal worldview and how I see the world on the individual level. Yeah. And we're so grateful for that. Well sean you're in my new best friend, whether you like it or not, we can't thank you enough for joining us here on the podcast, but also we're so grateful for the books that you write great literature these past few years. It's not only kept us on the edge of our seats, but it also generates a lot of thought and empathy. And you are a master at this and we're all better for the words. So where can our listeners learn more about you and your work and what's coming up? Yeah, the best place to find me is usually on my twitter handle at Black Lion King 73. I'm always posting either random uh random thoughts that I have at three o'clock in the morning when I'm trying to figure out the sending them for a punch and hit and kick and uh you can find me there or on my facebook page essay called the author. I love hearing from people, I love interacting with folks. The one thing is that I always wanted as a writer is just for people to read my work and enjoy it. And the fact that people 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's Block podcast. If you're enjoying our conversations, please tell a friend and sean. Thank you again. Thank you guys for having me. Thank you so much. Thank you for tuning in to friends and fiction Writer's Block podcast. Please be sure to subscribe, rate and review on your favorite podcast platform, tune in every friday for another episode and you can also join us every week on facebook or Youtube where you can see our live Friends and fiction show that airs at seven p.m. Eastern Standard time. We are so glad you're here.

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