Monday, February 17, 2020

12 Gauge: An Interview With S.A. Cosby

I’ve admired Shawn A. Cosby from afar for a while now. Nobody needs to know about the amount of time I’ve spent stalking him on social media. He’s funny, compelling, and a badass writer. 

I was introduced to Shawn’s work through his story Doubt Thou the Stars are Fire in TOUGH Magazine. I still get jealous that I never saw the ending coming and that I didn’t think of it first. Shortly after reading that story I bought his novel My Darkest Prayer and can’t wait for the release of Blacktop Wasteland

I’ve wanted to interview Shawn for a while now and have only just worked up the courage to make it happen. It’s a pleasure to have him here at Story and Grit. I owe him a Woodford for it. 

Now… let’s start this interview off with a bang…

Pick three characters from any story you’ve written and decide which to fuck, which to marry, and which to kill. What’s your picks?

SAC: Jumping in to the deep end, huh? LOL. Well I think I'd fuck Lisa from My Darkest Prayer not because she's a porn star but because I think she'd be the most fun to hangout with for a casual encounter. I'd marry Mya from my current work in progress. She is tough and takes no crap and she has a deep well of common sense. I’d kill Lazy from Blacktop Wasteland. He’s an unforgivable bastard. 

If you could develop a story around your favorite Southern superstition what would it be and what genre would it fall into?

SAC: I’d love to write a horror novel based on the Southern superstition of opening the windows if someone passes at home. What if you didn’t open the windows and the soul gets trapped in your trailer? Because I can’t think of anything worse than a haunted trailer….

What Southern authors helped influence you as a writer and storyteller?

SAC: Oh man that’s a long list. I mean it goes all the way from Flannery O’Connor to Alice Walker to Ernest J. Gaines to William Faulkner to Larry Brown, to Jim Thompson to William Gay. The breadth and width of Southern fiction is a deep well from which I’m blessed to be able to drink from..

Say Blacktop Wasteland is made into a movie. The studio brings you in and wants you to help build the soundtrack. What Southern music is going to be on that album?

SAC: Well when i was writing it The Allman Brothers were on my playlist. I wrote scenes with a soundtrack playing in my head. For instance , in the first half of the book there is a car chase and I had  “Midnight Rider” playing in my head. Or the opening scene which is a drag race, Empty Arms by Stevie Ray Vaughn is playing. I’d love to have Buddy Guy “Long Way from Home” and Howling Wolf “ Killing Floor”  Maybe throw some funky juke joint cuts on there too like Marvin Sease or Clarence Carter.

You’re hosting a movie night for friends from outside the South and have to pick your favorite Southern films to introduce them to the region. What movies are y'all watching?

SAC:  I think you would have to mix it up. Throw on Gator starring Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed. Then pop in The Color Purple with Whoopie Goldberg. Find a good film version of The Glass Menagerie. And finally Sounder.. I’d add a film that’s not strictly Southern but Hell Or Highwater would make a great coda to the evening.

I’m always interested to hear authors talk about their writing and research process, and hopefully this question isn’t too vague, but what was that process like for Blacktop Wasteland?

SAC: That’s a good question. The genesis of Blacktop Wasteland was initially my desire to tell an outlaw story like Whtie Lightning but with a black cast. I wanted to tell a story that reflected the characters and people i grew up with on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. But at some point during the process it became a story about broken men and the inheritance of pain we are sometimes handed from our fathers.. I’m  a gearhead so the technical aspects of car chases were a lot of fun to research. I actually contacted some car manufacturers about the specs on certain vehicles and what they could actually do within the confines of physics. Because while I wanted to tell a moving tale of fathers and sons and question what it means to be a good man I also wanted to have some badass car chases. So there’s 71 Plymouth Duster in the book and cousin that son of a bitch can HUNT.  

If there’s a famous Southerner that you could resurrect from the dead and spend the day with who would it be and what would y’all do?

SAC: Zora Neal Hurston and we would drink whiskey and make cornbread and pork chops.

Has there been any sort of adversity that you’ve dealt with in the publishing industry because of the region of the country you’re from?

SAC: It’s funny. When I first started trying to get published I found that I was in a kind of no man’s land as far as the publishing community went. I was too black for the whtie publishers and not black enough for the black publishers. There just weren’t a lot of authors writing about rural noir with Arfican American lead characters that take place entirely in the South. I had some editors ask if I could make my writing more “urban”  and I had some editors say that no one was interested in the subjects I was interested in. However I was blessed to meet people like Austin Camacho at Intrigue Publishing and my agent Josh Getzler and the folks at Flatiron Books who all realized that there is a place for these stories and that the Southern Experience is not defined by Confederate apologists.

What are some of your favorite under the radar Southern novels that people need to read?

SAC:  I think people are really sleeping on Eryk Pruitt. All his novels are excellent but I really think more people should read What We Reckon. It’s like what Jim Thompson would write if he had had a better sense of humor. It’s subversive and insightful and it stays with you long after you read the last page. I’d also like to turn some eyes to Kelly J. Ford and her magnificent novel Cottonmouths. It’s so authentically southern you can nearly smell the chicken shit coming off the pages. 

I love to hear writers talk about their weird habits and quirks. Using myself as an example, I write all my first drafts longhand and walk around the house reciting dialogue out loud until it sounds just right. What weird quirks do you have as a writer?

SAC:  I know this will seem crazy but I act out fight scenes in my living room to get the blocking in the scene right. I know it freaks my neighbors out because sometimes I don’t close the curtains. Another thing I do is flip through Pinterest and write little short stories about the pictures. Most of these never go anywhere but they help to keep me sharp. 

What’s one aspect of Southern culture that you wish everyone could experience?

SAC: Down home Southern cooking . There is a communicative connection that happens when you eat real Southern food prepared with love and care. When you have dinner at your nana’s house or your Auntie’s it’s not just dinner. It’s akin to a religious experience wrapped up in a festive embrace. There is nothing like it in my opinion. 

You’re on death row and can have your favorite Southern meal one last time. What is it?

SAC: Baked chicken, cornbread and oven made mac and cheese. With a jug of moonshine, preferably with peaches at the bottom of the mason jar.

I appreciate Shawn stopping by Story and Grit and participating in a 12 Gauge interview. I hope he’s someone that stops by here again and that I get to buy him that first round of Woodford. 

Blacktop Wasteland hits shelves July 14th, and is available for preorder now. Y’all get out there and buy this book. 

Have a good one, 

Mark
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