“I’ve been telling stories seriously since I was sixteen,” Cosby tells me, but his career began in the way most authors start—with a hustle and grind determination. In between working, he continued writing short stories and many of them found homes in various publications. His first novel was self-published in 2014. A fantasy martial arts novel may seem worlds apart from the gritty crime dramas Cosby is currently known for, but Brotherhood of the Blade takes his characters from rural Virginia to the ancient hills of Greece tackling the complicated dynamics of fathers and sons, honor and duty, and love and loss—themes that continue to resonate in his stories today.
He eventually found an agent and wrote My Darkest Prayer, which found a home with a small press after he and his agent parted ways. As is the way of many indie authors, Cosby became familiar with trudging his book to conferences and conventions as a way to gain visibility.
In 2019, his short story, The Grass Beneath My Feet, won the prestigious Anthony Award for Best Short Story during the 2019 Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. But it was the same convention the prior year that propelled his career forward. After handling a particularly difficult conversation during a panel, literary agent Josh Getzler approached him. That conversation led to Getzler reading what was to become Blacktop Wasteland. He would soon become Cosby’s new agent.
It’s a striking story that embodies Cosby in many ways. He’s compassionate and empathetic, but doesn’t mince his words. A quick browse through his Twitter feed will show a wide range of opinions that are always articulately expressed, even when they bite. But as he’ll tell you, empathy isn’t a one-way street. When I asked what he hopes his readers take from his novels, he told me, “I hope they find empathy in their hearts for the characters I write about.”
“Writers have to find a story only they can tell,” Cosby said. And in this case, Cosby walks the talk. He embodies the “write what you know” mentality. My Darkest Prayer is set in a funeral home in the South, and that’s where he not only lives, but his wife, Kimberly Redmond Cosby, owns and operates the J. K. Redmond Funeral Home in Shackleford, Virginia. Even though he spends more time writing these days, the author still helps out when needed.
Of course, not all his books can feature funeral parlors, but still, Cosby manages to weave compelling stories that are imbued with the details of his life. Crime fiction in general tends towards bigger cities, but the heart of Cosby’s novels are in the rural South. “My ideas typically come from things that concern me, or issues that I find interesting, and from there, I try to fashion a story around those ideas.” This approach is likely why his novels breathe life in a rugged, lived-in way. His characters are vivid, his prose action-packed, and the backdrops feel exceptionally authentic. They’re the type of books where you close the cover only to feel the shock of being transported back to your own home. His worlds are lived in, and while you’re wrapped in the pages, you live in them too.
Though storytelling isn’t new to Cosby, writing full-time requires a schedule. “I usually get up at 8 a.m. and write until noon. I take a break and go back to work at 2 p.m., and typically try to end my day around 6 p.m. Unless I’m doing rewrites, then it can be much later,” he laughs. And now that he’s on more deadlines, I wondered how that impacts his writing process. “I typically start with an idea. From there, I extrapolate that into a two-to-three page synopsis that I then use as a road map to draft the actual novel.” It’s a process that has seemingly served him well, as he’s produced a steady track of novels every year since 2019.
When asked what authors and books have shaped him as a writer over the years, Cosby had to pause. “Gosh, there are so many,” he starts. “Walter Mosley, Chester Himes, Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard, the list goes on. I’m a huge reader, so I draw influence from lots of sources.” When pressed about what book everyone should read in their lives, he quickly replies with two. “Blood Meridian and Devil in a Blue Dress.”
For an author who describes his own writing style as “pessimistic optimism,” his books have taken off and reached an impressively broad readership. Earlier this year, Razorblade Tears landed on Barack Obama’s summer reading list, a moment any writer would be thrilled to experience. When I ask about it, he chuckles. “It was surreal. That was an amazing and moving moment that I will always remember.” It’s an amazing accomplishment, but Cosby remains
humble despite the accolades and success.
As we wrap up, I ask about what he’s doing in the quiet moments before both the re-release of My Darkest Prayer, and the holidays. “Right now, I’m listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You, and I’m reading an advance copy of Ozark Dogs by Eli Cranor.” The re-release is a testament of the popularity of his books, and hopefully keeps readers satiated while they wait for his next book. “I have a Southern Gothic murder mystery called All the Sinners Bleed coming out in 2023.” In the book, we once again find ourselves in the rural South with Titus Crowne, the first Black sheriff in a small town, in which a trail of bodies cover the tracks of a killer hiding in plain sight. It promises the same gritty narrative blended with the heartbreaking realism of his previous novels, while tackling the complicated relationship between Black Americans and law enforcement. The themes of struggle, equality, and justice are obvious in the description alone. Fans have a bit to wait, however, as publication is slated for June 6, 2023. In the meantime, you can pick up his re-released debut, My Darkest Prayer, his award-winning novel, Blacktop Wasteland, and his most recent novel, Razorblade Tears, all available now wherever books are sold.
All the Sinners Bleed, from Flatiron Books, will publish June 6, 2023.