Hey everyone. Actually, hey, single one person who will end up reading this. I have a new project in the works. I am calling it various things. The file name is “Clouds Over Collar City Skies.” I don’t think that will make the cut in the end. The title on the pile of pages I’ve been printing out is ‘A Troy Love Story.’ I’m positive that title will go into the slush.
What’s it about? I had in mind a modern take on James Joyce’s classic, Ulysses, but centering around the city of Troy, NY during the month of December. It is about loss, struggle and the cost of redemption in the city that gave us Uncle Sam.
That’s about as much as I want to say on the topic. I’ll leave a shot of the manuscript so far. Talk to you soon!
If you meet Nathan Waymaker, you probably don’t want it to be in a back alley. And you definitely don’t want to have wronged someone that’s in his good graces. And if you’re ever in trouble in Queen County, Virginia, his number beats 911.
In Shawn A. Cosby’s debut novel, My Darkest Prayer, we are brought into the world of fraudsters hosting Sunday service, Sheriff’s Deputies hosting grudges and the people on the margins who are anything but marginal.
When a scoundrel-come-minister is found dead of an apparent suicide, Nathan Waymaker is approached by his congregants to dig something other than the grave, and he stabs his shovel into a world that begins with money-laundering and ends with murder.
We sit down for a chat with author Shawn A. Cosby.
LMS: Nathan Waymaker is pretty much a certified badass. A former Marine, former Sheriff’s Deputy, he’s got a lot in the toolkit. You’ve done a great job of building up his character in My Darkest Prayer, but you only do so much without straying off the path. So here, now, what are some “Nate trivia” we can feast on?
SAC: It’s funny that you asked that because when I create characters I like to give them as much of a backstory as possible. Most of that doesn’t make it into the book but it helps me visualize them as a real person. So as far a trivia goes Nathan served in Iraq and also in Afghanistan. He is left handed. His favorite drink is rum and soda. He played football in high school but wasn’t good enough to get a scholarship so that was why he joined the Marines. And he loves animals. If I ever get the opportunity to write about him again, he will have a dog in his future adventures.
LMS: I know that you’re from Gloucester, Virginia, and Gloucester is mentioned, and is a minor scene in, the story. And the Virginia setting isn’t really saturated in the universe of mystery/crime fiction. What does Virginia, or can we call it the Mid-Atlantic, have to offer that’s unique from places like New York or L.A., or say, Texas, or the mountains of you-name-the-state?
SAC I think the Mid-Atlantic is a rich setting for stories of all kinds. Virginia has a long and complicated history with race, politics, religion and crime. During Prohibition, many citizens of the Mid-Atlantic used their skill in the art of making moonshine to supplement their income. Richmond Virginia was the capital of the Confederacy and also the birth place of first black governor in America. It’s home to evangelical tent revivals and the opioid crisis. There is so much to explore here thematically from the Blue Ridge mountains to the Chesapeake Bay.
LMS: Nathan works for his cousin’s funeral home. Were there any personal reasons for that setting? Where were you drawing it from? And, as I haven’t seen it myself before, what do you think that perspective offers crime/mystery?
SAC: Well my in my day job I am a funeral home attendant. I think working in the mortuary industry, I get a unique perspective on the human condition. I see people everyday who are going through the worst time in their life. The dignity and poise and strength they show during this time is awe inspiring. I also get to see people deal with long held family secrets and simmering tensions. It’s an incredible opportunity as a writer to observe these real-life mysteries unfold. So my experiences have served as powerful inspiration for my work. I think narratively Nathan’s ability to put people at ease is a direct result of his time working at the funeral home. He’s able to get past his suspects initial psychological barriers. They open up to home in a way they might not with a police officer or a traditional PI.
LMS: There’s a lot of great dialog in this book. What can you say to people starting out writing a book about creating good, snappy dialog? And in terms of dialect, slang, etc., where are the good mixes? Like, if you were throwing bits of speech in a cocktail, how are you writing out the recipe?
SAC: The best advice I can give anyone about writing dialog is spend a lot of time listening to how people actually talk. Sit in a bar and eavesdrop on the two guys complaining about the game. Stand in line for tickets to a movie and pay attention to the couple having a whisper argument. It might seem like you’re being nosy. And you are. But if you take those rhythms that you hear in actual everyday speech and combine them with your own unique verbiage you can create a pretty good sense of what your characters are saying and how they say it. Personally, I like to sprinkle in some slang and dialect among my work but not too much. Usually I’ll have my villains or side characters use a lot of slang. My main character is my mouthpiece, so I try to keep his or her dialog clean and crisp.
LMS: I feel like Nathan can be a series character, without spoiling the ending. He just has room to develop as a character. Can you give your readers your own little spoiler on where you see Nathan Waymaker going? And in that grain, what else is in the pipes for you?
SAC: Well I’d love to see Nathan come back and take on another case. I’ve actually written an outline that details a possible sequel. I guess it all depends on how his first book does. Currently I’m working with Josh Getzler and HSG Literary Agents on my 2nd book. It’s a standalone crime novel that is currently being shopped around. But I’d love to bring Nathan back. I think he’s an interesting character. He has some archetypal attributes of a standard noir detective but also some significant differences and I’d like to explore those in the future.
The Frontera is a land of monsters, cringeworthy creatures that sail the rivers and creep upon the desert, terrorize the villagers. They are born of human nature and of super-nature. And in Coyote Songs, author Gabino Iglesias brings the ghosts of the Frontera to life in the most spellbinding way.
Coyote Songs follows the groove of Gabino’s previous book, Zero Saints, but really evolves the landscape in every way. In fact, for Iglesias, evolution is really the best way to put Coyote Songs. A story about the many faces and experiences of Otherness on the border, it jumps from the imaginative and fanciful folklore personified, to the raw, emotionally stunning realities of the fate of children eaten up for the chance for something better.
I sit down with Gabino and have a few burning questions to ask.
LMS: Hey Gabino. As somebody who’s read your previous book, I of course was looking for similarities, and while maybe they’re in the same universe literarily, there are a lot of differences. Can you talk about what you see as the key differences you were aiming for when you started Coyote Songs? And did you find unintended differences when you’d finished?
GI: I knew I didn’t want to write Zero Saints again, but the universe of barrio noir contains some cohesive elements: pain, violence, multiculturalism, bilingualism, violence, crossing of all types of physical and imagined borders, etc. I knew from page one that those things would be in there, but the rest was entirely new. I wanted women at the core of the narrative. I wanted more magic and weirdness and horror than the first time around. I’ll always walk that line between horror and crime, and now that I knew readers would dig in despite the strangeness and gore, I went all in. The book I’m working on now is also barrio noir, but has nothing to do with Zero Saints or Coyote Songs.
LMS: There’s such a great synthesis between the fantastical and the raw visceral in this book. The Bruja is a perfect example of this. Without giving anything away, it really hit me in the feels, and when the more ephemeral part of it came into play, I was hooked. Did you have any underlying schema for mixing the natural and the supernatural, or was it an organic flow?
GI: Organic flow. Writing is not easy for me, but that part is relatively easy. I grew up immersed in Caribbean syncretism. My abuelita had an entire bathroom for the spirits that you weren’t supposed to use. It was full of candles and religious iconography. It was Catholicism and Santeria and a bunch of other stuff thrown together. She had milagritos sewn to the inside of her clothes. She wore saints on medals. I would find slaughtered chickens in my neighborhood. I had a good friend who acquired exotic birds that were illegal on the island and sold them to paleros and voodoo priestesses. In the immortal words of poet and visionary Issac Kirkman: “If you haven’t seen weird shit in the streets, you haven’t been in the streets long enough.” For me, supernatural and normal are the same thing.
LMS: Coyote Songs is many different parts and perspectives. Did you start this as separate works, or did you start out a single work, and plot it out intending to shift perspectives? And if you can talk specifically about influences for any of the perspectives, like Alma or Pedrito, the Coyote or even the Mother?
GI: I always wanted to write a mosaic novel, but never thought I had the skills. I also hadn’t seen it done much in the extremely pulpy way I wanted but with some decent writing thrown in as well. I think Brian Allen Carr’s The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World opened my eyes. I read that and thought “Fuck yeah! This is it!” That book gave me confidence. I don’t have Brian Allen Carr-level chops, but this was my book, so I only needed my own chops. The perspectives just made sense. I thought about Pedrito first. I love revenge narratives. Then The Mother came to me as the reason and the glue to everything. The rest were born out of specific stories I’d hear or embodied points I wanted to get across.
LMS: Like Zero Saints, Coyote Songs has more than just passing phrases in Spanish. It is used very powerfully, and while it doesn’t detract from the book for non-Spanish speakers, it is indelibly a part of the story. Again, I love talking about methods, so did you set rules for when to use Spanish, or did you just feel for it?
GI: I published two novellas before Zero Saints, but Zero Saints was me finding my voice. I decided to write what I wanted to write and use Spanish and Spanglish to make it authentic. A lot of people hated it. You can go read the 1-star Amazon reviews to see how much the Spanish/Spanglish bothered them. I don’t care. This is my voice. These are my stories. Escribo como me da la gana. I start writing and the part that come to me in Spanish or Spanglish stay that way. J David Osborne, head honcho of Broken River Books, has never had a problem with it. If you buy a barrio noir packed with frontera people written by a dude named Gabino Iglesias and are surprised at the Spanish in its pages…
LMS: Somewhat related to the previous question, I know, as a writer myself, that the right word can have twelve dimensions, even when you have it in your head. I always assumed that if I knew another language, getting that idea-to-paper lightning strike would be so much easier. But, in having English and Spanish to choose from, is putting that powerful idea down easier… or harder?
GI: It’s easier…until you start the editing process. There’s a new theory out there that says young bilingual kids don’t have two language, that they don’t code switch. Instead, they have one gigantic language in their heads where everything has two or three words to describe it. I’m convinced reading and writing have shaped my brain in the same way. I’ve spent so many years talking to Spanglish speakers that I kinda know just fall into that discourse very easily.
LMS: This book wouldn’t be as good if it didn’t take into account our political realities. And how you did it, hitting it head on, while at the same time making it background to the main action, like horse-kicking racism and bigotry in the face. Do you think, in all the political noise and circuses, that the very real crisis affecting children on the border is forgotten?
GI: Society has a very short memory and equally short attention span. Things fade away very quickly. I dislike that. We need to stay angry. We can’t let border politics, inhumane immigration policies and attitudes, and things like the #MeToo movement fall by the wayside. I try to contribute to that with my fiction. Fuck racism. I see it everywhere. Hell, I get called a beaner and a spic regularly by guys who wouldn’t say it to my face, so I’m not worried about forgetting about it any time soon. And women are the core of Coyote Songs. There are many reasons for that. Hopefully readers can identify them without me having to spell it out.
LMS: The poetry in the book is fantastic. The visuals, and the flow of those visuals, I think, make this book an upper-echelon book. Take us through the time you were writing it. What was the music playlist? And were there any other writers, directors or cinematographers through whom you were putting yourself?
GI: Oh, man, I was submerged in darkness for this one. I do this thing where I listen to nothing but blues or flamenco or jazz for a month. For this book, I always went with heave, dark stuff. I listened to a lot of black atmospheric metal. And things like Loscil and Robert Rich. Weird mix, but it worked. Here’s a taste of albums that come to mind that were on repeat:
Eldamar – A Dark
Caladan Brood – Echoes of Battle
Loscil – Stases and Endless Falls
Robert Rich – Vestiges and Nest
Musk Ox – Woodfall
I also had Takuya Kuroda’s Rising Son and Ryo Fukui’s Scenery and A Letter From a Small Boat…and some other stiff because music is life. Then, when not writing, I would switch back to my everything schedule. Those are the few I remember, but there were more. Lots more.
Pick up Coyote Songs from Amazon in Kindle or paperback here.
ICYMI, November, along with being the moustachio’d “Movember” for prostate cancer, is also the month designated as National Novel Writing Month, cleverly acronyzed to NaNoWriMo. In this creative writing contest, writers (and most especially non-writers) are encouraged to write a fifty-thousand-word novel between November 1st and November 31st.
It’s a big ole thing, with a logo and a hashtag or two, even a whole cottage industry that grows up around the many writers who strike gold and need professional editing and cover design and social media platform building and business cards, custom bookmarks and coffee mugs. The amateur graphic designer in me should salivate all through NaNoWriMo. But, I have hated it ever since I first heard of it. Well, I used to.
Why I hated. It’s tough to really hone your craft as a writer. There are big things like story arc, character development, the interplay between text and subtext, on and on… and then a bunch of people who post shots of their step tracker screen after every jog decide that it would be fun to write a bunch of words each day and post word counts. I really felt like it cheapened what we do.
And the cottage industry I was talking about, the editors, good and bad, the artisinal marketplace of all things “author” – I used to feel that this scene swung on a pendulum between indulgent and predatory.
But, as much shade as I’ve just thrown on NaNoWriMo, I have to come clean in the fact that I no longer hate it. Yes, there is a predatory nature to some of the “services” offered to newbie writers, but, to be fair, there’s just as many parasites latching on to writers from December through October. So, you know, welcome to the jungle, baby.
And oh my holy God, people aren’t taking High Literature seriously! Shit, I got a story coming out about a guy eating folks. Maybe I‘m not taking high literature seriously. And I get that a lot of NaNoWriMo people are going to self publish, and fill the limited World Attention Span with white noise and crap prose. They’re going to make it worse than it is now? Really? I can still find hot reads, can’t you?
So no, I’m not a hater of NaNoWriMo. Most people will not succeed. That’s true any time you pick up a pen (or keyboard) to write. Having a logo and a word count goal doesn’t make the mojo, but if it gives you a reason to dig that mojo out of the bag, all the more power to you. Some people find their voice, and go on to really kick ass.
I won’t be doing it, in case you wanted to know (for the one of you that wants to know.) Not a protest, I’m not better than it, I just know that I do novels in the spring, and short stories around the holidays. I will, I think, try to write something every day – a story, blog post, interview, ransom note, drunk text, whatever.
And to those of you doing NaNoWriMo, veteran writer or dabbler, just know that literature, in all of its forms, speaks through the ages in a way that a lot of artistic expression can’t. It is timeless in that it can transmit an idea even as the world that idea is wrapped in warps and twists.
And have fun.
In my continuing bid to document my writing life for you, and not let all the big news go by, I am happy to present to you a short, flash story that’s been published by the preeminent journal of twisted taste Shotgun Honey. The story, “Storm Debris” draws from my years of experience in disaster work, and my love of a good vengeance tale.
This is admittedly a short post. The bulk of this post are in the link below:
Keep tuned for a lengthier post. More to come.
A little while ago, Tim O’Mara sat down with me (digitally) and he had questions. Good questions, all. I tried to answer them to the best of my abilities, but I must confessed, some were real wringers. Without further ado, I am providing the link to the original interview.
If the phrase “ripped from today’s headlines” weren’t so overused—and possibly trademarked by those Law & Order folks—I would use it to describe Liam Sweeny’s second Jack LeClere novel, PRESIDING OVER THE DAMNED (out now from Down & Out Books). Since I’m not going to use the phrase, let’s just agree that Sweeny’s novel could hardly be more timely than it is. Jack, a homicide detective in Upstate New York’s New Rhodes Police Department, not only has to deal with the lynching of a young black girl, he also has to navigate internal police politics and outside activists/agitators, all while recovering from the events of his last case, where his family was more than threatened.