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.