Black, White, and Shades of Gray
By K.L. Romo
When you pick up one of bestselling author S. A. Cosby’s novels, it’s obvious why he’s been deemed a master of “Southern noir” and chronicler of the human condition, especially in the South. In the beautiful prose contained in the pages of his novels, Cosby’s literary crime fiction lasers in on racial identity, systemic racism, and what it feels like to live in the small-town South.
In his newest thriller, ALL THE SINNERS BLEED, Cosby entwines race, religion, and human failure in the character of Titus Crown, a disgraced FBI agent and the first Black sheriff in fictional Charon County, Virginia. Titus was more shocked than anyone to win the sheriff’s race. Although he loves his hometown, he knows there are secrets lurking just under the small-town veneer, including his own failures. Violence, faith, and race collide when a Black teen kills a well-loved white teacher at school; Titus’s deputies have no choice but to kill him. Or do they?
Not only must Titus deal with the white folk who don’t believe a Black sheriff should enforce the law, but some of Charon County’s Black residents think of Titus more like an Uncle Tom than an officer for Uncle Sam. As Titus investigates the shooting, what he finds leads to a serial killer living among them and horrible crimes against the county’s Black children amid a Biblical backdrop. He must navigate the fissures between white and Black, right and left, all while trying to atone for a grievous mistake he made years ago.
Here, S. A. Cosby chats with The Big Thrill about his experiences living in the South, his spirituality, and the importance of believing in yourself.
How much of Titus’s character was built from your acquaintance who served as the first Black sheriff in a neighboring county? And how much comes from your experiences living in the South?
Titus is an amalgamation of those conversations I had and also my observations of, and interactions with, members of law enforcement as a Black man growing up in the South. Both positive and negative experiences all helped shape who Titus is and who he isn’t.
How has crime fiction (and your novels in particular) provided a spiritual connection for you?
That’s an interesting question. On a personal level, spirituality has always been part of my work…but not a spirituality dependent on organized religion. I definitely try to articulate that in my writing. The sense of something larger than ourselves—and larger than all this wrath and tears—is really important to me.
How close is the story of living in Charon County to living in the real-life Matthews County?
Haha, it’s…somewhat similar.
Why did you want to address the issue of losing one’s faith in organized religion?
Honestly, it’s something quite personal to me. Like Titus’s mother, my mother was chronically ill (to the point of disability) when I was a child, and she went to faith healers. I have personal animosity towards people who use faith as a tool for gain. At the same time, I believe in something more, a sort of universal good. I lost that feeling for a while, but I was able to find it again. I wanted Titus to go on that same journey. He and I end up in different places, but that’s okay.
What messages would you like readers to take away from the book?
That when we seek to impose order on the universe, we are tilting at windmills. Be kind to yourself. The only person you can truly save is you.
Since you received 63 rejections before landing an agent, what advice can you give other writers?
Believe in your purpose. If writing is your purpose, you will get published. I can’t tell you when, but IT WILL HAPPEN.
Can you share a teaser about your next novel?
It’s a story of love, betrayal, and darkness in the hearts of a trio of siblings whose family owns a crematory and whose mother disappeared when they were children.
Tell us something about yourself your fans might not already know.
I’m afraid of mice. I know it’s ridiculous, but it’s true.