S.A. Cosby, Noir’s New Literary Lion

S.A. Crosby Writer

Mathews native S.A. Cosby’s award-amassing crime novels nimbly seed gruesome fictitious violence amidst real-life evils

Don’t let the snide “bless their hearts” and body parts littering Tidewater fool you. New York Times best-selling author Shawn (S.A.) Cosby loves Virginia. “It’s a big part of my writing,” says the Mathews County native. “But for a long time, the story of Virginia was told by one set of voices.”

Add to them his, reverberating in unflinching, award-amassing crime novels that nimbly seed gruesome fictitious violence amidst real-life evils like racism, homophobia and misogyny.

His cracking neo-Southern noir prose oozes magnolia and drips honeysuckle as much as it reeks of the rotting corpses beneath them. It triggers nightmares. Maybe social justice, too.

“He entertains but makes you think about important topics. He’s writing present-day history,” says Marilyn Bailey, a Seattle Times editor who heard Cosby speak at this year’s Savannah Book Festival about how he layers the “cake” of society’s issues with “the frosting” of action.

And humor. A cop imposter in “Blacktop Wasteland” is, “…a guy with a chin so square he probably had to study geometry to learn how to shave.”

Barack Obama thinks Cosby’s boss. On his 2022 summer reading list, he recommended Razorblade Tears (two fathers – one Black, one white – avenge their married sons’ murders) and doubled down in 2023, name-checking All the Sinners Bleed (a county’s first Black sheriff pursues a serial killer).

For all the gore and guts, Cosby’s tours de (brute) force revolve around relationships. “Family shapes us, makes us who we are,” he says. “It’s the foundation of all my writing.”

Exhibit A: his mother. Frustrated by a five-year-old Shawn’s nitpicking at plot holes in bedtime stories (“If bricks were available, why didn’t all three pigs use them?”), she told him to write his own. He did: a tale about spaceship-flying gnomes. 

“She asked, ‘Did you do this all by yourself?’ and I replied, ‘Yes ma’am,’” he recalls. “The amazement on her face; I’ve been chasing that look ever since.”

Dirt poor, they didn’t have indoor plumbing until he was 16. But they had books.

His mom scooped up penny-packs of paperbacks at yard sales. He devoured historical fiction, nonfiction, mythology, Stephen King, lurid-covered detective pulp, doorstop Micheners, then hunted down the books mentioned in their acknowledgements at the local library. (Literary references splatter his pages like blood at the scene of a murder-suicide.)

Cosby’s career took off when a belly-dancer friend showed his horror stories to Todd Robinson, a New York City bartender who also published a dark, gritty magazine called Thuglit. Robinson urged him to contribute.

“The moment I started writing crime fiction, I felt at home,” Cosby says.

Author Shawn Cosby is a New York Times best selling writer who lives in Mathews, Virginia Monday June 3, 2024.

His mom believed in him but worried about him quitting his day job. When she heard her son lauded on TODAY in 2020, though, she remarked, “I think this writing thing might just work out.”

Jerry Bruckheimer optioned Razorblade Tears, and Netflix is producing an eight-episode limited series of All the Sinners Bleed. He’s collaborated with Questlove on a children’s adventure series and is having drinks with John Grisham in France.

“They say never meet your heroes, you’ll be disappointed. Not true,” he says of Dennis Lehane, Walter Mosley and other genre giants. “They welcomed me into their club.”

With his first writing check, he bought matching heated recliners souped-up with back massagers, side coolers and laptop desks for himself and his dad, who lives three miles away (they’re mending their once-estranged relationship).

Built like a bouncer (he’s been one), Cosby sinks into his, headphones on for musical inspiration, two cats cuddled nearby, and writes at breakneck speed. He “reports” the images in his mind, creating cinematic sequences.

He populates Newport News and Richmond – but mainly counterfeit counties like Charon and Red Hill (“They’re all Mathews,” he says, grinning beneath a low-pulled cap) – with fleshed out characters. He baptizes them with loaded names: Titus Crown, Beauregard Montage, Lazarus “Lazy” Mothersbaugh.

They gravitate to dive bars, strip clubs and Tastee-Freezes. They crawl under your skin and worm their way into your mind until you grasp their twisted, morally fungible motivations. 

“Empathy doesn’t mean endorsement,” he explains. “My violence has consequences.”

He reads lines of dialogue to his wife Kim (he proposed to her at the Gloucester Starbucks where they had their first date) to make sure they ring true but doesn’t ask her advice on grisly corporeal matters even though she’s a licensed mortician. 

“I’m a country boy,” he states matter-of-factly. “I grew up skinning deer and gutting fish.”

He savors city life on book tours and lecture circuits, and New York City friends beg him to move up while he works on King of Ashes, a thriller. But Coastal Virginia is home. 

“I like having a bird feeder and hiking trails nearby,” he says. “I just wish I could tell my 12-year-old self, ‘You won’t believe where words will take you.’”

Photos courtesy of Consociate Media

Marisa Marsey Headshot
Marisa Marsey

Marisa Marsey is a food, beverage and travel writer whose awards include 1st place Food Writing from the Virginia Press Association. A Johnson & Wales University representative, she has sipped Château d'Yquem '75 with Jean-Louis Palladin, sherpa-ed for Edna Lewis and savored interviews with Wolfgang Puck and Patrick O’Connell.

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