An auto shop owner tries to put his criminal past behind him in Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland (Flatiron, July.), a neo-noir thriller set in 2012 Virginia.

You’ve mentioned that the 2016 movie Hell or High Water influenced this novel. Both narratives explore the lives of the working poor.

I grew up in poverty. We didn’t get indoor plumbing until I was 16. Hell or High Water was the first film I felt accurately portrayed the soul-crushing despair of being truly, honestly poor. And yet it was still outside of my experience, because the leads were white men. And there is a huge difference in America between being white and poor and being black and poor. I walked out of Hell or High Water wanting to tell a story about the same themes, but with faces that looked like mine.

Your use of cultural imagery throughout adds another layer to the story line.

Yes. I grew up in the South and for my whole I have been a witness to the beauty and the grotesqueness that is intrinsic in the region. A part of that grotesqueness is the mistaken idea some of my neighbors have that the love of the South is the sole provenance of Confederate apologists who have turned the phrase “Southern heritage” into a dirty word. They don’t own that. So, in my writing—in ways both subtle and overt—I do my best to destroy the myth of the Lost Cause.

Was the initial inspiration behind this project to write a novel that worked simultaneously as popular fiction and literature?

The fancy answer would be to say yes. But I think the truth is that I wanted to write about things that matter to me the most. The fact those things happen to have a bit of universality is more a happy accident than any well thought-out plan. There’s a lot of pain in the book because it’s the one thing everyone understands.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

I want people to be entertained, but I hope they walk away with a better understanding of just how hard it is to be a better version of yourself when it seems like the whole world is determined to make you be the worst.