In Cole’s When No One Is Watching (Morrow, Sept.), gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood pushes out the longtime Black residents, many of whom disappear without a trace.
How influential were the movies Rear Window and Get Out, echoes of which permeate the plot?
It’s difficult to write a social thriller about race now without being influenced by Get Out. But having been a ’90s kid, I was also influenced by many of the same things as Jordan Peele: Black horror films like The People Under the Stairs and Tales from the Hood, and Hitchcock films in general, which were always playing on television and my family had on VHS as well. The works of Ira Levin, like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, and the many historical research works I’ve read over the years were also influential.
How is this different from your romance novels?
It’s not super different in theme from many of my historical romance novels, which often explore historical inequality and the effects of white supremacy. The biggest differences are that I got to play around more with moral ambiguity than I usually would in a romance. The book’s themes will be taken more seriously because it’s not categorized as genre romance.
How much research did you do into Brooklyn’s history and in devising the character of your lead, Sydney Green?
Part of the inspiration for Sydney’s character was that I’ve written historical romances set in many different eras of American history, including the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and the civil rights movement, and in each era there was state-sanctioned mistreatment of Black people. This book was a way of processing the effect of immersing yourself in this kind of history while seeing and experiencing that injustice continue today. Sydney, while not me, definitely is the result of that particular frustration.
Have you lived in a neighborhood going through gentrification?
Yes. The neighborhood where I grew up and where my family lives has been heavily gentrified. Everywhere I’ve lived in Brooklyn has been in the process of gentrification. While I did research heavily, I also drew from my own lived experience.
You’re considered a romance and sci-fi writer, yet why do none of your novels fit into a neat label?
Because my brain is chaotic and doesn’t actually understand genre rules anyway—apart from romance’s happily ever after.