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Sara Koffi: Memphis Author Redefining the Thriller Genre

Introducing Sara Koffi

Sara Koffi is a Memphis-based writer with a passion for creating intricate stories featuring often unlikable, yet compelling, female characters. Known for her love of thrillers, Sara draws readers in with narratives that are rich in twists and turns, aiming to evoke strong, visceral reactions.

"I'm a writer from Memphis, Tennessee, who wants to tell stories about complicated women, often unlikable, and give them a chance to exist on your page. And I love thrillers," says Sara.

Sara Koffi, with long braided hair, wearing a black top, poses with her hands resting in front of her against a gray background.

Early Influences and Love for Thrillers

Growing up in Memphis, Sara’s love for thrillers was ignited by late-night TV marathons of classic suspense films and shows. Without cable, she spent her nights immersed in movies like “The Twilight Zone,” “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” and “Fatal Attraction.” These early experiences cultivated her desire to tell stories that captivate and surprise.

Memphis as a Backdrop and Inspiration

Sara’s connection to Memphis is deeply rooted in her identity as a writer. The city’s rich civil rights history and its cultural landscape have significantly influenced her work. Memphis, with its unique blend of progress and division, serves as a backdrop and an uncredited character in her debut novel, While We Were Burning.

"Growing up with the Civil Rights Museum, knowing our place in civil rights history and also in the history of the NAACP, just being aware of that has definitely shaped how I approach writing," Sara explains. "Memphis is like another character in the book pretty much, like the secret character basically."

By setting her story in Memphis, Sara brings attention to the medium-sized city often overlooked in the thriller genre, asserting that big stories happen here too.

"I don't see a lot of thrillers taking place in like medium-sized cities. And I was like, why not place it in a place that I'm from? I think we should. We definitely have big stories happen here too."

Sara Koffi, with her braided hair, signs a book at a table in a room adorned with hanging string lights.

Inspiration Behind While We Were Burning

The inspiration for While We Were Burning came during the summer of 2020, amidst the social unrest following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Sara channeled her frustration and desire for justice into her writing, finding thrillers to be the perfect genre to explore these themes.

"I was basically just worried that they weren't going to receive justice in any way. And that kind of tension and frustration led me to wanting to put it into a thriller. I felt that a thriller is a great novel to write when you're tense and frustrated."

The novel reflects her response to the tension and injustice she witnessed, embodying her desire to see justice served, even if only within the pages of her book.

Sara Koffi, with long braided hair and wearing a black top, raises one hand to her forehead, gazing intently forward.

Highlighting Memphis Culture

Sara’s novel not only highlights Memphis’ culture but also uses it as a map for readers, especially those unfamiliar with the city. Her fictional settings often mirror real places, giving readers a taste of Memphis’ renowned food scene.

"I believe every restaurant, my only location, except for one, maybe two, are made up. It's kind of cool to imagine someone who hasn't been here using this book as a map, particularly for our food scene, which is, in my opinion, the best."

Overcoming Challenges in Writing

Despite the challenges of writing a debut novel, such as balancing entertainment with deeper messages, Sara’s approach has been to infuse moments of dark humor and levity into her otherwise serious narrative. This balance keeps readers engaged while allowing them to reflect on the underlying social issues.

 

"My biggest challenge was making sure it was entertaining. It's important to know the entertainment part first. Otherwise, people aren't going to want to read it."

Future Projects and Goals

Sara’s future projects continue to draw from Memphis and the South, with plans to explore speculative fiction and possibly a sweeping romance set in the city. Her writing routine varies, driven by deadlines, and her process involves letting characters develop organically as she writes.

"I'm currently working on something in the speculative fiction space with thriller elements. It's basically like the world's the exact same except something a little different."

With her work, Sara hopes to contribute to the Memphis literary community, adding a new angle to the existing conversation.

"I'm hoping it just adds to the conversation of Memphis authors. For a lot of people, this will be their first experience of Memphis. It'll be in a book. Putting it in the mind of more people is just, you know, it's a cool city. I like it."

Race and Writing

Race and class are integral themes in Sara’s writing, reflecting her lived experiences and observations.

"Race in my writing is just going to be undeniable. It may not always be the main theme, but it's always going to be there. I don't think you can separate race from writing just for that reason."

Connecting with Readers

Sara aims to connect with readers who appreciate drama and excitement but are also thoughtful about the world around them.

"I want the audience to be messy people who like drama and excitement but are also thinking about the world and their actions. It's like escapism with a point."

Sara Koffi’s stories offer a unique blend of escapism and thoughtful reflection, appealing to readers who enjoy drama and excitement while also pondering the complexities of the world. As she continues to write, she aims to solidify her place among Memphis’s literary voices, enriching the city’s narrative through her thrilling and thought-provoking tales.

You can get Sara’s debut novel While We Were Burning at Novel.

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Sara Koffi (@sarathekoffi) • Instagram photos and videos

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