Kosoko Jackson centers Black, queer characters in haunting new tale | Pittsburgh City Paper

Kosoko Jackson centers Black, queer characters in a haunting new tale

click to enlarge Kosoko Jackson centers Black, queer characters in a haunting new tale
Photo: Courtesy of Kosoko Jackson
Kosoko Jackson

One of Kosoko Jackson’s main sources of inspiration is filmmaker Jordan Peele — which would be understandable if Jackson was a filmmaker.

But like Peele, Jackson, who crafts young adult books featuring non-stereotypical Black, queer characters, does dip into horror. His latest novel, The Forest Demands Its Due (HarperCollins), is akin to Rushmore by way of American Horror Story. The protagonist, Douglas Jones, attends an elite prep school where he doesn’t fit in. Things take a sinister turn when a fellow student ends up murdered and, not long after, everyone, except for Douglas and the groundskeeper’s son, acts as though the victim never existed.

The book released on Oct. 3 to positive reception, with Kirkus Reviews calling it a “satisfying and suspenseful genre-bender” that “delivers an uplifting gay romance.”

Jackson, who currently serves as a visiting professor at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., will discuss the book on Thu., Oct. 12 as part of a Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Made Local event.

One of the things Jackson admires about Peele is the award-winning filmmaker’s determination not to have Black people die in his movies.

click to enlarge Kosoko Jackson centers Black, queer characters in a haunting new tale
Photo: Courtesy of HarperCollins
The Forest Demands Its Due
“That’s not the same thing that I prescribe myself to, but I do think that nuanced characters with a wide range of experiences that are, frankly, like straight white experiences, are incredibly important for gay Blacks,” Jackson tells Pittsburgh City Paper.

Jackson admits he is more of a movie buff than an avid reader and that most of his stories start with a vivid image or scene.

“When I come up with a book, it usually appears as a cinematic piece before I start plotting,” he says, adding, “There’s like one quintessential scene of a book that I think of first and I use that to set the tone for the whole book. For me, if I get to the point of a book where this is a story I’m going to write, that scene has to resonate with me emotionally. And then it’s how do I carry that emotion through the whole story.”

There’s another cinematic aspect to Jackson’s work; he’s a self-described “intense” outliner, explaining that he will start with a 20-25 page quasi-screenplay and turn it into a 354-page book.

Jackson’s first attempt at writing started when he was 6 years old, scribbling very short stories as his parents watched Wheel of Fortune, then reading them aloud during commercial breaks. His writing, of course, matured over the years in his books, including the culinary-inspired romance A Dash of Salt and Pepper, the thriller Survive the Dome, and the time travel narrative Yesterday is History.

None of Jackson’s books are culled directly from his experiences, but the sub-themes of racism, sexism, and homophobia that appear through his work were present throughout his life, he says.

Jackson, who also works as a digital media specialist, says one of his goals is to write the kinds of novels he wanted to read during his teen years.

“I grew up as a gay Black teen and, back in the day, there were not many inspiring stories,” he says. “We kind of had very typical gay male tropes. You could be a hooker, you could be in the closet, you could be a drug addict. And so, especially for teens, I wanted to write stories where they could be a wide range of things. They can be heroes, they can be villains, and that's always what I've dedicated myself to.”