Jeff reviews the young adult thriller Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson. Jeff then interviews Kosoko about both Survive the Dome, and his rom-com I’m So (Not) Over You, which is also the Spring Big Gay Fiction Book Club selection.
Kosoko talks about his favorite rom-coms, why he decided to write one, and the ways the characters and story changed in the early drafts. He also shares the real life events that inspired Survive the Dome, and what it was like to work on two very different books at the same time. In addition, he discusses the representation of black and brown queer characters that he brings to his stories. Plus, Kosoko offers book recommendations and a glimpse of what he’s working on next.
Remember, you can listen and follow the podcast anytime on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Stitcher, YouTube and audio file download.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. Books are linked with Universal Book Links so you can see a variety of places to purchase ebooks and audiobooks. All links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Rainbow Romance Reader Report Subscription Sign Up
- Second Chance Romance Promotion (running through April 25)
- Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson
- Kosoko Jackson Interview
- I’m So (Not) Over You by Kosoko Jackson
- About Time on Amazon Prime Video
- Yesterday is History by Kosoko Jackson
- Crazy Rich Asians on Amazon Prime Video
- Notting Hill on Amazon Prime Video
- The Holiday on Amazon Prime Video
- Last Holiday on Amazon Prime Video
- P.S. I Love You on Amazon Prime Video
- Kate and Leopold on Amazon Prime Video
- Sleepless in Seattle on Amazon Prime Video
- When Harry Met Sally on Amazon Prime Video
- Grey’s Anatomy on Amazon Prime Video
- Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Roman Holiday on Amazon Prime Video
- Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix
- Thank You For Listening by Julia Whelan (pre-order until August 2, 2022)
- My Oxford Year by Julian Whelan
- The Honeys by Ryan La Sala (pre-order until August 2, 2022)
- Midsommar on Amazon Prime Video
- A Dash of Salt and Pepper by Kosoko Jackson (pre-order until December 6, 2022)
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Will: Coming up on this episode, author Kosoko Jackson joins us to talk about rom-coms and dome covered YA thrillers?
Jeff: Welcome to episode 372 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Jeff and with me as always is my co-host and husband, Will.
Will: Hello, rainbow romance readers. So glad that you could join us for another episode of the show.
And it is also our sincere hope that you can join us on our brand-new newsletter, the Rainbow Romance Reader Report. It’s the new official newsletter of this show. And we’ve had so much fun with everyone that has joined us so far.
Every week we give you quick updates about what Jeff and myself have been up to. It’s almost always about books. We’ll also tell you about new releases and upcoming titles, as well as sneak peaks about what’s coming up here on the show. New issues of the Rainbow Romance Reader Report come out every Friday and if you’d like to sign up, you can do it at biggayfictionpodcast.com/report.
Jeff: One of the things I want to tell you about is a brand new promotion that’s happening with a group of amazing authors. Now you all know, I love second chance romance. It’s like one of my major trope jams, and there is a second chance romance promo happening right now, going through Monday, April 25th, that features 30 authors, including some of my very favorites, Amy Aislin, Anyta Sunday, BA Tortuga, Clare London, Garrett Leigh, Jay Northcote, Leta Blake, RJ Scott, Roan Parrish, Susan Scott Shelley, and V.L. Locey, and that’s just a portion of the authors who are in this thing.
And, hey, guess what? “The Hockey Player’s Heart,” the second chance romance that Will and I wrote together, is part of this as well. And it’s on sale for the very first time at a very good price of 99 cents. To see all of the books you can go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/sc, as in second chance. Biggayfictionpodcast.com/sc, or you can find the link in the show notes. Don’t miss your opportunity to check out some of these books before that promotion ends on Monday, April 25th.
Review: Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson
Now, before we talk to Kosoko Jackson, I want to take the opportunity to review Kosoko Jackson’s YA thriller “Survive the Dome.” It’s such a different book after reading the rom-com that is “I’m So (Not) Over You” to move over to this thriller.
“Survive the Dome” starts with a powerful and moving statement with a list of black and brown people killed by police from 1943 to 2021. On my Kindle, this list ran for seven pages. It’s a sobering opening, but also I think very appropriate for this book.
In “Survive the Dome,” Kosoko melds our current times with a look at a future that could just as easily come tomorrow as it could next month, next year, five years, a decade, and honestly, if we’re lucky, hopefully never. Aspiring photojournalist and high school student Jamal hopes to boost his chances at getting into Columbia University by going to Baltimore to photograph a protest against police brutality, following a verdict that saw a cop go free after killing a man. It’s more than just peppering his college application though. He knows the message verdicts like this sin to black and brown teens like him. One of his thoughts as he heads for the city is this: “Are we going to be a generation that just lets the status quo continue, or are we going to stand up for our rights no matter what? I know what type of person I want to be.” So just right there up front, we know exactly who Jamal is.
Once in Baltimore, he immediately encounters the police as they direct traffic toward parking. And the police seemed to be everywhere. Once he parks and falls in with the people headed to city hall, it’s in this crowd that he meets Marco, who randomly strikes up a conversation as Jamal is looking up something on his phone. Marco’s a cocky teen, standing up to a cop who wants to take away Jamal’s camera saying that photos aren’t allowed at the protest. Jamal’s certain that the confrontation won’t end well, but somehow it does.
Things go to hell soon enough though, as the Baltimore police, with the approval of the state governor, drop a dome over portions of the city, putting everyone inside into isolation. Everyone has 10 minutes to disperse and get home. And there’s no communication either, internet and cell phones can’t penetrate the dome. Marco convinces Jamal to trust him and the two race through the streets, avoiding the police, and they arrive just in time to a safe place.
It is a wild ride from there. Of course, Jamal and Marco don’t stay put for long. Marco’s a hacker and he wants to become part of Nemesis, a large group that’s operating in Baltimore and around the world. There’s a meeting he wants to go to, and, of course, Jamal follows. It is a non-stop gauntlet from there, from that meeting to literally surviving the dome. This book is tense. It’s thrilling. It’s a difficult journey, but it’s an incredible read as Kosoko puts Jamal into many situations.
You all know, I love YA books with smart teens and Kosoko really delivers that here, Jamal is smart, able to put facts together and he has a keen awareness of the situations he’s in and how to navigate them. He’s not perfect though. Sometimes he says way too much. Sometimes he doesn’t act fast enough. He can make mistakes like everyone, but you can’t help, but root for him. And it’s the same for Marco. Marco smarts are different coming on the technical side, but he is a great companion for Jamal because of their differences. For example, Marco often acts impulsively while Jamal thinks things through. So, these two kind of balance each other out really nicely.
Their team grows even more when they meet up with Catherine who isn’t much older than them but has been in the military. She brings the tactical skills and the muscle, and as someone who knows how to fight. Together they are a great team, making each other better and giving each other strength. They are one bad-ass trio. Kosoko keeps them off balance though by forcing them apart sometimes. And each time they’re back together, you can tell how the experiences only make them stronger.
There is a super sweet romance between Jamal and Marco to. This book keeps its focus primarily on the dome and finding a way to bring it down and keeping those responsible accountable for it. But Jamal and Marco have chemistry from their very first meeting, and that only grows. They have moments of being there for each other, moments of cute banter, and even some downtime for a kiss or two. Their romance moves nicely alongside the primary story.
What I liked most about “Survive the Dome” was Jamal. Kosoko gives Jamal smarts, as I mentioned before, but also a caring heart and a drive to do the right thing even if that means you end up in danger. Through Jamal, the reader gets to see the world through the eyes of a black teenager living in today’s world. With the book told in first person, it means we’re with Jamal as he has to assess the risk at every turn of what could happen to him because he’s black and the steps he can take to protect himself. One of Jamal’s thoughts in the back half of the book really struck me “Even if I do like to think I have hope, that we will, as a society, grow and evolve, it’s hard to keep that hope alive when you’re living the bad years in real time.”
Kosoko really delivers on “Survive the Dome.” It’s a tight action adventure thriller taking place just slightly in the future that brings us three great young adult characters with Jamal, Marco and Catherine. It also delivers a stark, scathing, and accurate look at American society. Plus, there is that wonderful romance too. I highly recommend that everyone pick up Kosoko Jackson’s “Survive the Dome.”
I’m going to leave you with the words that Kosoko has at the very end of his acknowledgements in the book. He says, “‘Survive the Dome’ is a fiction book, but the reality in America isn’t far off. If you learn one thing from this book, it’s that one person–or three persons–can change the world. Never forget that.”
And so now it’s time to actually talk to Kosoko. I had such a wonderful time talking with him about these very different books between “Survive the Dome” and his incredible rom-com, which as we mentioned is the Spring Big Gay Fiction Book Club selection. Among the things that we talk about is what inspired him to write a rom-com after his YA debut that happened a couple of years ago, and what it’s like hopping between “I’m So (Not) Over You” and “Survive the Dome,” which at a certain time, he was actually writing and editing on both of them at the same time. We also talk about the representation of black and brown people that he brings to his fiction. And of course, he’s got some reading recommendations and details on what he’s working on next.
Kosoko Jackson Interview
Jeff: Kosoko it’s so great to have you here. And so excited. We get to talk about your great books. Thank you for joining us.
Kosoko: Thank you for having me. I’m super excited.
Jeff: So, we have to start off talking about “I’m So (Not) Over You,” which of course is our spring Big Gay Fiction Book Club selection. Now, for those who haven’t picked this up yet, tell everybody a little bit about Kian and Hudson story.
Kosoko: Sure. So “I’m So (Not) Over You” follows Kian Andrews, an aspiring journalist who is very much down on his luck. He is like many generations, Z millennials who does not have a job. He recently broke up with his boyfriend and just life is not going the way that he wants. And so, one day he gets a text from Hudson who is his ex-boyfriend. He thinks that Hudson wants to meet, to reconcile their feelings about a happily ever after. But in fact, Hudson has another idea. He needs Kian to pretend that they are still dating, because according to Hudson’s family who own a very, very popular brewery empire in Georgia. Kian is the only good thing that Hudson has ever done in his life.
In exchange for helping him look not like the black sheep in the family for once, he will help Kian get the job of his dreams at basically the fictional version of Buzzfeed. Kian of course agrees, and in typical rom-com fashion. A rom-comedy of errors happens when Hudson can’t keep his mouth shut and gets them an invite to the wedding of the century down in Georgia. So, this one night, one dinner of a lie turned into a long weekend where they have to reconcile their feelings.
Jeff: It is such a rom-comedy of errors too. Kian cracks me up because there are times when he does, in fact, just keep talking about, you know, three paragraphs more than you kind of wanted him too, in a moment.
Jeff: And yet, sometimes, there were many times where he stood up for himself, so brilliantly, and then other times where he was kind of like, just letting something happen.
How did you decide when to let him kind of stand up and stand his ground against somebody like he does with Hudson’s father at dinner? And other times where it’s just like, okay, this is just going to happen now.
Kosoko: That’s a good question. So, like it really came to how I was feeling in the scene. Like one of Kian’s defining characteristics is his anxiety, which manifested itself in putting his foot in his mouth far too many times than he probably should. But I also, all of my books have like a social justice angle to them and that’s even evident in “I’m So (Not) Over You”. And so, I tried to find spaces where Kian wouldn’t be like a wet washcloth, and he could like stand up for things and he could discuss things and he could very much state his opinion.
So sometimes for me, anxiety manifests as talking too much. And sometimes it’s just like saying the complete wrong thing at the exact wrong time. There’s even a scene in the book for all of our Millennial, Gen Z fans who he flat out says there’s no ethical billionaires in the world. Which is a big thing to hear, and especially when there’s a billionaire romances that we have, and everyone wants a very rich, like lover, like to say that to someone’s family, it’s very much like a mic drop moment that would make everyone stare at you. But I think it’s important to have that commentary. I love rom-coms that do that, but I also think it’s important to have the ramifications of sticking your foot in your mouth.
Jeff: It’s interesting how you phrase that cause as you said it, I’m like, yes, that is actually when he stands up for himself, is when he’s got the social justice, the this is the right thing moment and less about when it’s about him, maybe doing something he shouldn’t have done in the first place.
He contains multitudes.
Jeff: Indeed. That could be the blurb on the cover.
Kosoko: I like that. That will be in the revised paperback.
Jeff: Now this is your first adult romance novel after you debuted with another young adult story that did have some love interest in it and was time travel on top of it. What inspired you to tackle the adult romance?
Kosoko: Like most things in my life, it’s happened at four o’clock in the morning when I could not sleep, and I was lying in bed and I think I was watching “About Time,” the rom-com and with, Rachel McAdams, and I was like, I want to write a rom-com. I liked writing the romance in “Yesterday is History.” I always thought I was going to be like YA science fiction author.
And when I put that romance element into it, I was like, wow, I really enjoy writing romance. But the limitations of YA, like the language, the sex, the theme, I was like, I want to do that in adult books. So, I emailed my agent literally at eight o’clock in the morning. I was like, I want to write an adult rom-com, how do we do this?
And he was like, you have never written an adult rom-com in your life. And so, we spent about a year, like honing down the ideas. I read a lot of rom-coms. And about a year later, we put the book on submission and then it’s sold in four months.
Jeff: Congratulations, the speed of that is awesome.
Kosoko: It was a very fast process.
Jeff: Kian and Hudson, so different. I mean the opposites attract angle is one of the most interesting things here going on in terms of the tropes. What were your inspirations for these two characters and how opposite were you trying to make them?
Kosoko: So, funny enough. So, Kian is basically like I said, a representation of my anxiety when I was in high school and college, like put into a character. So, he was like very easy to write. He came fully formed, but funny enough Hudson went through a lot of transitions in the drafts.
Like, the very original version, he was actually Indian, his name was Raj, and he was Indian, and he was the heir to a pharmaceutical company. Then he became a white southerner. It was like the heir to like a beef empire. And then I was like, this is not what I exactly want. And then I think I was just like at work. And I was like, and we had apple cider and I was like a brewery empire. This would be something I’ve never seen before.
And so, when I made that, I really wanted to tackle, like you said, the opposites attract. I wanted to write a book where queer men and queer love stories could get the same happy ending in the same tropes that we see in a lot of white, straight fiction. And so, like billionaire lovers, opposites attract, rom-coms that don’t deal with like heavy themes of homophobia or closeted men was something that I really wanted to do. I just wanted to write a really good happily ever after, but I also wanted to make it commercial enough to fit into the tropes of rom-coms. And so, when I came up with the tropes for the book, which was fake dating and second chance romance, I was like, what would be something that would cause two people in their twenties to break up, which then started me to spinning down, they should be very opposite people.
Jeff: Oh, my goodness. I don’t know that they could be really more opposite in so many categories.
Kosoko: Oh yeah.
Jeff: It made me want to see like a prequel of some kind, like what was their meet cute back in the day, a little bit more to see how they, you know, came together that first time.
Kosoko: Maybe that will be a chapter that I do when I released my second rom-com, like a bonus chapter.
Jeff: Ooh, bonus chapter. Bonus material. Director’s cut. Something like that.
Kosoko: Yeah, the Zack Snyder cut.
Jeff: Second chances in particular, it’s one of my favorite tropes. And you did it so well because there’s always that challenge of navigating them coming back together when they clearly had something amiss the first time. And these two definitely had their issues that caused that breakup. Which of course gave them that beautiful push and pull that they had through like 75% of the book to finally get them to click back together again.
How did you approach making sure there was that good amount of friction while also some really delightfully swoony moments too?
Kosoko: I remembered when I was writing really feeling the tension with ex’s that I had, and ex’s that I was like trying to win back, and ex’s I was still in love with. I think all of us or many of us have been on both sides. Then the one who’s done the breaking up and somebody wants you back and has been broken up with and wants the person back. And so, I tried to like meld that together into the story in a very positive and still fun way. So, for every commentary about like sadness of a relationship, I wanted to add some lightness or some comedy or something to kind of balance it out. Be it we’re talking about your parents have too much money and you’re not living up to your expectations and not like creating your own path.
Then balancing that out with the clothing scene where Hudson comes out and Kian sees those sides of his junk. So, we try to balance those out so it’s not too heavy on one side, but so that each interaction pushes the story along a little bit.
Jeff: I love that you mentioned the clothing scene, cause if there ever was like a definitive rom-com moment, you gave us the clothing store montage.
Kosoko: Yes. Which as I have told, almost every person this. This is very much “Crazy Rich Asians,” but black and queer. If you have not seen “Crazy Rich Asians,” there’s a very big clothing montage scene where the main characters choosing different clothing. And that was my inspiration for that. If you do watch “Crazy Rich Asians,” you’ll see all the parallels between the two.
Jeff: There were parallels there, a few “Pretty Woman” parallels for me. Especially the opposites attract scale, but yeah, “Crazy Rich Asians.” You made me, having read this, makes me want to go back and watch that because it’s been a while since I’ve watched “Crazy Rich Asians,” cause it’s so funny.
Kosoko: I’m watching this weekend now.
Jeff: That could be everybody’s to watch list, who’s listening to this. Just go watch or rewatch “Crazy Rich Asians”
Jeff: To the same side, as you noted rom-com’s can do this pretty well, at balancing something like a social justice angle. Was that a balancing act to put in there, or because you had Kian as a voice, was it really easy just to put that in through him. And the way that his character already was.
Kosoko: I think the balancing act came with creating Hudson and his family. So, the voice in the social justice issue that I wanted to tackle came very clear, very early on in the book. But in the original draft, which is actually part of the reason why Hudson changed from being white to being black was from my actually my editor.
And she was like, I love the book as it is, but having this white man, who’s very, very rich, who’s from the south who is holding like a job and everything over this black man who has no money, is a very weird power dynamic. And it takes away from the class issues that you’re talking about in the book, which are really strongly relevant and puts this extra race layer on it that I think is going to dilute the class conversation, which we should have in rom-coms. And so that’s the reason why we changed him to be black. And I think it actually made the book a lot stronger and actually opened a lot of doors.
I don’t know of another traditionally published queer black male/male book like this. And so, these came fully formed, but that change in the social justice themes that I wanted to talk about kind of grew with the story as a whole. I kind of had an inkling and how to get there exactly is why we have editors.
Jeff: And sounds like your editor Is really on it. That’s that sounds like a really great note. One that either would have landed well or not well, depending on how open you are. Cause some people I know, get really tense with editor comments.
Kosoko: Yeah, I was in the middle. I was like, Ooh, Christine, I don’t know if we can do this. I am like, there’s still like a lot of tension in like the romance land, like I am a male writing, a male rom-com that doesn’t star like white characters.
And I was like, this is a lot of layers in a group that is still very much approaching like diversity and still trying to understand it. And I was very nervous. I remember flat out saying like a book with two black men on the cover is not going to sell. And she actually had to convince me to do it, which is funny looking back on it.
Jeff: And it’s the cover that was like drew me to it. Cause it’s like, oh, we don’t see this a lot. What is this book about? You know, especially on the cover. Cause I know I can think of some other stories that feature two black males, but you don’t see them on the cover. It’s a more of a decorative cover.
Kosoko: Exactly, and so Berkeley was very great about making it front and center. I really appreciate that.
Jeff: Kudos to your editor. Yeah. Good stuff.
So, you’re a fan of rom-coms, but why write a rom-com. Why was this a rom-com and not just a romance?
Kosoko: Well, for a couple of reasons, I wanted to expand my writing skills. So, my debut “Yesterday is History” has romance, but it’s definitely not a rom-com And I think I’ve found some of the favorite scenes that I like to write were those romantic scenes and I wanted to make sure that there was a happy ending in there. And I really just wanted to write something light.
I’ve been growing as a writer. I wrote “Yesterday is History” in 2018. It published in 2021. And so just over the years I’ve been changing, and editing based on what I’m reading and how I’m growing.
And I think it was just like a very slow, but natural shift into wanting to write a lot more positive and happy work. I think that a lot of young writers, especially me, think that like deep work, typically the work that gets the most recognition. Is like the gritty dark stuff. But in fact, writing joy and happiness is in itself harder and also an act of resistance, especially in the universe that we live in right now.
And I’m just really enjoying it as I get older, writing happy stories instead of just writing like shock jock, sad stories. And so that’s why I went into a rom-com. As I’ve learned, rom-coms are very formulaic. There’s like four acts, 16 beats, but they’re hard to write because it is formulaic. To make it fresh and to make it new, and I liked that challenge, but I also like the structure.
Jeff: How did you find the comedy aspect? Cause I know some writers, myself included, trying to weave in comedic elements or things that move towards rom-com is more of a challenge. Even beyond just writing a good, happy romance.
Kosoko: The comedy for me came actually surprisingly fairly easy, which is how I figured out that like I like enjoying rom-com’s. Some of it needs to be like buffed up, but in general, for me, when I’m approaching a scene that I know is going to be a comedic scene. Sarcasm is a big crutch that I use for comedy. A lot of my characters are witty and sarcastic, which makes it easy in one level. But then I take like physical comedy or like some physical comedic scenes to the next level.
So, we have the scene where two characters are meeting. It’s going to be a meet cute. How do I make it a meet cute, but also like a meet awkward at the same time? How do I take this to the next level? Very much specifically like a good scene is when Kian meets Hudson’s family in the restaurant, it could have just been a normal meeting, but how do I have him put his foot in the mouth by saying like what’s the matter? Never seen a black guy in a suit before? That takes it to the next level. And so, I try to just find places to sparse that in with like really short sentences or really short scenes, so it doesn’t overwhelm the reader. But just to take those scenes to the next level, make them a little bit different.
Jeff: And we’ve talked about “Crazy Rich Asians,” obviously being an inspiration here. What are some of your other favorite rom-coms? Like if you were going to give a rom-com must watch lists to our listeners. What’s on that?
Kosoko: Okay. So, the classics we got to go “Notting Hill.” We also have to go “The Holiday,” which is one that I like have rewatched recently, and I have like re-fallen in love with. “Last Holiday” with Queen Latifa is another one.
And this is a debatable rom-com, and I’ve got like 50% of people like that as a rom-com and 50% who are like, that is not a rom-com and how dare you suggest, but “P.S. I Love You” is one of my favorite movies of all time.
Jeff: I think that’s a rom-com.
Kosoko: It makes you cry, and it makes you sob, but it’s a beautiful movie.
Jeff: It really is. I don’t mind sobbing in the middle of a rom-com. You brought up all those emotions,
Kosoko: Also “Kate and Leopold.” That’s another move that I rewatched again recently. And that’s a good one.
Jeff: That is a good one. I almost forgotten about that one. Now that’s on my watch list for the weekend.
Kosoko: I had a person who interviewed me before and I was like “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally.” And she’s like, what are those? And I was like, wait a second. How do you not know our queen, Meg Ryan? Like what? I was insulted.
Jeff: You gave her a whole Netflix list to go watch.
Kosoko: I did. If you don’t know the queen Nora Ephron, then you need to like redo all of your like cinema.
Kosoko: You have something perfect. I was like the quintessential orgasm scene in the restaurant. And she was like, I’ve heard of that, but I never saw it. I was like, oh my God.
Jeff: So, we’re gonna throw this question to you that I didn’t prep you for. Cause it’s one that maybe needed some prep. If this was getting cast as a rom-com, who are you putting in it as a wish list?
Kosoko: You ask me these questions that definitely need prep. So, the thing about black rom-com and black movies, is that there’s not many black actors, but there’s a whole other issue. So, when we cast, a little bit hard to find like in the right age range.
But I would probably cast if we weren’t caring about ages cause actors can play younger. Jesse Williams is Hudson, which was my inspiration. A guy named Rome Flynn is for Kian. If you took away his tattoos.
There’s a black girl in “How To get Away with Murder,” who would play Olivia and Divya doesn’t have a casting yet. I would need to find that for her. But those are probably like the main three.
Jeff: Okay. Yeah, because I was curious also who we played Divya. Cause she’s awesome.
Kosoko: She’s my favorite character in the whole book.
Jeff: I could see that because, I mean, the fact that you’ve created a lawyer who chills out as a bartender. Where did you even come up with that? Was that like just a 4 AM inspiration moment or?
Kosoko: So, I literally had that scene where Kian goes and meets Divya after the whole incident happens. And I was like, I’ve already met, like he met Hudson in a coffee shop. It’s kind of feels like I’m like repeating the same scene over again. And I’m like, how do I make this different? And I was like, what if Divya worked there because she used to work there and she just like enjoys it.
And I was like, you know what, let’s put it in here. And if my editor cuts it, then she cuts it. But it was like fun. And I think it’s as like depth to Divya’s character.
Jeff: Absolutely, cause I’m like, what a unique individual doing these unique thing that most lawyers just want to go home and chill after their finally done.
Kosoko: Right! I’m sure that she’s going to burn out eventually.
Jeff: Maybe she’ll just own her own business and move into that full-time when she’s done being a lawyer.
Kosoko: I mean, all of her loans are probably paid off anyway. So
Jeff: it’s interesting too, cause you mentioned the billionaire trope and yes, Hudson’s connected to this big family, but he doesn’t live as a billionaire and it’s an interesting play with that. And even some of the power dynamics there, I guess was that something that was always there for him to not do the family business?
Kosoko: Yeah. It was always going to be different than not do the family business. So, part of it is that like, so my day job is I worked in social justice and so I work in a lot of fields about like money and income and politics and how income plays.
And so that kind of helped me to write these characters. And I also fully agree, like it’s hard to write a billionaire character who’s actually sympathetic because like what issues do they really, really deal with? And so, I was like, how do I make Hudson more sympathetic as a character? And I wanted to have his growth to be finding his own path and not in the way of like a dramatic argument with his family. I wanted him to already be on that path and kind of need this romance to be the nudge that takes him there.
Jeff: And we’ve got a question from Rhonda, who’s a member of our Patreon community. She’s curious why you chose to tell the story through single point of view, rather than also giving us Hudson’s point of view. As you know, many romances are done with the alternating point of view, but here you, kept us all with Kian’.
Kosoko: So, Ronda’s going to be calling me out with this question. I wasn’t confident that I could do dual perspective. So, part one is that I am a first-person writer and dual perspective, first person if done well is exceptional, but if it’s done poorly, the two characters sound the same and it makes the book a mess.
And I don’t like writing third person. So, I was like, I don’t think I can do this. And so, I was like, well, then this only leaves me with one point of view and Kian just came to me so quickly, and so naturally, and so easily that I was like, I need to dive into this character like fully formed, because you would have gotten only half as much Kian if you had written in dual perspective.
And so, I’m happy with this choice, but I do think that it would have been interesting to see more of Hudson’s point of view. And I think it could have been like a good character study
Jeff: Years down the road, you can always come back like some authors have done and have.
Kosoko: Like Stephanie Meyers.
Jeff: Stephanie Meyers, I think didn’t E. L. James, do it with one of the “Fifty Shades” books maybe. You could have Hudson side of the entire story come out later.
Kosoko: Honestly, yes in 20 years this is exactly what I’ll do.
Jeff: It could be the anniversary edition.
Kosoko: That would be great, or even just like 50 pages in that, like, that would be fun.
Jeff: Because I have to imagine, to me, his anxiety level must run high, so often. Things with his family, Kian talking too much, sometimes. I could just see his mind ZZZZ.
Kosoko: Yeah, I would say if Kian is like always putting his foot in his mouth, Hudson is very much the type who has developed, especially being like such a perfect child or having to try and be that ways of like storing that inside. But like behind closed doors, he’s like a complete nervous wreck. Like I imagine if Kian’s house is a mess. I imagine Hudson’s to be everything meticulously in place.
Jeff: Yes. I agree, everything’s got a place and it must be there.
And Kian, one of the things I loved about him so much is the pop culture. And he, all, anybody that has to do is to read your bio, to know you are deep into movies and musicals and all that stuff.
Was it easy for those to flow into the story? Or were there places in your draft where you might put it in something like “insert pop culture reference here” to come back to it later?
Kosoko: And I think that’s part of why this book was so naturally a first person point of view, because these all came very easily to me. Like they float out. When I was drafting this, I was like, this is the pop culture reference that I want to put right here. There was never a time when I was like, how do we put a pop culture reference in here? They all flowed perfectly.
So perfectly, and so niche that there’s a “Grey’s Anatomy” reference in there specifically where Kian mentioned, he says just like Meredith Grey and Amelia have an argument. Like I don’t have to like you, but I love you because you’re my sister. There’s some exact same. My copy editor was like, I don’t think this is right. I think there’s something wrong here. And she went back and watched a whole half a season of “Grey’s Anatomy” to find the exact ten second moment. But it was like so niche, and then my boyfriend had to also look because it wasn’t the right one and we’ve been all day zooming through “Grey’s Anatomy” episodes to find this 10 second reference.
Jeff: Oh, my goodness. But I liked the commitment to authenticity and accuracy there.
Kosoko: Right. I was like, I can’t mess up a “Grey’s Anatomy” reference because I will be skewered.
Jeff: That’s true, because there are people who have binged those, how many ever seasons we’re at now, you know, multiple times.
Kosoko: That’s me, I’m that person I’ve seen the whole thing four times.
Jeff: So, as you wrote this book, and it’s been a while now that since you’ve written it, what’s your favorite scene?
Kosoko: So, it’s definitely the dressing room scene where he’s trying on the different clothes. That was actually the scene that sold the book.
So, when I was originally doing the drafting of it and we sold on proposal, which is only writing about a hundred pages I wrote 50 pages of the book and my editor who bought it was like, I just need a little bit more to just fully flesh out these characters. And actually that was the scene. So that was the end of the proposal at the end of the book. And so, I added that in the second draft. I just really, really loved that scene. I thought it was fun. I thought it was flirty. It’s kind of like the first, like hint towards sexualness in the whole book, which was my first time ever, like writing something more sexual. And so that scene is probably my favorite scene in the whole book.
Jeff: I can see that. There’s so much there. What you said, there’s a little bit, of Kian thinking about, you know, what it is to be in this store, because he feels he doesn’t belong there. Even though, you know, he’s with Hudson who, has all this money. I mean, clearly, you know, can probably buy the store if he wanted to.
Jeff: It puts so many things into place for the characters, so early on in the book.
Kosoko: Yeah. I think it’s very much you understand all the tones, the motivations, and everything from this chapter.
Jeff: Exactly, and it, yeah, if there was anything that kind of, like I said, clicked everybody into place, it was like, okay now I understand so much more about Kian and Hudson and this journey they’re about to be on.
And I do have to tell you that you kept the turns coming. Like I thought we had had the black moment. At one point, it’s like, oh, oh, that, okay. Then they kind of recovered from it. I’m like, okay, low angst, black moment happened here. Great, cause I’m all about the low angst.
Jeff: And then, you know, for people who are… I’m not going to spoil it if they have it read it. We’ll spoil it in the book club episode for sure. But then we got a little further down to the wedding and I’m like, oh.
Kosoko: Yeah, the wedding.
Jeff: The wedding, and all that went down there. I mean, if ever there was a “Dynasty” moment in this book.
Kosoko: Yep. Yep. That’s it. That wedding was a clusterfuck.
Jeff: I will tell you my one bit of casting in this, if I could have it, Diahann Carroll, as Johnannah.
Kosoko: Oh, okay. I can see it.
Jeff: Yeah, I love the grandmother so much.
Kosoko: Oh yeah. She was a fun character. I like writing strong women, pretty epic. Somebody said that they were like Kosoko likes writing strong women. I was like, there is not a book that I write that doesn’t have strong women in it. So yeah, they were all fun to write.
Jeff: So, the other thing I thought was so interesting in the dynamics that you bring up here, and some of the things that go on is Kian very much wants this job at the Buzzfeed-like place called Spotlight. Despite the fact that he was warned that the guy that runs the place, Randall, was not a good person, he goes for it anyway.
And then you bring in something that we don’t see a lot, which is, a male being attempted sexual assault by a male. And I just, you know, it’s a very uncomfortable scene certainly to read, but I thought it was also interesting to bring that out, to be like, yes, this really can happen. And the way it all played out from there was also, you know, I really liked how strong some of your characters were in defending against it. For the most part, most of them were, but how some of the other characters were like, oh, look what you did.
How did you decide to bring something like that into the story and make that be a thing for Kian to deal with?
Kosoko: So, it started out more as like a traditional rom-com tropes, so kind of work backwards.
I want it to have the quintessential, like boyfriend lover, like defends the honor of the main character. And so, when I was like, Hudson gonna punch somebody, it’s probably going to happen. And so, I was like, how do I make this feel authentic, especially if it’s going to happen at a wedding. And I was like, I don’t want him to be drunk. Cause that’s like boring. We’ve done that before. And then I was like, as I wrote the book more, it was like the social justice theme. And we don’t talk about these things. Like you said, we don’t talk about male sexual assault, or the attempt of it. I wanted to keep this commentary about how many black people in the gay community are viewed more as objects sometimes by white counterparts for their like sexual powerlessness, which is like a crazy thing, but like black gay men deal with that so often. I dealt with that when I was younger at gay clubs. And so, I wanted to like mention it and I wanted to talk about it.
Jeff: It, like I said, It worked so well, and honestly, I thought that’s where the black moment was going to be. But it was not, it was like…
Kosoko: We get darker.
Jeff: Well, it got darker, but I mean, between Hudson and Kian it wasn’t really, I mean, it was a thing obviously, cause it was trauma, but they supported each other to the other side of it, as opposed to one of them, you know, being frustrated or walking away from the other or whatever that could have been. I felt like it actually in the long run kind of drew them closer together to set us up for, for much more later.
Now in terms of the social justice themes, for as many as there are, in “I’m So (Not) Over You,” you went very much down that path, in the book that came out about a month after “I’m So (Not) Over You,” which is called “Survive the Dome.” Which I actually reviewed earlier in this episode. I love it so much. It also may be very tense reading the book.
Kosoko: The book did its job.
Jeff: It did its job. And of course, this YA thriller is so different from the rom-com. Tell us about what Jamal experiences in Baltimore.
Kosoko: Sure. “Survive the Dome” follows Jamal Lawson, who is an aspiring journalist. See a pattern here.
Jeff: There is a pattern. We’ll talk about that later.
Kosoko: A high school student who wants to be a journalist and so he goes to a Black Lives Matter protest after the acquittal of a cop who killed a black man in Baltimore. And during his time there, Baltimore activates this thing called The Dome, which is literally what it is. It’s a giant light-based dome that traps everything inside communications, people, and everything, to basically quell the violence and he gets trapped inside.
There he teamed up with a hacktivist named Marco and an AWOL army graduate named Catherine and they team together to take down this dome, this militarize and corrupt police force, and basically try to survive a weekend inside of basically a hellscape Baltimore that is overrun by corrupted officials.
Jeff: This story, for better or worse, actually feels like it could play out in the near future. This really feels like it could happen tomorrow. You know, technology being what it is. How did you kind of set things up so it could be now, but also, you know, a little bit further out there too? So, you were keeping us in modern times with a little tweak here or there.
Kosoko: The idea first came like as its first very seed was when I was watching a documentary about, I think it was in Russia or Russians were using sound-based weapons to cause nausea and headaches among people inside of an embassy. And I was like, that is a horrible thing, but like, it’s so interesting that you’re giving these people like tinnitus and headaches and stuff and making them leave buildings and making them being unable to work. And it’s a very unintrusive weapon that no one really thinks about. And so that kind of just spun this idea about like technology and the idea of being used on its own people.
I’m a huge science fiction fan I, for better or for worse, love like spy based in other things. I think the CIA is one of the most corrupt organizations in the world, but also one of the coolest organizations in the world at the exact same time. And so, when the unfortunate incident with George Floyd happened, I was in New York during Covid. I couldn’t go and protest because it was the height of New York Covid. And I want it to have some way of writing my own resistance and to contribute. And this idea literally came fully formed like three days later.
Jeff: And it’s a great commentary on the whole thing. Just taking COVID out of, you know, what Jamal’s going through here and having to go to the protest and then this whole other thing erupts at a protest, because we certainly saw so many things are erupt at the various protests in 2020. So, you could just see a dome being a natural reaction to that, unfortunately.
Jeff: You start the book, so somberly and fittingly, I think, with what amounts to at least in the ebook to be about seven pages, I think, of names of people of color who have been killed by the police going back from, I think you start in 2021 and then go backwards into like the 1940s. Such a powerful statement. When did that come to be part of what would be in this book?
Kosoko: That came last actually. I started writing this book and I really struggled with how much social justice I wanted to talk about in this book. I knew it was going to be obviously a social justice book, but this book hits really heavy on social justice.
And when I was drafting it and I finished it and I was like, I don’t know who this dedication is going to be for. Like, I have promised my mom, her one book dedication, which she got on my first debut. And so, like dedications are this thing that I always had to had to figure out. And I was like, this book would not be the book it is, unfortunately, without the black and brown people who have died by the police. And there’s already dedications, acknowledgements of the activist who in our time have really worked to change those things. But I don’t think it’s right to not talk about people who lost their lives. And so, I wanted to put that somewhere in the book.
Jeff: How did you research some of that to go all the way back to the forties like you did?
Kosoko: Luckily enough, I actually employed a college sociology student from Columbia to do the work for me because I suck at research. And I was like, there is a student who needs to be paid. I was like, they exist. I used my network on Twitter and I was like, I want a student, someone who’s in like the department of sociology or history. And luckily enough, like actually a black student who goes to Columbia, reached out to me.
Jeff: That’s awesome cause as much as anything can be put together with love and care. I felt like that list was put together with love and care to get it right, and to go as far back as possible. Probably as far back as you could giving, you know, how sketchy historical records can go back.
Kosoko: It was hard to go back any farther, and I was like, I would rather have a list that is as accurate as possible without trying to like make inferences. Like you said, like history gets a little bit blurry. How records were kept, actually, even if somebody was like black or not, can be hard to find that you go back further.
Jeff: Hey, it’s funny. You say you suck at research, cause this is going to affect the next question, potentially. How much technology did you have to suss out to get the dome and what Marco does as a hacktivist kind of feeling authentic?
Kosoko: I am lucky. It feels authentic because none, I didn’t do any research. I was like hmm. There’s literally like a scene where he is like, I can hack this militarized suit that the police do. And he says, give me three hours. And then we time jumped three hours. Cause I’m like, I don’t know how to hack. I barely know how to start up my computer. So, I was like, I’m not going to be able figure this out. So yeah, it’s the typical science fiction where we just throw words on a page.
Jeff: As somebody who’s written a set of books with a teenage hacker, it worked for me.
Kosoko: Oh, yay. That’s really good.
Jeff: And you know, I think part of it too, is you weren’t in Marco’s head.
Jeff: Which I was in the hacker’s head. So, I had to at least know to figure out some of it. But staying with Jamal, the journalist, you know.
Kosoko: That was easier.
Jeff: That was easier.
Kosoko: I know that we can have programs that automatically run if like X isn’t done.
I know that we can do things like that. I know that we can pinpoint and triangulate locations. I know the basics.
Jeff: The dynamic that you set up between Jamal, Marco and Catherine was so amazing the way they help each other, but yet they’re kind of wary each other of each other as they kind of, you know, meet up for the first time. And even as they’re getting together and like figuring out what to do next, but ultimately that team bonding thing, there was so many emotions and issues and everything with it.
With that first person point of view that you’ve got with Jamal, did you ever want to go write Marco or Catherine for any piece of that to go like, be really interesting what they’re doing over here, because there are times the three of them are suddenly separated for reasons.
Kosoko: Yeah. So, I wrote one chapter that I knew wasn’t going to be put into the book of like Marco’s interrogation. And I knew that wasn’t gonna be put in the book, but I put it in there just for like a little bit understand more, what would happen during like an interrogation or how someone would be treated.
In fact, that interrogation that didn’t get put in the book, had a pretty violent police brutality scene inside of it, which got morphed into Jamal seeing Marco getting beat up by the police as like a way to like entice him to give them the information that they wanted. So, it had its purpose, and it became something else.
But I just kind of loved the trio dynamic in all of literature. We always tend to have like one girl and two guys, right? I think those trios are like really, really great. “Hunger Games.” All of them. They’re really, really good. And so, I wanted to like write my own version of that, but also subvert it a little bit. I think all trios to make them successful, have someone who is like the moral compass, someone who is the bruiser, and someone who is smart. Typically, the moral compass or the smart person is the girl. So, like, why don’t we make the girl, the bruiser? Have the main character be the one who is like the, just one and have the love interest be the nerdy one.
Jeff: Yeah. I was really happy to see Catherine put into that role much like Katniss was because Katniss was the bad-ass girl. And here Catherine is the bad-ass girl.
Kosoko: She was. Katniss was some inspiration from my girl. They were. She was a big inspiration.
Jeff: Jamal and Marco are so sweet once they get to the point where they can trust. It’s always those things that you run into when you’re writing a suspense, thriller finding those pause moments to let them have the romance. Because they can breathe for a second, as opposed to running around scared or, you know, doing their attacks or whatever. How did you find it as an author to kind of find those, those quiet moments for them to let their relationship grow a little bit?
Kosoko: “Survive the Dome” is definitely my least romantic book, which I found very interesting and also kind of refreshing to write. Like this romance, I would say is like the tertiary part of the book, and it kind of just comes naturally through the story. Like who knows if we can figure this one for a series, if Marco and Jamal would actually be like an OTP that ended up together, but in this moment, like they need each other and they have enough in common and they’re very good together. And I like to think they would end up together in the long run.
They just came naturally. Like I felt like the scene in the house, like that was a very good pause moment. And that seemed like a great time to start that romance. The walking around town was another pause moment. Them in the motel together, the ending, I was like, we’ve got to wrap this up. We can’t leave this open-ended we kind of got a kiss or something. And so, I just wanted to have it because I think it’s important that like, we tend to have books that are like super romance heavy and like lack in this action, or super action heavy and lack in the romance. And I wanted to show like, again, queer readers that like you can have both.
Jeff: Absolutely, yeah, I just, I love it when it works that way. You can have both.
Jeff: And I think that’s so important in queer YA literature that you get all the facets of who you can be through the characters. Cause you may not have to say that. Yeah.
I have to say that I felt like the leader of Nemesis, who we only saw ever so briefly, could have been Olivia.
Kosoko: We got the crossover.
Jeff: There’s a little crossover there.
Kosoko: She is in Georgia and she’s doing this from her computer. I love it.
Jeff: Just the little bit we saw over I’m like, Hmm. That could be Olivia in a parallel universe.
Kosoko: This is what happens when you’re writing two books at the same time.
Jeff: Was there overlap in the writing?
Kosoko: There wasn’t much overlap. So, I started writing “Dome” in, it was like the summer of 2020, actually there was significant amounts and until December, and then I wrote “I’m So (Not) Over You” from April into the end of the year. So, there was some insignificant overlap.
Jeff: Some overlap and no doubt overlaps and just getting the edits done.
Kosoko: Yeah. Oh, the edits, I will never do this again. Two books that come out a month apart, I was doing copy edits and developmental edits at the exact same time. “Dome” was really able to come out a week after “I’m So (Not) Over You.”
Jeff: Oh my gosh.
Kosoko: Right. And I was like, I can’t y’all I can’t I’m so burnt out.
Jeff: Thankfully they were two very different books.
Kosoko: Oh yeah, and I have a third one coming out in December. So, this year is busy.
Jeff: Which is awesome. I can’t wait for your next book.
Kosoko: Thank you.
Jeff: You’ll definitely get to talk about here in, just in a little bit.
In terms of the adventures that Jamal and Marco and Catherine had through the dome. Oh gosh, they go through so much stuff. Was there ever something you were like, hmm, I don’t want to do X to them. And you had to kind of pull back for a second.
Kosoko: Yeah. I didn’t want to have them like, see someone like brutally killed, like right in front of them. Like, there’s a lot of scenes of violence. Like even when the dome first happens and there’s like a riot. We hear in like Jamal, see like bodies on the ground and he like notes. He’s like, I’m not sure if these people are still breathing or not. There’s riots where people are getting beat up by the police. There’s a storm of the Nemesis raid where people get captured. But I never wanted to write like someone like flat-out being shot in front of them, because I think there’s a balance between trauma for the point of propelling the story and also black and brown trauma just to like be trauma porn.
And I wanted to thread that really, really carefully. I mean, Marco being beat up by the police, is probably the most traumatic thing that happens in the book, especially cause like Jamal has to witnessed that. Which has always been a big point of controversy for a lot of readers. And I wrote that scene on purpose because I think that we all believe that like in an activist moment or activists, they’re supposed to be like perfectly holier than now people who never make the wrong choice. But when someone that you care about is about to be killed in front of you, and you can give up somebody who is not really there or a tangible thing, nine times out of 10, most people would choose to save the person in front of them.
Jeff: It’s a no-win situation. That’s how I looked at it. If, if he didn’t give it up, he’d bad, things are gonna happen. And if he did. Bad, things were going to happen.
Kosoko: Right. And most things in life are no-win. Like, adult choices are often no-win scenarios.
That’s a very bleak thing to say, but it’s very true.
That’s like living, you learn about it, that you just make the choice that is the best choice possible. This is like not even a spoiler, but in like one of my next books. I mentioned that like sometimes the right choice and the good choice are often not the same thing.
Jeff: So hopefully not giving away too many spoilers to “Dome,” but I have to know as a reader, any possibility of revisiting Jamal and what he’s doing?
Kosoko: The simple answer is talk to Sourcebook, my publisher. There’s currently no plans for a sequel, but like, we’ll see how sales do. Like, there’s always a possibility to review it later and revisit it later. I have sequel ideas.
Jeff: I am sure you do.
Kosoko: I would love to. I love these characters. I love these three. When I first started writing and I wasn’t sure I was gonna fall in love with them, but I like, they are a great group of kids to write.
Jeff: Yeah, so listeners out there who pick up “Survive the Dome,” if you love it, as much as I did, maybe drop an email or tweet at Sourcebooks to go, we need more of this book. Cause yeah, they were brilliant. I could read them all day long.
You say in your bio that you write YA novels, that champion holistic representation of black queer youth across genres. And I certainly think that that sentiment extends over to “I’m So (Not) Over You” as well. The way that you give us this holistic representation of these two adults. With the POV’s really of both books. I mean, I feel like I got a look inside an experience that I don’t live at all.
We’ve talked about this a little bit, but you know, let me just ask kind of the direct question here, the approach that you take to bring this authenticity to your stories, and then managed to weave it into the narrative so that it doesn’t become like an information dump that I’m like, please understand all of these things, but something that keeps coming up very organically through the stories, whether it’s, you know, just like how Kian and feels going into a clothing store or really Jamal’s entire experience in Baltimore.
Kosoko: So, I got a really good piece of advice when I was young writer, when I started to write black characters, which is that readers by default, for no fault of their own probably because we have so much white main characters. If you do not remind them every now and then the character is black or Latinx, they are going to assume the character is white. I think a good example is the “Hunger Games” and Ru. We’re still having these arguments that like Ru is not black in the book.
And so that’s like a big thing that I take in mind that like info dumping, and just putting like in the very, very front, like this is how it is to be black. And here are the struggles of blackness is not as powerful as threading it to the story because it shows how pervasive, if it’s a book about white supremacy, a book about racism is actually inside of these communities, without bogging down the reader, in a way that’s like, oh, this really affects every asset.
Like being black, is itself, a political identity and everything about this affects every single thing. Like there is not a scene with Kian where his blackness is probably not a major feature. And if you had made him white, the scenes would be drastically different. Same thing with Jamal. Jamal was in the dome as a white person, his outcome with a bit drastically different. And so, I want it to have the readers see that like all of these choices that he makes, that any of my characters make, and are also made for them, and upon them is definitely taken into consideration by their race and their sexuality.
Jeff: And that honestly, the stories are brilliant, but this gives another layer to it for people just to take in and honestly add to their everyday life, just so they understand better a life that is not theirs.
Kosoko: Exactly, and that was the goal, like to hopefully make this book a window into somebody else, into another life.
Jeff: But I think also for persons of color, probably amazing representation for them in the love story and in the young adult story too, if a teen picks that up.
Kosoko: Yeah. I’ve had a lot of POC readers mentioned that and it’s been very good. Like that was the conduct of the biggest thing that I was worried about. And it’s just like the black experience is not a monolith. And like talking about police brutality is a big thing, but I’ve had a lot of POC readers read that like, they like love this representation and they haven’t seen a book like this.
It’s not even a spoiler, but like Catherine is also ace in the story. And it’s mentioned like in the last chapter, very briefly. And like to even have somebody have that representation, they were like, this is great. I say that because it doesn’t spoil it. It doesn’t change the story at all. But I had a reader who like messaged me that was like, “Hi, I’m a Latinx and I’m ace. And I’m wondering like, did you put this sentence in here to have Catherine say that she’s ace.” And I was like, yes!!! It’s there and It’s so nuanced and it’s smaller too. Like, I really appreciate that it wasn’t a 15 page discussion.
Jeff: Yeah, especially in terms of coming out stories. I really like it when it can just be zip.
Jeff: And it doesn’t have to be a true coming out moment. Like yes, I’ve said it and now we can move on, you know, kind of like if I could just tell you my pronoun and we move on or whatever that is. You know, quote unquote normalizing it.
Kosoko: Yeah, exactly, and that’s my goal as an author.
Jeff: So back to that thing we talked about earlier, Jamal and Kian, both journalists, and you are too. What does make the journalist such a good character for you to work with?
Kosoko: It was unintentional. It was completely unintentional. So, which is funny because I also need to update that bio, because I wrote this bio back in the day when I was like doing freelance journalism. I don’t do that anymore. But I was, and my mother worked for the National Association of Black Journalists. My boyfriend’s a journalist. I have a lot of journalists around me in my life.
Jamal being a journalist. was like the right thing, technically if these two characters like met, Jamal would be low and he’s like, I was the journalist first and like, yeah, he was the journalist first. Kian’s journalism is not really integral to the story. Like we could have changed it to be any job and make Spotlight be any other thing. And it still would have worked. I think I just made Kian a journalist because I needed something comforting to write and I knew how to write a journalist. And there’s a lot of rom-com that have journalists. Also “The Holiday” has a journalist in it.
And so like, it’s just such a good rom-com character that we always need to have it like “Roman Holiday” has a journalist. I think rom-com’s love their investigative characters who have to like investigate a person, but they discovered their love along the way.
Jeff: So, going back in your history, what got you started writing fiction?
Kosoko: So, I wrote my first story when I was six years old. And it was a story that I read during my parents during the commercial breaks of “Wheel of Fortune.” And it was about two kids who went into the woods and got eaten by a bear. And my parents were like, you need help. And I was like…
Jeff: That’s bleak.
Kosoko: I was six years old! I always knew that I wanted to write. I always enjoyed writing. It’s just like a hobby. I didn’t seriously start writing until like 2013. When I was like, again, very much with my rom-com, I woke up in the middle of the night and I was like, I’m going to be a published author. No idea how to do it, but it’s going to happen.
And then I just started writing stories. Like I started, I always wrote fantasy stories and science fiction. My first three novels that I wrote were pure science fiction. 2019, 2018. I got my agent. Sold this in 2020. Well, late 2019, and it was published in 2021.
Jeff: That’s awesome. Do you still have the bear story? Like in a drawer somewhere or a trunk or something.
Kosoko: It was like, it had illustrations. So, I don’t have it anymore. I do have my first ever novel that I wrote. I wrote it when I was like 15 years old. On my own personal laptop. And it was a fantasy story about these four kids. Obviously, I was watching “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” It was about four kids who each like, control the elements, but they were each facets of this goddess. And it had like very deep commentary for a 15-year-old because the whole like continent was like half of them believe they were actually the reincarnation of this goddess split into four.
And the other half was like, this is propaganda done by the king to control us. And I was like, what were you doing at 15 talking about propaganda?
Kosoko: About a Dictator.
Jeff: Did we get to have that book edited someday? Maybe?
Kosoko: Maybe because that was a good story. I re-read it like a couple of months ago. Drama, the writing sucks.
Jeff: I wasn’t going to make you publish that version, but take the idea, anyway.
Kosoko: There was like, oh, it was just, it was, there’s no gay characters. There’s like one gay character who was like, definitely coded as gay but he’s fully straight and I’m like, this is a gay. You need to make this a gay.
Jeff: What is something that you’ve read recently you’d recommend to our listeners?
Kosoko: So, from the rom-com, Julia Whelan who’s one of my favorite authors has a new book coming out this year. It’s called “Thank You for Listening” and it’s a rom-com between an actress who becomes an audio book narrator, who has to team up with the most like secretive narrator of like romance and erotica stories to do this like new book and they hate each other and it’s enemies to lovers. And it’s an amazing book. Like Julia wrote “My Oxford Year.” It’s one of my favorite books of all time and I absolutely love it.
And then Ryan La Sala has a book coming out in the next couple of months called “The Honeys.” Which is very much like “Midsommar,” but with beekeeping and it’s like weird and gender fluid main character. It’s set in a boarding school and it’s great.
Jeff: Wow, okay, both of those are going on, my TBR. And what’s coming up for you next. You’ve got the next book coming out later this year.
Kosoko: Yeah, so my next book comes out in December, this year. It is called “A Dash of Salt and Pepper,” the second rom-com of mine. And it follows a guy named Xavier who loses his job, loses his boyfriend, and loses a fellowship in Germany that he was vying for after getting his MBA. And has to return home to Harper’s Cove Maine, which is basically my version of Stars Hollow, and live with his parents.
He left the small town. He was going to be like the successful one who got out. So coming home is like an abysmal idea. But lo and behold, he gets a lucky opportunity when someone drops out of this Berlin fellowship, but he has to raise $6,000 in order to reserve his spot. And there’s only one job available in town, which is working for Logan O’Hare who owns this hip new restaurant called The Wharf and who needs a sous chef. At least that’s what Xavier thinks until it turns out he actually needs a lowly, grunt prep chef. And it’s this like love story between this older man who’s a single father and has an age gap romance. He has a plunky 13-year-old teenager named after Anne from “Anne of Green Gables” and this like push and pull restaurant romance between two people who are very unlike each other, but learn to like, love each other along the way.
Jeff: Oh my gosh. I need that now. Stars Hollow, chef’s, food, I’m there. Age gap, age gap’s one of my favorite things. Cause it’s always interesting to see how those dynamics play.
Kosoko: It’s a fun book. Like Logan is very much inspired by Milo Ventimiglia, which is how the Stars Hollow thing came. I’m like, it’s Milo Ventimiglia with tattoos and a beanie and with like salt and pepper hair. And my editor was like, write it right now. Like I don’t even know anymore.
Jeff: What else is on your release schedule that you can maybe tease us about?
Kosoko: What else is on my release schedule? A lot. I have my next YA that comes out next year. I think it’s fall of 2023. It’s called “The Forest Demands It’s Due” and it’s my foray into gothic fantasy horror. It follows Douglas, who is a black kid who gets an elusive invitation to this very prestigious boarding school in upstate Vermont after he was almost found guilty of setting a fire that killed 13 people in Washington, DC, that he swears he did not do.
And this acceptance into the boarding school is given to him by the headmaster at Regent Academy, who is a king and queen making school across the world. So, he takes the invitation basically to get himself an acquittal for this trial. Attends the school, thinking that he’s just going to be a token black kid, but quickly learns that Regent Academy and Winslow, Vermont has this curse. If anyone who dies inside of the town is stricken from everybody’s memory and stricken from existence, but it turns out the Douglas has the ability to remember the people who are dead, which is generally reserved to only the people who are descendants of the original founders of Winslow and a curse that was placed on this town by this old God, back in the 1600s. Douglas has no connection, no blood test or anything that makes them linked to this town. So how can he remember people like a normal descendant could? And it has a lot of like Gothic horror, boarding school, dark academia, a murderous forest, and a Gothic love story.
Jeff: I don’t even know how to process all that, but I’m very intrigued by it. You kind of had me with, and he remembers. You write so many different, you know, you’ve got the couple of rom-com’s, and each of your YA’s are also very different. How does your agent deal with all these very different books? Cause I don’t think you can say at this point that there is a brand that is Kosoko Jackson.
Kosoko: Yeah, so, my agent and I had a long talk about it in the very beginning. And so like, my brand is just like social justice and black queer main characters, who like, don’t die. That’s kind of like my Jordan Peele-esque brand. And so like, that’s the thread that I keep between my books. Like, a Kosoko Jackson book has all the same themes. Social justice, like black people finding their place in the world. The genre might change but that’s always a quintessential theme. I, in every facet of my life, my jobs, I have jumped, probably six jobs in the past, like five years.
My like professional academics, I did like four different majors in college. I’ve never been someone who settles, and I used to be considered me being flighty, but am I writing, like it’s helped me explore things that I like really want to explore.
You always can’t explore the same fields and the same themes and same genres. And I’m very, very lucky to have an agent who supports that.
My agent Jim McCarthy at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret is like, “Yeah, like let’s write it. Like I can find a way to sell it. If you write it, I can find a way to try and sell it.”
He sometimes will be like, this doesn’t work, cause it’s too far out there. I also only sell on proposal. So, there’s like also that limitation of, we have a very frank conversation when I come up with an idea that like, based on the market or the type of book you’re trying to write, this needs to be written as a whole book.
Like a new version of “Call Me by Your Name” cannot sell a proposal because like the, you have to stick the landing with the full book. But I’m really lucky to have that type of agent. “Forest” was a passion project of mine that I’m very lucky that it sold.
I was trying to think of the next book to write. My contracts with Sourcebooks were up. I didn’t know what I wanted to write. Jim was like, what’s the book that you’ve always wanted to write, and I was like I had just had a conversation with Holly Black about writing a werewolf book. And I was like, but werewolves, don’t sell and she’s like, why the fuck don’t they sell?
And so, then I was like, let’s try to make it a werewolf book. And this turned out to not be werewolf book, but it’s sold in 17 days. It’s like the fastest sale I’ve ever had in my life.
Jeff: Wow. Congratulations. That’s awesome.
Kosoko: Thank you.
Jeff: And thank you, Jim for letting him write so much.
Kosoko: Oh, don’t tell Jim that because I have already emailed Jim about five new ideas and he was like, none of these are in …
Jeff: How can people keep up with you online so they know when all of this stuff and the future things are coming?
Kosoko: The lucky thing about me is that my name is everything. So, because Kosoko Jackson, K-O-S-O-K-O, Jackson is my Twitter handle, my Instagram, and my Face… Well, it is my Facebook, but I don’t use that, and my website.
Jeff: Fantastic. We will link to all of that. I encourage everybody to follow you on Twitter because I love your Twitter feed. Kosoko, it has been so awesome talking to you. Thank you for these wonderful books and looking forward to what’s coming next.
Kosoko: Thank you for having me. It’s just so much fun.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. The show notes page also has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: And in the universal book links that we use on the show notes, you’ll find links to the audio books that are available on Libro.fm, which include Kosoko’s books. Libro.fm is the place that when you buy an audio book, you’re also supporting a local bookstore of your choice. Listeners to the Big Gay Fiction Podcast have the opportunity to get a two month audio book membership for the price of one. For details, and to take advantage of that offer simply go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm that’s L-I-B-R-O-F-M.
And thanks so much to Kosoko for taking some time to talk with us. I really could have kept going with him, especially geeking out with him about pop culture. We talked a lot about pop culture before and after the interview, and I had such a good time with that. I’m so excited to read what comes next from him as I am so hooked on his storytelling.
And remember our Big Gay Fiction Book Club deep dive discussion on “I’m So (Not) Over You” is coming up next Thursday, April 28th. So, you’ve still got some time to read that super fun book before that episode drops.
Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up on Monday in episode 373. It’s that time again, we recap another episode of “Dante’s Cove.”
Jeff: That’s right. More supernatural craziness to talk about. Plus, we’re going to have a retro interview featuring Jackie North as she is re-releasing her “Oliver and Jack” books.
Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself we want to thank you so much for listening, and hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kind of stories we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Production assistance by Tyson Greenan. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.