Jeff & Will begin this milestone episode with a look at two TV series perfect for the Halloween season: Chucky and Interview with the Vampire.

For the second part of the series focusing on the Black Love Matters essay collection, Kosoko Jackson talks about his essay, which focuses on representation in media and three Black queer characters from television that influenced him. He also discusses his recent experience at the Toronto International Film Festival, and shares details about A Dash of Salt and Pepper, his new rom-com which hits the shelves in December.

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Show Notes

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Will: Coming up on this episode, we continue our discussion about the “Black Love Matters” essay collection with author Kosoko Jackson.

Jeff: Welcome to episode 400. Yes, I said 400! Of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Jeff, and here with me, as always, is my co-host and husband, Will.

Will: Hello Rainbow Romance Reader. We are so glad that you could join us again for another episode of the show, especially landmark number 400.

Jeff: Perhaps you’ve been with us for 400 episodes. We are so glad if you’re one of our very long time listeners. I can’t believe it’s 400. This is a big number. It’s got those two zeros after it and everything. It’s really kind of fun. Happy 400.

Will: I was just trying to come up with what is something that is analogous to 400 and all I could come up was a sea turtle, maybe. We’re as old as a sea turtle, y’all .

Jeff: And in just a couple of weeks the podcast will become an eight year old coming up a little later this month, so milestones to come.

Halloween TV Recommendations

Will: Anyway, before we get to our discussion with Kosoko, we wanna briefly touch on some of the seasonal things that Jeff and I have been watching recently. Two spooky shows that have recently had the premiers, “Chucky” and “Interview with the Vampire.”

First off, let’s talk about the premier of season two of “Chucky.” We really loved last year. And the first episode of the new season resolved some of the cuckoo bananas cliff hangers that our characters found themselves in. After our preteen characters have dealt with the aftermath of everything that happened, there’s a bit of a time jump as we move forward in a new direction for a new season. Something I’m very much looking forward to.

And of course, at the center of it all are the utterly adorable Jake and Devon, who, in the midst of all of this murder and mayhem, are the little princes of preteen romance. They’re just so dang cute.

Jeff: I don’t think I could describe them better actually. I’m so happy this show’s back, and I don’t say that about horror often. I mean, it was just a couple weeks ago on the show that I was comparing myself to a certain romance hero who doesn’t do horror well in, Roan Parrish’s Halloween book.

But there’s something about the vibe of this show that creator Don Mancini gives it, that it’s horror but it’s somehow delivered, at least to me, in a very palatable way. Like I don’t, I don’t even really jump. There’s not even many jump scares in this show. And there’s something about the character of Chucky and his snarky banter that… I don’t know. It makes it utterly entertaining.

And like you said, you’ve got these two young men who just, you know, have purpose to go out and rid the world of Chucky, but then also have this super sweet romance that just continues to build. It built really wonderfully through the first season and in this first episode back for season two, it just continues to feel so sweet and so real and I really can’t wait to see what they do this year to up the stakes across the board.

If you wanna check out “Chucky” for yourself, the new season is airing weekly on USA and Syfy. It airs on both channels. And you can also catch season one streaming on Peacock, and eventually season two will get there too.

Will: So in addition to “Chucky,” another Halloween themed show recently premiered, and that is the eagerly awaited “Interview with the Vampire.” As of this particular recording, we’ve only been able to watch the premiere, but boy, what a way to kick off a series. I loved literally everything about that first episode. This series is lush and diverse, and I think for the very first time, it is able to be boldly and unapologetically queer, which I of course loved.

Jeff: Yeah. I love how they’ve made this show so very rooted in now but yet also acknowledging the history that Louis and Lestat have. How they’ve wrapped in, for lack of a better way to put it, I’ll say the original that they track back to interviews that might have happened in the seventies with this reporter who’s now talking to Louis in the present. How they built that.

How it’s set in New Orleans, cause New Orleans, you know, always has this thing as like a sexy city. And this New Orleans, 1910, I believe the year is, setting just gives it such a great vibe, especially, you know, given Anne Rice’s history in that city. Like you, I loved everything about this opening episode and I really can’t wait to see how it proceeds from here.

Will: If you’re interested in this new adaptation of “Interview with the Vampire” and wanna know what all of the fuss is about, you can check it out on AMC and AMC+.

Kosoko Jackson Interview

Jeff: All right, and now into this week’s discussion of “Black Love Matters.” In case you missed it last week, we talked to the collection editor, Jessica Pryde, and romance author and essay contributor, Adriana Herrera. And if you missed that episode, we certainly encourage you to go back and listen to that so that you’ve got all the background on this wonderful collection of essays.

And now we’re gonna be talking with author Kosoko Jackson about the essay he wrote, talking about the impact three Black queer characters had on him and why we all have a responsibility to speak out about representation. In addition, we will talk about his experience in the audience during a screening at the recent Toronto International Film Festival and how queer content was received. And then on a lighter note, we’ll also be talking about his upcoming rom-com that’ll hit stores this December.

Jeff: Kosoko, welcome back to the podcast. So glad to have you here to talk to us for a little bit about the “Black Love Matters” collection.

Kosoko: Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be back.

Jeff: For those folks who don’t know you, and if you haven’t read his book, “I’m So Not Over You,” that was a book club selection, you should definitely do that. But introduce yourselves to everybody so they know who you are.

Kosoko: Sure. I’m Kosoko Jackson. I am a YA and adult rom-com author. I write all my books focused on black queer characters who are going through some sort of metamorphosis and growth, be it through my YA, that focus on science fiction, love triangles or science fiction thrillers, to my adult romances that focus on second chance dating or even age gap romances with my new rom-com coming out at the end of this year.

Jeff: We’ll definitely be talking a little bit more about that before we’re done here too because we can’t wait for that book.

Kosoko: Aw, thank you.

Jeff: Tell us what brought you into the “Black Love Matters” collection and how you decided on what you wanted to write.

Kosoko: Yeah. Super lucky to be approached by Jessica, we’re both well-known and represented at Berkeley. And so, she messaged me and mentioned that they wanted somebody to help fill out the roster talking about Black love and the different facets of Black love, especially from, like, the queer male perspective, and I was super excited to contribute. So, I wrote and focused a lot about how a lot of the characters that I grew up with, queer Black characters, really informed and helped shape who I am as a person today, who the writer I am today, and just who as a consumer of media I am today. And it was really just a fun essay to contribute to.

Jeff: It was fun to read, but also incredibly insightful because you picked three really kind of diverse characters in the essay that was called, “Please Sir Can I Have Some More.” You really talked to, as you mentioned, the impact of the characters that you write. Tell us how you kind of came up with who the characters were and who those characters are for people who maybe have not read that essay yet.

Kosoko: Yeah. I mean, when it came to coming up with specifically some characters that inspired me, and those three characters were Ambrose from “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” the Netflix show, Oliver Grayson from “The Bold Type,” and Pray Tell From “Pose.” These were kind of like three of the characters that I think about really personify, like, different facets of myself.

I am a huge consumer of young adult literature. It’s what I write, it’s what I read, it’s what I consume, especially young adult entertainment. So, Ambrose has always been an incredibly interesting character to me. His bisexuality, how he balances like magic in his relationship with Sabrina Spelman and the whole Spelman family.

Grayson from “The Bold Type” was one of my favorite shows when it first came out. I remember just loving the, kind of, like, three-pronged dynamic and to also just see a powerful, unapologetic gay man who moves in a predominantly white, in this predominantly female space. I work in communications, which is predominantly white and predominantly female, so I really identify with that.

And Pray Tell for “Pose” came for me in a time when I was starting to really solidify my sexuality and who I was as a person, and to really balance that idea of masculinity and femininity was really just something really appealing and unapologetic to me that just really helped me see being gay as a new light.

So, when I was asked, I really wanted to focus on characters that also people might not have heard of. So I wanted to pick African-American characters, not your very much like typical ones I thought of using, and I cannot remember his name from that vampire show, “True Blood.” I thought about using him from “True Blood” but, like, everybody knows that character, and I never really watched “True Blood.” So I was like, what are characters that you actually personify, and also, how can we help to maybe uplift these characters that people had never heard of?

Jeff: Two of the three I had heard of, the “Bold Type” was a show that I had to go look it up and go, “Okay, that show,” because I never, for whatever reason, you know, clicked into that show, and now I actually wanna go back and watch it because of your discussion of that character.

Kosoko: Season 1 is really good, Season 2 I think is good. I think Season 3 and 4 go off the rails. I never watched that, just Season 2.

Jeff: And then… I mean, Pray Tell, I think, has become so iconic, you know now, that it was great to see how that also kind of played into it for you.

As you wrote the essay and really kind of dug in on these characters, was there anything that kind of caught you by surprise of like, “Oh, I hadn’t thought about this character in that way?”

Kosoko: I think Ambrose came to me first very, very easily when I was thinking about characters that, like, I personified with and who changed me. And Pray Tell was a very easy choice too. I was still, I think, watching “Pose” at the time. I think Grayson was a character that I wrote part… that second act of the essay last.

So, I didn’t have, like, really a third character really rounded out, and I never really thought about how being a Black man moving through white, predominantly female spaces actually affected me and made me think and actually influenced how I move. And I actually rewatched a couple episodes of “The Bold Type” when I was writing the essay, and to just really see that even directly or indirectly, I took a lot of keys from Grayson’s character and, like, my worth in these spaces and how to occupy space in a way that I hadn’t thought of before.

Jeff: How did each of these characters as you were moving through life and coming to when you wrote the essay, how much of an impact did you realize they were having on you at the time?

Kosoko: I think that, and it’s funny because all of these characters kind of came within like a short three or four-year span of each other. These are all fairly new shows. Like, I would say the Grayson from “The Bold Type” was in 2018, 2019. Ambrose was like 2021, and Pray Tell I believe was like 2020. So this came into a very, like, pivotal time when I had moved to the New York area. I was really on my own for the first time, and I realized that, like, this is the time when you’re really defining who you are.

I grew up in the Maryland DC area. I moved away from home when I was about 20 years old. And even when I moved away from home, I still stayed within the bubble of like 20 miles from my house. And my family lives in DC, so there wasn’t much of a chance for me to identify and figure out who I was. But when I moved to the New Jersey, New York area, that completely changed. And so these characters came to me at a time of metamorphosis, which I found to be pretty interesting because each one of them influenced me in a different way in a time when I need them.

Jeff: Your characters all come from TV, and I think most people consider this essay collection to be about books. Were you reading books and just not finding these characters or just the way things were, was TV, like, your predominant entertainment method at that point?

Kosoko: I think it’s funny because I’m a YA author and I’m an adult author, but I definitely watch more TV and watch more movies than I read books, which is a sinful thing to say. But I would say for every two books that I read, I probably watch 10 or 15 movies. So, I drastically take a lot of my influences for my books even from movies and TV shows. I love movie and TV, so when this essay was approached to me, I knew off the bat that I was going to take it from an entertainment, from a TV or a movie standpoint.

I also think movies and TVs are a lot more accessible to people than books are. I mean, if you think about more people watch TV than they do read, which is a sad thing, but when I was thinking about how do we get things into the mainstream media and how do we create acceptance and tolerance, it’s generally done in entertainment through movies or TVs, not so much through books because so many people consume that.

Jeff: And I think it’s a good message to have within this essay collection too, that representation across media matters…

Kosoko: Yeah. I feel…

Jeff: …and showing Black love through all of the media matters.

Kosoko: No, I definitely think that’s true. I think that we’re seeing more of an uptick of Black love in entertainment, especially in TV and cinema, more than we have before in other forms. I mean, books are obviously showing a huge uptick in that. I mean, the amount of diverse Black books that we have now is supremely higher than it was five years ago. But I still think that, like, the average person, when they come home, has a short attention span, and what they’re gonna do is they’re gonna sit in front of the TV when they’re eating dinner or when they’re trying to unwind, they’re not going to open “Anna Karenina” when they come home.

Jeff: That is probably very, very true.

Within the collection, was there a passage of an essay or an essay in its entirety that kind of surprised you or caught your attention the most?

Kosoko: That is a good question. I think Christina Jones’s essay on Black indie romance was really interesting to me because I had no… I’m very new to the indie, like, book area of marketing. I don’t really read much indie, and to see, like, the prevalence of Black indie books and romance in there and to see how it’s really an area where Black romance can thrive in a way that is different than publishing. And I always think about how if you don’t have a seat at the table, you find a way to make one. And so that’s, like, very interesting to me and a concept when even I have experienced how hard it is to get traditionally published Black romance publishers.

Now, it’s not perfect, nothing’s perfect, there’s always a sense of racism and uphill climb that comes, and I think the essay really talks about better really, really well. But I just never thought about how this space, Black romance, can occupy in indie, and it just made me more interested in exploring it.

Jeff: As you noted, there’s more now than there was, but there still needs to be so much more. But your essay, I think really captured it well because you could get the romances out, the promotion and everything, there can still be a struggle…

Kosoko: Exactly.

Jeff: …to get noticed in that huge pool of books.

Kosoko: A hundred percent.

Jeff: Now, we got a question from one of our patrons, RegencyFan93, and they ask, was there a book, or maybe, in your case, a film or a TV show, that was written by a person of color or had Black and Brown characters in it that were like, I could do this thing, I could write a book, or I could maybe write a screenplay or something to put my voice out into the world?

Kosoko: That’s actually a funny question. I’m actually not sure. Part of it was my own hubris and confidence that I could do it. Like, publishing is one part hubris, one part confidence, and one part thick skin and a dash of crazy. And so, like, I very much always knew that I was going to get published. I don’t know how it was gonna happen.

I would say that character-wise, and TV show-wise, or movie-wise, I think “Moonlight” had a big influence of me in the, like, 2018, I think it was. I personally, probably a sinful thing to say, did not like “Moonlight,” but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t influence me and show me that there is a space for Black love, there’s a space for the complexities in the multidimensions of it. there’s a space for literary Black stories that don’t have to be just about the ghetto, about drugs, about suffering. There can be those nuanced, longing tales that we see in historical fiction, that we see in like white indie pieces for Black consumers.

Jeff: And you started in YA, and “Moonlight” kind of the inspiration there, outside of your own hubris, of course, why did you pick YA first as opposed to romance, or frankly, any other genre that you could have gone for?

Kosoko: I always loved reading books when I was younger. Like, when I was younger, I read more than I watched TV. And I think books were a huge escape for me. I grew up in a kind of small town, I drove an hour for school every day, so I read a lot. And so I always thought that I wanted to write books to help the younger version of me when I’m older to, like, give back to those who have helped me, and they were my safe space. So, I wanted to create those books. Also, teenagehood is one of the most influential times for creating people and their points of view. So, if you want to change somebody, and you wanna make them a better person, then the best time to get at them is that middle school to YA age. So, I knew if I wanted to help to create a more tolerable and accepting world, that should be done through YA or middle-grade books.

Jeff: There are instances, unfortunately, way too often where readers will say, “That’s not realistic,” because of how they perceive Black people. We talked about this with Jessica and Adriana last week, and Jessica even mentioned how Beverly Jenkins had been approached by a reader a couple of decades ago now, but that reader said that they didn’t realize that Black people love the same way as whites. And, unfortunately, there’s still instances of this today. How do you deal with that, or do you deal with it, as you are writing and considering what you may have to extra explain to people, perhaps?

Kosoko: I mean, I deal with it all the time. I still get reviews from my books that say that, like, this isn’t realistic of how romance is. But, like, the way that gay romance happens, it’s not the same way as straight romance. Like, even our romantic beats are just different. Like, of course, we have the same feelings but, like, not to say that gay people are more promiscuous, but I would definitely say that, like, having casual sex that then evolves into a relationship is very common in gay culture.

I think a good example is the discourse surrounding, “Call Me by Your Name.” There’s a lot of discourse about these two characters, one who’s in their 20s and one who’s 17, I believe, Elio is. And a lot of straight people are like, “This is pedophilia.” That is not at all what it is. There are many young people, many gay people at 17, 18, who their first formative relationship is with an older man. Right or wrong, this is a huge facet of gay culture, and if you put a straight label and a straight lens on queerness, if you put a white lens on blackness, then, of course, you’re not going to understand the nuance of it.

So, I deal with that all the time. I deal with it when I write gay characters, I deal with it when I write Black characters. My book, “Survive the Dome,” I have so many people who are like, “This book shows police officers in too negative a light,” and I’m like, “Well, a lot of Black people only have negative experiences with police officers.” So, it’s a constant thing that I have to think about when I write books and I come off ideas, “How are people going to view this? What lens are they gonna have looking at this, and is this gonna affect their ability to understand the work?”

Jeff: Do you find that you end up changing what you write because of it, or do you just prepare to deal with all of it in the reviews and anything you say around the book as it comes out?

Kosoko: I think there’s some things that I changed. Like, to be frank, “I’m So (Not) Over You,” my first rom-com, is not a perfect rom-com. There are obviously some flaws of that book that come with it being a first book, and there’s some flaws of it being a new genre for me understanding romance and how to write romance conventions.

But there were definitely some things that readers took in droves that I was like, “This is how gay romance are perceived,” that I had changed for my next book because I understood that I was fighting too much of an uphill battle of trying to, like, change how people understand gay romance when I’m not trying to be a martyr with every book that I write.

Jeff: I shouldn’t laugh because it’s terrible you have to say that, but it’s also kind of comical at the same time.

Kosoko: Yeah, it is.

Jeff: You know, lived experience versus what one can put into a book and keeping to the genre conventions and such, which is important, but, you know, it all balances out somewhere hopefully.

Kosoko: Exactly.

Jeff: We talked a little bit with Christina’s essay a moment ago about kind of discoverability and indie authors and, you know, finding your way in that massive pool of books. How do we find these books? Because we’re always looking around for who’s writing what. What do we need to cover for the show. So many authors don’t necessarily have a bio photo, a headshot. How do we find these books to help elevate them when the discovery methods don’t seem to make that any easier than maybe it’s ever been?

Kosoko: I think it’s a really conscious effort. Like, I think we have to start somewhere. Like, we have to start like, for example, you have to pick… There are some Black authors that are easier to find just because of who they are, Brandon Taylor, Jason Reynolds. There are ones who have higher status. And so I like to always tell people to start there, find one of these bigger name authors, Jacqueline Woodson, and figure out, like, which one of their books do you like? And then when you read that book, if you look in the acknowledgements, if you look in their social media, many Black authors will uplift other Black authors. And to kind of just go down a rabbit hole of, like, experimenting and figuring out who we are reading and who we’re talking about and who we’re friends with.

It takes work because, like you said, the discovery method is not as easy when white authors are constantly… like for every 10 white authors, a publisher might talk about one Black author, it’s just how it is. So you have to put more actual conscious work into decolonizing your actual bookshelf and those stories that you’re reading.

And sometimes that means stepping out of your comfort zone to be uncomfortable and to read books that frankly aren’t good. I think a sign of progress and diversity is that not every book or movie or TV show that’s diverse has to be exceptional. We should have more mediocre work. And so that just means reading more widely, and maybe that means taking a year and reading… If you read 100 books a year, maybe 60%, 70% of your books should be by Black authors and switching the way that you consume your literature.

Jeff: I think the highlight on mediocre could be hard for some people to digest, but it kind of goes back to you saying that you didn’t like “Moonlight,” but you found things in it that resonated, that impacted you, that influenced you along the way. And I think that same can be true for books that we don’t connect with for whatever reason because there’s a myriad why a book won’t be for you, but you may still learn from it. So I think that’s a very interesting thing for people to maybe hold on to as they consider what to read.

Kosoko: Like a good example is “Wonder Woman.” Like, I remember when Patty Jenkins was talking about that “Wonder Woman” has to be a box office out of the box success or we won’t get another female superhero movie because women directors and women movies are not allowed to be mediocre because then that’s the excuse. That box office is used that, like, they don’t sell as well. And so, it goes back to an expression that you’ll see in a lot of my books, is that a Black character understands that they have to be twice as good to get half as far as a white man or a white character.

And that’s very much true for our modularized choices. Like, we don’t get the comfort of having mediocre entertainment because it always has to be groundbreaking. I think like this new movie, “Bros” that’s coming out. “Bros,” I don’t know, I think it’s not gonna be good, but I think that’s okay. Like, it doesn’t have to be good to be something important.

Jeff: I’m excited to see how that movie pans out at the box office.

Kosoko: Yeah, I’m really curious. I’m a little nervous, but we’ll see.

Jeff: You know the… I’m excited by the trailers. And by the time our interview here comes out, we’ll have already said what our take on the film is because it’ll have been out two or three weeks by the time this comes out. But it looks funny, it’s got talent involved in it, but then, you know, what’s gonna come to the screen? Because you can have talent involved and for it to be a hot mess on the screen later.

Kosoko: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Jeff: And it’s a good time to talk about film, since we just talked about “Bros,” which happened to have its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival…

Kosoko: It did.

Jeff: …where you recently were. You had a Tweet during your festival experience there where you mentioned about gay love and intimacy and romance being met with laughter at at least one of the screenings that you were in. Can you share about more a little bit there about what happened at Toronto that elicited that tweet?

Kosoko: So, I saw “My Policeman” with Harry Styles, which for all of you who do not know, is about Harry Styles plays a policeman in the 1950s, I believe, who is closeted and has a romance with a museum curator. At the same time though, Harry Styles, this policeman character, meets a woman, and based on how, like, how society is, he decides to marry said woman and the relationship of kind of like dealing with his hidden sexuality with this museum curator. And a lot of the drama that comes up during this time period, not to spoil it, but there’s a lot of drama that comes up around there.

And there was some very tender moments where Harry Styles and his museum curator boyfriend had very intimate romantic relationships and very much moments of that. And it was met with laughter of tender intimacy between gay love. And I was just thinking throughout the whole time. At first, I always thought it was because of, like, Harry Styles acting, but then it kept happening even during, like… There was no laughter when he was having straight sex. So I realized what it was. And it was just very odd and very uncomfortable to be a gay man in this theater, right or wrong about if the stuff was cheesy or not, it was just very weird to see people laughing at gay intimacy.

And it was kind of hurt and uncomfortable and realize that we actually haven’t come as far as I thought. I think we as Americans, right or wrong, think that Canada is like this incredibly tolerant place, and obviously Toronto Film Festival has a half a million people that come every year, so it has a lot of influences, but it was still just not what I was expecting from an audience that was a film-going audience, about movies that are supposed to push the genres.

Jeff: You very specifically and pointedly said that, you know, our, as in queer romance, is not a joke. How were the responses you got off that Tweet? Because certainly, there’s a lot of people that follow you for your film and media tweets.

Kosoko: The responses were…any responses about film were drowned out by the Harry Styles stans. So, my hotel that I was staying at was a 40-minute walk away, so I walked often. I posted that Tweet and got to my hotel about 30, 40 minutes later after talking to my mom on the phone and opened up my Twitter to over 400 quote retweets from Harry Styles fans about how dare we laugh at Harry Styles. You guys are horrible for laughing at Harry Styles. And so it completely got off the reins into people thinking that we were laughing at Harry Styles.

Jeff: How do you think we move on as a society from these types of things? We’ve had increased representation for a couple of decades now, and things seem to be advancing, but here’s an example of almost pandering to the lowest common denominator where you can’t see that in a movie and not laugh at it.

Kosoko: I think it’s complicated. I think this society has definitely evolved. I also think that, like, who is given evolution is very interesting. I don’t think I would’ve seen that same thing if I had been in, like, the film premiere of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” But I do think this society is a lot more accepting of queer females in entertainment than men, and I feel like that’s a completely different dissertation that we can talk about one day.

I definitely think that part of it is that male on male love makes some people uncomfortable, and I think the best way to do it is like most things, we just need more cinema of it to make people comfortable. I’m sure it also depends on the audience. Like, I’m sure if I went to 10 different screenings across the country, I get 10 different reactions. It could have just been the audience, but I do know that I did see some tweets about other people saying at other screenings at TIFF they got the same reaction.

So, I’m sure it’s a mixture of things. Like, if it wasn’t someone with lukewarm acting skills and maybe the script was better, it might have been a different reaction. Maybe it was something that I didn’t see that made it uncomfortable, but for me, the only thing I could focus on was this is people laughing at queer romance.

Jeff: And multiple times in the same film.

Kosoko: Exactly.

Jeff: Let’s move on to things you do like. Queer books, movies. what are your recommendations for audiences in this new fall season?

Kosoko: I just finished reading Ryan La Sala’s, “The Honeys,” which is a really, like, a “Midsommar” queer thriller set at a conservancy like summer camp. It has all the vibes, it’s like “Midsommar,” it has a killer queen bee group, and pun intended, because it also focuses on bees. “The 99 Boyfriends of Micah Summers” from Adam Sass. So really, really good queer romance. Those are kinda like the two books that I have read recently.

I know the new movie of “The Old Guard,” which is coming out in like a year or so, which is a weird thing to talk about since we just got like the teaser trailer. But there’s nothing better than, like, action and queer romance, and “The Old Guard” has that in there.

Jeff: Anything from TIFF we should be looking for as it starts to come out?

Kosoko: There’s so much from TIFF we should be looking forward to. I saw “Devotion,” which is the story of… I can actually list my top five favorites. “Devotion” is the story of the first African-American fighter pilot to be, like, recognized as a fighter pilot during the Korean War, and it’s a really good historical fiction story about, like, being Black and growing up and, like, trying to be as we talked about, twice as good. And like, what happened then his untold story during an untold war.

“Women Talking,” which is based off of the book, which is about a group of Puritan women who are on a commune, who are the victim of sexual assault, and are kind of deciding are they going to stay, are they going to leave, or are they gonna fight back? And each one of them having their own stories is probably my absolute favorite.

“Hunt” is a Korean drama about two Korean CIA officers during the 1980s who are, like, both double agents and trying to figure out like who is the most responsible for this big, like, issue that popped up, which I don’t wanna give a spoiler to.

“Prisoner’s Daughter” is a movie by Katherine Hardwick, who is the director of “Twilight,” so if you’re a “Twilight” fan you should go and see her. That talks about basically a story of forgiveness for a prisoner who was released on compassionate release who has to basically reconcile his relationship with his daughter.

And Angie Thomas’s “On The Come Up,” which is obviously a great book, just is now streaming on Paramount, and you should watch it.

Jeff: Fantastic. Tons of stuff there to look forward to.

Kosoko: Yeah. I’m sure I’ll have more because I’m going to the New York Film Festival three days from today, from when this was recorded.

Jeff: You’re on the film festival circuit this fall

Kosoko: It was a mistake. I bought my New York Film Festival tickets because I did it last year and I loved it. And then I had a manic episode about six months ago and I was talking to my mom on the phone, I was like, “I should go to Toronto Film Festival. I wonder when it is.” When I got back to my apartment, it was like in four months, so I just bought a ticket, not realizing that they were 10 days apart.

Jeff: Well, we know what you’ll be up to in the days before this interview goes out. You’ll be sitting in the movie theater.

Kosoko: Yes.

Jeff: And we have to talk about what is coming up for you with “A Dash of Salt and Pepper.” Obviously, we are so super excited for this because we loved, “I’m So (Not) Over You” so incredibly much. Tell us about this new rom-com you’ve got coming.

Kosoko: Sure. “A Dash of Salt and Pepper” follows Xavier, who is a gifted kid who all he wanted to do is get out his small town, Harper’s Cove, Maine. It’s basically like “Gilmore Girls” Stars Hollow, and he does that. He goes to NYU, he gets a business degree in Chicago, he’s living his best life, and then kind of like a 1, 2, 3 punch, the job that he’s working for folds, he has to move back home because he didn’t have any money, and his boyfriend breaks up with him.

And so he has to go back to the small town, his tail between his legs, always as this gifted kid who is going to leave this town behind. He gets an incredibly great opportunity when a fellowship that he applied for that passed him up has a free slot open, but he has to raise money, about $6,000 in three weeks, in order to reserve his spot. And the only way to do that in the small town is to work for Logan O’Hare who runs this really cute restaurant and to be a sous chef there at the restaurant.

Him and Logan have not a meet-cute but a hate cute early on in the book, so they absolutely hate each other. And this kind of, like, age gap romance between this man who runs this restaurant, who has a spunky teenage daughter, who’s a divorced single father. And this boy who thinks he knows everything about business because he came and got knowledge from, like, these biggest institutions, who really doesn’t understand how like small town camaraderie actually comes together to make a community. It’s very much a story about like finding your place, the idea that home is sometimes where you’re running from, and just like trusting one another. It has just as much comedy as “I’m So (Not) Over You,” but it also deals with like, even more serious subjects about, like, divorce and basically feeling like you’re a failure.

Jeff: It sounds like the best of like a “Gilmore Girls” scenario plus, like, a good Hallmark small town movie, all smooshed up together.

Kosoko: That is a good way to picture it. I should tell my publisher that.

Jeff: Feel free to take that and use it.

You mentioned, you know, what you learned from “I’m So (Not) Over You,” and how, you know, that applies to “A Dash of Salt and Pepper.” Talk a little bit more about how, you know, the writing has evolved from that first rom-com into the second.

Kosoko: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of things that if I could do differently in “I’m So Not Over You,” that I would do differently, I would actually do differently. Like, I think that there was a lot of really strong critique about Hudson, the love interest as a character, about the pacing of the book, about threads that were left undone. And, like, I don’t feel shame for it. It was my first rom-com, I was starting a new genre. Like, I don’t apologize for growing as an author, as we all should.

But I definitely do think there are times when I was like, wow, like we as a collective in my whole, like, my publisher and everything, really missed the mark on some of these things. One key thing is that, not to spoil the book, but Hudson has some flaws that if I had rewritten the book, I wouldn’t have included. Some person said that Hudson is a walking bunch of red flags in a trench coat. And that really stung in the very beginning, but then I was like, wow, like when I actually thought about what they were saying, at its core, a rom-com’s job is, no matter what the story is, is to convince us that the love interest and the main character should deserve to be happily forever or happily or not. And what I got from certain readers is that I did not convince them of that throughout the book. And no matter what my intentions were with the story would, like, if I didn’t do that bare minimum, then I failed as an author in that point.

Now, there are things that I’m incredibly proud of with the book. It’s one of the first traditionally published queer Black male rom-coms published by a male author. It talks a lot about deep issues about race that we don’t see in typically rom-coms, and I think all my books have some sort of social justice element to them. I’ll never take that away, but I do think that I let the social justice kind of overpower the romance of the story in a way that I definitely pulled back in this one.

Jeff: What’s a favorite scene in “Dash of Salt and Pepper” that you could tell us without spoiling it, but that we should all look for in the book as like, oh, here’s Kosoko’s favorite scene right here?

Kosoko: I’ll give two. My absolute favorite scene is the epilogue. I’m not gonna spoil that one because I’m very happy that that got in, and I do not know how that epilogue got into it. I thought legal was gonna shoot me down, but they did not.

Also, if you read “I’m So (Not) Over You,” there’s a scene of “Baby Shark” being sung. There’s also a sea shanty in a bar scene. Logan runs a, not only does he run a restaurant, but he also runs a Yellowcard, the band, cover band. And so they sing a group of sea shanties when they’re all very, very drunk and is very hot and very cute.

Jeff: Does your audiobook narrator hate you for sea shanties, or embrace that?

Kosoko: Well, we just picked the audiobook narrator, and I don’t think they’ve started yet. So, I don’t even know if they’ve read the book yet. So we’ll see. Ask me in a month.

Jeff: All right. We may have to come back to you and find out what the situation is there. Personally, I can’t wait to see, or rather, to hear how these sea shanties turn up in the audio version.

Kosoko: I’m gonna get a text and be like, “What the fuck am I doing?”

Jeff: What else have you got coming up, you know, looking beyond “Dash of Salt and Pepper?”

Kosoko: Trauma, all I saw was trauma in my future. For all you listeners, we were just talking before I got on this about how many deadlines I have and how everyone I’m behind.

So, I have my next YA book which is called, “The Forest Demands Its Due,” is a horror fantasy that comes out fall of 2023 about an African-American teen who gets an invitation to an elusive private school where the town is surrounded by this curse where everybody who dies is forgotten by everybody except for the four descendants of the town, except for the main character who has no connection to the town, who can remember everyone who dies and figures out there is a benevolent God inside the forest that is consuming people and basically trying to figure out why. That comes out next year.

I then have my next rom-com, my third Berkeley rom-com, “Wrangled and Entangled,” which comes out 2024, I think it’s February of 2024, which for all you listeners who have read my other books, this is a dual perspective rom-com, so you guys can stop coming at me about how none of these books are dual perspectives. Every reviewer is like, “I wish this book was dual perspective.”

“Wrangled and Entangled” follows a boy who just suffered from breakup and does something that he’s never done before that he always wanted to do. He basically goes to this home away from home experience to work on a ranch for a week to be a rancher, except the rancher who owns the ranch, Duke Cassidy, does not know that his sister put the ranch up on this website. So, suddenly, there’s this city-slicker boy at his doorstep. It’s very much grumpy sunshine. If anyone is a fan of the TV show, “Yellowstone,” the love interest is basically Rip, who is this very gruff man in a rom-com. It’s very cute. Has a lot of like animal references and it takes place in Montana, so it’s super fun in like big open spaces.

Jeff: How did you end up on a ranch for a rom-com? Because that’s very different from…even small town is a little bit different with food than going off to a ranch.

Kosoko: How it always happens with every single one of my rom-coms I pitched to my editor, is I pitch them a very specific book. “A Dash of Salt and Pepper” was originally gonna be a bodyguard romance. And then I started writing it, I’m like, “I hate this book.” And so I changed it to something else. “Wangled and Entangled” was originally going to be an Airbnb in Dublin, think like “The Holiday,” but with men. That’s originally what it was gonna be. And then I was like, “I hate this.”

And I just was like, “I want to write a cowboy, and I think that will be fun.” And I’ve never done that before. Just like “I’m So (Not) Over You” deals with blackness, and “A Dash of Salt and Pepper” deals with divorce and being a burnt-out gifted kid, “Wrangled and Entangled’s” love interest, Duke Cassidy, is a closeted bisexual cowboy who has only come out to one person in his life because he is afraid that he’s gonna lose his ranch and that his sister’s not gonna love him anymore, and that this small Montana town, which is Republican, at least he feels like it, is going to just shun him.

And so it deals with like these elements of being closeted and being a late bloomer. I think he’s like 37, 38 so he is a late bloomer. And I thought that was like really fun to write. And when I came up with, I knew I wanted to write a late bloomer bisexual book, I was like, “Okay, what’s a good setting for that? How do we make that cute?” Ranches are always fun. We love the idea of ranches. There is a scene in the book where the main character is trying to figure out how to name… He gets the opportunity to name a cow and he names her Buttercorn, not butter, not corn, but Buttercorn, and that was the first scene. And I was like, “This book is written, this book is exceptional.”

Jeff: Can’t wait because I love a good ranch, hanging out on the ranch, maybe saving the ranch, whatever with the ranch.

Kosoko: Exactly that.

Jeff: So, yeah. How could people keep up with you online to know when these books are coming, how things are going, and then most importantly, perhaps follow you on Twitter, for all your good commentary?

Kosoko: I’m very easy to follow. It’s Kosoko Jackson, K-O-S-O-K-O, last name, Jackson, across every single social media platform.

Jeff: Fantastic. We’ll link to those, all the books and movies we talked about.

Thank you so much for coming and talking to us about your part of the “Black Love Matters” essay collection and about this new book coming out. Wish you all the success with that.

Kosoko: Thank you so much for having me.


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 Don’t forget the show notes page also has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.

Jeff: And thanks to Kosoko for chatting with us about “Black Love Matters,” and his new book. So cannot wait for that.

In our chat, you heard us discuss the queer rom-com “Bros.” Kosoko and I talked just a few days before that movie opened in theaters at the end of September, and I can report that he liked the movie. He Tweeted this on the movie’s opening weekend. “Y’all who didn’t like ‘Bros,’ don’t enjoy joy. That movie was so fun and refreshing and made me feel so seen. Not everything needs to be groundbreaking. This movie existing was groundbreaking enough. Now to go write 5,000 more gay rom-coms.”

Yes, Kosoko, please go write 5,000 more gay rom-coms. We are here for whatever you want to give us.

Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next in episode 401, we’re going to be focusing on the Happily Ever After Collective, a new way that lovers of romance can get exclusive books.

Jeff: This new Patreon-based way to get books every month, featuring a specific trope, launched in July and we absolutely love it. We’ll be talking with the Collective’s organizer, romance author Avery Flynn, as well as two authors who have released books through the Collective, Rien Gray and Sera Taíno.

Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself, we wanna thank you so much for listening and we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kinds 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 Original theme music by Daryl Banner.