Interview with Kosoko Jackson, Author of The Forest Demands Its Due
Thanks for joining us at YAOTL, Kosoko. Please start out with a quick synopsis of The Forest Demands Its Due.
Of course! The Forest Demands Its Due follows Douglas, who is accused of setting a fire killing everyone in an apartment complex. He is given a unique chance to have his record wiped, if he attends a mysterious boarding school in Vermont. But quickly he learns the town, Winslow, is cursed - anyone who dies is forgotten by everyone except the descendants of the founding families. And in order to break this curse, he’s going to have to go toe to toe with a God.
This book weaves together elements of so many genres and subgenres--dark academia, horror, even thriller and murder mystery. It's so intricately woven, with so many different pieces at work here. How did this idea come to you?
I come from an academia background. My mother was a teacher and I taught for about 2 years. As someone who grew up going to PWIs, predominately white institutions, I wanted to write something that had commentary on that, a creepy forest - because who doesn’t love a forest - and elements of dark magic. After doing research on the history of Georgetown, and how slaves built it, this story came to my mind, starting as a ghost story, turning into a werewolf story, and now this.
Horror is especially good at acting as a social mirror. Can you speak to that a bit as it relates to The Forest?
Sure! Forest deals heavily with the responsibilities we put on people and the expectations people of color have to be saviors. Without going into too much and spoiling, the book has a lot of horrific commentary on the history of using Black bodies. Fans of the themes in GET OUT will recognize and enjoy this story heavily.
Your career has been centered on representation in lit, including time as a sensitivity reader. How did that time reading manuscripts also shape your work?
Words have power, and my time as a sensitivity reader helped me understand that power. Things we don’t think could or would be offensive can be read in so many different ways. There are some elements, again, not to spoil, that I put into the book because of how I thought the story would be perceived and to make sure representation and diversity, in a story about triumph, was seen.
You write across genres and multiple age groups. How do you balance? How do they all inform one another?
I try to not work on the same step on the same book at the same time. It can be a challenge, but, for example, if I’m drafting a YA book then I want to be plotting or editing an adult romance. This helps me keep them separate. If I have to do both at the same time, I try my best to separate them by days or time of day. Adult in the morning, YA at night. It can help to also set the mood.
The beginning pages offer so much to be unsettled by. The fire Douglas was accused of setting, the outsider sensations described by Douglas being at an elite school, the forest…how do you balance descriptions of creep so that it doesn't compete with the overall narrative?
Thank you! Honestly, I’m really proud of it. Funny enough, the start of this book was the start of another book I had as a proposal packet a while ago. I wanted to include some elements of Douglas’ world and what he was dealing with, and also the idea that its him against this institution. I’m a big fan of characters who are outsiders or forced to realize they aren’t as alone as they think they are. I also think this shows, in the first 2 chapters, the themes of the whole novel well and I really wanted to nail that.
Horror contains a lot of action as well. I always find action scenes to be the hardest part of writing. How do you approach it?
I try to act them out honestly. I have a big apartment so its a lot of pacing around, thinking of it like beats, plotting out what I want to accomplish, what cool thing do I want to show, and then edits to make it feel like it’s happening quickly, and not slow and drawn out. Not everything needs to be written, a lot can be imagined. You just need to give the reader enough to picture the cool parts.
What do you hope that readers take from The Forest Demands its Due?
I hope people understand not only the power teens have, but how rooted in our history pain and suffering is. We can change that, not by hiding from it, like certain electeds want to do, but by addressing the hurt and the pain.
I have another YA coming out from Quilltree late next year. If you’re fans of demons, haunted houses and dark magic, you’ll love it! And my next adult comes out in 2025 also.
Twitter (Kosokojackson), and Instagram (kosokojackson). Or kosokojackson.com!