Every night when she goes to sleep, Prudence Osgood relives her death... and that's the least of her paranormal problems in the new supernatural novel Osgood As Gone. Featuring the reunion of former ghost hunters and friends Osgood and Frost in the wake of an enigmatic email that kickstarts a new investigation, Cooper S. Beckett's Osgood As Gone is out now as an eBook, hardcover, and paperback (with cover art reminiscent of a Christopher Pike book), and to celebrate, we caught up with Beckett to discuss how he came up with the idea for the novel, the importance of writing a believable LGBTQ+ character, and his plans for a second book in The Spectral Inspector series.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, Cooper, and congratulations on Osgood As Gone! When and how did you first come up with the idea for this novel?
Cooper S. Beckett: This book had a long road to publication. Inspired by urban legends and the Beatles' "Paul is Dead" phenomena, I conceived of a missing teenagers story to be told in fake documentary form à la The Blair Witch (it was 1999 at the time...). That didn't come to fruition, and in college I started writing about a ghost hunter based on Gregory McDonald's Fletch, a caddish antihero, flippant with all, and a Lothario with the ladies. Four times I tried to develop this story with him at the center, once as a TV series, once as a screenplay, and twice as a novel. Then I put him and this story away, and focused on other things, leading to my first three books.
When I wanted to return to horror, I realized that I was no longer interested in the cis-hetero-male antihero archetype (which, let's be honest, has been WAY played out ever since Tony Soprano) and, as an exercise, started brainstorming a similar character, but female and queer. Thus Prudence Osgood was born. Initially I planned to rewrite my earlier stories with this new protagonist, but I quickly became bored with treading old ground. Then, while watching a documentary about the ominous Toynbee Tiles, my hook snapped into focus. Just over a month later I'd finished my first draft of Osgood As Gone.
The new cover art for Osgood As Gone is reminiscent of the Christopher Pike books that raised a generation of horror fans (myself included). Did Pike or any other horror authors from that era inspire or influence you while writing Osgood As Gone?
Cooper S. Beckett: In junior high I devoured the Point Horror series. R.L. Stine (pre-Goosebumps), Richie Tankersley Cusick, Caroline B. Cooney, and Christopher Pike. Once I'd read a lot of those (most within an afternoon), I picked up Whisper of Death, my first of Pike's OTHER books. I quickly realized that while the Point books were very chaste and pretty bloodless, Pike's had sex, violence, and real stakes. I transitioned to reading Pike and left the rest behind. I think for most of us of a certain age, Point, then Pike, were gateways to the more advanced horrors and sexuality of King, Barker, and Koontz. All influenced me tremendously by being part of my formative education into horror. King is the one who remains, though, and my parenthetical usage definitely shows his fingerprints.
You’ve written several books prior to this one, but Osgood As Gone marks your debut in the world of horror fiction. When did your love of horror begin, and what was it like for you to bring that genre to life in your latest book?
Cooper S. Beckett: Horror has always been my favorite genre, because it can contain multitudes. Within horror you can have comedy, sci-fi, romance—every other genre. You can't just randomly murder someone in a comedy, unless that IS the plot, but you can have laugh-out-loud humor in horror. As a kid, I had terrible nightmares whenever I'd see anything remotely scary, so my parents had very strict rules on what I could and couldn't watch. I wasn't even allowed to watch Ghostbusters until my younger brother watched it at a sleepover. But we all know what deprivation leads to: yearning, desire, obsession. I would squat in the magazine aisle of the Osco in Chicago to read Fangoria, I'd scour the VHS box art (which was so much better then) and I'd sneak into my parents' room after I was supposed to be asleep to watch Halloween II on the late-nite WGN movie. I have tremendous love for horror, and think that it's only as terrible as it's supposed to be when the people making it don't respect it. With proper respect, horror can give us the catharsis we so desperately need.
How important was it for you to have LGBTQ+ representation in this novel?
Cooper S. Beckett: I'm bisexual, and most of my friends and loved ones are queer in some way, and horror has a pretty iffy history with queer folk. They're jokes or they're sacrificial lambs. Mainly, I wanted to write characters that my friends would see themselves in. And Osgood's queerness gave me a gateway into her personality that I wouldn't have had writing a straight woman. She's my greatest creation, and the response I've gotten from queer/poly/vaguely androgynous women suggests I hit something on the head. It's always important to me to have representation where that representation isn't THE CHARACTER. Osgood isn't defined by her queerness. She's a full-fledged human who happens to be queer, who happens to be polyamorous, who happens to have chronic pain, who happens to be a barely functioning alcoholic. These are traits, but aren't WHO SHE IS.
How familiar were you with the world of paranormal investigating when you began writing Osgood As Gone? Were you influenced by any ghost hunting shows?
Cooper S. Beckett: I was a fan of the original Discovery Channel's Ghost Hunters forever, and was obsessed by their live Halloween broadcast from the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. When I was younger, I went on ghost hunts with friends, I read everything I could about the paranormal, and I began to develop my own way of looking at it all. I was influenced by much, but I blended it into a smoothie.
Did the character arcs for Prudence Osgood and Audrey Frost follow the paths you originally imagined when you began writing, or did their journeys surprise you along the way?
Cooper S. Beckett: They constantly surprised me. I originally opened the novel with a cataclysmic event that ended their friendship, and then would pick up 16 years later. Removing this section, though (and turning it into a short story called A Haunting at the Waverly Hotel that can be found on my website), gave me a clean slate to introduce gradually. I slowly unfolded the relationship between the two of them, and then I just explored how they moved through it through their interactions. I wrote an extensive outline before starting the book itself, but only used about half of it.
How important was it for you to balance out the humor, horror, and emotional resonance in this story?
Cooper S. Beckett: Without emotion, without stakes, without pathos and depth, who cares? I get such a kick out of the Friday the 13th movies, but I have literally never cared about a single human being in them. (Except maybe Sheriff Garris in VI). If you want people to care, if you want people to love your work and not just surface enjoy it, you have to tell a compelling story WITHOUT the horror. My story of two old friends, who split because of one's carelessness and are forced back together because of family issues, is pretty universal. Who hasn't screwed over someone and then regretted it? Who hasn't had to figure out how to be friends again with someone you don't get along with anymore?
What was your favorite moment to write in Osgood As Gone?
Cooper S. Beckett: I'm a sucker for a good dream sequence, and there are some doozies in this book. Osgood was in a horrific car accident in 1998 when a semi collided with her car and she was dead for eight minutes. Every night when she closes her eyes, she returns to that intersection and gets to relive it in some way. The only reason to do dreams ever is to dabble in dream logic, things appearing and disappearing, random threads from your waking life intruding on the dreams, and perplexing things that are simply terrifying, but you don't know why. In one, someone's mouth unzips all the way around their head, in another a quasar swallows the world. Dreams are all about go big or go home!
Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from Osgood As Gone?
Cooper S. Beckett: I want to scare them, of course, but I also want to make them recognize themselves in Osgood and Audrey, to wonder what they'd do in similar situations. The book is about following clues from one to another, so I hope I've replicated that joy of discovery that comes from stumbling down a rabbit hole. Something akin to those late-night searches on the internet that take you to dark and terrifying places.
This book is the first installment in The Spectral Inspector series. Do you already have plans for a sequel?
Cooper S. Beckett: Plans, half an outline, and the first chapter.
Where can readers go online to learn more about your work and pick up a copy of Osgood As Gone?
Cooper S. Beckett: OsgoodAsGone.com. If they sign up for our mailing list, they'll get the prequel story I mentioned above as well as other stories in the universe that won't be available elsewhere. The book is available in ebook and paperback and we're in production on the audiobook now. If you're at all curious about my past work, CooperSBeckett.com is the place to be.