I had the chance to talk to Cooper S. Beckett, the author of the upcoming supernatural horror novel, Osgood as Gone, which will make its way onto book shelves April 22nd (and Audiobook May 20th). We discuss his interesting entry into the horror genre, his influences, genre representation, what he thinks is lacking within the horror genre, Hereditary, Buffy, Channel Zero, amongst other things.
The premise for Osgood as Gone, according to its site, is the following:
Once an exciting up-and-coming star of the burgeoning paranormal investigation TV genre, now Prudence Osgood finds herself as a barely functioning alcoholic living in daily pain, both physical, from a car accident nearly twenty years ago, and emotional, from the loss of Audrey Frost, her partner and best friend, over an ill-advised hoax. When a random cryptic email shows up in her inbox, she must begin an investigation that is far more sinister than it initially seems, and far more connected to the last two decades of her own life that she could ever imagine.
Read on for our conversation.
Your writing background is primarily within sex education, and your upcoming novel, Osgood as Gone, is your first entry into the horror genre. Tell me how you came to the decision to transition to horror fiction, and how your background in sex and relationships helps you (or not) understand characters and world-building within your fictional novels.
It’s funny, because my background is horror fiction and screenplays, from high school and college. I transitioned into writing and educating about sexuality and alternative relationships when I reached a different point in my life. So when I first became published, it was a memoir about my non-monogamy, then two novels about swinging & polyamory. After that, I was compelled to return to the genre I’ve loved my entire life, horror. My background, my queerness, as I’m bisexual, my relationship style, as I’m polyamorous, all this informed characters as traits. Usually these character traits are given to a sacrificial or red-shirt character. (The dispensable queer is a sadly common genre trope.) Realizing I didn’t want a traditional cis-het-white male anti-hero lead, I went in the different direction of a pansexual, polyamorous female for my lead as Prudence Osgood. But even then I just wanted that to be a part of her, not BE her. So her existence is within that queer world (she lives on Chicago’s north side) but that is not WHO she is.
The main takeaway from my sexuality education is empathy for variance. I find I can understand and empathize with different communities far better now than I once could, and that makes it far more fulfilling to write them.
What are some of your earliest and fondest memories of horror?
My parents had a strict “no-scary-movie” policy, as I was often beset with nightmares, no matter how much I loved the film. I remember my first nightmare, from a Tom and Jerry cartoon, where Tom actually speaks in this hellish voice “Don’t you believe it.” (Look it up, it’s oddly terrifying.) Growing up in the ’80s, kids movies were just scarier. The Secret of Nimh, Last Unicorn, The Peanut Butter Solution, hell even The Boy Who Could Fly had that terrifying hospital jump-scare. But my most vivid horror memory is learning that Halloween 2 was going to be on network TV one night, and sneaking into my parent’s room to watch parts on their 9″ black & white TV, hoping all along they wouldn’t hear me, and turning the TV off when I’d get scared, the psyching myself up to turn it back on. I remember the nurse kill, where her shoes fell off. VIVID.
You’ve described Osgood as Gone to me as “cosmic horror with pulpy noir undertones.” What draws you to the supernatural subgenre of horror? What other subgenres of horror would you like to explore in the future?
I love the supernatural genre because of how flexible it is. Creating the Osgood books as a series, I wanted to be able to go the Buffy route. Sometimes she can hunt a ghost, other times fight a monster. Probably not aliens, though, that didn’t go well on Buffy. I have two screenplays I would like to adapt/retrofit– one in the zombie-comedy realm (doesn’t everybody) and one that’s a slasher film deconstruction. Both are on deck. Primarily I love how elastic the genre bounds of horror are. Horror can contain multitudes. Comedy, drama, romance, western, all can exist within horror. You can’t really go the other way. You can’t, in the middle of a romantic comedy, have a monster eat the sidekick. I mean, you could…but it probably wouldn’t work.
Though not imperative to the plot necessarily, your main protagonist, Prudence Osgood, is a queer woman. Who are some horror genre characters that you have drawn influence from for Prudence? Particularly, LGBTQ+ horror characters, or female horror characters in general?
I’m lucky enough to have many strong female role models in my life, so I wrote from them quite a bit, and then asked them to verify the contents of the book, because as a man, I can really only hope for semi-accuracy. One of my favorite horror heroes is Ellen Ripley from the original Alien. I love that she was written with the assumption that a man would be cast, and then, without content change, given to Sigorney Weaver. While writing Osgood I was very conscious of writing character first, gender second. Horror is full of strong female characters, though, from Ripley, to Laurie Strode and Nancy Thompson, to Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist. I also must admit to pulling from another genre, in that Osgood’s character is heavily influenced by Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor.
Prudence is a woman who has suffered from past trauma, and the horror genre has recently shined with casting a much-needed light on stories about female trauma (particularly, with films like Hereditary and The Babadook). How do you, as a male author, delicately handle storytelling about a female protagonist with trauma? Why do you think stories pertaining female trauma work so well within the horror genre?
The male ego has made it difficult to tell stories about true trauma for most of the modern age of writing. Women were “allowed” to have more emotional range. I’m very much drawn to writing stories with “broken” characters. As a person who suffers from chronic pain, mental illness, past trauma, slut and fat shaming, I am pretty well versed with the afflictions that Osgood has within herself. In all my stories, I tend to pull something I don’t like about myself, and give it to my character as a trait. Osgood has much in common with me in that respect. It makes me like and empathize with and understand the characters more.
I think the reason so many people have trauma in horror films, especially recent horror like Hereditary and The Babadook is that it reminds us that while this story may have a monster, it also has very real horror. Mental illness is terrifying from within, so horror that depicts it can be surprisingly comforting. The same with loss, and abuse. To see ourselves reflected in media is the most comforting thing in the world, even if it’s happening in a horrifying setting. Then we root for the characters to overcome in a way we so often cannot.
I also recognize that much of this is coming through my male privilege. I can only approach it from the outside. But I do talk endlessly with my female partners and friends about their traumas, their coping methods. I spend a lot of time listening, and I find I can distill that into characters. But I always share with a cadre of strong, awesome women who can tell me when I’m wrong, so I don’t release something that SOUNDS like a man writing women.
What, in your opinion, is most lacking within the horror genre?
Respect. Respect for the genre itself. Like you can tell when writers and filmmakers are USING horror, but don’t respect it. A lot of shitty Stephen King movies, and shitty slashers, really are emblematic of that. Though I think we’re seeing this change. I think we’re in a pretty amazing horror renaissance at the moment, in that all these people who truly love and respect the genre are making horror, whereas in the past it was, “Make a cheap film. Horror’s cheap, and you can have blood and titties, so people will see it, even if it’s shit“. Now we’re seeing amazing things like, again Hereditary and The Babadook, and IT, and Jordan Peele’s masterworks Get Out and Us. It’s a wonderful time to be a horror fan.
Beyond that, though. I would absolutely love to see far more diversity in horror– in race, gender, sexuality, relationships. Horror tends to be ignored by the elites who sit in judgement (mainly since they’re already judging it) so we can get away with a lot of shit they won’t even notice!
Osgood as Gone is the first in “The Spectral Inspector” book series. Without spoiling too much, after completing Osgood, can readers expect to follow the same characters and story through-line?
Definitely. I wrote myself into a pretty big corner at the end of book 1 and I’m trying to unravel that as I brainstorm book 2 at the moment. I fell in love with Osgood and her partners Audrey and Zack while writing this book, and I cannot wait to see what they get up against in the future. Also, I know how it ends, I know the last chapter, and that feels a long way off.
If Osgood as Gone were to ever become a film one day, which director would be your ideal choice for adapting it?
Oh man. Drew Goddard or Nick Antosca. Goddard showed he could deftly move between genres when writing on Buffy and Cabin in the Woods, and has also demonstrated a CRAZY amount of respect for story. (I think he’s the only writer in Season 7 of Buffy that actually was paying attention to story continuity from previous seasons.) Nick Antosca wrote some brilliant episodes on Hannibal and then went on to adapt Channel Zero — Candle Cove from a one-page blog thread. While I wasn’t as crazy about the later seasons, Candle Cove showed some true horror– the likes of which I rarely see on TV. So, this story could certainly fit into a movie, but maybe a Netflix/Amazon series of multiple stories?
Any other horror-related books or projects we should expect from you in the near future?
Well, I’m making the insane gamble of writing Book II before even releasing book one, so it’s VERY likely that the next thing I release will be another book in The Spectral Inspector series. (Osgood Riddance is the title I’m playing with at the moment.) I’m thinking I’d like to stay in horror for two more books and then maybe revisit the characters from A Life Less Monogamous and Approaching the Swingularity, my first two novels, to see what they’re up to.
You can watch the book trailer for Osgood as Gone as well as preorder it prior to its release right here.~