Oregon’s small towns inspire Courtney Gould’s ghost-hunting novel

Courtney Gould’s award-winning debut novel involves ghostbusters, queer romance, and a small town called Snakebite.

His young adult thriller, “The Dead and the Dark,” is partly inspired by an unlikely place: the Oregon Department of Employment.

Several years ago, Gould, 28, was helping Oregonians in rural areas through his work at the state agency. And then she saw the documentary “Wild Wild Country,” about a cult taking up residence on a rural Oregon estate in the 1980s.

It was enough to inspire him to take a road trip to eastern Oregon.

She had grown up in Salem and had family in Silverton, but was fascinated by very small, isolated towns like Fossil and Vale.

“People obviously feel very loyal to each other, and there’s a very strong sense of community,” Gould said, “But also they’re very suspicious of people coming in from outside.”

“The Dead and the Dark” explores this tension between insiders and outsiders.

Gould, a lesbian, was also curious about what it would have been like to grow up queer in a very small town.

“I don’t know what my relationship with myself would be like,” Gould said. “And that idea of, you can pretend to be somebody and keep that sense of community and solidarity with your city, or you can be yourself and immediately self-isolate too.”

A rural thriller

One of the main characters in the book is teenager Logan Ortiz-Woodley, whose parents host a ghost-hunting TV show.

Her fathers, Alejo and Brandon, grew up in the small, fictional rural town of Snakebite, Oregon, but Logan didn’t go there until she and Alejo joined Brandon there one summer.

Meanwhile, Ashley Barton, daughter of a family of Snakebite breeders, has lost her boyfriend Tristan. Her fellow Snakebiters begin to give up on the search, but she’s sure he’s not dead – he just disappeared.

Logan and Ashley forge an unlikely alliance to try to find Tristan.

This spring, “The Dead and the Dark” won the Leslie Bradshaw Prize for Young Adult Literature at the Oregon Book Awards.

The book was released in August 2021, and the awards show this spring was Gould’s first in-person book event.

“I was so upset because I hadn’t done anything in person,” Gould said. “So I was in front of the crowd and everyone was looking at me and I was just shaking because I was so excited.”

Just before writing ‘The Dead and the Dark’, Gould had been working on another book for a while, about a girl who sells her soul to Satan, but there were too many characters and she had trouble filling in the blanks. the plot.

Then she decided to drop it in favor of this “new and brilliant” idea she had about rural ghost hunters.

“Because it was kind of on my mind for so long when I was working on the other book, I feel like when I finally started working on it, it just blew up,” he said. she declared.

Gould said she wrote the book quickly, in just a few months towards the end of 2018.

She entered a Twitter contest to feature her book in a single tweet. It was popular, and she got agents and sold “The Dead and the Dark” to Wednesday Books, a Macmillan imprint, in 2019.

A love of writing since childhood

Gould has always enjoyed writing.

Her father gave her a typewriter when she was little, and she started writing books, asking her artist friends to design the covers. In middle school, she took creative writing classes, and by the time she graduated from high school, she knew she wanted to focus on writing seriously.

Gould attended Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington to study writing and graduated in 2016. She worked for the employment department, then moved again to Tacoma and worked as a paralegal.

She lost her job there at the start of the pandemic and returned to Salem.

Right now she works for a real estate company during the day and enjoys writing after work. She often posts to a cafe and stays until she reaches her goal for the number of words she wants to write.

“I’m just going to write until I make those words,” Gould said. “I try not to write at home because I feel like mixing where I relax and where I work, it’s really difficult for me.”

She enjoys road trips and gardening, but writing takes center stage.

“I feel like writing is kind of my main concern because every time I’m not writing I think about how I should probably write,” she laughed. “The guilt crushes me.”

Growing up, the books she read with queer characters for children and teens were often “about their queerness,” Gould said.

“It was kind of a rigid narrative of what a queer person went through,” Gould said. “And I really wanted genre fiction and I wanted gay sci-fi and gay fantasy.”

Other books in preparation

Gould has already written a second and a third book.

Her second book, about two sisters trying to figure out their late mother’s obsession with a small town in Arizona, will likely be published next summer.

Her third book, which is still being edited and published, is about two women living in a haunted house in Kansas. This will likely be his first book primarily aimed at an adult audience.

And now she’s started work on her third young adult novel, which she says will focus on a group of children sent on a therapy trip into the wilderness and attacked by “something in the woods.”

“It’s a critique of the idea that parents send their child away and want someone else when they come back,” Gould said, “And it’s like, well, you could have someone else. another, but maybe that’s not a good thing.”

She stays motivated by connecting with other local writers, who help each other stay accountable to themselves, their goals, and their deadlines.

And when she writes on her own, she thinks of the people who liked “The Dead and the Dark” and the messages she received from young people who liked the book.

“It’s just super encouraging,” Gould said. “I don’t think writers are celebrities because I definitely feel like a normal person who works 9 to 5 and then just goes and writes after work. But sometimes I come home and get a message like this. OK, that means something to someone, that’s really cool.

Claire Withycombe covers state government for the Statesman Journal. You can reach her at 503-910-3821 or cwithycombe@statesmanjournal.com.

Irene B. Bowles