Thursday, July 2, 2020

Riley Sager

Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer.

Now a full-time writer, Sager is the author of Final Girls, an international bestseller that's been published in 25 languages, and the New York Times bestsellers The Last Time I Lied and Lock Every Door.

Sager's new novel is Home Before Dark.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

This was a hard book to title, mostly because it’s really two books in one—the story of a woman returning to the allegedly haunted house she lived in as a child and the full text of the bestselling horror memoir her father wrote about their time there. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a title, which is why I took a more abstract approach. I knew the title needed to signify a house was involved, but I also wanted it to hint at the paranormal. I considered several ideas, including House of Horrors, which I thought was a little too on the nose. That became the title of the book within the book. I finally settled on Home Before Dark because it has a kiss of the sinister while really conveying the sense of returning to a place you might not want to be coming home to.

What's in a name?

A lot of Home Before Dark deals with perception. How strangers see you. How friends and family see you. How you see yourself. Even the reader’s perception comes into play. In half the book, the main character is a child. In the other half, she’s an adult very different from her younger self, and the reader witnesses that transformation. I wanted a name that could change as dramatically as the character does. I picked Maggie because of how malleable it is. Margaret. Maggie. Mags. She’s called all of those things and more at various points in the book.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I suspect the thing teenage me would be most surprised about is the fact that I actually followed through on his dream of becoming a published author. And a bestselling one at that! The book itself, though, wouldn’t be much of a surprise. It’s very much in line with my interests back then. In fact, I’d read all the books that influenced Home Before DarkThe Haunting of Hill House, The Amityville Horror, The Shining—when I was that age.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Definitely the beginning. By the time I get to the ending, I’ve been living with the book and its characters for months, so it’s a well-oiled machine at that point. But the beginning—when I’m trying to figure out character, tone and voice—always gets revised to death. It’s a reader’s introduction to your story, so it needs to be as fine-tuned as possible.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Most of my characters contain some small aspect of me. In Home Before Dark, it’s the frustration of moving into a house that turns out to be a lot more than you bargained for. In a complete coincidence, I bought and moved into a house while writing the book. It didn’t go smoothly. There were so many problems, some we knew about before we bought it and some that completely blindsided us. I ended up taking all that house-related frustration and passing it on to my characters.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I’m a huge fan of the movies, and film has inspired me in so many ways. I like to think of movies as our national language. Everyone is familiar with certain films or certain genres, and I like to use that to my advantage. Sometimes the mention of a movie is a quick and easy way to set a scene or introduce a character. Because I know what readers expect, based on their knowledge of these movie tropes, it’s fun to play around with that. Sometimes I lean into the trope. Other times I do the exact opposite. It’s an enjoyable game to play with my audience.
Visit Riley Sager's website.

The Page 69 Test: Home Before Dark.

--Marshal Zeringue