Thursday, July 2, 2020

HOME SWEET HOMES: Guest Post by Riley Sager


I never intended to write a book about people moving into a house while I was also moving into a house. I’m not a Method writer. I don’t need to experience what my characters experience in order to write about them. But that’s what happened, quite by accident.

The book, incidentally, came first. I got the idea for Home Before Dark in November 2018 and, after writing a proposal, got the go-ahead from my editor and agent that December. The plan was to write a book about a woman named Maggie who, as a child, lived in an allegedly haunted house that her family fled after only 20 days—and ordeal that became the subject of her father’s bestselling horror memoir. When she inherits the house after his death, a dubious Maggie returns to learn the real reason her family left, only to discover her father’s book might not be a fictitious as she thought. And I would be telling both sides of the story—Maggie’s return and the full text of her father’s book.

Not in the plan was leaving the rented townhouse where my husband and I had lived for 14 years. But after an early morning incident involving a burst pipe, a collapsed ceiling and me spending half a day in the emergency room, it became clear—the place we called home was literally falling apart.

We needed to leave.


And since we’d been thinking about buying for the better part of a year, it seemed like a sign to start house hunting. Which is how I ended up writing a book about a haunted house while moving into a house that, although not haunted, had its own set of problems.

Now here’s the thing: Writing a book is hard. Writing two books in one, in different time periods with different narrators, is hard. Buying, renovating and moving into a house is hard. Doing all of that at the same time is more than hard. It’s insane. And exhausting. And became a Herculean effort that, I swear, almost broke me.

When I wasn’t writing, I was dealing with mortgage paperwork—it turns out lenders really like to scrutinize the finances of self-employed authors—and packing and cleaning and unpacking and cleaning some more and buying furniture and putting up wallpaper and painting. And painting. And painting. And painting. Then it would be back to writing, when all my frustrations would subconsciously creep onto the page.

And yet, it worked. The book is better for it. If the narrators seem frazzled at times, it’s because I was frazzled. If they seem like they’re about to collapse under the weight of their real estate decisions, it’s because I was doing exactly that. And if it feels authentic when one exasperated character in the book says, “F— this house” it’s because I had said it.

Multiple times.

And I meant it each and every time.

The house we bought wasn’t a fixer-upper—not on the surface at least. We knew it had a few issues and needed some work. A renovation of the master bath. Substantial work in a room that was to become my office. Opening up a wall between the sitting room and living room to make it a connected space. All of that was done by a team of contractors who all but lived there for a month. It wasn’t until the contractors left and we moved in that the real problems began, starting with bats.

Oh, yes. Bats. In our attic. And in the crawl space right off the walk-in closet connected to the master bedroom. Bats that, because of their protected status under New Jersey law, couldn’t be roused or relocated between May 1 and August 1.

We moved in the first week of May.

You can do the math.

Luckily, the bats didn’t bother us, and they were driven out the first week of August. Not so lucky is that those doing the bat relocation pointed out that we needed a new roof. The roofers doing that pointed out that we needed new skylights. We ended up also needing a new fridge. And a new washer and dryer. And a new oven. And new toilets, one of which decided to stop flushing literally the day we closed on the house. Faced with so much unexpected work, we felt duped and foolish and angry and ready to run.

It all went into the book. I tortured the fictional owners of that made-up house with every problem I could throw at them. Intrusive wildlife and wiring problems and ceilings literally falling around their ears. Then I brought in some ghosts, superstitiously hoping that putting it on the page first would prevent it from happening in real life. The plot may be a product of my imagination, but the sentiment behind it is real, and the result is a work of fiction that’s autobiographical in spirit.

Almost a year has passed since then, and things have settled down. The house is nice. We now love it. The book is also nice. I love that, too. And while I’m not yet at the point where I can look back and laugh about it, I do feel proud that I was able to complete both projects at the same time. In my mind, they’re now inseparable. My real house and my fictional one. Built together.

Now that the house is done, it’s time to tackle the landscaping, which was neglected altogether the first year of our residence. There are trees to remove, flowers to plant and weeds to pull. So many weeds. Fat, prickly ones that seem to burst out of the ground and grow six inches overnight. It turns out, I also need to finish another book soon. So, if a year or two from now, you see a book with my name on it about a homeowner dealing with demon weeds, well, don’t be surprised.

Home Before Dark is the fourth thriller from Riley Sager, the pseudonym of an author who lives in Princeton, New Jersey. Riley's first novel, Final Girls, was a national and international bestseller that has been published in more than two dozen countries and won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Hardcover Novel. Sager's subsequent novels, The Last Time I Lied and Lock Every Door, were New York Times bestsellers.

No comments: