Sager’s Home Before Dark (Dutton, July.) explores a family’s experience with a terrifying haunted house.
What inspired you to write this book?
I got the idea after listening to a podcast about the Lutz family and The Amityville Horror. The gist of the episode was that most people agree it was a hoax, but no one knows why the Lutz family did it. I thought that could be an interesting story to explore. The idea of a young woman, Maggie, returning to the allegedly haunted house that made her family famous to learn the truth about their story was very compelling to me. But it didn’t really come together until I got the idea to include the book her father wrote about their time in that house, ending up with a book-within-a-book structure that alternates between these two stories.
Did that structure make writing it harder or easier than your prior books?
So much harder. I basically wrote two books, and then wove them together so that they reflect each other in unexpected ways, almost like a fun-house mirror. I knew going in that it would be a challenge. What I didn’t expect was just how hard of a challenge it would end up becoming. Because both of these books are so interconnected, changing something in one meant having to make changes in the other, which would then cause changes in the other.
What appeals to you about subverting genre tropes?
I love genre tropes because they’re a form of shorthand. Since everyone knows slasher movies or haunted house stories or whatever familiar trope I’m using, I don’t need to spend a lot of time explaining them. Readers immediately know what to expect. My job then becomes trying to find ways to lean into those expectations while also subverting them. It’s a constant balancing act—giving readers what they want while also surprising them by veering in a new direction.
How did you approach depicting the family at the center of the book?
I didn’t want it to just be Maggie returning to this house and experiencing scary things, which is a perfect surface-level description of the book. Maggie knows deep down that her father’s book is a hoax. What she doesn’t know is why her parents did it, and that lack of truth has caused her deep pain. It was more interesting for me to write about a woman who isn’t mad that her parents supposedly made up this elaborate ghost story. She’s hurt because they never trusted her with the truth. I thought this idea of being disappointed by your loved ones was a great way to enter the story.