By Cariad Wooster.
We are very happy to welcome Sarah Gailey to The Reading Corner to discuss their upcoming thiller “Just Like Home“, out August 19th!
The twenty-year anniversary of Vera’s serial killer father’s arrest is approaching, and she is about to do something she hasn’t done in a very long time. Vera is going home.
Her childhood home is a notorious burial ground but also the heart of Vera’s warm memories of her then-idolized and beloved father. Now it is a living tomb for her long-estranged, dying mother.
It’s hard enough for Vera to even be there, but to make things worse, someone (or something) is stalking her, leaving creepy notes in her father’s handwriting and painting fake blood all over the porch. And that’s not the only unwelcome guest – a parasitical artist with delusions of grandeur has moved into her mother’s guest house, oozing charm and stinking of his own plans.
But there are more secrets in the foundations of the notorious Crowder House, and no one could have forseen how this last confrontation would end . . .
Hello Sarah! First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to talk with me. I loved Just Like Home, I thought it had an incredible underlying sense of unease that unsettles you throughout the entire book, as well as the descriptions of the house making it seem like its own person being very creepy. What was it that inspired you to use a domestic setting for a horror book?
Just Like Home is a book that is, at its heart, about the intrinsic horror of returning to one’s childhood home. As children, we form attachments to people and places, and our understandings of those people and places are informed by the context in which we experience them. Returning to a childhood home is an exercise in revisiting a context that no longer applies to us – as adults, we have more power and agency, more understanding of the world and ourselves, and a wider knowledge of possibility. Things don’t feel inevitable for adults the way they do for children. As a result, revisiting a childhood home introduces a sense of dissonance. Things that once seemed safe can be revealed as dangerous; things that were once frightening can be newly understood as useful, even appealing. This reframing can be profoundly unsettling, and it struck me as the perfect framework for a horror novel.
The book features Vera and her mother Daphne very prominently, driving the plot of the book as Vera comes home to her mother who no longer wants to be her mother. What made you decide to portray a mother-daughter relationship such as this?
One of the challenges of writing horror is the question why not just leave? When circumstances become frightening or dangerous, many people start looking for exits; for horror to be effective, the exits have to be somehow inaccessible, whether it’s because the doors are sealed shut or because the character involved is powerfully motivated not to open them. Vera comes home to care for her dying mother, and on a very deep level, she’s hoping for some kind of reconciliation with a woman who has always seemed to hate her. Exploring that relationship was already interesting to me, but in a horror context, it gave me a way to remove Vera’s exits. No matter how scary things get in the Crowder House, she can’t bring herself to walk away from the possibility of finally getting a relationship with her mother.
Despite how important Vera’s father is to the backstory and both characters, we never see him in person, only through fragments of a notebook and Vera’s memories. What was the reason behind this?
My primary interest in Francis Crowder is in his relationship to Vera, and her perceptions of him. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in writing an interesting villain, but I find that doing so can elevate their status in a story, such that they’re the primary thing one thinks of when they think of the story. When I think of Nightmare on Elm Street, I think first of Freddy Krueger, not of Nancy Thompson. I want readers who are thinking about Just Like Home to think of Vera long before they think of Francis – his importance to the story lies in his impact on her.
The story is mainly split into Vera recollecting her past when her father was active as a serial killer and her clearing out of the house she lives in, and this is the main way we learn the truth about what happened, and then the truth about Vera. Why did you decide to reveal the story’s twists through this method?
I wanted Just Like Home to give readers the opportunity to revisit their assumptions again and again, until they felt a true sense of ambiguity about who and what is good or bad. This book, like most of the things I write, is disinterested in moral prescriptivism. It’s not a book that’s designed to provide easy answers about right and wrong – quite the opposite. I structured it such that the reader could gain all the information they needed, and all the context surrounding it, in hopes that readers would develop an understanding of the characters without being invited to categorize them.
This slow reveal of information gives away more and more about Vera until our story’s protagonist is no longer what she seems. Was it always the plan to have Vera follow in her father’s footsteps, the same way the Duvalls that she hates so much did?
My plan for Vera changed with each draft of the book! Ultimately, my intention was for Vera to end up embracing the fullest version of herself. It was only as I wrote and re-wrote the book that I got to understand her well enough to know what her fullest self could become.
The theme of consuming is present throughout the novel- James takes parts of the house for his art, Vera is emptying it out, and Daphne describes baby Vera as an animal only caring about taking. This works incredibly well in the horror genre, but why did you decide to utilise it for this book?
I am fascinated by the idea of ‘selfishness’. Why do we consider adults selfish when they try to get their needs met, but we don’t think the same thing about babies? Why don’t we consider billionaire ‘philanthropists’ selfish, even though they’ve exploited workers to enrich themselves in the first place? Is Francis Crowder selfish for killing men to try to purify himself? Is Vera selfish for seeking a relationship with her mother? It’s impossible to live a life free of consumption; in this book, I wanted to explore some of the notions we have around when consumption is reasonable, and when it’s greedy.
Are there any books similar to Just Like Home, that you would recommend to readers interested in the genre?
I personally love and took great inspiration from Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle, as well as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
Lastly, where are readers able to get the book?
Just Like Home is available at your local library, your local independent bookstore, through Bookshop.org, and everywhere else books are sold.
Sarah Gailey is a Hugo Award Winning and Bestselling author of speculative fiction, short stories, and essays. Their nonfiction has been published by dozens of venues internationally. Their fiction has been published in over six different languages. Their most recent novel, The Echo Wife, and first original comic book series with BOOM! Studios, Eat the Rich, are available now.
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