GUEST POST: Zack Long is an independent film historian with a focus on horror, an aspiring filmmaker, a cat owner, and host of the ‘Paths of Glory; or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Shlock’ podcast. When he isn’t working on something film related, you can find him ‘enjoying’ an overabundance of caffeine, or playing roleplaying games with his friends.
Her Dark Inheritance tells the story of Daphne, a young woman who travels to her mother’s childhood hometown, Willoughby, after a deathbed confession reveals that her family didn’t die in a car crash but had been brutally murdered. Determined to prove her mother’s innocence, Daphne uncovers a dark history that goes deeper – and far more terrifying – than she could have ever imagined. It’s a fantastic novel that overcomes early hurdles with pacing to deliver a fantastic white-knuckle ride straight through to the end.
I got a chance to sit down with author Meg Hafdahl to talk about the novel ahead of its March 17th release by Inklings Publishing.
Zack: Having just finished reading your novel Her Dark Inheritance, I have to say I enjoyed it; sometimes brutal, sometimes touching, it was quite a fun experience. At the core of the novel is the question of how our opinions of our parents grow and change in time as we learn more about them. Has this been a question you have grappled with outside of Her Dark Inheritance?
Meg: Thanks for chatting with me, Zack! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. Yes, I think that, like everyone, I’ve faced the questions Daphne and Edwin have. Am I my parents? Am I the good parts of them? The bad parts? I liked exploring these questions in this really extreme backdrop of murder and monsters.
Zack: Let’s talk about the monster for a second. Without giving too much away, the monster in this book feels almost Lovecraftian in the way that it plays with memories. I thought that it was a wonderfully fresh way to keep the monster “in the shadows,” so to speak. Where there are surprising difficulties or advantages that came from writing this particular monster?
Meg: Thanks! This monster first appeared in a short story I wrote, “Willoughby” and she’s also been in other short stories of mine, so it was really fun to get the chance to explore her in a novel. I, like many horror fans, love psychological horror, more than even a scary monster. So it was my hope to fuse the two. To me, the only thing scarier than a monster is forgetting that the monster exists. When you can’t trust your own mind, that’s true terror. It was surprising to delve into her origins — I hadn’t spent a lot of time, before this novel, thinking about where she came from. Obviously, a difficulty is playing upon the notion of forgetting. How much do my characters forget? How much do they remember? And keeping that consistent. Thankfully I have a terrific developmental editor who helps with those things!
Zack: Psychological horror is a favourite subgenre of mine, I can definitely see that “true terror” at play in Her Dark Inheritance. As a creative, can you speak to the emotional or intellectual experience of putting your characters through the meat grinder? Is writing a horror novel an inherently sadistic practice?
Meg: Haha, yes! It’s why I love horror, the stakes are so incredibly high! There’s a great quote by Robert Frost, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” and this resonates with me. If you aren’t feeling an emotionally raw connection with your main character in particular, then how can you expect your reader to? Horror, like any genre, has its levels of escapism, and I want my readers to have fun and enjoy the gore and scares too, but when I hear people say “Daphne’s anxiety reflects my own” and “I have a similar experience with my mother” that is when I feel satisfied as an artist. Otherwise, what’s the point? We need to watch these characters go through the “meat grinder” so we can question if we could do the same! It’s the human experience, and why we seek creating and consuming art, I believe.
Zack: Were Daphne’s anxieties pulled out of your own experiences?
Meg: Yes, not in similar experiences, but certainly in how I operated in the world. I had a struggle in my twenties of being scared of everything. Every opportunity that came my way, I ran from, scared to put myself out there. I’m embarrassed to think of times people tried to guide me in my writing career and I was petrified to accept help. I gave up on writing, and it wasn’t until I matured, and became a mother, that I realized I was stronger than I had thought. I certainly didn’t have the steep learning curve Daphne does in the book, but I had to face my fears of failure, of life, of people, to become successful and happy. And just like everyone else, I’m a work in progress!
Zack: Wow, I can see a lot of myself in that and if I can then I’m sure there are other writers out there that do as well. Do you have advice that you could pass on has helped you get Her Dark Inheritance written, edited, and reviewed? Maybe a personal mantra or a good luck spell?
Meg: Oh wow, well, my good luck spell is that I have surrounded myself with wonderful people who have helped me. Writing can seem like such a solitary job, and it is sometimes, but until someone accepts that writing a novel takes a village I think they will struggle. You need to listen to other opinions, I know for a fact that has made this novel better. I was lucky enough to have a phenomenal small press pluck me from obscurity and publish my work, and they have set me up with first-rate editors. I’m so glad I worked with them, even though it’s not fun getting your manuscript back with a bunch of red marks, it’s part of the job! And I think successful authors, while still nursing our bruised egos, listen to the feedback and rise to the challenge. My advice, plain and simple, is digest feedback from people you trust, and recognize how it will get you to your goals.
Zack: While most of Her Dark Inheritance follows Daphne, we do get to travel back in time every few chapters and experience the events that Daphne is researching through the eyes of her mother. Were there any challenges in switching viewpoints across the two generations?
Meg: Oh sure, I wanted first to make sure that I could juggle that many characters. You never want to feel like you don’t have time to develop someone, so that was a challenge. And anytime I’m in another era, I want it to feel real to people who lived in that time, so there is some research that goes into it. Overall, it was a fun challenge.
Zack: Did you have a favourite character to write? I found myself absolutely in love with Edwin but I’m a sucker for a romance.
Meg: Oh yes, I love Edwin. Some aspects of him are based on my husband, so I had a lot of fun with him. He’s definitely my favorite to write. In fact, he is in a short story collection of mine, and I knew I had to bring him back for the novel. I’m glad you liked the romance aspect! I just finished the first draft of the sequel to Her Dark Inheritance and romance will continue to play a role!
Zack: It’s a good thing this is a written medium and the readers couldn’t hear me squeal there. Can you say anything about the sequel?
Meg: Yay! I can say that Daphne has only scratched the surface of what is going on in Willoughby, and that we get to meet a young Doris, so I’ve been doing a lot of 1960s research!
Zack: I can’t believe we haven’t talked about Doris and how adorable she is. I pictured her as Lin Shaye. If you cast the roles of Doris, Daphne, and Edwin, who would you pick?
Meg: Oooh, that is a fun question! Lin Shaye, horror goddess, would be wonderful! I picture Daphne as a Kristen Bell type, small, blonde, and a bit spicy under the surface. I could see Steven Yeun as Edwin, especially since he has some horror roots.
Zack: I just got one question left for you today, Meg. The murder of the Bergman family is what sets events in motion. Was the naming an Easter egg, seeing that it’s Bergman’s centennial this year? If not, were there easter eggs that you hid within the novel?
Meg: I wish I could say the Bergman name was an Easter Egg, but it’s not! But there are a lot, there are references to many gothic authors, as well as references to characters in my previous story collections. And, there are lots of clues to the name of the real town in Minnesota I based Willoughby on, for any eagle-eyed Midwesterners. And the name Willoughby itself comes from the Twilight Zone. I’m a fangirl at heart, so I’m always getting references and clues in there!
Zack: Well Meg, it’s been wonderful talking to you and I hope that people grab a copy of Her Dark Inheritance for themselves March 17th.
Meg: Thank you, Zack! I appreciate you taking the time to talk and read the book!