Riley Sager on House Hunting, Scary Wallpaper, and Lock Every Door

Riley Sager on House Hunting, Scary Wallpaper, and Lock Every Door

Riley Sager

Fans of Rosemary’s Baby, have we got a treat for you. Riley Sager’s new novel, Lock Every Door, is a modern take on the spooky classic. In it, a young woman named Jules lucks into the perfect-seeming job in a gorgeous apartment building in Manhattan. Something, however, isn’t quite right, and the longer Jules stays at the Bartholomew, the more danger she is in. Here, Sager chats with Bookish about his latest novel.

Bookish: The Bartholomew looms large in this novel. Were you inspired by any real-life buildings as you wrote about this fictional one?

Riley Sager: The Bartholomew was 100% inspired by the Dakota. I couldn’t get inside the Dakota, not that I tried because that’s not even a possibility. But I did sort of stalk the outside of it for an afternoon. I went into the city one day and roamed that entire neighborhood to get a feel for where Jules would be walking. I took the same paths she would walk in Central Park, I went to the Museum of Natural History, and I spent some time outside the Dakota taking pictures and hoping that no one would call the police.

Bookish: In this novel, many things go bump in the night in Jules’ new home. What’s the creepiest place you’ve ever lived?

RS: I’ve lived in very boring, non-historical places. No spooky things have ever happened in my home. It is interesting, though: I’m in the process of buying a house for the very first time and there’s a house I really liked, but it was oddly cheap for where it was and what was inside of it. And I was like, “This is a murder house. It has to be.” There are websites where you can check police records and see. But there hadn’t been a murder inside; it was just a really poorly built house.

Bookish: Jules is haunted by her missing sister, and experiences a lot of pain associated with having unanswered questions about what happened to her. Why do you think a lack of answers can feel worse than knowing the truth, even when the truth is upsetting?

RS: Because you can’t start to process what happened. Because there’s always this great unknown in the back of your head, and these what-if scenarios. I think that makes it very difficult to move forward. If you know what happened, even if it’s horrible, you can process that and try to move forward. When you don’t know anything, it’s harder to move on.

Bookish: In Jules’ apartment, there is wallpaper with an unusual design. Some people see flowers, and other see screaming faces. Some people can see both. What do you think you would see?

RS: I would definitely see the faces. I wanted to make the apartment feel sinister but not overly sinister. The idea of the wallpaper came to me—it’s just innocent flowers in that innocent pattern, but to someone’s imagination, it looks like eyes and a mouth.

Bookish: This book effectively has a closed setting: Jules is allowed to leave during the day, but she has to sleep at the Bartholomew every night. What do you think it is about this mostly closed setting that is extra terrifying?

RS: It just raises the stakes plot-wise when you know the character can’t escape. That was something I worked very hard to try to establish: these rules that the apartment sitters must follow. Jules’ financial predicament added to that. I didn’t want someone to read the book and say “Why doesn’t she just leave and go to a motel?” I had to work hard to lock her down in that apartment.

Bookish: Socioeconomic class plays a large role in this novel. What made you want to write about this?

RS: I think it’s very much on the minds of Americans right now. There is such a huge disparity of wealth and I think there’s a large swath of Americans who are living paycheck to paycheck. If that paycheck suddenly disappears, they really have very few options. It’s something that I think a lot of people don’t like to think about, and they especially don’t like to talk about it. There is definitely a growing problem in this country with wage disparity. And I speak as someone who had many tough years right out of college and even when I was writing Final Girls. I had been laid off, I had been dropped by my publishers, and I couldn’t find a job for a year—I couldn’t get one. All that constant worry, I sort of drew on that when I was writing Jules’ predicament. 

Bookish: What are you reading these days? Where would you point readers who enjoy your work?

RS: I just finished The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda. She’s just an amazing writer and an amazing person. It was fantastic. I would highly recommend readers read Rosemary’s Baby if they haven’t already—that’s a perfect place to start. That was my inspiration for Lock Every Door. I like to be inspired things that have come before. This was my attempt at a Rosemary’s Baby and a creepy apartment building that was too good to be true. 

Reader beware: Spoilers ahead! 


Bookish: The ouroboros is an important symbol in Lock Every Door. How did you first learn about it, and what about it inspired you?

RS: I knew that there wasn’t going to be a cult. But I wanted readers to think it was a cult. I was searching for some sort of symbol that would hint at that, and I stumbled upon the ouroboros. While it wasn’t a satanic symbol, it did have meaning that went back many, many centuries. I liked it because it was kind of similar to the caduceus, the doctor symbol with the snake on the staff, and it struck me as having two meanings. It worked as that “oh my god this is a cult” red herring. It fit my needs perfectly. 


Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a former journalist, editor, and graphic designer. Now a full-time writer, Riley is the author of Final Girls an international bestseller that has been published in 25 languages, and the New York Times bestseller The Last Time I Lied. His latest book, Lock Every Door, will be published in July. A native of Pennsylvania, Riley now lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Elizabeth Rowe
Elizabeth is a graduate of Columbia University's MFA program in Nonfiction Writing. She is based in San Francisco and can frequently be found at Philz with her nose in a book. Her current obsession is the My Struggle series by Karl Ove Knausgaard, and she thoroughly embarrassed herself when she met him shortly after the release of volume four (and she has the photos to prove it).


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