Andrew Pyper talks releasing The Residence during a crisis, what inspired the tale, and key takeaways

The Residence by Andrew Pyper. Image Courtesy Simon & Schuster, Inc
The Residence by Andrew Pyper. Image Courtesy Simon & Schuster, Inc /

Author Andrew Pyper discusses his new novel, The Residence, a story about an interesting presidency with a supernatural presence in the White House.

Andrew Pyper is a best-selling author who has made a name for himself in the horror genre. September 1 marks the release date for his new novel, The Residence, an enthralling tale that is based on the true events surrounding the Franklin Pierce presidency. This novel is the mind-bending story of what grief and sadness can do to a person who’s suffering.

The events of The Residence begin shortly before Franklin Pierce becomes president and go on to chronicle his time living in the White House. The story is wild from start to finish. Jane Pierce was a woman who never wanted her husband to become president, so she was not supportive of his endeavors, which took a toll on Franklin.

Jane and Franklin also suffered the biggest loss two parents could ever experience: They lost all of their children, three beautiful boys taken from the world too soon. This novel’s story shares what happened as a result of losing their youngest, Bennie, and covers the extreme actions Jane takes to get him back, all while living in the White House. Her actions spawn outcomes that viewers will have to read to believe.

The Residence is a brilliant piece of work that will leave readers with nearly every emotion across the board — sadness, anger, fear, entrancement, confusion, and even empathetic pain. While readers may question and oppose the actions of the characters, it’s easy to see how they come to do the things they do. This novel also adds a new fictitious horror element to an already intriguing, otherworldly marriage.

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I recently had the privilege of speaking with Andrew Pyper about The Residence. Our conversation quickly got much deeper than either of us had planned, and we spoke about humanity and truth within this horror novel.

Creating Art During a Crisis

"Culturess: We are just a couple weeks out from The Residence being released to the world. Are you excited?Andrew Pyper: I am! But it’s a weird time to be publishing a book, for a whole bunch of reasons, really to release any type of art into the world. It is odd. On one hand, I feel slightly detached certainly from what would normally be the apparatus around publishing a book. Physically going to readings, bookstores, festivals, or meeting readers in libraries — all that, of course, is removed. It’s always been like this; now I’m more acutely aware that you are really just firing a thought missile out into the world, and it’s a very abstract thing."

This spawned a larger conversation between us about art in general, and rose the following question: With the current atmosphere of the U.S. (and world), is it okay to release things that don’t make a statement or shed light onto the current plight of millions? While Andrew feels very attached to this book and it’s something he put his heart into, releasing it with everything else going on in the world marks a brand-new territory that many never considered a possibility for the future. It’s very different to not be there in person and connect with the readers that have taken the time to read his work. It’s still new and rather odd to all of us.

Pyper’s Inspiration

"Culturess: Franklin Pierce is certainly far from being a popular president, so how did you come across this haunting tale?Pyper: I had never heard of Franklin Pierce until I stumbled upon the story of his wife Jane, the first lady. I was Googling haunted houses, not looking for a subject to write about. I just enjoy digging around and finding goofy folklore. I can’t get enough of Sasquatch and haunted-house stories. So I was down a rabbit hole when I found a website mention Jane Pierce and how she lost one of her children right before going into the White House. It said she spent her time there writing letters to her deceased son Bennie and pleading with him to come back to her, and then according to her letters, he did.Culturess: And what inspired you to write a novel about it?Pyper: I was immediately haunted by the idea of a woman who had suffered such great loss, who was forced into a house she didn’t want to move into, to be a public figure she resented being, and to be so alone that she would call out across the living and dead to bring back her child. Whether imagined or otherwise, she believed he did return. I thought, that’s a novel. It struck me immediately."

Pyper also mentioned a second motive: the story of Franklin Pierce. He, like Jane, suffered incredible loss. However, he was forced to remove that and press on as president and lead a country. He wasn’t exactly the best person for the job; he didn’t live up to expectations, so exploring his story in the novel was interesting.

A third motive would be the White House itself. Writing a haunted house story in that setting struck Pyper as a compelling idea. When asked if he truly believes the White House is haunted, he agreed with a statement I had said earlier in the conversation: If the supernatural and haunted houses are real, then the White House, with all of its history, is the perfect candidate to be haunted.


"Culturess: What was the most interesting thing you found out about the story while you were researching it?Pyper: One of the more interesting aspects of the story appears in my book only in the author’s note at the very end, which is a single paragraph — which indicates the White House, from the Pierces’ time and on, shows a continuous body of evidence that it is haunted. More to the point, a little boy of around Bennie’s age was seen, and terrorized the White House in the decades following the Pierce administration coming to a close."

Pyper also mentioned that this isn’t just a story about a couple and single haunting, but perhaps an origin story for something much larger. (I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he pursues this and writes more historical fiction books about the White House.)

"Culturess: A lot of the book we see the story from Jane’s perspective, or from the perspective of others who are impacted by her actions. How do you think her mental illness and grief would have shaped her perspective in today’s culture?Pyper: I’ve thought about that a fair amount, and I have such great sympathy for Jane. She refused to fill this role of the first lady, hosting teas and socials and presenting herself like an actor performing a role. She was honest about her grief, and she refused to fake it. She literally decorated the White House in mourning bunting, and in a way, it was kind of an act of political protest. At least, I see it that way.The press described her as overindulging in self-pity, but I don’t believe it was that at all. I think her staying on the second floor and refusing to play the game was an indication of a woman who was resisting — insisting on the honesty of her emotional state, like, look, I am broken and I have reasons to be broken, and I refuse to pretend that I am not. I think there is a considerable amount of bravery in that.I think, today, someone in the position of the first lady would be so handled by communication experts that her story would be reshaped to either exploit the grief, have her on 60 minutes and she will talk about her loss (and at the right moment we will have her burst into tears), or it would be hidden. Jane refused that, to have her experience to be exploited or hidden. Sadly, I don’t think she would have been permitted to do that today.Culturess: Lastly, what do you hope readers take away from this novel?Pyper: I have hopes on two levels, because the book is, and is intended to be, a supernatural thriller. So, I hope that on one hand that readers find it gripping and compelling, suspenseful, and maybe scary. That they rush to its conclusion or dread going back to it because it kept them up late at night. All of those visceral, exciting aspects to a book that’s on one level designed to be an excitement.In a more nutritious way, I hope it’s not just that. I hope that it makes people reflect on how this presumed difference between ourselves and the people who make enormous decisions — or the people we cast in the pageantry of leadership, greatness, power, or wealth — how those distinctions are fundamentally false. That human experience … and the impact that has on one’s ability to lead and to be a husband and wife and in any role you ask of that person, doesn’t just go away because of their place in some larger mythical construct. I hope that The Residence, in some way, is a humanizing document for our understanding of leadership and power. That we are participating in the fiction ourselves when we pretend that those people are not vulnerable to the things in our life that make us genuinely human."

Pyper’s take on the story and what readers can gain from it was eye-opening and raw. The truth is, society does judge people in positions of power for showing any emotion. However, as a people, we complain when these same leaders develop narcissistic tendencies or act too impersonal as well. Power, leadership, and wealth don’t mean that anyone is less human.

Women in particular are judged if they shed tears or act passionately about issues they care about. Unfortunately, in this day and age, people like Franklin and Jane would get shredded in the media, when, in reality, their story gives them ample reason to act out of line. They should have never been thrust into power, they lost three children. That is a lifetime of grief.

That said, The Residence  is a story that will have you checking over your shoulder for demons while also reflecting on the bigger picture of life. It’s unique, and it far surpassed my expectations. Since the spooky season — as well as election season — is upon us, it’s the perfect book to escape into when you need a break from the current atmosphere. Make sure to check your local bookstores or order it online when it releases September 1.

Next. The Residence review: A gripping tale about a haunting. dark

Do you plan on jumping into The Residence this fall? Make sure to follow Andrew Pyper to keep up with the release! Tweet me your thoughts and opinions at @Mamadeadhead on Twitter.