Name: Sarah Addams
What you Write: Psychological suspense
Agent: Jessica A
Why BookEnds?Y’all weren’t on my initial top five list, actually—which sounds terrible! But I had written a very specific kind of book and BookEnds seemed unlikely to be interested based upon the clients I saw on your website. I couldn’t resist submitting because of the highly professional rationalization of 1) omg they represent Helen Hoang, 2) Wow, I’ve heard these agents are really good, and 3) Why not? By happy accident, it turns out that Jessica A was seeking books like mine after all!
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Where do you write, and how often?
Oh my goodness, I write everywhere. The most eccentric location may be on my Segway while dictating to Dragon Everywhere on my AirPods. Seriously! Everyone in my neighborhood recognizes the weird lady talking to herself on the Segway.
My second and third most eccentric are on my treadmill desk (at 1.2 mph for as long as my sciatica will put up with it) and in the car while my husband drives over every hill and dale. Sometimes I do sit in a chair as properly as any bisexual person is capable, but only ever at Starbucks, where I can have endless bagels.
As you may be able to tell, I write a lot! I’ve been self-published for almost a decade. I’d written without publishing anything for a decade before that. Writing consumes my life. I’m always finding ways to fit more of it into my day, ergo Segway dictating on my way to the dispensary.
Do you have any writing rituals? (e.g. burning a candle if you’re having trouble getting started at the computer or writing longhand first if you’re feeling uninspired.)
I need a tall glass of water, I need music, and I need something unhealthy that I shouldn’t be putting into my body. That is to say, usually, intoxicants. I’m like Hunter S. Thompson if he’d been reincarnated into a fluffy kitten chattering at birds outside her window.
I don’t endorse any substance use, for the record. Good mental health makes for great writers, sobriety is awesome, the crazy author stereotype is bung. But I’m one of the crazy ones. Also, I’m lying, I definitely endorse cannabis, but only at bedtime.
On a more wholesome note regarding my ritualizing, I highly recommend listening to The Glitch Mob while writing. Most of their songs don’t have words so I don’t get distracted belting like Beyoncé.
What do you love about writing psychological suspense?
The modern trend in this genre is to have dislikable damaged heroines, which is my jam. I’m a dislikable damaged heroine! Since I’m vain, it’s only natural to want to write people as terrible as I am, doing much more terrible things than I’d ever want to do.
Plus I get to write unreliable narrators, juicy mysteries, and WHOA-worthy twists. Everything about it is fun. I can also pretend that listening to My Favorite Murder is work. It’s called research, darn it!
Why did you choose the genre you’ve chosen?
I’ve always been into every shade of mysteries, especially detective novels. I grew up on Nancy Drew, Edgar Allan Poe, and Sherlock Holmes. Though I’ve spent most of my career writing urban fantasy, even that tends to have a strong procedural element to it (in addition to all the swords and smooching).
When I picked up my first modern psychological suspense novel—Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins—I saw myself in that book. It flipped a switch. The more of those books I read, the harder it became to stop thinking about the genre as a whole.
Over ten years in urban fantasy is a long time, let me tell you. I wrote oodles of it and read oodles more. Falling head-over-heels for a new genre was a breath of fresh air. I can’t exactly say that I chose it. I just started writing and couldn’t stop.
What is the hardest part about writing psychological suspense?
It means confronting my traumas constantly. My books address common psychological suspense tropes like domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual assault… Writing these things has a way of flaring up my PTSD.
In a way, it’s cathartic. One of the only ways to treat PTSD is desensitization therapy—exposure to your triggers so that you build new associations that aren’t as horrible. It hurts to send myself back to some of those emotional places, but I’m in a safe space while writing (unless I’m on my Segway in the middle of a four-lane intersection). Every hour I spend on these books is another hour unpacking my feelings about those traumas, processing them, and putting them to work. I’m slowly desensitizing.
Suspense is also beautifully difficult as a genre. Just the mechanics of it. The books must establish questions and deliver answers in a tight space. You need to fit a lot of character development in to make your damaged characters relatable. You also have to promise things, terrible things, and deliver on them. All in just a couple hundred pages! Quite a challenge. Tons of fun.
Do you get inspiration from any TV shows or movies? If so, which ones?
I’m such a TV/movie junkie. I get inspiration from all of them. Usually I have a “movie of the year” that sticks in my head, influencing my choices of themes and style. This year it’s Into the Spider-Verse. Last year was Annihilation. Previously, I’ve been moved by The Dark Knight, Children of Men, The Fountain, Dredd 3D…
I’ve learned the most about writing compassionate procedurals from the CBS TV show Elementary. The show only ever punches up. It has relentless sympathy for victims and no patience for abusers. The show’s writers often dispense helpful advice on Twitter too! I’ve found it to be a masterclass in functional storytelling.
If money were no object, what would be your dream writing location?
Get me to the cupola on the International Space Station, baby! I bet my sciatica wouldn’t give me any trouble in microgravity. I could get away with wearing a diaper so I wouldn’t have to get up for bathroom breaks while working. Plus, it’s a heck of a view.
Wait, can I vape in the cupola? I bet I can’t vape in the cupola. As long as I can have edibles, I would love to write on the ISS.
Do you belong to any writing organizations?
I’m afraid not. I always think I should join RWA and SFWA, but I’m allergic to paperwork. I break out in hives. Plus they want to know things about you upon application, and clearly I’m such a closed book, I can’t imagine giving people sensitive information about myself.