An interview with Adam Sass

Interview by Nicholas Havey

Adam Sass began writing books in Sharpie on the backs of Starbucks pastry bags. (He’s sorry it distracted him from making your latte.) His newest YA novel, The 99 Boyfriends of Micah Summers was named a Best Book of 2022 by Seventeen Magazine. His award-winning debut, Surrender Your Sons, was named a Best Book of 2020 by Kirkus.

Adam has also been featured in Teen Vogue, Publishers Weekly, and the Savage Lovecast. His forthcoming novel, Your Lonely Nights Are Over, releases September 2023 from Viking. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband and dachshunds. Find him on all socials at TheAdamSass.

Your first three books are very different. What inspires you to write and how do you see each of your works, if at all, connected?

My first three books are indeed very different (an adventurous thriller with strong social themes, a bubbly romantic comedy, and a darkly funny horror slasher), but I see them all as one thing: one big story about gay loneliness, and the ways different people react to it. The characters in my first book, Surrender Your Sons, are terribly lonely, and the adults use that loneliness to excuse the pain they inflict on others, while the teens instead choose to band together. That meant the book became more epic, about heroes and villains. In my rom-com, 99 Boyfriends, my sweet main character yearns and retreats into fantasy, so the book became optimistic and almost magical. And in my newest, Your Lonely Nights Are Over, a killer can’t bear living with their own loneliness, so much so that they have to snuff out other lonely people. So, the story became horrific. But I see them all as one thing, how queers deal with their isolation, particularly the isolation of growing up queer.

Chicago was practically a character in The 99 Boyfriends of Micah Summers and Stone Grove, while fictional, feels equally real and important to the plot of Your Lonely Nights Are Over. How do you decide on a setting for your novels?

Placemaking is so important to my writing. It’s one of the first things I decide. I want my books to be little teleportation devices that can bring a reader—no matter where they are or what they’re going through—into the story, as if they’re there. I prefer highly detailed setting descriptions for this reason. For me, places are tied to emotions, so whatever dominant emotion I want readers to feel, that’s what leads me to the setting. 99 Boyfriends is about awe, delight, and surprises around every corner, so I picked Chicago, which was this place where dreams come true for me when I visited as a closeted small town teen. Stone Grove, on the other hand, is a desolate suburb in Arizona, which I chose for Lonely Nights when I vacationed one summer at a resort near there. Lonely Nights needed to feel like death was everywhere, even in bright daylight. Isolated, deadly, and oddly beautiful, which just screamed desert to me. And I didn’t want to use rural California because my main characters dream of moving to LA, and it needed to be a faraway dream.

Lonely Nights moves at breakneck (forgive the pun) speed. Did you cut anything you really missed in the final version? 

Speaking of the vacation I took to Tucson, I had a longer sequence that brought Dearie and Cole’s investigation into the killing spree to an all-inclusive desert resort. This never made it past the outline phase, but one of the victims in the book (an older gay writer) is killed in his cabin. We never go to the cabin in the book, but in my outline, it was this bougie resort. And Dearie and Cole went full Nancy Drew, impersonating employees so they could rifle through the victim’s room for clues. At one point, the boys get separated because Cole is mistaken for a masseuse by a very demanding guest, and he has to keep up the ruse and go with her to her private yurt. It killed me to cut it, but the story I was telling was fast-paced and high school-focused, so this just felt like too long of a detour just to play some character games. RIP.

One of the themes that stuck out to me in Lonely Nights is friendship and, maybe more specifically, queer kinship. Given the wealth of horror tropes that center on romance (it’s always the boyfriend!), what do you hope readers take away from Dearie and Cole’s friendship?

Dearie and Cole’s friendship is everything to me. Everything. They’re the most important relationship I’ve written so far. I want readers—but specifically young queer ones—to take away that you don’t need a romantic partner to mute your loneliness. Queer friendships can have just as much power—and for some people, casual intimacy. The dark forces in this book aren’t just trying to kill the boys, they’re trying to tear them apart—or worse, make them fit into a box of either “friend” or “boyfriend.” The beauty of some queer friendships is that those boxes don’t need to exist for the love to be valid.

Lonely Nights is clearly influenced by Wes Craven’s Scream. Was Lonely Nights inspired by any other killers or true crime stories?

The summer I wrote this, my husband and I watched The Night Stalker about Richard Ramirez out here in LA. He inspired a few of the elements of Mr. Sandman, the killer in my book, because of how undiscerning he was with his victims. It could literally be anyone. There wasn’t a pattern. And chillingly, Ramirez could seemingly just walk into your home at any moment. That wound its way into Lonely Nights, that neither daylight nor your typical lock precautions could save you. Mr. Sandman sets his sights on you and that’s it.

There are clues to the killer(s)’ identity throughout Lonely Nights. Do you have a favorite breadcrumb you wanted your readers to pick up and follow?

People who’ve already read the book once and read it a second time have texted me: My God, all the clues are in the first chapter. It’s all there! That’s all I’ll say. Who is where in that first chapter, and what they’re doing, are vital.

There’s always a final scare, a remake, or a copycat killer. Is there any chance Mr. Sandman might pop up in your future work?

Like I said before, I love Dearie and Cole, and—without confirming if they survive the events of this book or not—I would kill for the opportunity to see them again in some way.

What’s next for you?

It’s too soon to talk details, but in 2024, I’ll be returning briefly to romantic comedies with my next YA from Penguin Teen, which is less bubbly than 99 Boyfriends. This one is very personal, a romance for gay teens who feel like they’re old souls. I call it a hate-fest because enemies-to-lovers just isn’t strong enough for how these boys feel about each other. Another tale from my Gay Loneliness series, and this one is about how loneliness can calcify in gays who have had too many disappointments, even at an early age. It’s a comedy about bitterness and depression, but I promise it is really funny and romantic! After that, I’d love to stick around the horror-thriller-mystery space for a longer stretch, but that’s currently up to the Publishing Gods.

About the interviewer: Dr. Nicholas Havey is a Senior Manager at First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise focused on improving educational equity, a thriller and mystery writer, and a lover of all, but particularly queer, fiction. Nicholas’ other reviews of fiction are featured in Lambda Literary, Rain Taxi Review, and The Washington Independent Review of Books, and his reviews of academic work appear in a number of peer-reviewed journals.