Sebastian Fitzek: On Developing a Psychological Thriller

Bestselling author Sebastian Fitzek discusses the inspiration behind his latest psychological thriller, The Package, and delivers expert advice for aspiring authors.
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Sebastian Fitzek is one of Europe's most successful authors of psychological thrillers. His books have sold 12 million copies, been translated into more than 24 languages, and are the basis for international cinema and theatre adaptations. Sebastian Fitzek was the first German author to be awarded the European Prize for Criminal Literature. He lives with his family in Berlin.

Sebastian Fitzek

In this post, Fitzek discusses the inspiration behind his latest psychological thriller, The Package, delivers expert advice for aspiring authors, and more!

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Name: Sebastian Fitzek
Title: The Package
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Release date: February 4, 2021
Genre: Psychological thriller
Elevator pitch for the book: The Package is a high-concept psychological thriller that is perfect for fans of The Chain, Adrian McKinty, and John Marrs. It follows Emma, the only survivor of a killer known in the tabloids as “The Hairdresser.”
Previous titles: Therapy, The Nightwalker

The Package

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What prompted you to write this book?

One day, my mailman asked me to accept a package for a neighbor. I did it, of course, being polite, but as soon as I carried the package into the entry, where I meant to leave it, it got me thinking. The recipient’s name wasn’t at all familiar to me. You should also know that I’ve been living on a very small street for years and thought I knew every neighbor personally. People with a healthy repression mechanism might’ve wondered for a second but then just waited to see who came to pick it up. Paranoid people like me, who earn their living by creating hazardous thoughts, start getting scared: What kind of a package is it? Does it contain anything illegal? (I smelled it, shook it, pressed my ear to it.) Is there a particular reason that I of all people was receiving it? Should I be scared of whoever’s picking it up? I knew this situation was the starting point for a thriller plot, and it inspired me to write The Package.

By the way: The unfamiliar name on the package belonged to the Airbnb guest of a neighbor whom I know quite well. Don’t worry, it’s not such a harmless resolution in my thriller.

(5 Tips for Creating a Believable and Captivating Psychological Thriller)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

My characters start developing a life of their own after no more than 80 pages, so the story I thought I had in my head always changes. For The Package, I was surprised by a twist at the end as well, but I can’t give it away here. In total, it takes over four years, from the basic concept to a finished book on the shelves. But that’s because I don’t start writing right away after first getting that impulse described above. From the first sentence to galley proofs takes about a year.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

I was surprised that the story got such a huge response in so many different countries. Psychological thrillers as a rule do appeal to a great many people in the widest variety of regions since a preoccupation with the mysteries and abysses of our own souls is a nearly universal and basic need. More relevant, though, than the many number one spots in Europe are the strong and extremely moving reactions from readers that reach me almost daily for The Package.

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Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

I honestly have to admit that I hardly remember the writing process. It was such a rush.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope the book has the same hypnotic effect on readers that it did on me when writing it.

Fitzek_2:4

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

I advise anyone who’s written more than one book to always remember the feeling that once inspired you to sit down at that desk for the first time and put your story on paper. If you’re working on your debut, then try preserving that magical feeling somehow. From at least the second book on, we start having the wrong thoughts. We’ll ask ourselves: “Will readers who liked my first book read my second as well?” “Will it be just as good for them?” All the questions we never asked ourselves in the beginning, since we didn’t know a single one of our readers before our debut was published apart from the friends and relatives we made read it.

Questioning the market and readers’ preferences is misleading, though. We’re artists, not market researchers. And as long as we can keep reactivating this magical feeling that once made us chase the dream of our own book, what we write will always be driven by heart and soul instead of by calculation. And because the reader can intuitively sense this, we’ll be maximizing not only our joy in writing but also our own chances of success. 

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