Jeff talks about Rivals and Room Service, two holiday short stories he re-released this week.

Jeff reviews the third book in Layla Reyne’s Fog City series, A New Empire.

Gregory Ashe, Layla Reyne and L.A. Witt join Jeff for a discussion about romantic suspense. The authors talk about why it’s a genre they love to write, how they mix the suspense and romance and what they think makes a good book in the genre. Along the way, each of them reveal some facts about their stories that surprised Jeff. They also tell fans what they can expect in 2020.

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Show Notes

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Interview Transcript – Gregory Ashe, Layla Reyne and L.A. Witt

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Jeff: So I am excited to welcome Layla Reyne, Gregory Ashe and L.A. Witt. We are sitting at GRL, which is how we all got to be in the same place. And I’m so excited to have some of my favorite romantic suspense authors all gathered together to talk to us about this topic. So that everybody can get an idea for who you are, if you could each introduce yourselves and tell us about your latest release in this particular genre, and Layla we’ll start with you.

Layla: I’m Layla Reyne. I am the author of the “Agent’s Irish and Whiskey” and “Trouble Brewing” series, a.k.a “The Whiskeyverse,” and the current series I have out right now is “Fog City,” which is a trilogy. And, New Empire” comes out, in November, so that’ll be out.

Jeff: Can’t wait for that. I’m anticipatory as we’re recording.

Layla: Lots of good things. So this will be out after that’s done and that’ll be a complete trilogy and looking forward to it.

Jeff: Awesome.

Gregory: I’m Gregory Ashe and let’s see when this comes out in December 2nd, my most recent release will be “The Rational Faculty,” which is the first new “Hazard and Somerset” book in the new arc. I’m really excited.

So they had a six book arc. They got a little break, a little time to be happy. Now they get to go back to being tortured, working, you know, doing what they should do.

L.A.: I’m L.A. Witt and also Lori A. Witt and Ann Gallagher and Keyser Soze and a few other names. As we’re recording this Cari Z and I are working on book five of the “Bad Behavior” series. It was supposed to be a four book series, but then the narrator came along and gave one of our secondary characters some personality.

Layla: Cause he’s awesome.

L.A.: And yeah, so thank you Michael Ferraiuolo. Now Mark from the first four books is getting his own book. And as of right now, we’re working on it. Probably by the time this comes out, we’ll have a release date for it, but that will be “Protective Behavior.”

Jeff: Fantastic. Good stuff coming all the way around. So I think the best first question is how did each of you get into romantic suspense as being one of the things that you write? Or in some cases, the primary thing that you write?

Layla: So for me, I come from TV land, and so that was always the things I gravitated toward.

I was a huge X-Files fan, and other series along those lines. But I always wanted the romantic thread in it, you know. All nine years. I just gravitate like that seemed to be the most natural place, and I like to blow shit up.

So that happened and I like fast cars, so, it was a natural fit.

Jeff: Your fast cars that you do in San Francisco always make me nervous.

Layla: You know the hills, you know exactly where I’m doing that.

Gregory: I would say kind of by accident, like I was writing, for like 10 years before I got “Hazard and Somerset” up and like was had some people read it and like, but I was writing like epic fantasy, epic fantasy, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, epic fantasy.

And then I was like, man, I got to try something new. So I tried a mystery novel that in my mind was just a mystery novel that happened to have a gay character who was going to be in a relationship, and I found a nice little category on Amazon and put it in there, and I was like, holy cow. There are a lot of other people writing what I want to write and what I want to read.

And so yeah, I kind of just stumbled into it, but yeah.

L.A.: Mine was also kind of by accident. I was writing romance and one of my romance plot bunnies went rogue. It just kept taking little turns and I was like, Oh. It was like, I think this is turning into a romantic suspense.

And I was like, might as well go with it. And that was how “Cover Me,” was my very first romantic suspense. And then later on I started doing more and more of it. And now, probably right now I do about three quarter romance and a quarter romantic suspense, but 2020 I’m going to start doing about 50/50. So I’m going to start shifting, but I’m starting to shift gears toward a lot more suspense, because that’s really where I am.

Jeff: Considering all the plotting, I feel like there’s extra heavy duty plotting that has to go in. Cause you’ve got to manage the suspense plot and the romantic plot. Give them hopefully equal time or the appropriate time, if you’re writing the longer arc.

Layla: And all three of us write continuation series with the same characters. So you’re plotting each book, each book’s mystery. And then you’re plotting and that their relationship on that book, and then you’re also plotting the series out too with all the beats too.

Jeff: Does it get to be crazy or does it all balance itself out somewhere? I have to ask too. Are any of you pantsers because that would stress me out even more?

Layla: No, I’m a hardcore… I’m a plotter.

L.A.: I’m not a pantser, but my outlines change a lot. I outline very vaguely. And I write out of sequence. So a lot of times I’m writing like the epilogue before I’ve written chapter two. So I’m writing all over the place and sometimes I’ll be writing a big suspense plot point later in the story, before I’ve written something earlier. Then I’ll realize I’ll be hung up on something in chapter six and then I’m writing something in chapter seventeen and go, that’s the missing piece. And then I’ll go back and fix that. So I write all over the place. But it is, it is outlined. I know what’s happening, but I do end up changing it a lot.

Gregory: I think we talked about this a little bit when you and I talked last time, but I, I don’t, I’m not like a pantser, but I do outline and I tried to outline the multi book arc, cause I do feel like that is really important. But then everything goes crazy. When I start actually writing things. I’m like, you gotta be kidding me. You did X when you were supposed to do Y. Stephen King talks about story writing is like excavation, right?

And I think there’s something to that, where you have in an excavation, right? You lay out all the lines, the grids that you’re going to work on, but like, you don’t know what’s going to be down there until you get down there. And like, I feel like that happens to me every time. Oh my gosh, you have this problem that, you know, or whatever it is.

L.A.: What do you mean there’s another body?

Gregory: Right, exactly. Yeah. So some sort of combination like that, which does make it hard, I think when you’re, and like you said, things changed, but you roll with it.

Layla: Yeah, you go. I had somebody that was a villain that wasn’t originally the villain. So that happens.

Gregory: Sommers was the villain when I wrote the first draft. Yeah. I got to the end and I was like, Oh, no, I like him too much. Never mind. I’m going to rewrite this whole book.

L.A.: Cari Z and I, when we, when I co-write, I don’t really outline, we have, a general idea of how we’re starting and where it’s going, but we’re kind of vague about anything but the major plot points.

When we wrote “Suspicious Behavior,” it’s a serial killer novel, or they’re pursuing a serial killer and I think it was a third or halfway through, I sent Cari an email and all caps saying, “plot twist.” It’s not this guy – we were literally pointing it towards – we’re going after this guy, and I went, nope, it’s this guy.

And Cari went, okay, let’s go with it. But my rule with plotting with whether it’s suspense or anything else, is that if there’s ever a conflict between the characters and the outline, the characters always win. It’s never led me wrong. And so I’ve frequently had to redo outlines as I go. I have yet to write a book that matches the original outline. It always changes and suspense for me changes 10 times more often than romances.

Jeff: Is it usually the suspense plot that does shift and not the romance, or sometimes both?

L.A.: The suspense plot shifts and the romance plot goes with it.

Because for me, the romance is kind of in the lulls between the suspense where you know the downtime, because I don’t have my characters making out while there’s literally bullets flying over their heads. So the suspense tends to be the driving force. It’s the bad things happening. The characters are trying to have a romance while they’re being dragged through the suspense plot.

Gregory: Which I think is true of what all three of us do.

L.A.: When I changed the suspense plot, the romance just sort of naturally falls in with it. I really don’t, I don’t really do much with the romance plot. It’s like I do the suspense plot and then the romance happens on top of it. I kind of pants the romance plot and plot the suspense plot.

Gregory: That does make me think of, I wish I could remember who said it, but like the, there’s the little dictum, right? Like no surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader, right? So if you don’t have some moment where you are like, Oh my gosh, wait, really? It’s unlikely that the reader will have that either. And so I think there is some truth to that.

Layla: Yeah. I mean, for me, a lot of times too, it shifts, particularly with continuation of what’s going to happen when, like for “Fog City” too, I rewrote that ending three times because it ended in three different places and I had to figure out which one was the right one.

And jumping into, where the characters were, where the romance was cause likewise, I do the suspense first and where’s the romance? The suspense plot where they both ended up in the right place and I wasn’t, you know, completely sure going in. And so it was three different, three different endings until we got it.

L.A.: I’ve done things like that too. I wrote a few years ago as a paranormal / thriller series, and it was supposed to be a standalone book, and then Amy Lane beta read for me and said, this ending doesn’t work. There’s way more that needs to be resolved.

And that ended up, I was like, okay. So I left it more open-ended, which turned the book into a trilogy. Like that book ended, and then I had to write two more books to finish it. And it was essentially, that was the one where I discovered that I hate writing car chases. People always ask me what’s the hardest thing about writing suspense? And I’m like, car chases, I hate car chases. And it got to the point that by the last book, I stuck them on an Island where there were no cars, so they had boat chases instead. But it was all because the ending didn’t work of the original one. And when she told me that, I tweaked it and then the series worked much better.

So, and I was done with the book by then. So even after I’ve written it, I can change the outline.

Jeff: And I’m curious. For you deciding the Sommers wasn’t the bad guy, that must’ve changed the entire series.

Gregory: It wasn’t going to be a series. Yeah. So kind of the same thing where it was gonna be this one off of come back and reconcile with your past bully who happens to be also a murderer. Right. Like a dirty cop. And then turned out that he wasn’t, he was too nice and he actually was friendly and I like the friendlier and nicer he was, the more I was like, Oh. dang it.

I don’t know. It’s interesting that you said that you pants the romance elements. I guess maybe I do some of that. I think there’s ways that it’s hard and maybe this is giving them too much, too much existence, but like, there’s ways that it’s hard to really know. I think for me. How certain things are gonna happen, between them, because so much is dictated by the skeleton of the suspense plot.

Jeff: Well, in your books too, you’ve got more baggage than just the suspense plot. And that’s, I think that’s true of all of you. That there’s always more baggage.

L.A.: We like messing up our characters before we even start writing them.

Jeff: Well, yeah. And in the case of these characters across the board. They’re messed up. In some cases they’re messed up with each other.

Gregory: They are. I think that’s true in “Irish and Whiskey,” like they are, that relationship comes with a lot of baggage for both of them, or certainly for…

Layla: Aidan, yeah, coming back after his husband and then, yeah.

And then in “Trouble Brewing” with Nick, having all the baggage with his family and what’s going on there. And, you know, trying to keep everybody separate from that when it’s just not possible.

L.A.: Speaking of messing up characters in my “Cover Me” series . “Cover Me” was supposed to be a standalone and then “Trust Me,” was just sort of a related sequel, but the characters from “Cover Me” were in it. And I realize that I ended “Cover Me” with a situation where they were just set up for some survivor’s guilt and all kinds of things. And as I was writing, “Trust Me” and those characters were in the background, I was like, their relationship is a dumpster fire right now.

Like, like they’re on the verge of splitting up. And I was like, I’m going to have to write them another book because I didn’t wrap up enough of their romance in the suspense novel. And then all the baggage came out in book two and so book three was then trying to deal with their survivors guilt, their PTSD, and fix their relationship from three books ago.

So that was not planned that way, but had to write it.

Jeff: This is a good jumping off point to ask this question. What do each of you think makes a good romantic suspense?

Layla: I want to turn the page. I mean, that’s it. Like you got to keep, I want to keep turning the page because I need to know what happens.

I need to know what happens with them. It’s got to hook and keep you invested in both of them. I, and I want to see a balance generally, like, I want the mystery part that keeps that part of my brain engaged. And I also want to see the romance part.

And what’s lovely is you actually get a happily ever after, generally speaking, in this genre. So, that’s for me.

Gregory: Well, and I think so, like we were talking maybe before we started recording about the anticipation is better than the actual consummation of these relationships.

It’s certainly that. I feel that that’s true in some ways, and I think that is true for the genre. The reward centers of the brain are wired to, reward uncertainty. So like, that’s why gambling is so addictive, right? And so the less we know who the killer is or how the relationship is going to turn out, or is it going to be this chapter, this book that they finally get together, like the more hardwired we are biologically to be like, Oh boy, I gotta like, I really got to figure this out.

I do think that there’s something to be said for like the genre suspense lends itself really well to romance because of that. Because they’re both about anticipation, right? Like they’re really more about the building to the consummation than about the consummation.

L.A.: Yeah. I think for me, everything they said, but also I want characters with believable motivations and reactions. When I can tell that they’re just doing it because the author wants them to, it drives me nuts. And I also want, believable investigation and believable forensics.

Even if you have to take some liberties, that’s fine. But if I’m hearing this going, there is no way that would ever fly and the thing is, my husband is a military cop with a couple of law enforcement degrees. And so we’ve had these conversations. I’m studying criminology, so it’s really hard for me to just let that stuff slide it. You know, some, again, some liberties are fine, but when it’s very clearly like you’re just making this up and it’s completely wrong, especially if it’s military, then I’m going to just toss the book aside.

But the other thing is, I like, as you said, competent – i don’t like stupid characters yet in the same sense that like one of the reasons I don’t like horror movies is it they rely on characters being exceptionally stupid and I’m more interested in seeing something that keeps intelligent, competent characters from getting things done. Like the horror movie where the characters are doing everything right and they still can’t get away. Or the suspense novel where they’re doing everything right and they still can’t catch the killer. That’s going to hold me a lot more than just the, why are you going in the basement? Like, really?

Layla: Don’t run into the woods at night by yourself.

L.A.: And it seemed, you know, like really did you just pick up the gun at the crime scene and get your fingerprints all over it? You idiot. You know, when it’s that kind of thing. If I feel like the characters are just stupid for the sake of driving the plot, if the plot is driven by the characters stupidity. I’m out.

Jeff: Is it harder to do romantic suspense because there has to be the HEA at the end? So you can’t have a severe plot twist necessarily.

Layla: You mean Like I did?

Jeff: But you really didn’t. She’s referring to “Fog City” here because “Fog City” one has this massive cliff hanger where you don’t know, but I mean you set up, but you were very clear that this was a trilogy. And even if you go back to “Irish and Whiskey” and “Trouble Brewing” those were three book arcs. They didn’t necessarily end up that hard cliffhanger like “Fog City.” But they weren’t together at the end of book one. They were still working on it. And then there’s Gregory who drags things out over six books.

Gregory: Sorry, man, I apologize, again.

Jeff: But does that make it harder? Because like for me as a reader, I go, yeah, this has to work out. It really, really has to work out.

L.A.: I think for me, like one of my favorite things is when I get an email from a reader who’s knee deep in one of my suspense novels saying can you just confirm to me that this is a romantic suspense because “If the Seas Catch Fire” is romantic suspense between two hitmen and one of them has to take out a hit on the other and there’s a point where they realize there is no turning back. You have to fulfill this hit, you have to kill me and it there, there is a scene where he ends up with a gun up under the other guy’s jaw and I have had so many people say, “I’m on page whatever. Is this romantic suspense or not?” So even when they buy it as a romantic suspense, that suspension of disbelief is also that they don’t necessarily know.

And one of my favorite plot devices, if anybody’s read my romantic suspense, you know I do. This is at the end, towards the end when the climax, somebody’s going to be in a really bad situation. You don’t know if they’re going to make it. Somebody is leaving in an ambulance, somebody leaving in a medivac, somebody’s going into the ER and the other one’s going, Oh my God, is he gonna make it? There’s always something like that and I write that. I try and write it so that the character, the reader is actually going, Oh my God, are they gonna make it?

Jeff: I’ve had ones too where it’s like, how are they going to come back from that?

L.A.: That’s the best thing ever. When readers email you and say, or they put in a review, I had no idea how they were going to come back from this. I’m like, yes. Good.

Gregory: It can be a frustrating part of the genre, like the need for the happily ever after, and I’m not opposed to it. And I do think, as you’ve pointed out, that sometimes as long as people are willing to accept it over the arc of the books, then I think that allows for a lot more artistry in the relationship where having a hard and fast requirement for every book, which for some readers it is. I think that’s just a reality of the genre, right?

Like there are readers who will not be satisfied because that’s their preference, that if it’s not resolved, each relationship doesn’t have a happily ever after ending in each book. If we tie that your question about happily ever after endings into the previous question about what makes for good romantic suspense, I do think that one of the things that makes for romantic suspense I want to read is a sense of realism that in the relationship as well as in the mystery.

And that’s hard because people are terrible to each other and like problems are not resolved. All the time efficiently. And so I think, I feel like I know that I do not do it perfectly, but I do find myself walking that line of, can I, can I say this problem is not resolved.

And in the “Borealis” series, like they get together in one of the books, but there are still relationship issues to be worked through in the next one. Right. And I think, to me, that feels real and authentic, and I hope more meaningful, but I don’t, I think the reality of the genre is that that’s not what most readers want.

L.A.: I prefer my romances like that, and I’ve noticed that my readers like them too.

Gregory: Really?

L.A.: Yeah.

Layla: I think you just have to set expectations, right? Like I went into “Hazard and Somerset” knowing that that was going to be slow, slow, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted the slow burn. Likewise, I went into “Bad Behavior,” knowing that this was going to be a multi arc. And “Fog City” I put the cliffhanger warning in the blurb.

Gregory: Yes. You did.

Layla: So that, that was setting that expectation.

Gregory: Yeah. There’s a really good point.

Layla: And then I think you can, you know, the readers are then going to pick it up and they’re going to go book to book, or they’re going to wait until the end.

And that, again, that’s their preference. They can do it, but you know what’s lovely about romantic suspense is I think we have more leeway to do that. We have more leeway to do continuation series. You don’t see that in contemporary really.

L.A.: I have found in my romances, I tend to have, especially because I write a lot of military, which means a lot of my characters have varying degrees of PTSD. It’s always gonna affect their relationships. There’s always that. And so. It’s kind of the, they did one of those memes on Twitter where they said, you know, you’re in a author book because, and I said, you know, you’re in an L.A. Witt novel because and one of them was if you’re not in therapy now, you will be because a lot of my characters, it does mention at the end that, yeah, I’m going to go see a therapist because I have to deal with this because I don’t like to write it where we fell in love and it magically fixed my combat PTSD.

And I have all my cops and all my first responders. One of my books is a paramedic with PTSD. Actually have two paramedics have PTSD. I’m really bad to my paramedics, and in the end they’re still gonna be messed up. And that’s still gonna affect, I shouldn’t say messed up. They’re still gonna have PTSD, they’re still gonna have issues, depression, things like that.

Yeah. It’s still gonna affect a relationship. And so I always leave that as, it’s not going to magically fix everything, but we’re going to be, we’re going to do this together. And I think that’s the big thing for me and in my romance and my romantic suspense, I always put it as, yeah, there’s a lot of crap we have to deal with.

But we’re going to face it together, and I found that readers are fine with that as long as it’s, we’re gonna do this together, they’re good.

Jeff: Lori, you touched on this a little bit, balancing the romance and the suspense, have you found that readers want to tilt more one way or the other, or do they just go on the ride? Because sometimes, as we’ve noted already, readers can be very vocal about, is this going to be okay?

L.A.: Like I said, my suspense tends to drive the romance. I really don’t like the, you know, the bad guys are right outside so we’re gonna make out against the door. Or am I going to declare my undying love to you while we’re speeding down the road and I really need to be watching the road, cause I’m kind of a, let’s do the action and then when there’s that lull, we can be like, okay, what about that thing you said the other day and that sort of thing. I kind of think of it as the suspense are the rocks and the romance is the sand filling in the top.

They’re together. But it’s the suspense that’s the base. And then fill in the romance as I go.

Gregory: I come at the question, I guess in two ways. One of them is like when I’m just generating ideas about this story, like oftentimes scenes. In the romantic plotline will be very vivid and I’ll know, okay, I have to have this fight because I have to smash something with a hammer. Right. Or something like that. And like, I know that to me it becomes very gripping.

Layla: Did you have the glass scene? The mirror? In mind?

Gregory: No, that wasn’t one of the ones. But that’d be a good example of one that like, stuff like that normally is what I have structurally in place.

I think in terms of like functionality, like the, one of the ways that romance works so well with suspense is that in any mystery or thriller, you need those transitions scenes in between. Right? The action packed scenes, and I think a lot of times those fall flat if you don’t have something else carrying the weight there, and so the romance can carry the weight there that also allows you to segue from the disaster in the scene before into the new goal and the action that drives the next.

L.A.: It’s like breathing room, but it’s not filler. It’s not fluff. It’s just, it gives the reader a chance to catch that breath and the character a chance to get more stressed out.

Gregory: It gives you a control over pacing. It gives you control over emotion, right. Over the, whatever the reader’s emotions supposed to be. Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s a really, it’s like I have a hard time imagining how to write a mystery without it. Yeah. Cause it’s so, it’s so useful.

Layla: Yeah. I mean like when you think about particularly what you said, Lori, the, it’s kind of like an act, like if you think about an action movie, it’s just go, go, go and you’re exhausted at the end because there was never really a pause or anything. And it does allow us that chance to go slow. You know, you can can ride it a little bit more.

L.A.: Downtime that doesn’t actually slow down the story. There’s still something happening. You can catch your breath a little bit.

And I’ve also noticed with sex scenes in suspense. One of the things that bothers me is the sex scenes where, yeah, we totally just had a big fist fight and we’re all covered in broken glass and you’ve got like three bullet holes, but we’re going to have sex anyway. And I’m like, no, you’re not.

I’ve noticed I’m writing less and less sex in my suspense novels because there tends to be like a lot more intense things going on. And one of the things when Cari Z and I wrote “Bad Behavior” is there was very little sex in it. There was just a little bit of sex in the first two books. The third book has no sex in it at all.

The reason for that is the whole case is that Andreas’s kids have been kidnapped. There was no way we could have him having sex while his kids are kidnapped and while Darren’s dealing with everything with his brother. It was like, even as a cathartic thing there was just no way they would ever be able to do it.

So we decided, we made a conscious decision at the beginning. There’s going to be no sex in this book, and I think it worked much better.

Jeff: Sometimes readers get upset, like there’s not enough sex in this book. Do you find that when you make those choices, or do the readers get it too, that it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do?

L.A.: I’ve had some where they’re like, you know, I was kinda hoping it’d be hotter, but I get why it wasn’t. And also the, the thing is the romance and the, the emotional tension between them is still there. There’s still things happening. They’re just not going to bed together because hello, his kids have been kidnapped and he’s busy.

Plus his ankle’s shattered – a lot going on. I was shattered and three kidnapped kids. Let’s do this.

Jeff: In terms of, and this drills a little more down into building the stories when you’re doing these what is your spark of the idea. Is it, I have this cool character and I want to put them through hell this way, or this is a cool suspense plot how can I use this thing? I kind of imagined the romance would almost really do what Lori was saying around that the suspense drives the romance after that. So kind of where’s the chicken and where’s the egg and all that?

Layla: It shifts for me, right? So for “Irish and Whiskey.” I had that hacker plot. I knew what that was. I live in Silicon Valley. I got the hackers and we knew someone who worked in the level four containment facility too. So that was all there and the characters came. In “Trouble Brewing,” I did not expect those two to be together. And then they showed up on the page together in “Irish and Whiskey” and I was like, okay, let’s go and so we did that. For “Fog City” I saw the picture that’s on the third book cover.

I was cruising Wander Aguiar’s photography site, looking for actually Eddie’s photo, who I’m still trying to find, to do a spin off from “Trouble Brewing” and I saw that picture and I was like. What’s their story? And within a week I had it and went back and bought the other two covers.

So it matched up with the POVs. That one was romance driving it. That picture is just so stunning. I was like, what’s going on versus, and then the other plot came in on top of it.

Gregory: That’s cool. For me, it is always the two romantic leads like always, like it starts with them and usually it’s a slow process. Like, I’ll start with like this, please don’t institutionalize me. Like I’ll hear like a snippet of dialogue or like, I’ll just read, there’s this one that I’ve been playing around with and I was doing this cross country drive with my boyfriend.

Day three I was like gonna bash my head against the window just to not have to be conscious anymore for the rest of the drive. And all of a sudden I just heard this kid who was telling someone else he thought another boy in their school was a serial killer. My whole mind lit up. Like once that happens, like I think the, the like I am getting a better sense of which ideas I want to pursue. Because I light up like that and I’m like, Oh my gosh, that is like, that’s the one I want to do. And the ones that are like kind of interesting, and then they just go on the back burner until they’ve cooked enough. But it’s always the two leads that for me drive it.

Jeff: We get the serial killer kid book when?

Gregory: Oh gosh. I can’t wait. The title of it is “Tyco Prince Might be a Serial Killer” and I cannot wait to write it. It’s going to be really fun. But, yeah, I dunno. Who knows? Like, I feel like that’s the problem is I get these great ideas and then I actually have to go teach high school some days. Like they expect me to show up at five days a week.

L.A.: Yeah. Slave drivers.

Jeff: We need to work on that problem.

Gregory: Yeah.

L.A.: Mine, mine come from pretty much anything. “Incel” happened because I went down the incel [involuntarily celibate] subreddit rabbit hole and yeah, and I started going, I started going there. There’s a suspense novel here, and the research for that was hell.

It was awful, but it was all because of the whole incel thing. And I realized I need to write about this. And then the characters came later. With, “Blood and Bitcoin,” I wanted to write a hacker who was also a mafia boss, and I really wanted to do something with cryptocurrency even though it meant learning about cryptocurrency, which made me want to stab my eyeballs out. But I learned it. I know everything about Bitcoin now. Can’t get that outta my head.

But anyway. Then there’s other things like I was, I wanted to write this fantasy story at one point about a vampire who was trapped in a castle, whatever. And I was being kind of snide when I wrote it. And I said, you know, he has a chip on his shoulder and I couldn’t read my handwriting. And it looked like I wrote a chip in his shoulder and my brain went, Oh my God. Cyberpunk. And it turned into a cyberpunk thriller. And that’s how A Chip in His Shoulder happened.

Then the sequel to that, “Something New Under the Sun” literally happened while I was driving through New Mexico about five or 10 years ago, because I was sick. I had a fever. It was like half fever, dream half. I’m tired of staring at the New Mexico desert and I started coming up with the sequel, but it was coming up with a sequel to A Chip In His Shoulder going and having little snippets of scenes, and then it ended up.

So, but other times, Cari Z and I, when we were in a hotel at RT, we were like, we should totally co-write. We should write about some cops. A thriller would be fun. And she goes, I liked the idea of a young, newly minted detective who’s like the son of the commissioner. And I was like, I want to write an older kind of like, quasi possibly dirty cop who’s also HIV positive. And we were like, I don’t know what the plot’s going to be, but let’s do this. Anna Zabo was sitting in the room with us, just kind of laughing because we just like came up with these characters. And then the next thing we knew we had the plot and now five books later.

Jeff: You touched on research and Bitcoin research. You knew the level four folks, but I know your books are heavy in research. I’m not so sure how much do you do though, because you’re such that small town sort of mystery.

Gregory: I based it on a real town, I won’t say the name of, but like I often like pull up their city website or like look at their own

Layla: Zillow thinks that I want a $12 million house and I’m like, ya know, Cam blew that up.

Gregory: You’re not going to buy that. But I would say mostly I do research on forensics and creative ways to kill people like, what temperature a body burns in at, things like that.

L.A.: You need to go to murder con.

Gregory: I think I would enjoy it.

L.A.: I went this year. It was amazing.

Gregory: So I always have my VPN going cause I feel like I don’t want people to know exactly what I’ve searched for.

Jeff: When does the research enter? Do you write your first draft and leave your holes where you know you need the detail or do you research ahead of time?

L.A.: It depends on what I’m researching. Things like, I researched incel by spending eight months on incel forums, pretending to be an incel, which was the most absolute, hellish, toxic thing I’ve ever done in my life.

And, so then when I went to write the book. The stuff I saw on the forum would enter into chapters where it was, it was forum dialogue or things like that, but a lot of it was just internalized because I’d been around it, which is not a thing you want to have internalized, but it was things that I could basically have them put out in dialogue and mentioned because it was kind of becoming second nature.

If it’s a forensic thing. If it’s something like really basic, like what they would call this machine they’re using, I’ll just put it in brackets, look up the machine. If it’s something where I need the whole scene is going to get a change based on it, then I will actually research it first and make sure I’m not going to screw it up.

Gregory: And so it’s interesting cause I feel like there’s a pretty wide range of advice about what to do on this issue. Like there are people that will recommend on anything. Just don’t stop writing, just put the brackets and then keep going. But Nora Roberts makes this great point about how she’s never hired a research assistant, even with all the gobs of money she has, because she never knows what she’s going to find.

You know, like when you do the research yourself, you find these crazy cool things. That your research assistant would probably be like, not relevant, not relevant, not relevant.

L.A.: I’ve had books come out of research. Entire new books from research

Gregory: I can’t think of the name right now. Who wrote “Bird by Bird?”

Can anybody? Is it Anne, it’s Anne something [Anne Lamott]. She says the same thing. She tells a story about wanting, she wanted to know like. What this very particular part of a bottle was called. So she’s like calling the manufacturer. And she was like, and I ended up talking to this 90 year old man on the phone and I was like, that might be a bit much for me, but like I get the point, right?

This idea that you hiring your research assistant or, which I can’t do. Right. But making my 14 year old students research like I think is counterproductive in some ways because you like, you can only draw on what you have in that well.

Layla: I mean, for me, I probably do a high level research.

I’m starting a series with a forensic genealogist as the lead character, and so I’ve read, you know, the FBI agent who helped catch the golden state killer. So I’ve read through her books. Yeah, I’ve got the basic concept and there’s going to be some brackets where you know, my husband’s a scientist, so it’s going to be like DNA this shit for me. Say science shit and we’ll move on. And so, you know, that’ll be, that’s kind of in the same way with “Irish and Whiskey” it was like, I know enough of the hacker language from hearing it and just being in Silicon Valley, I didn’t know all the particulars necessarily. And so it was, let’s bracket this and here’s what it needs to accomplish and the brackets and what it kind of needs to be, and then we’d go back through and get those details right on the next pass.

L.A.: That’s what I do with a lot of my military stuff because I’m relatively fluent in military jargon, especially Navy, especially Navy police, cause it’s what my husband does.

So I can do a lot of it myself. But if I can’t, I just bracket it with “ask Eddie.”

Gregory: And the thing that I think what’s so valuable that the brackets is if you are serious about writing, you can’t let the research derail you.

It’s more important to get the words on the page than to spend 40 years learning that the secrets of whatever their arcane topic is that you’ve chosen, like, and I think you made a good point earlier that everyone’s gonna have topics that they want to see accurately represented, but I think for a majority of the populace, you just need to get enough right, that you’re trying to be true to it, and then you need to write it.

Layla: Well and you have to know your audience. Particularly with the hacker stuff, it was like, I can’t go. I could really go into this and like my husband started rambling thing. I’m like, no, James Bond version. Does it pass the laugh test as a passage? And we can we say, does it pass the James Bond test?

You have to know what the audience is too, as to what level you’re going to go at. You still want to be accurate, but it needs to not also hang up the reader in the details.

L.A.: I think the best description I ever heard, and I can’t remember who told me what it was, it was you need to do enough research that you know, your book needs to sound like you did the research, like you know what you’re talking about, but not be research for your reader.

So the reader needs to buy that you know what you’re talking about. Like there’s a part in “Blood and Bitcoin” where I do get into how the cryptocurrency market works, because you need to know that to understand a major plot point. A major plot point is that a character is, has found a way to manipulate the Bitcoin currency rate.

I needed to know how to do that. So I give just enough information to make it clear that I know what I’m talking about. The character doesn’t, they’re talking about, and you can follow.

Jeff: I totally understood that part too.

L.A.: There’s also a thing of knowing when to stop researching. I found that for me was when I was researching. I wrote a, an ancient Roman historical few years ago, and I found that I researched until I started going. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I know that. I know that. I knew. Once it started all looking familiar, I was like, okay, now I know enough to write and then I can go back and research the finer points.

Layla: On, especially if it clicks as to what’s going to happen.

Yeah, like I was when I was reading through those books on the forensic geology stuff, I’m like, Oh, I see this. I understand how one, two and three is going to go. Stop. Go. Write. Before I lost it. Or at least outline it because then, and then I can go back and fill in.

Jeff: You each write vastly different romantic suspense. What is it about your plots in particular that kind of keep you coming back to similar themes? Then also I’m curious what kind of romantic suspense you like to read.

L.A.: I like to read the ones that, as I said, are competent and believable. If it’s, if somebody’s got a cozy mystery that can keep me turning the pages I’m in. If it’s a hacker story that doesn’t sound like somebody’s trying to sound like they have a PhD in hacking. Great. You know, so like as long as I give crap about the characters and the plot is believable and the investigation is happening competently and accurately, I can go with it as soon as they start obviously making it up and it’s like, Oh, we’re a CSI writer now. Okay. The book out the window, if it sounds like a CSI script, I’m out. And as far as what I, the kind of I, write. It’s just, is whatever kernel of an idea starts and then I just go from there. And sometimes it ends up being an erotic, romantic suspense. Sometimes it ends up being more thriller with a little bit of romance. It just depends on the story.

Gregory: Yeah, I would say so. I’m, I guess in terms of the actual murders, I try. I’m drawn to like the golden age model of the fair mystery, right? Where the reader has access to all of the same clues as the detective, because I do just find that enjoyable. I like it when people can say, I figured it out before the end, you know, before Hazard, or when they say, I didn’t, but I can see it all, you know, like at the end.

So I think infrastructurally I often go back to collections of short mystery stories or, longer pieces from that period. And I just look at like how they do that because it’s a hard, it’s hard to, it’s easy to have the detective solve it cause he has these untapped resources that I don’t have, you know, I think it’s harder to make it fair play.

So I know everybody has different gauges that kind of activate when you pick up a new book. Prose is a really big deal breaker for me. Like if, if I find the prose clunky, if there’s too much, like telling the same information that’s been communicated in dialogue are telling the same information that’s been given as description.

Like those are real big. Okay. I’m glad I only spent 3.99 or whatever on this. I’m gonna move on . I think after it passes that test and I’m really looking for character, voice, things like that.

Layla: Yeah. I mean, for me, I’m an action movie junkie, and that’s probably pretty clear. That’s how I got into writing was through fan fiction. And so that’s why mine tend to be real action heavy. But with the mystery, cause I like kind of having the both aspects and from like the detective aspect of it.

As far as reading, I want to sit with characters for awhile. I love continuation series. Like that’s what I want to read. I want to get to know those characters. I want to get to know them over a long haul. That’s what I’m looking forward to as a reader. And then also the prose, like it’s got to be decent edited and it’s gotta work with the story too.

It can be a really great story, then if the prose doesn’t live up to it, it’s the saddest thing in the world.

Gregory: And it’s hard because the more you write, the more aware I am of my own deficiencies. And then it’s easy to spot in other people’s prose the things that I wish were stronger in mind or that I wish I could do, but they’re doing really well. I took this class from Brandon Sanderson once and he said something like, the pleasure I used to take in reading I now take in writing. And I think that’s really true for me and a lot of ways, like it’s much rarer for me to find the book that I can actually disappear into.

I think because, and I feel like this sounds really braggy and I don’t mean it to be, I just I can’t shut it off.

L.A.: For me, because of some vision problems. My reading for pleasure is almost exclusively audio and for me, what I pick for what I read also depends very heavily on the narrator.

If you have an excellently written thriller and all this, but your narrator can’t carry it, if they just have like a flat monitor the entire time they’re talking and their pacing is kind of all over the place and they just can’t deliver anything. I’m out. I’m not going to do it.

And that’s why I have my narrators who I listen to. And when I found some of my own narrators who do really amazing timing for suspense. That’s why Michael Ferraiuolo does all my suspense and Nick Russo does some too, is because they’ve got the timing and the voice down in the pacing. And for me, that makes a huge difference. If I can’t listen to the narrator, I’m not gonna be able to read the book.

Jeff: And like, you both have terrific generators. Tristan James does stuff. Charlie David’s now doing stuff for you. And it does make a difference for sure.

Layla: I mean, when I was looking in into “Fog City” it was like, I need someone who knows the pacing and also my sentence structure and how to read it.

L.A.: So I actually found with the, again, with Michael, since he and I worked together a lot, that after he and I talked to each other that his narrations changed because he knows my cadence and I write the way I speak.

And now he’s started narrating closer to my cadence, and you can actually hear a difference between the books he did before we started talking and after.

Gregory: That’s really cool.

L.A.: It works really well having that, that match up. So I think, even for authors that are gonna do audio books, it is really important to have a narrator who can hold the reader and also can hold your voice.

Jeff: Do you find that the flip side of what you just said also happens where as you hear what your narrator’s done with your first book, that you start considering that as you’re writing either that character or as you’re constructing new characters that you know they’re gonna have to give voice to.

Gregory: You asked me that last time you interviewed me and I swore to myself I would have an answer by the time I did this again, I still have no answer. I wish I knew. I have thought about that so many times since you asked me cause I was like, did Tristan shape how I write the rest of those, like, I don’t know. I wish I knew. Like I just have such a hard time. I think I, I’m gonna stop cause I don’t know. Give me another year.

L.A.: I absolutely write to the narrators because I know who’s going to narrate the book before I write it. And I will write specifically, like if I know that Nick Russo is going to narrate a book, I will write based on his voice. I’ve even done a couple where I knew I was going to have two narrators do it, and I wrote one chapter in that narrative voice in one in the other specifically to play to their strengths and their delivery.

And yes, I definitely do that for audio, but I’m also, I have a lot of books in audio. Audio is a huge thing for me, so that’s a huge priority for me.

Layla: And for me I’m thinking about the word choice sometimes in the sentence structure and how that’s going to play in audio. More so than before.

and so because I’m listening to so much more of it as well and what works. And so yeah, to an extent.

Gregory: Can I change? Can I change my answer? I will say hearing it did make me change my sentence structure. I didn’t think about that until you said that, but yes, cause I heard it. I was like, boy, it’s real hard when you put those appositive phrases right. And you know what? I was like that’s a change I can make. But yeah.

L.A.: It changed my dialogue a lot, cause I’ve noticed that I tend to write dialogue based on how people talk. So there’s a lot of ums and ahs and whatever. And I noticed that the rhythm of my dialogue has changed based on the fact that it is going to be read as well.

Jeff: So looking forward into 2020, what do we have to look forward to from you guys?

Layla: So for me, I’m doing a series, like the forensic genealogy series I talked about. It’s a prickly older, he is a FBI Academy professor, who does forensic genealogy and he gets paired with a hot shot younger detective who’s had the hots on him since Academy.

So there’s that, and that’s going to be a continuation. And then there’s a couple spinoffs coming for “Fog City.” Helena is getting a book and Holt is getting a book. So, I am stoked to do those. Then Mel might be leading a little bit of a Charlie’s Angels kind of vibe.

Gregory: So I’m going to be, I’m working on a five book “Hazard and Somerset” arc. This one is called “A Union of Swords.” It sounds real phallic when you say it. That was not the intention. It comes from a quote. So that’s going to take me through the middle of next year, and then I do have another “Borealis” arc that I’m going to work on, and then maybe I’ll write by the teenage serial killer. I mean, that’s maybe my next one.

L.A.: Well, like I said earlier, I’m, I’m very much shifting in 2020 towards doing about half romantic suspense, half romance. So there’s going to be a lot more suspense that I’ve written in the past. There’s going to be a lot of sequels. “If the Seas Catch Fire” is finally going to get its two sequels, “Blood and Bitcoin” is getting a sequel, “Hackers and Hitmen,” which will probably be around mid year and “Incel” it’s going to get a much fluffier sequel called “Traffic.” So you know, that one’s going to be super light and fluffy and I can’t wait to research that one. I’m actually researching it now going. Why do I do this to myself? Why?

And Cari Z and I, as of right now that we’re recording this, we are about halfway through “Bad Behavior” book five. I don’t know what we’re gonna write next only that knowing us, because we’ve done five romantic suspense in “Bad Behavior” and we did the two “Double Trouble” books, it’ll be some sort of suspense. So you can almost guarantee you there’ll be something more for me and Cari Z next year.

Jeff: And how can everybody keep up with you online so they know when this stuff comes out?

Layla: So pretty much all of mine is at Layla Reyne, be it on Facebook or Twitter and then I have a Facebook group, Layla’s Lushes and that’s typically where I’m at the most.

Gregory: I’m real bad at social media. If you go to my website,, I have a mailing list. I do send out a free short story before every new release. So like, you kind of get like a little fun. Usually they’re happier and like, you get to see the boys doing something like trying to do yoga. So that’s probably the best way and you get a little freebie out of it.

L.A.: For me the best way is anything that’s Gallagher Witt. That’s my website, my Twitter. I’m on Facebook. I have a reading group, which is the Gallagher Witt Gaggle. And I don’t post as often as I should.

That’s where you’re going to go for if you want to see new covers and what’s coming up and little snippets and also just on my regular Facebook page. But mostly, Twitter and my website are the best way to keep them.

Jeff: Fantastic. And we’ll put all that stuff in the show notes page so that everybody can find it. Thank you all so much. This has been so incredibly fun.