By Eyre Price
International man of action, Dominic Grey, has fought cults and criminals all over the globe. In his next escapade, he takes on THE SHADOW CARTEL. We recently sat down with Dominic’s creator, Layton Green, and asked the world-traveler-turned-bestseller about his journey to the top of the bestseller list and where he plans to go from here.
You have a diverse background, from intern for the United Nations to ESL teacher in Central America, from tending bar in London to selling knives on the streets of Brixton. How have your varied experiences across the globe influenced your writing?
In an irreplaceable way. Some writers claim to write better from their imagination (though conscious imagination is of course influenced if not dictated by experience), and I believe it was Graham Greene who famously said he didn’t need to visit a place to write about it. Every writer’s journey is different, but for me, yes, my life’s experiences are such stuff as novels are made of.
You have a legal background, as well. How did your training in the law influence you as a writer?
I started writing novels while I was working at my first law firm (many would argue that I had already written plenty of fiction), and in the beginning, I had to retrain my writing style to be creative rather than dry and linear. But my legal training has helped me tremendously with plotting and research.
Your new novel, THE SHADOW CARTEL, follows your investigator, Dominic Grey, as he digs deeper into the dark corners of the international drug trade. Can you describe what your research for the project involved?
Loads of reading up on the subject matter, conversations with people involved, and travel to the places portrayed in the novel.
In the course of the book, Dominic faces off against a foe known as The General who is…a real bastard. Some people say that it’s the hero that carries a book and others believe that a story is only as good as the villain is bad.
What’s more important to you?
So far, it’s been my heroes. When I read and when I write, I need at least one character who is a decent soul—flawed, but striving to be good—to hold my interest, and probably even to drive the story. I can’t bear to watch House of Cards because I don’t like any of the characters.
Do you have a set writing schedule or process that you follow?
I write five or six days a week, from as early as I can get started until late afternoon. Or at least, those are the times I’m supposed to be writing.
Part of what the ITW is about helping those who are just starting out on the path. When you look back at your career to date, what are some mistakes that you think you made early on? What are the things you did at first that really paid off?
I’m not really one who looks back and bemoans my mistakes. Not that I haven’t made loads (I have); just that I prefer to look ahead. I guess most of my mistakes were craft-based, and they were legion. The two best decisions: hiring a private editor, and starting on my second novel instead of continuing to wallow in depression when the first didn’t sell.
Can you describe the trajectory of your writing career? How did you get started and how did it develop?
I had had an agent for years, and some good ideas, but my work wasn’t quite ready. The turning point was The Summoner, which my agent at the time loved, and a few editors loved as well, but which editorial boards and sales teams did not love at all, since the novel was set wholly in Zimbabwe. I decided that was a book that needed to see the light of day, so I self-published. The book did well, I signed on with Thomas & Mercer, and it’s been a fantastic ride since.
I’m a firm believer that the most accurate writer’s biographies can be found in the items in his “writer’s space.” What three things on (or near) your desk are most important to you and what do they represent?
1. Photo of my family.
2. Tiny wood carving of Jesus sitting on a stump with a Buddha-esque posture.
3. A copy of The Mournful Demeanor of Lieutenant Boruvka by Josef Skvorecky.
For some writers it’s that first book cover or the first time they hold a physical book, but every writer has that “I can’t believe this!” moment. Of all your accomplishments in publishing, which is the one that really stands out for you?
Probably when I penned the final word on the first draft of my first novel. Finishing that draft was like pushing a boulder uphill, or trying to swim through quicksand.
I think one of the greatest things about being a writer is the admission into this collection of amazing (and similarly crazy) individuals. Who are some of the fellow writers that you’ve met and have really had an influence on you personally and as a writer?
I agree with you, and that’s a great question. Here’s a few: Melody Moezzi is a dear friend who gave me early support and even introduced me to her (and now mine as well) agent. Scott Nicholson was gracious enough to provide a blurb and other kind words to an unknown writer he barely even know. Steve Berry and J. T. Ellison too. Hiring Richard Marek as an editor was my personal MFA; he’s a fantastic mentor. James W. Hall and Greg Widen, both seasoned pros, have given me great advice (and told great stories at the bar). Dan Mayland, fellow traveler and writer of international intrigue, recently did me a solid. Jen Blood and Joanna Penn have been excellent companions on my writer’s journey. I co-edit the International Thrills column for this very magazine, ITW’s THE BIG THRILL, and every single writer I’ve interviewed has been gracious, funny, and wise. I’ve left out so many—you’re putting me on the spot, here, Eyre!
You’re sitting down for a day of writing…What’s on the playlist?
Well that depends on the novel—I tailor it to each one. Currently, for the small town mystery I’m writing, I have Silversun Pickups, Death Cab for Cutie, Little Dragon, Bastille, Max Richter, and Peter Gabriel. An odd mix, I know.
The new Dominic Grey novel, THE SHADOW CARTEL, comes out this month. What’s next?
I have a couple of balls in the air, so I’m going to have to delay a direct answer until I figure it out myself. Definitely, though, there will be more Dominic Grey novels in the future. Many more, I hope.
Layton is a mystery/suspense/thriller writer and the author of the bestselling Dominic Grey series, as well as other works of fiction. His novels have reached #1 on numerous genre lists in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. In addition to writing, Layton was a practicing corporate attorney for the better part of a decade. He has also been an intern for the United Nations, an ESL teacher in Central America, a bartender in London, a seller of cheap knives on the streets of Brixton, a door to door phone book deliverer in Florida, and the list goes downhill from there.
Please visit him on Facebook, Goodreads, Library Thing, or on his website.