Gregg Olsen is a New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of nonfiction books and novels, most of which are crime-related.

An impassioned voice for victims and their families, Olsen has been a guest on Dateline, 48 Hours, 20/20, William Shatner’s Aftermath, Deadly Women, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today, FOX News, CNN, Anderson Cooper, MSNBC, Entertainment Tonight, Snapped, Forensic Files, Inside Edition, Nancy Grace, Extra, Access Hollywood, NPR with Scott Simon, and Biography, among dozens of other shows.

With more than one million copies sold, Olsen’s true crime book, If You Tell, was Amazon’s bestselling Kindle e-book in 2020.

His latest bestselling novel, THE HIVE was published on June 8, 2021.

As a true crime junkie and crime fiction fanatic, I was thrilled to chat with Gregg Olson about his amazing career, upcoming projects (like hosting a true crime podcast), and a lot more.

Connect with Gregg Olsen: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Gregg Olsen’s Latest Book

Other Books by Gregg Olsen

If You Tell by Gregg Olsen
Dying To Be Her by Gregg Olsen
Beneath Her Skin by Gregg Olsen

Show Notes & Links

Other Author mentions: Ann Rule, Michael Connelly, Stephen King, John Sanford

Gregg’s true crime book IF YOU TELL was the number one bestselling book on Amazon in 2020 and it’s still in the top five on Amazon!


Please note, transcripts are generated by an automated program called Happy Scribe not a human and only lightly edited.

I’m excited to welcome Greg Olsen to today’s episode of the podcast, who is in New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal, bestselling author of more than 30 crime books. His latest novel, The Hive, follows Detective Lindsay Jackman as she investigates a complex and puzzling murder case with a charming wellness guru at its center. We’re excited to talk to Greg today. Welcome to the podcast, Greg.

Hey, Alan, thanks for having me. And your listeners can’t see it, but I’m looking at this charming picture of you taken 20 or 30 years ago.

You think eight, eight years, not that great.

Well, you look you look good for whatever age you really are.

Thank you. I had to fess up. It was an old picture. No, John, thank you. Yeah. Thank you for coming on and talking to us a little bit as listeners are familiar with your with you your background leading up to becoming a writer.

Oh, sure. I mean, I started many, many years ago, long before your picture was taken, where I thought to myself, why don’t I try? You know, I had a journalism degree. Why don’t I try writing a book? How to what book? What I do I would do a book that I like to read, which at that time, Alan, I read a lot of true crime books. I was fascinated by crime and I read them as soon as they came out.

So it was natural for me to want Segway into writing true crime, which is what probably the first half of my career was all about, interviewing people, getting their story, finding out what really happened behind the headlines. That was kind of my forte, really digging in. And then after a while, the true crime market started to wane, and that was mainly due to TV and TV was sucking up a lot of crime stories, if you can remember.

You know, they were on every night, twenty, twenty or Dateline or whatever. So I thought, well, maybe I could try writing fiction and I was lucky enough to be able to make that transition. And I love both true crime and and and writing a thriller. So that’s kind of my background thinking that you write what you what you read and then segueing into something that I thought was a big challenge, which would be fiction.

And what was the I guess with the journalism background, what’s the big difference for you between doing that switch from nonfiction to fiction, or was it or did you find it liberating?

Yeah, I mean, that’s a little there’s there’s good and bad to both. I love true crime because I love people. I love being able to get to meet people. And, you know, being a journalist or a nonfiction writer, for sure, you’ve got a passport into other people’s lives. They just they just know they can talk to you and they are telling you things that you have never heard before or, you know, that kind of thing that really drives me to get that story.

So I love that part of it. But it takes a long time to write a true crime book. As you can imagine. You have to talk to many, many people and look at all the records. They have to get everything right. So it’s, you know, switching to fiction was liberating in that regard because it just was ever in my head, you know, like all of my experiences of interviewing killers or victims or cops or whatever, you know, like I carry all that with me.

And this was a place where I could use it all in a in a fictional way. And that’s like you said, the word is liberating, it is fun to write fiction, but in my heart, I will tell you it is more rewarding to write nonfiction.

What do you think now of the last few years, especially with the True Crime podcast? Seems like there’s a true crime podcast coming out every three seconds.

I know. I’m working on one myself.

Cool. Hey, I’m a Jew. I’ll have you on what you know.

Yeah. There’s been a huge renaissance in true crime, interest in streaming, either whether it’s Netflix or whatever, or podcast. And that’s really been interesting because, you know, for a long time, true crime was like the ugly stepchild of any genre. And and when you went to the Barnes & Noble or whatever, you would go to that back section with those horrible covers of, you know, what they look like. It wasn’t it wasn’t a classy move.

But all of a sudden now, you know, like everybody, your mom or your grandma or your wife or your everybody seems to be a true crime fan right now. And it’s a it’s the storytelling of the podcast that gets people sucked in. It’s a little bit like old radio shows, I imagine, where you’re listening. But, you know, you’re you’re able to kind of imagine a little bit on your own and also you’re taking it in when it’s convenient for you.

So I think all of those come into play with this huge renaissance and true crime.

Well, I look forward to your crime podcast and because, yeah, I watched my documentary on Netflix and I listened to two to current podcast, so.

Yeah, that’s good. What is your favorite? Are you allowed to say?

Oh yeah, I think so. I think I’m allowed to say I like that there’s one click case files and yeah I like that one, I like that style. You know, it’s just kind of like here’s what happened. Yeah. You know, there’s a lot of them that are a little too much. You know, I don’t I prefer that type of style than like the people like drinking wine and talking about true crime.

Right. There’s that style where there’s a lot of banter and. Yeah. And all that mine is. What I’m trying to develop is more along the lines of what I think you like, which is I really want to give people that inside. Look at a story from people who are in the story. So it’s not just me chatting away about something with somebody and with a glass of wine.

I can. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I like those a lot better too, because, yeah, you get more into the story too. And that’s what’s great with your background too. You know how to interview people and and get sources and all that stuff.

Yeah. That’s the, the part about back to true crime versus fiction is that when you write true crime, those people are with you forever in your life. You know, they trusted you to write their story. And you you don’t burn anybody. And you you do a respectful job as you can. So they were with you forever. And then with fiction, it’s like sometimes really, Alan, I can’t even remember who the characters were from a book or two ago because I’ve already written two since then.

You know what I mean by the time they come out that it’s it’s harder to hang on, I think, to who these people are that I’m creating so much easier. When I sat in somebody’s home, you know, and cried with them or talked with them about something that happened. Those are indelible. And, you know, I hear other novelists talk about their characters being so real and I feel like mine are real at the time I’m writing them.

But at the end, it’s it’s just a story. Mm. You know what I mean. It’s different than a document about somebody else’s life.

Yeah. Because there’s not a lot of people that have done what you’ve done to actually, like you said, sit down in a room with some can even imagine, like talking to someone who’s lost a loved one like that, you know, so I can imagine that stays with you. Was this something you just made up?

That’s right. And the thing about it is you really learn I mean, a lot all of us thriller writers, you know, we’re writing about terrible things that happen to people or hopefully by the end of the story, they get out of their jam or whatever. But, you know, there are those real people out there that have gone through those circumstances. And it is an honor to write their story. It’s just it’s not a job. It is an honor and it’s a passion.

So I take I never take that lightly.

And your latest book, though, is The Hive, which was released in June. And already I see it in the top of all the charts already. So that’s good to know. I was very intrigued with it, too, because going back to the podcast thing I had was to listen to a podcast about that guy. He was like a self-help guru who, like, kills people in the in a sweat lodge. Oh, yes. It’s kind of what I saw what your book was about.

Mike Ross. I was very interested to read in it. It was it was great. But for the listeners, I’m getting way ahead of myself. You tell us what the high was all about and how that came about for you, right?

I mean, just like you, I, I saw that sweat lodge one and then I watched the one on Nexium. Oh, yeah. And there was another one that I started watching all these cult movies and streaming things. And I was really interested in that idea. Like what a charismatic person that exerts some sort of influence, major influence, enough so that people will change their lives in order to be with that person or to advance that person’s agenda.

Like it really interests me. Like how? Like even on the next team on how could you know Catherine Oxenberg daughter, you know, just just not just fade away, not come back to her mom or talk to her mom or or something. It didn’t seem like there was a bad relationship. How is it that somebody can make people do things that, you know, that you would never think anyone could do? So, at the central part of my story is a woman named Marnie Spellman.

Marnie is like a self-help guru type. She’s really in tune with nature. And that whole idea of holistic natural products and health and her idea know stems from a childhood experience where she claims that a swarm of bees has lifted her up and spoke to her. So there’s a mystery and a mystical part of her story. But as the story advances and as the bodies turn up, you see there’s a dark side to what Marnie Spellman was all about, what she was doing and how these other people, mostly women, became enthralled with her and then very frightened of her.

And that’s really what the hive is all about. The hive is the name that the girls gave for their little group. You know, she was the queen bee. Marnie and the other women were her helpers and they made up the hive.

OK, that makes sense, know how you came up with the idea for us to ask about that? What’s up with the BS? Yeah, it’s all about the it’s all about the BS and and the curative properties of Pallan and Royal Jelly and Honey and all of those things. There’s a whole world of study on what, you know, what honey from certain plants can do for people. And she was tuned into that and built this basically a cosmetics empire.

But it was more it was her philosophy was if I make you look better on the outside, you’ll feel better on the inside. It was like an outside in kind of approach, which a lot of her followers liked. And they, you know, they moved from their families to be with her.

And it was really cool. But this, too, was like because I think, like, not all these people and all these cult stuff starts off like trying to be do bad things. They just kind of like seems like it gets out of control somehow. So I was kind of fascinating to do that and look at the character, how it’s been changing and the secrets and all that. Those are very, very intriguing part of the story.

You know, I will tell you, Alan, I thought of of all people, Martha Stewart when I was writing this, I was thinking about her and I think I might have mentioned her name in the book. But it’s like here’s a powerful woman who creates this incredible media empire, which we all know Martha did. And then she has this downfall where she does the insider stock trading thing. And it kind of makes you look at her in a whole different way.

And that’s. Kind of what Mani is like in my mind as somebody who had it all and then made a terrible mistake, a foolish mistake, a wrong evil mistake, and then in Martha’s case, of course, she came back hopefully clean on her own money. Spelman chooses a different way to get back to where she was. And that’s that’s what the hive is about.

And so when it spread, you know, the female centric, driven suspense novel like this would spread your decision to to write a female centric novel. And was there any challenges as a as a male to write in the female characters?

I don’t really think so. I mean, I think that for me, most probably 90, maybe ninety nine percent of my protagonists are female. And that’s mainly because the genre that I’m in, the suspense drama genre that I’ve chosen to be in is mostly female driven and it’s female readers. In fact, most of my readers like 90, not 90, I’d say like 80 percent of them are women. So I’m really writing to that audience and I’m putting you know what I’ve always felt?

I put strong female characters in my characters are you know, I look at them and I think, well, she’s a woman and she’s doing this. But if you change the gender or whatever it was a man doing it, it would feel the same way in terms of their you know, there’s nobody we care. There’s nobody subservient. It is the way you know, the way I raised my twin daughters to be whatever it is they want it to be.

And that’s what my women are all about in all of my books as a person or two, because you’re like you’re like juggling several storylines and timelines in the book. How do you keep all that straight or I’ll tell you what, that was a nightmare.

Is that your first attempt at doing this?

Seriously, that was a nightmare. And I have always had problems with my timelines. And my readers know that it’s when I write a book, I have the idea and I know what I’m going to do. And but I find that in that I’m always interested in the past as I as much as I am. And that narrative that’s driving the reader to the end, you know, I care about where these people came from. So I’ve got a lot of information I want people to have.

And that, I think comes from my true crime background and that when you wrote a true crime book, it couldn’t be just a victim. You had to have the reader see the victim as a person, you know. So I, I, I do give a lot of attention to back story. So there was a lot of juggling in that case. And of course, one murder happens 20 years from the first murder. So I’ve got this back and forth, a little bit of the 20 year cycle going on, too.

You got through it and you liked it.

I made it. I liked it. I got it. Yeah, I was I wasn’t confused. I don’t know. You nailed it. OK, and so now as for the technical side to him, I was so curious. Now, how do you, like, write your books like with word and do you keep track of everything with with word or or cards or.

I’m so old school Allen that I do note cards that I, what I, I do of course use the computer to write. Yes. A laptop, but I do all that. I don’t use any of those tools that a lot of writers use that graph, the characters and all that kind of stuff. What I do is I, I have a note card and when I have an idea of what the character is like or what might happen next, I write it on the card and I revisit my cards.

I mean, it’s all throughout the writing process. I’m looking at my cards and I look, OK, I use that idea up or I did something like that already. The card is out. My my hope is by the end of the book that I’ve really pulled through all those cards, those ideas, and used only the good ones and have not very many left when it’s over. But I, I’ve often taken pictures of what my work looks like.

And I mean, I have a a table and a floor covered in cards and papers as I’m pulling it together thinking, you know, what would be better next time. Probably you know, more they do Plodder and Panzner, you know those terms. And I would be more of a more of a painter, although I start with an idea of what the plot is. But I really do let those cards and those ideas take me to where I need to go before you start writing a fiction book.

How much research do you do? Do you because especially with your background, do is that a problem like having to stop or do you do a lot of research?

I don’t do that much research. Most of mine are like domestic, so there’s not too much that I can do in every place that I’ve written about. I mostly write about places in the northwest. Lummi Island is the central point of most of the action in the hive, and that’s an island, you know, north of Seattle. I visited it. I’ve been to many times and I used to go to school in Bellingham, which is the big town near there.

So I always write about places I’ve been in that I know very well. And I love writing about the Pacific Northwest because I think. There’s such diversity in our geography and our climate. It doesn’t rain all the time like everybody says, but it’s gloomy enough to be like tonic for those people that are writing the kind of stuff. Right, right, yeah, and a lot and a lot of famous. Crimes and serial killers come from that area of the Pacific Northwest that were super good at that.

We really, really are.

And those are the last of the first true crime books that I read was and really I think that was her name, right? Yeah. She wrote that the Ted Bundy one. I was like blown away. I was like, oh, this is like a fiction, but it isn’t creepy. No, I know.

And and was a friend of mine and she was great. She I really looked up to her and she helped me a lot. That’s one of the things about, you know, starting out is finding somebody that is more seasoned than you and it can give you some pointers or whatever and and was great as she is super, super kind to other writers.

Yeah. It’s great to see in the community, too, like writers always wanting to help each other out, even if the, you know, might be competitors or whatever. But it seems like it’s a good list like each other out.

I know we’re always happy until somebody is more successful.

Dang it.

Yeah. And then of course, we know it won’t last forever, so they’ll be back down.

And so what’s what’s your process then, like when you once once you’re into writing a book, I mean, do you write every day, do you have set hours or what’s your process like.

Yeah, my process is recently retired from a job I had for 20 some years at Boeing where I was a writer. So I had to do all of my writing, Alan, on the weekends, which made me really, really disciplined. And my process was this. I’d go rent a cabin or do something. And I only had, like, you know, those forty eight hours to write. I would, you know, write every time I wrote a thousand words, I’d take a break and give myself a treat of some kind.

The treat could be a walk on the beach or something, or it could be by the end of the day it was a gin and tonic or whatever, you know, like that. And I’m racking up you know, I set a goal. I’m going to write six thousand words today and five thousand tomorrow and I’d get it done. And that was really like the way I did it. And since I’ve been retired when my editor is not going to like this.

But, you know, I have a book due in a few weeks, I hope to God I get it done. But when you have all the time in the world, it’s harder to carve out that time you really need, if that makes any sense.

I’ve heard that before. They go now and have all the time in the world that I like and I can’t get anything done. Yeah, yeah. So yeah, my process is I get up very early in the morning and but I like to work very early and by about four o’clock I’m done and I look at my material the next day to see very cursory to see where I kind of was. Maybe I tweak it a little bit and then I’m on to hitting that goal, whatever that goal is.

And it’s always the word count goal.

That’s impressive to see you like. So you like if you tell when you still have your day job. Yes. Wow, that’s pretty cool.

Yeah. I mean, I was lucky there in that there wasn’t too much travel on that one because it was a local story and it was a true story. But yeah, I, I’ve written them all with a day job. Basically my first few books I was self-employed is as an author. And then it came time to send my kids to college and I thought I got to get a real job. So that’s what I did. And it was only going to be temporary.

But I liked it so much I stayed.

Yeah, well, that’s the best of both worlds, if you like. If you like what you’re doing. Yes. Yeah. And so is it. Most of your books now they’re like they’re like standalone. Do you like doing that? If you’re with the what what are your thoughts on writing a series. It’s a standalone.

I’ve done a couple of series and I do actually prefer a standalone. In fact, it turns out that my standalone usually sell better than a series book, so I probably won’t do another series, but I’m doing one now that wraps up in another book. But I think like like I have maybe bigger ideas that I want to write about that should be like a one and done.

And what are you working on now then.

Oh I’ve got so I’m working on um. I have a true crime that I’m working on right now. It’s about a serial killer from Spokane, Washington, that basically three prostitutes were murdered. No one could solve the case. Finally, when DNA analysis had proved to be more fruitful, they ran the clothing and the fingernail scrapings of one of the victims back through the system. And they got a hit and it turned out to be a woman in a prison in Texas that had.

And they. How could this be this is the DNA was from semen. How does this track to open? It turned out that the woman, Donna Perry, was her name, but she had previously been Doug Perry and she had gone to Thailand to have a sex change because she wanted to stop Doug. From killing. Oh, wow, so she went and had the full surgery and then got in trouble again and ended up in prison, so, you know, she said I did it to stop Doug from doing it.

And it’s a really interesting case. It’s you know, obviously we hear a lot now about transgender and how, you know, this is a situation where Doug, you know, in the early 90s went off to Thailand on his own to have the surgery. You know, not much was really known about it, the way we know about things now today or what was the psychology behind it all. So I think it’s really an interesting story and topical because of the gender identity issue.

Yes, it’s very interesting to check that out for sure. Yeah, yeah. And so we got to the fiction books. When you decided to switch over to fiction, were you a fan of Thriller, a crime type books that were fiction before you started to write them?

Yes. I mean, I read I really liked certain I mean, I like I always say that the one who made me think I could do it, which is such a joke because she’s so good, was Patricia Cornwell in her early books. I devoured them and loved them. And I thought, you know, I could I could maybe try that. I think I read Michael Connelly. I read, you know, people that were popular in in the genre.

And what were people buying? What were they taking to the beach to read? What were the books that maybe somebody wouldn’t say they were great literature, although I would say they are. But that kind of thing, I want to know what was what was what was popular and why. And those are the books. I love Stephen King. You know, I I just loved any of those books that you would find in that top ten at your supermarket.

Those were the ones I was after. Alan, I wanted to read all of those.

And I’ve also been asking now because of what we’ve gone through the last year in fiction, where are you planning to address the pandemic or, you know, worrying about that right now?

I’m I I’m not even going to mention it. I’m pretending like it never happened.

Most of the most of the writers I’ve interviewed are doing that. So I have covered 50 like I mean, it could be interesting that maybe down the road somebody will write a great novel about the pandemic. But I just think I’m done with masks. I mean, I am vaccinated and and I I’m fully sanitized wherever I could go, but I don’t want to put it in one of my books.

Yeah, it was weird. I just read John Sanford, the ocean ocean spray. That’s the world I love. I love cranberries for the slip there. Yeah. Oh I should pray. Yeah I read it. This is not a spoiler in the book or at the end he was like, oh there’s this thing called covid. You know something. Oh well it’s kind of like to be like out of the story because do you write you just thought, you know, he was tagging along.

I think I got it in this thing.

Yeah. I mentioned covid with a little like, what is this thing? You know, and then the reader will get, wow. But I’ll have to check out Austin’s ocean spray that in the frozen juice aisle.

Yeah, well, isn’t that good, but ocean prey is pretty good. OK, yeah. So I would like to have a last question. Like to ask my guest. It’s always because I don’t have a lot of aspiring writers are listening to this and that’s kind of cliche. But any advice for aspiring writers, Felicity?

Well, yeah, and what I tell any aspiring writer is this, it’s a job, it’s something you have to do every single day to get where you’re going. And that’s I mean, that’s the page that I preach to everybody. When I see people and they’re starting out, it’s like, don’t talk about it, do it. And, of course, read everything you can. But I always say right every single day, even if it’s only a sentence, put something down on paper or on screen, because that’s always going to be looking forward to your goal, which is whatever that finish page or that story or that poetry or whatever it is about.

It starts with that one line. Got to do it every day.

Great. That’s great advice. And know where the people find you. What’s the best place? Your website.

Yeah, my website is notorious USA dot com. Come on and check it out. I’ve got a lot of cool stuff out there. And of course if you tell is like in the top four or whatever on Amazon right now with the high around number sixty five I think so they’re up there and I’ve heard people to try them both because you know, they’re both crime related, but they’re very, very different. And I would love to hear from my readers.

Yeah, I noticed about that, about if you tell, because that’s been on a couple of years and I was like gangbusters again.

It’s not there’s no stopping that book.

I’m sorry. You feel just kind of surreal or I mean, I looked at it like, you know, I used to, like, ask my editor like the night before, like the charts on Amazon charts. I’d say, do are we going to be on tomorrow? And I don’t ask anymore, but I do get on at night and check. And it was on again this week for the eighty fifth week in a row. Wow. I’m number four.

So, you know, I think about that, I think, wow, this book really does have legs. And you know, in my wildest dreams, Alan, I never thought I would write a book that would last like this one has. And I think it’s a worthy story for it for sure that what the sisters went through. But it also shows us, you know, you know, like when we are having hard times, like the pandemic, maybe reading about somebody that has it worse than you is something people want to do, because it was the number one bestseller for Amazon last year, which is the year the pandemic.

Yeah. Yeah, kind of like that. The when nobody was watching the Tiger King, everyone saw something different. Something. That’s right.

I forgot about the Tiger King that was you know, it was. All right, Greg. Well, thank you so much. The hive is out now. Highly recommend it. And if you tell also, that’s both. Both are doing so wonderful. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking to you.

I enjoyed talking to you so much. Alan, thanks for asking me.

Thank you for listening to meet the Thriller author. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with one of your favorite writers of mysteries and thrillers or of this episodes, I guess is new to you. I hope you give their books a chance. Helping listeners discover new authors and books is one of the coolest outcomes of doing this podcast. As always, you can head over to Thriller Authors Dotcom to sign up to my thrilling read email list. That way you won’t miss out on any great deals in Thriller and mystery books.

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About the Author
I write thriller and crime fiction novels and host the Meet the Thriller Author podcast where I interview authors of mystery, thriller, and suspense books.

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