A. J. Landau
February 27, 2024


A. J. Landau

Jon Land

Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of 50 books, including ten titles in the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series: Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, Strong Vengeance, Strong Rain Falling (winner of the 2014 International Book Award and 2013 USA Best Book Award for Mystery-Suspense), Strong Darkness (winner of the 2014 USA Books Best Book Award and the 2015 International Book Award for Thriller, and Strong Light of Day which won the 2016 International Book Award for Best Thriller-Adventure, the 2015 Books and Author Award for Best Mystery Thriller, and the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Award for Best Mystery. Strong Cold Dead became the fourth title in the series in a row to win the International Book Award in 2017 and about which Booklist said, “Thrillers don’t get any better than this,” in a starred review. It was followed by Strong to the Bone, winner of the 2017 American Book Fest Best Book Award for Mystery Suspense and the 2018 International Book Award for best Mystery as well as Thriller. It was followed by Strong as Steel (April ’19) about which Suspense Magazine proclaimed, “Get ready to sink your teeth into what just might be the best novel of 2019.” The book went on to win the 2019 International Book Award for Best Thriller/Adventure.

Jeff Ayers

Jeff Ayers

Jeff Ayers has been a freelance writer and reviewer since 1999. He has reviewed for Library Journal, where he is a former Fiction Reviewer of the Year, for Booklist, and for The Associated Press.

Jeff recently retired from his reference librarian position after almost 30 years after interviewing hundreds of authors in print, audio, and video, including James Patterson, Harlan Coben, and Dan Brown. In addition to this and moderating panels at BookExpo America, ThrillerFest, and various other conferences, he has published several titles in both fiction and nonfiction, including Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion, where he covered over 550 novels and interviewed over 350 people, including William Shatner. He currently has several manuscripts out for submission and is under contract for a nonfiction book for Grand Central Publishing.

Jeff is a Co-Executive Director of ThrillerFest, the annual conference for the International Thriller Writers.


Q. What was your primary inspiration for writing Leave No Trace, and why did you choose to focus on an attack on the Statue of Liberty?

Jon: Our inspiration was America’s ongoing love affair with the country’s National Parks. Using those parks as a backdrop for a thriller series seemed to have a huge built-in audience. So, we consciously chose to theme a series in which the setting functions as a kind of character in its own right. We opened the book with the attack on the Statue of Liberty because it’s almost certainly the most enduring symbol of everything America stands for. So attacking it would be like stabbing the country in the heart, which tells us a lot about the villains right from the start.


Q. How did you research for your protagonist, Special Agent Michael Walker?

Jon: First off, we thought making Michael a special agent with the Investigative Services Branch of the Park Service, kind of like their version of the FBI, was the perfect choice because it flowed directly from the notion of basing the series in national parks. I’m going to let Jeff take it from there since he was the one who did that research. 

Jeff: As a lover of national parks since I was a kid and a fan of action thrillers, I kept looking for a slam-bang storyline with that setting. The majority are one park and one mystery. I wanted to change that, and Jon agreed. With Michael’s character and background established, I started visiting parks and asking questions of the rangers. I learned so much and even had an opportunity to be a ranger for a day and shadow an ISB agent. They also provided great feedback on the story, helping ensure we got the details as accurate as possible.


Q. How was it to work with your co-writer, Jeff Ayers? And how did you come up with your pseudonym?

Jon: The pseudonym was all Jeff, and it felt right to me as soon as I heard it. We’ve been friends for a whole bunch of years and had long mused about working together on something. Working with him made for a fantastic process, because we complement each other perfectly, and both of us are well aware of our strengths and weaknesses. Jeff’s mastery of research and his contacts inside the Park Service meant that all I had to focus on was the writing itself. Beyond that, you don’t realize how much goes into the launch of a potential bestselling series until you’re in the middle of it. Having Jeff run point on all the promotional efforts and communications freed me to tackle the multitude of other projects I’ve got going, while never giving short shrift to Leave No Trace. Most important of all, though, was how much we went back and forth and challenged ourselves to write not just a good or great thriller, but an outstanding, seminal one. I might have done most of putting the words to paper, but we developed every major plot point together.


Q, The partnership and tension between Agent Walker and FBI’s Gina Delgado are central to the narrative. What did you want to explore with this dynamic, and how did you aim to differentiate it from other law enforcement partnerships in fiction?

Jon: Wow, great question! First, we wanted to create characters who were very distinct and yet were joined by the common bond of overcoming the odds and having a proclivity for pursuing their missions relentlessly, even if that meant going rogue a bit. They’re both insiders who feel more like outsiders, not rebels so much as individuals who can work within or outside the system. That creates a strong dynamic between them based on mutual respect without ever approaching anything resembling romantic attraction.


Q. Readers familiar with your work will be pleasantly surprised by a cameo appearance by a beloved character, lifted from another series, who they haven’t seen in over a decade. Why do that?

Jon: The whole notion emerged organically after we introduced a sub-hero who ended up getting his own POV and sub-plot. Making him the nephew of that character you’re alluding to felt right as a kind of payoff to my most ardent fans who’ve stuck with me through thick and thin for decades. It’s kind of like Clive Cussler appearing as a character in his own books, or Alfred Hitchcock doing a cameo in all of his movies, and it has the added effect of giving the reader something to look forward to in every book, which further helps distinguish our thriller series from the glut of others out there. In one sense, I’m kind of committed now to having a different past character appear in each book in the series, but only if I can find an organic way to do so that makes sense and doesn’t feel stuck in there for its own sake.

Jeff: As a fan of Jon’s thrillers for over 30 years, I loved having that cameo be a perfect fit, and I can’t wait to see who pops up next.

Q. The title “Leave No Trace” can be interpreted in several ways. What does it signify for you, and how do you feel it encapsulates the novel’s themes?

Jon: Jeff came up with the title, so I will let him take this one.

Jeff: The original title I was showing Jon was The 63, which is the number of National Parks. The Park Service oversees over 420 sites of historical, monuments and lands vital to our nation’s history, but the crown jewels are the 63. I was visiting Acadia National Park and saw a sign that said, “Leave No Trace.” I immediately stopped and took a photo. I knew that preserving the scenery around me as much as possible so future generations could have the same experience was critical. That challenge was necessary for every visit to any park. When I told Jon, he immediately agreed we had our title.


Q. What’s next?

 Jon: Ah, my favorite question! We’ve just begun writing the second book in the series, currently titled Glacier Bay, in which the action will be centered in Alaska, to a large degree at Glacier Bay National Park. What excites us most about this one is how different it is from our first effort in the story and the setting. We wanted to avoid the been-there-done-that, same thing, only different approach. So Glacier Bay is nothing like Leave No Trace, except for the presence of Michael and Gina, and a vast looming threat that, in this case, promises a global catastrophe. Did I get your attention? Ha-ha! Jeff?

Jeff: The research for this has been a blast! No pun intended.

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