The world is gifting us a modern reimagining of Nancy Drew by way of a bookish new podcast. And with none of the borderline racist bullshit. But all the sass. So we sat down to talk with the creators of your next podcast obsession, Lethal Lit: A Tig Torres Mystery.
A fictional true crime story, Lethal Lit stars Tig Torres, a feisty New York teen returning to her hometown to clear the name of her aunt, who was accused of being the Lit Killer, a serial murderer who killed residents of small town Hollow Falls in methods pulled straight from classic literature.
Alex Segura and Monica Gallagher created and wrote the series. And pod giants Einhorn’s Epic Productions (EEP) and iHeart Radio co-created and produced. Both Segura and Gallagher have some comics chops. Also, Segura is the novelist behind the Pete Fernandez series (which, while we’re here, you should totally check out).
Matt Coleman: I’ve seen so many nods to shows and stories I love. Obviously a little Nancy Drew. A lot of Veronica Mars. Some Riverdale. Even a touch of Mean Girls. So I’m curious, setting aside all of my armchair suggestions, what are the ACTUAL influences of the podcast?
I think you’re pretty close. Monica and I both dig Veronica Mars, and Riverdale is in my DNA, working at Archie. I found myself thinking of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer a lot, which is one of my favorite shows of all time. In terms of novels, Tig Torres (the female lead in Lethal Lit), is spiritually connected to Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan and Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt, both fantastic private eyes that people should seek out. It was very important for us to have a strong, heroic, independent, female lead. We wanted to present female characters that were representative of the world we live in.
Definitely spot-on with Nancy Drew and Veronica Mars! Like Alex, I’m a big Buffy fan, so of course anything I write is going to include some Cordelia level (also Mean Girls level) sass. I also kept thinking of Jessica Jones and her dogged determination to push past the horrors she’s encountered to figure things out and get things done.
Writing for a Podcast
You’ve both had some experience in comics, which is such a visual medium. And now you have traveled about as far from a visual medium as you can possibly get. How have you transitioned?
I think it took a minute to wrap our heads around the basics of audio drama, meaning, how do you signal to the reader/listener? Comics, like you say, are visual and novels are internal – you’re partnering with the reader to visualize your words. With audio, you have to drop clues and be a bit more literal. You can only rely on the audio. There’s no picture or caption to guide things a long. So it all has to be there in the narration and dialogue, which puts a huge focus on how the characters talk, how the show is produced and the pacing. I’m glad we had an amazing director in JB Blanc to work with at EEP and the killer post-production team. They really brought our scripts to life in an amazing way. I get chills listening to the episodes.
Monica and I collaborate really well together. There’s no ego in the dynamic. And the support we got from Lethal Lit executive producers and co-creators, Heather Einhorn and Adam Staffaroni, was invaluable. They were a great sounding board and really open to us pushing the envelope. Once we figured out the rules of the medium, it became more about “How can we make this story better and more compelling?”
Alex and I had a LOT of hilarious conversations about things like, “what does hugging sound like?” Or, “does this THUMP accurately portray the kind of THUMP we want?” It’s so nice having a collaboration partner like Alex who makes you feel comfortable in navigating unknown waters without judgment. I also had a moment where I (incorrectly) thought there’d be a sound effects person with a suitcase full of folly effects that would be used during the recording (and I’m still a little disappointed that’s no longer a thing, haha!) But in the end, it was a really fun challenge for Alex and I to tackle. And we benefited so much from the expertise of JB and all the voice actors working with us on the process.
This series is rife with literary references. Can you talk a little about the selection process that went into picking the references you chose?
I wanted it to feel genuine. I felt like people would lose interest if the books being used in the murders didn’t at least “feel” like they could be taught in high school. So I spent a lot of time researching what books are being taught in classes, plus digging up the books I read at that age. We made a list and kind of paired books with moments in the script – stories that had really intense, violent or visceral moments. Some jumped out immediately, like Lord of the Flies, some kind of surprised me – like The Great Gatsby. But I’m really proud of how we wove the works into the bigger story, and how nicely quotes from the books reflected what we were trying to do with the plot. It makes for some really fun Easter Eggs, I think.
I have to give credit to Alex for this. Everything he came up with brought me right back to high school English class, and the quotes he picked were always mind-blowingly perfect. It was such a fun way to revisit the old classics and remind yourself of all the gems those books still hold. And, of course, we’re hoping this is a spin-off project, where people will seek out those books if they haven’t read them yet. Or revisit them in a different light!
How has it been collaborating on this series?
I think comics teaches you to be collaborative, and I’ve partnered with writers before – most notably, Matt Rosenberg on the Archie Meets Ramones comic and The Archies series. Though, yeah, this was my first “writers room”-style experience, where Monica and I were jamming on something and getting feedback and revising. I think the key for us was that we had no ego with it, and we were just open along the way. If I really liked something, I’d say so, and vice versa. And we wouldn’t get mad if words got changed or stuff got thrown out. I think the experience has made me even more open to working in this way, and I feel like it’s prepared me for other kinds of writing – whether it’s TV or movies. We wrote full screenplays for each script, which was something new and exciting.
I’ve had a few experiences collaborating in comics (with Kata Kane on our Ghost Friends Forever series and Danielle Corsetto on Boo! It’s Sex!) but that’s right — this is the first time I’ve collaborated in a writing capacity with another writer. Not gonna lie, it was totally intimidating partnering with Alex and his enormous slew of expertise! But he was delightfully open and willing to collaborate on every part. And we soon realized we could trust one another with ideas, writing styles, schedule flexibility, which was a huge help. I’ve always fantasized about being part of a writers room for a TV series, and this experience didn’t disappoint, but instead made me itching for more!
Let’s get into a couple of specifics. Starting with the shipping. I, personally, am shipping Tig with Wynn, but I know Ollie is the more obvious choice. Can we expect as many twists and turns in Tig’s love life as there are in the mystery itself?
We wanted these characters to feel real and three-dimensional, and that meant exploring their personal lives along the way, while we have them dealing with this dangerous mystery. We wanted to complicate Tig’s love life in a way that was entertaining but also realistic. High school is a crazy, emotional time and we’re all discovering who we are and what kind of people we’re attracted to, so we wanted to make sure that was part of the story we were telling.
Shipping is always the most fun part. Especially at this age, where everyone’s sense of self is changeable. It’s fun to try on different identities and see what fits. So if we do our job and create interesting, complicated characters, then they can all interact and change (and make out) with one another in really interesting ways. I feel like character development is the most important thing, and romance and shipping are a natural way of expressing an aspect of that.
Writing a Whodunit
Speaking of those twists and turns, Lethal Lit is a pretty classic whodunit. So can we talk about suspects, victims, and red herrings?
Writing mystery fiction isn’t new to me, so I knew, going in, that things had to hit a certain pace and certain things had to happen at specific moments. But that’s just foundational. Once you create the characters and they start to interact with each other, they get a life of their own. Ella, for example, didn’t really exist in the early drafts. Max and Wynn were very different. Characters evolve as you let them breathe, and we saw that happen with this show.
The best part of the podcast has been seeing fans online speculating about who the bad guy is. The challenge here, and in any kind of mystery, is to give the listener enough clues that they feel they can solve the mystery, but also making it so they didn’t. Meaning, it’s complicated and engaging and people think they’ve got it, but you still pull the rug out at certain points. I feel like we did that successfully at a few points this season, so I’m really proud of that.
This was a definite learning curve for me. So again, I was so lucky to be partnered up with Alex on this – I learned so much. Just the process of layering a foundation and plot and space for mystery and then, once they came into their own, weaving the characters into it was fascinating. It made it feel a lot more organic rather than suddenly hitting on oh, that’s obviously the big bad right there. It was really interesting experiencing how the mystery evolved.
One of my favorite aspects of the series has been how every episode ends with a major moment. Did you sort of start with an idea of those five or six big moments and build out from them?
Yeah, sometimes. My rule of thumb for each episode was start big, end bigger and have an emotional moment in-between. The whole series was very character-driven by design. We wanted these great people to play off each other, but we also needed to throw some roadblocks in their way. You see it a bit in true crime podcasts – and so we wanted to ape that a bit – where you hear an interview clip or snippet that freaks you out and makes you HAVE to listen to the next one immediately. We did that a bit even if it spoiled things because it showed listeners that this was all part of a bigger mystery and plan, and people appreciate that. It makes them curious and eager to keep listening. But yeah, that’s not easy. You want people to be hungry for more, but you don’t want to undercut the flowing narrative. I think we all found that balance and probably made it look easier than it should be!
Figuring out where to leave people hanging is always a challenge. You want to make sure you do each episode justice so it doesn’t feel like filler, but still leave people eager for more. I think making sure to include genuine value in the little moments as well as the big shockers is super important. Sometimes when I write, I’m guilty of just wanting all the characters to get along and hang out and have great days, so it helps to just bust out the hammer and break that up with big shocking events. And having any kind of episode/weekly deadline is a huge help in structuring that.
So where does Tig Torres go next? I am going to will a next season into the atmosphere by just assuming it is happening. So, with that announced, what details can you give us about season 2?
We’ve been really excited by the response to Lethal Lit from listeners and reviewers and had a blast writing the characters. Working with EEP and iHeart has really made for a fun journey and the end result is something we’re all extremely proud of. So, more Tig – I like that in theory. But who says she survives season 1?
This has been such a thrilling experience and of course, we’re jazzed to get the band back together with EEP and iHeart for a Season 2. But yeah — who says Tig makes it out alive? Who told you that?
Links to Listen
You can catch Lethal Lit: A Tig Torres Mystery at any of the following locations:
Alex Segura is the author of the Pete Fernandez mystery series set in Miami, short stories that have appeared in numerous anthologies, and a number of best-selling and critically acclaimed comic books. He also co-writes the LETHAL LIT podcast.
Monica Gallagher is an indie creator with over fifteen years experience making comics and illustrations with a positive, feminist spin. Her current webcomics are Assassin Roommate and BOO! It’s Sex!, updated weekly on Webtoons.