After publishing 45 romance novels in 11 years, bestselling author Vi Keeland is ready to pull back the curtain on what happens after the happily-ever-after. In July, her first thriller, The Unraveling, publishes from Emily Bestler’s imprint at Atria.

Keeland wanted “to look at the fallout when things don’t go right in relationships,” she says via Zoom from the cozy writing studio in her Long Island home. “What happens after the romance, when tragedy strikes?”

A native of East New York, Brooklyn, Keeland—who retains a subtle trace of the accent—has no formal training in writing, which she says contributes to lingering imposter syndrome. But she describes herself as a lifelong “avid reader” of both romance and thrillers. Indeed, she’s wanted to try her hand at suspense from the very beginning, and the time was finally right.

“Writing so many romances, I was starting to go, ‘I think I wrote that already. I’ve written that sentence before,’ ” says Keeland, who’s wearing a maroon blouse, layers of delicate necklaces, and thick-rimmed glasses. Her pale hair hangs loose around her face, and her hands flit through the air as she chats away at a rapid clip. Though she protests that she’s too introverted and awkward to show her face in her TikTok videos, she comes across as refreshingly frank and disarmingly self-deprecating. “Switching genres,” she adds, “really was a good little palate cleanser.”

Keeland’s day begins at 4:30 a.m. She spends the wee hours cuddling her three dogs, getting caffeinated, and doing admin work, before retreating to her writing studio, where no one—canines included—is allowed to interrupt. She’s incredibly diligent and seemingly undaunted by writer’s block. (“I just push through it,” she says with a shrug.) She’ll often work on one book in the morning, go for a walk, and then tinker with a different book in the afternoon.

This strict routine arrived relatively late in her career. Keeland first dabbled in writing shortly after college, scribbling half a novel in a long-lost notebook. At the time, she had no notion of sharing her stories with the world; instead, she headed to law school to become a tax attorney.

But even after entering corporate life, she continued to write. And she vividly remembers when she first considered publishing, because the idea came to her during a difficult moment: Hurricane Sandy had filled her family’s home with four feet of water. Keeland, her childhood sweetheart turned husband, and their three children moved into a trailer on their property.

It was then that Keeland happened to read an article about self-publishing, her first encounter with the concept. She had a completed, if unedited, book in the can and, after mulling it over for a few months, she says, “I was like, You know what? I’m going to try it. I didn’t even try to query or get an agent. I didn’t have a website or an author Facebook page. I just did it. Then a couple of days later, somebody wrote a review. It wasn’t even a five-star review! But I read it, and I got the bug. And so I kept going.”

She didn’t leave her job or tell anyone other than her husband about her authorial side-hustle. During those early years she had to fit writing in around her own schedule and those of her children. “My oldest was 14 when I started,” she says. “All of my children are incredibly athletic, unlike me. It was year-round sports, and I was constantly on the sidelines typing.”

Her audience grew quickly; Worth the Fight, the first book in her second romance series, published in September 2013, was a bestseller. Keeland would go on to hit the lists multiple times before she felt confident enough to quit her day job. “I was afraid,” she explains. “Even when my writing was going really well, I constantly felt that each success was going to be my last success. It took about six years to have enough confidence in myself to write full-time.”

And while Keeland has sold backlist titles to Tor’s new Bramble imprint and coauthored books with Penelope Ward that were published by Montlake, The Unraveling is her first solo title to be traditionally published. In many ways, the novel feels like her next big leap, and she’s just as nervous about changing genres as she was about leaving the legal profession.

“I actually had the idea for The Unraveling about five years ago,” she confesses. “I ran it past my agent,” Kimberly Brower at Brower Literary & Management, “and she was like, Do it! But I had my routine, and I was writing what readers expected of me. Basically, I was a chicken. Then a couple years later, I was like, I’m just going to write it. Even if I don’t do anything with it, I have to get it out.”

The Unravelling follows New York City therapist Meredith McCall, whose picture-perfect relationship with pro hockey player Connor Fitzgerald sours after a career-ending injury leaves him with a painkiller addiction and anger management issues. Connor dies while driving under the influence, killing a woman and her child and leaving Meredith wracked with survivor’s guilt. When she happens to recognize Gabriel, the husband of the woman, at a café, she develops an obsession with him. Things take another turn when Gabriel shows up as a patient at Meredith’s psychiatric practice. As the two become embroiled in each other’s lives—and a forbidden attraction blossoms between them—readers come to question exactly who is stalking whom.

Keeland conceived of the central relationship as a game of cat and mouse and notes that, across genres, she loves “to write books about characters on a collision course.” The tension between Meredith and Gabriel is both psychological and sexual, and though the novel isn’t a romance, there are still some sizzling scenes.

“I wanted to straddle a line,” Keeland explains, citing genre-bending authors like Colleen Hoover and Tarryn Fisher as inspiration. “And I actually enjoyed it, bringing in a little bit of romance, making it a little forbidden and taboo.”

That said, the process of writing The Unraveling was a learning curve as Keeland got a handle on the pacing and conventions of a new genre, up to and including the sex scenes. “I was like, Is this too much? Is this not enough?” she recalls.

These questions are what drew her to editor Emily Bestler. “I wanted to work with somebody who’s put out books that I admired,” she says. “I was never sure on structure and plotting. When I first started, I did a little chart: I want the first twist to happen at 20%. But then I read it back and realized that took too long. I really wanted somebody whose advice I could rely on.”

The new genre also brought with it some unexpected pleasures. For one, “when you’re writing a romance, the protagonists have to be likeable,” she says. “Whereas in a thriller, you can just make them interesting.”

Similarly, she took pleasure in leaving the ending somewhat ambiguous, with a final line that delivers a gut-punching twist. “I feel like I have to wrap up everything in romance,” she says. “I’ve written romances about football players, and people email me to ask, ‘What was his jersey number?’ They want every question answered. But here, I loved getting to leave people to their imaginations and make them want to flip back and reread.”

Ultimately, Keeland hopes that romance and thriller readers alike will find something to enjoy in The Unraveling. “I know I’m not going to satisfy everyone,” she says, “but I hope my fans follow me and that I can appeal to both audiences. Maybe I can get some romance readers into thrillers, and maybe even convince some thriller readers to cross over into romance.”