We are joined this month by mystery/thriller author James L'Etoile, whose latest novel, Black Label, was released by Level Best Books in July. Learn more about James and follow along with my own publishing journey in this edition.
If you read and enjoyedA DEAD MAN'S EYES,please consider clicking on a rating or leaving a review on your favorite website, such as Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Book Bub. Reviews are important to newbies like me, who are also published by small presses. We greatly appreciate them.
If you haven't read the novel, you can order A DEAD MAN'S EYES through any of these links or from your favorite book store.
Book two in the Lisa Jamison Mystery Series arrives in bookstores in April of 2022! For a description of NEVER BROKEN and my other upcoming novels, click here.
Giveaway Winner and Giveaway Announcement
Congratulations to Hilda Lando, who won a $15 Amazon gift card at the Southern Tier Women’s Financial Conference Oct. 3 in Corning, NY, where I sold and signed books and got a great financial education! Welcome to Hilda and all other new subscribers.
In the spirit of the holidays, I am giving away two $10 Amazon gift cards. One will go to a current subscriber and one will be drawn from among new subscribers who sign up between today and Dec. 1. So, if you know someone who might be interested, encourage them to sign up for this newsletter by Dec. 1. Click here for giveaway rules.
Meet James L'Etoile
James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his novels, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, facility captain, and director of California’s state parole system. He is a nationally recognized expert witness on prison and jail operations. He has been nominated for the Silver Falchion for Best Procedural Mystery, and The Bill Crider Award for short fiction. His published novels include: At What Cost, Bury the Past, Little River -The Other Side of Paradise, and Black Label.
Big Pharma has a secret and it’s costing thousands of lives. Prison gangs and corporate board members make strange bedfellows, but where there’s money to be had, peace exists through an off the books Black Label drug lab. Until a pharmaceutical executive wakes up in a strange apartment and finds herself suspected of the CEO’s murder. Believing she’s insane, or a murderer, Jillian Cooper is on the run from the police and gang enforcers as she tries to unravel the secrets of Black Label.
(Click here for the full interview with James L'Etoile on my blog.)
Q: For almost three decades, you have worked with criminals through the prison system. When did you realize you also wanted to write novels? How did you hone your skills?
James: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a reader. But I didn’t start writing fiction until I retired from my career in the California prison system. I recall reading a novel and it wasn’t particularly good—predictable, tons of plot-holes, and characters I really didn’t care about. Something in me snapped and I thought, “I could do better than this.”
I didn’t have the confidence to jump in and write fiction, until I thought back to one of my early assignments as a probation officer. I prepared pre-sentence reports for the sentencing judge. To prepare those reports, I interviewed the defendant in jail, taking down their version of the crime, spoke with the investigators, read the arrest reports, and meet with victims uncovering the impact of the crime on them, or their families. I’d then have to sort through all this information and cobble together a narrative about the crime and make a recommendation for how long in prison or jail it deserved. What I didn’t realize until I thought about writing crime fiction was, I’d been writing crime stories all along.
With that confidence—that I’d been down this road before—I began learning more about the craft of fiction writing, attending writer’s conferences like the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference outside of San Francisco.
Q: You have written both serial mysteries and a standalone thriller. Which do you prefer and why?
James: What a good question. It’s difficult to pick a favorite. Writing a series allows you to take your existing characters and move their stories even further along. You have the setting in place (usually), existing players ready to act their roles, and character traits/motivation established. It’s familiar. Throw in a new villain and a unique problem to overcome, and you’re on your way. I like writing standalones because of the absolute freedom. You, as the author, get to create a new world, fresh, new characters, and there are no limits on where the story can go because of the constraints of an established series. What I attempt to do in a series is keep the story as self-contained as possible, so the creative freedom is there in a sequel. And readers can pick up any book in the series and not feel lost.
Q: What was the inspiration behind Black Label?
James:At What Cost and Bury the Past were straight up police procedural thrillers. Police detectives on the chase to bring down the bad guy before the next bad thing happens. I enjoy writing them and they kind of play into my wheelhouse with my former career in the California prison system. The inspiration for Black Label came from a session I was teaching at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference a couple of years back. A few of us were talking about using fear in our work. Not the fear that you won’t hit your deadline, or the fear that no one will read your book, both real, but I’m talking about that base-level fear each of us have at one point or another. Fear of heights, fear of the dark, or in my case fear of being utterly helpless.
There’s something about being helpless that scares the bejesus out of me. Maybe it’s the control-freak in me, or it could stem from working in prison where you always had to be in control and be prepared for the bottom to drop out from you at any second. So, I wanted to create a character and a storyline where that kind of fear was thrust upon them. What could make someone feel helpless more than being accused of a murder when you’re not sure if you did it or not?
Jillian Cooper is faced with evidence that she’s either a murderer or insane. I like the idea that she must struggle through the helplessness, when the police, the press, the corporate boardroom, and her own mind are ready to take her down.
Jillian is like so many of us who devote our lives to the company, even take on the job as part of her identity. Jillian is smart, focused, and driven to succeed. Her Type-A personality is probably in response to her childhood experiences—told she never measured up to her older sibling, witnessing her mother’s declining mental health and eventual suicide. These all combined to push Jillian to excel and prove to herself that she was good enough.
I think Jillian would tell readers that she is a cautionary tale. When you are so single-focused, spending all your waking moments emptying your life into a job, you miss what’s happening all around you. Sometimes that means you sacrifice relationships, or social interaction. In Jillian’s case it threatens to kill her. I think Jillian would now advocate for a work-life balance.
Q: Tell us about your upcoming series and the first book, Dead Drop, which is due for release in July of 2022?
James: I’m looking forward to the first installment in the new series. Dead Drop is a return to a procedural thriller. It takes place in the Southern Arizona desert where Detective Nathan Parker confronts the deadly consequences of illegal immigration. He’s got a reason he wants strict enforcement of the immigration laws—his partner was murdered by a coyote smuggling people over the border. Parker follows a series of migrant deaths in the desert and soon finds himself relying on very people he chased back across the border for his own survival
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
James: Oh, Lordy. Publishing is a weird business. And it’s just that—a business. It doesn’t care about you personally. It’s very much a what have you done for me lately thing and even then, publishers have been known to change course and focus on different genres to take advantage of what’s hot in the market. Rejection comes with the territory, and it might sting, but when it’s all said and done it ain’t personal it’s just business. That said, I’ve met some of the nicest, most generous people in this business. There are authors, editors, booksellers, bloggers, and readers, who make all the hard solitary time worth it.
So, to a new author, I’d strongly recommend you get involved in this writing community. They are an incredibly supportive bunch, and you can find them in Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and Mystery Writers of America.
This is where you will find me virtually and in person!
(For the always-updated website version, click here.)
Nov. 6,Dormann Library, Bath, NY, 10 am until noon. During
this free and in-person event, I will talk about A DEAD MAN’S EYES, the
craft of fiction writing and the path to publishing. I will be joined
byLissa Redmond, a former cold case investigator and author of several mysteries. We love questions. Bring lots!
Nov. 12-14, New England Crime Bake, Boston, MA. This crime writers conference has special meaning for me. It’s where I met one of the three owners of Level Best Books, my publisher, and best-selling author Hank Phillippi Ryan,
who endorsed my novel, A DEAD MAN’S EYES and is this year’s guest of
honor. This year’s theme is HOME SWEET HOMICIDE. Come join an awesome
group of writers, editors and agents for a weekend of craft and crime!
Nov. 27, Sabinsville’s Christmas Fling, Westfield and Sabinsville, PA, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
I will be among more than 45 vendors at this Small Business Saturday
event. Vendors will be spread out among buildings in the two
communities. I am waiting to hear where I will be located and will
update the information as it comes in.
Dec. 4, Dickens of a Christmas, Wellsboro Fire Dept Annex, 21 East Ave, Wellsboro, PA, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The
37th annual event takes place throughout Wellsboro, but I will selling
and signing copies of A DEAD MAN’S EYES among dozens of vendors in the
warm and cozy annex. So, roam the gas-lit Main Street of Wellsboro,
where you can enjoy some fantastic music, lots of good food and a visit
with Santa, and then come on over!
Dec. 10, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 2692 Madison Rd, Cincinnati, OH, 7 p.m.
Book discussion. This event is a homecoming for me. I wrote A DEAD
MAN’S EYES while living in Cincinnati, where our two youngest were born.
I used to take the twins to this totally awesome independent bookstore
while the older kids were in school. I am so excited to return as an
I can't identify these berries, but I love the way their leaves turn color to match the berries in the fall. They are all over our land. I see this church every time I walk our property. My husband and I were married there on an October Sunday more than two decades ago. It's a wonderful reminder of the good things in life.
What's up with my books?
Developmental edits for Never Broken are complete and the novel is now in the hands of another Level Best Books editor, who will do the final edit. Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) will soon be available for distribution to reviewers. ARCs are versions of the book produced after the first round of edits. They usually have a temporary cover and a big banner across the front indicating that they are not for sale. I have submitted my input for the cover and I am working on the acknowledgements. I have a huge fear of forgetting someone in the acknowledgements. So many people have helped me along the way with research, support and encouragement. I don't want to leave anyone out.
Over these next few months, be reaching out to reviewers, bloggers and other authors to help promote Never Broken before its April release. At least I know what I am getting into this time around. I was surprised by the workload when I began promoting A Dead Man's Eyesat about this time last year, but it was also a lot of fun. I have really enjoyed getting to know reviewers and bloggers. They are fueled by passion. They work so hard and they generally earn nothing for all that effort. If you get a chance, check out some of the book review and book blog sites I have listed above in my news and events section. You will get some great insight into books that might interest you.
What's up at home?
November is probably my favorite month. It reminds me of family, friends and all things cozy. Plus, it brings Thanksgiving, which is the gateway to the holiday season. We celebrate Christmas in our family, but it warms my heart to know so many other celebrations are happening at about the same time.
The passing of Halloween is my trigger to start decorating -- just a little. Mostly stuff that complements Thanksgiving, like cinnamon-apple scented candles and pine cones. The tree and the lights will go up the weekend after Thanksgiving. So, that is what I will be doing this week when I am not working.
The twins are done with their cross-country season and they just learned they can join another school district's indoor track team. They are thrilled! They have never done indoor track and they are excited to meet a whole new group of kids. I look forward to seeing the older kids over the holidays. They are immersed in college life, which makes me happy.
My husband recently learned that he can continue working in his tree house until January. Then he will return to the office three days a week. We will take that! Working from home was not even an option for him pre-Covid, . So, we have been fortunate.
I hope you are all safe and cozy in your own lives right now. Let's keep the dark and stormy nights on the pages of books. :)
Happy writing and reading. I hope you enjoy A DEAD MAN'S EYES!