Thank you for inviting me to post in the Author’s Lounge. I’m James L’Etoile, and I write thrillers and suspense.
My latest, BLACK LABEL (Level Best Books), was released a few weeks ago. BLACK LABEL is my fourth traditionally published novel. I’m incredibly grateful for the readers, editors, reviewers, and bloggers who make everything that goes into a book worthwhile.
After a strange and painful year, I’ll bring BLACK LABEL out on the road in 2021.
I enjoy talking about the book, writing, and what goes into creating a story. A regular question I get at author events (remember when we could hold those live and in person) and conferences is, “When did you become a writer?” It’s a common question. Several of my author friends can gleefully say that they’ve been writing since they were nine years old or published a dozen books by the time they were twenty-five.
That ain’t me.
I didn’t start my journey down the publishing trail until I’d retired from a twenty-nine-year career working in the California prison system. I served as a facility captain, hostage negotiator, associate warden of a maximum security prison, and the state’s parole system director. In my precious off time, I would read as a way to disconnect from the violence and madness of the world behind bars. The reading continued after I quit working, but the characters and situations I experienced over those years stuck with me.
I don’t remember the book I was reading then, but the ending seemed a little flat, and the characters felt somewhat recycled. I muttered to myself, “I could do better than that.” It hit me like a flash. I could do this. But what about all the writing workshops and MFA degrees? Don’t you need all that before you can write? The short answer is no. You don’t have to pass any litmus test to call yourself a writer. The difficult part is the transition from writer to published author.
Confidence is the fuel you’ll need to burn on your journey to becoming a published author.
It’s hard to come by in this business and burns quickly. You’ll develop confidence in yourself and your ability to tell a compelling story. It takes time and patience to fill your tank. Some people believe they must have an MFA to feel confident. Others dig deep into their life experiences to fuel their quest. I fell into the latter and drew from the rich exposure to people who inhabit a darker world few come back from. Prison, parole, and probation are where you find people at their lowest, their most vulnerable, and in some cases, you catch a faint glimmer of hope.
Early in my career, I worked as a probation officer writing presentence reports for the sentencing judge.
I’d go to jail, interview the defendant and get their version of the crime, review the police reports and documents, talk with the victims, and put it all together for the judge into one document on which he would base his sentencing decision. I didn’t know it at the time, but even back then, I was, in a sense, writing crime stories. That ability to distill the elements of a story down to the essential elements helped give me the confidence to transition into a published author.
Writing publishable commercial fiction meant learning more about the craft—the mechanics of writing, if you will—of creating something that would grab a reader’s attention. Writers’ conferences and workshops like the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference are a great opportunity to learn all those things you didn’t know went into creating a story. Book Passage holds an annual craft-centered conference to help writers learn about story structure, voice, point-of-view, character development, and pacing—all elements a writer needs to bring to their work. I’ve attended Book Passage’s Mystery Writers Conference as a participant and faculty member in recent years. The exposure to the tools and the authors at the event was priceless. I thank them in the acknowledgment pages of Black Label.
As a writer, you’re constantly learning and honing your ability to tell stories.
As a reader, I can sense when an author is phoning it in. While there is comfort in familiar characters, every novel, or short story, has to be better than the one before. There is a risk in the familiar and comfortable. If I’m not a little excited, apprehensive, and pulled in by the story I’m writing, there is a good chance that the reader won’t be excited.
Writing and the daily practice of putting words on the page have been very therapeutic. The stress and violence I washed in daily for nearly thirty years now have a place to go. In my stories, there is justice for the aggrieved, redemption for the fallen, and a look into how the real-life criminal justice system interacts with those caught up in the process.
Every writer’s path is unique to their experience. Your mileage may vary…
I hope you have a chance to take a look at Black Label. I’ve taken the fear of being out of control, being in a place where no one believes you, and mixed it with the undercurrent of greed in the pharmaceutical industry. One woman is caught between greed, corporate corruption, and murder. Her life is on the line for a crime she doesn’t know if she committed.
James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars to influence 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 has been nominated for the Silver Falchion for Best Procedural Mystery, and The Bill Crider Award for short fiction. Look for Dead Drop in the summer of 2022 from Level Best Books. You can find out more at www.jamesletoile.com