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: Black Label, At What Cost, Bury the Past, and Little River. Dead Drop was released in the summer of 2022. You can find out more at www.jamesletoile.com
Do you write in more than one genre? I write procedurals, thrillers, and psychological suspense. They all fall under the crime fiction umbrella, and I enjoy working in that world. I have written a speculative fiction novel, and it’s out on submission currently. Speculative fiction is a story involving a touch of otherworldly “whoo-whoo.” It’s not horror, fantasy, or paranormal. Spec fiction is a fun way to experiment with a different story structure and play with a new set of rules. It’s freeing.
What brought you to writing? I didn’t begin writing commercially until after I retired from a twenty-nine-year career working in California prisons. I’ve always been an avid reader and thought about writing about some situations and unique characters I encountered behind the walls. I believed I didn’t have the time and honestly didn’t have the confidence to write crime fiction. It’s really a matter of making writing a priority in your life, maybe one less Netflix binge, or get up an hour early. The point is, there are no excuses—if you want to write, you need to put in the time and write. It must be a priority. You need to do it for yourself. The second part—finding the confidence to write crime fiction came when I realized one of my early assignments gave me what I needed. As a probation officer, I’d prepare presentence reports for the sentencing judge. This meant I would interview the convicted person in the jail, talk to the investigating officers, read all the reports, speak with the victims, and cobble together a narrative of the offense to assist the judge make a sentencing decision. I realized what I was actually doing was writing a crime story. I knew how to do this!
Tell us about your writing process: For me, everything begins with character. I have a kernel of a story idea, but before I put pen to paper or type a single word, I get to know my characters. I’ll get familiar with them, their flaws, their tics, and habits. You must present more than flat and stereotyped characters in your work. Readers get bored and don’t engage with your story if you don’t give them someone with a bit of depth. I figure If I’m going to spend months with these imaginary people; it’s important to know them intimately. I’ve written a short story using a specific character’s POV and voice to help me find a better understanding of that character’s worldview, their tone, and what they believe in. Once I have a grasp of the people I’ll be writing about, the story can unwind and reveal the character in slices and scenes in the manuscript. Why so much attention on character? Character is the thing readers connect with and become invested in. Readers will forgive a so-so plot if they want to turn the pages to find out what happens to a specific character they’re connected with.
What are you currently working on? I’m always working on a new project, be it a screenplay, a short story, or a novel length work. Dead Drop was recently released, and while I’m excited about the first book in a new series, it also means I can’t sit back and rest. I’m under contract to deliver additional books in the series, and they don’t write themselves. Before Dead Drop hits the shelves, I drafted the second book. I’m in the rewriting stages now and looking at the potential storylines for book three and beyond.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Writing is a solitary business. You spend hours alone crafting your story, and you need connection with others who understand what you’re going through, who offer support, encouragement, and a swift kick when needed. I’m an active member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW), Mystery Writers of America (MWA), Sisters-in-Crime, and other organizations. ITW and MWA work with and support new authors to develop their craft with both in-person and virtual workshops and craft sessions. I love supporting aspiring writers by teaching at conferences, offering encouragement, and sharing what I’ve learned on my writing journey.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Subplots are a great way to take a breath from the chase, if you will, and give an opportunity for a little character reveal. For example, if you have a detective on the trail of a killer and an additional issue comes up for them to react to, it shows us more about them. A family issue, an aging parent dealing with dementia, and how the detective responds and struggles to balance work and home issues is a brilliant method to keep the story moving, but also to ratchet up the stakes for the protagonist.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The most important thing any writer can do is to write and keep writing. We all get better by putting in the work. Take advantage of craft workshops offered by recognized writing organizations. ITW and Sisters-in-Crime have wonderful support networks for aspiring and unpublished writers. If you’re stuck on something, reach out and ask. I’ve found the writing community, particularly the crime fiction community, incredibly supportive and willing to help.
How do our readers contact you?
You can find me on social media on Facebook @authorjameletoile Twitter @jamesletoile Instagram @authorjamesletoile
Drop by my website at jamesletoile.com or email me at email@example.com
If you spot me at a writing conference like Bouchercon, ThrillerFest, Killer Nashville, or Left Coast Crime, come and say hello.
Denise Kalm is the published author; of the novel, Lifestorm. Her non-fiction books include Career Savvy – Keeping & Transforming Your Job, Tech Grief – Survive and Thrive Through Career Losses (with Linda Donovan), First Job Savvy – Find a Job, Start Your Career, and Retirement Savvy – Designing Your Next Great Adventure. Her books are available on all major sites as paperbacks and e-books.
The new definition of retirement is simply “doing what you want to do.” And this begins with figuring that out and putting it into action. Retirement Savvy is designed to help you design and act on your dreams so that you can take full advantage of these well-earned years.
I’ve been writing since I knew how to write, actually delighting in writing assignments in school. That’s just a part of what made me different throughout my life (okay, weird). I also love to do public speaking, which sets me apart from many writers. I’m an extrovert and highly gregarious, which inspires some of my better ideas as well as giving me great input on dialogue. But that means some aspects of writing are frustrating, as being alone is not my core strength. The writing itself is one thing—once I get going, I have to remind myself to get up for a break. But editing is more challenging, as you rarely can achieve “flow” in editing.
I started out dreaming of being the next Stephen King or Robert Ludlum, liking to write horror as well as suspense. If you check out my writing, you’ll wonder at that, but I have an unpublished book (my first) that is a legitimate techno-thriller about biological warfare. I have an MS in biochemical genetics. And I have a boxful of great horror stories, two of which were published.
What made me switch genres and write four non-fiction, how-to books? I began writing career advice articles for IT magazines when I realized how many techies didn’t know how best to present themselves. As e-books and self-publishing got going (and the economy flat-lined), I was encouraged to publish my tips so more people could learn how to get a job more easily, keep it through layoffs and then transform it into something they loved. Once I had a process and design in mind, the books flowed easily so I could get them out to my friends and colleagues more quickly. I felt like this was a way I could make a difference.
As I got older, retirement started becoming real to me, though I wrote most of Retirement Savvy before I retired. And my plan came out of my book and loads of interviews, research, and thinking on the subject. I still work, though most of it isn’t for profit. I’m crazy-busy and enjoying it. But I do allow my travels to extend out, as I no longer have to cram them into too-short vacation windows.
I started a murder mystery set in a retirement community, and then Covid hit. I needed to interview people to give my story more reality—and I couldn’t. Then, I began to consider what else I could write. Realizing that no one could fire me anymore, I felt empowered to start a blog. The twice-weekly writing “assignment” keeps me busy, researching, talking to people, and responding to comments, and it’s writing I enjoy. Still, years remain to get back to fiction if I want to.
My favorite tip to writers is to go for a walk outside whenever you get stuck. It has to be outside; that’s where inspiration can be found. Don’t think about solving your problem; your brain is hard at work without your effort. Most times, to my endless surprise, the solution is there when I get back to work. I also find I can write whole short stories and articles in my head when I walk. It’s the most powerful inspiration I’ve found.
Writing-wise, I’m a member of CWC-Mt. Diablo.
Web site: www.denisekalm.com.
Blog: Right on the Left Coast | Denise Kalm | Substack
Valerie J. Brooks is a multi-award-winning author of femmes-noir thrillers where the women are badass and take center stage. The first in the Angeline Porter Trilogy Revenge in 3 Parts, was a finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award. NYTimes bestselling author Kevin O’Brien called her second novel Tainted Times 2 “… a real nail-biter from the first page to the last.”
Valerie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. She teaches workshops and classes on writing noir and creating plot twists.
1 Last Betrayal A former criminal defense attorney receives an alarming text and races in desperation to Florida only to find a ransacked apartment, a poisoned dog, and a missing half-sister.
Let me tell you a story – When I was sixteen, I worked as a New England Tel & Tel switchboard operator. Back then, this was a prime job for someone my age, but it could also be boring, sitting there, waiting for lights that indicated a call.
One day, I connected a call from a Laconia phone booth to a Massachusetts number. I asked the caller to deposit the correct amount of change for the three-minute call, connected the two numbers, and closed the switch. I went on to other calls.
After three minutes were up, I went back to the call. As I did with all calls made from a phone booth, I pulled back the switch to listen in on the call so I could break in during a lull in the conversation without the caller knowing.
What I heard felt so dangerous that I couldn’t talk. The man from the Boston number was setting up a hit with the man in the phone booth. I wish I could remember the conversation, but I did understand that the Boston man gave instructions to the man in the phone booth to kill someone who lived in Belknap Acres, a ritzy, gated residential area that was rumored to have an armed guard at the gate.
I wrote down the two phone numbers and the name of the Boston man associated with the number. I wrote down the few specifics I was able to hear. The conversation was short.
After they hung up and I disconnected the line, I questioned what I heard. Was I imagining it? Was it a joke? But I’d heard too many rumors about Belknap Acres and what went on there, who lived there, why there was an armed guard. I had no idea who was supposed to be killed, but I did have an address.
I had to work a little longer before I could signal the switchboard foreman that I needed to speak with her. We went into her office, and I told her about what I had heard.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about this,” she said. “You know we’re not allowed to listen in on calls, and we would have to explain how we heard this information.”
I knew the rules but thought this situation would be different. Someone was going to get killed.
All afternoon, I worried about the call. The hit was planned for that evening. I decided to tell my parents when I got home. They were strict with us kids about living by the rules, but I figured they wouldn’t care that I listened in, not for something like this, and Dad often talked about how corrupt Massachusetts was.
Right away, my mom called the FBI. We figured that someone would take the info over the phone, and that would be that.
Instead, twenty minutes later, two FBI special agents knocked on our door. My parents invited them in. One sat down across from me while the other stood by the door. They wore street clothes, no suits. The agent who asked me questions seemed like anyone I’d run into in town—non-descript shirt and pants, a little overweight, a kind smile. I answered all his questions and gave him the piece of paper that I had saved with all the info. The agent spoke softly and made me feel comfortable, not what I’d pictured from an FBI agent. He thanked me for calling them. I asked him if he’d let us know what happens. He just smiled and said, “No. You won’t find out anything about this unless, for some reason, something happens that the news finds out about.”
He thanked my parents, and they left. We never heard anything else. My dad said they must have been working on a local case, and it could have had to do with the information I gave them.
That was the beginning of my interest in mobs and the FBI.
Now to back up a bit – I’d always loved dark stories, gothic tales of secrets, and writers like Wilkie Collins and Daphne du Maurier. Later I fell in love with Jean Ryss novels. Growing up in New Hampshire added to my interest. As children who were expected to be seen and not heard during adult gatherings, we heard plenty. Families worked hard to be perceived as perfect, but we knew better. Perception is a tricky bit of flimflammery because truth seeps out. And who better to know this than children who seemed to be invisible. Early on, I was aware of what I would later call hypocrisy, but because it didn’t pertain to me at the time, I didn’t explore it until much later when I moved to Oregon and began writing.
My interest in the underbelly of life took full bloom while taking college courses in film noir. I loved the voice, the tropes, and the truthful examination of our culture, lifestyles, and capitalistic drive/greed. For me, noir dispelled the fantasy idea of “happy ever after” and “justice wins.” Perry Mason was a fantasy of good winning over evil. Of course, we need fantasy to escape the hard realities at times, but I just couldn’t write like that or write in black and white. As the brilliant Dennis Lehane says, “I live in the gray.”
Living in the gray when you’re a writer sometimes makes the work harder. How do I give a satisfying ending? What do my characters do that make them fascinating? Usually, my characters are like me, except they push boundaries as I never would. For example, Angeline has killed two mobsters in self-defense. Could I ever do that? I don’t know, but I love her for it.
Being a pantser, I start my thrillers with a setting. I might have an idea about the character, but as in my first of the Angeline Porter Trilogy, I wanted to set my story in Paris. Having been to Paris in 2015 and having taken many notes, Angeline came to life, stepping off the Metro. With the second in the trilogy, the setting had to be New Hampshire, where I grew up. There’s not as much action, but there’s a lot of atmosphere and secrets that Angeline discovers, setting her on a direct path to the third thriller I just finished, 1 Last Betrayal. The secrets lead her to trying to save a sister she never knew she had. Off to Hollywood, Florida, where mobsters ruled back in the day. Its history made me yearn to know more about the setting, which was perfect for the “final showdown” with the mob.
Now I’m immersed in the promoting and launching of the third thriller. I miss my characters. Miss them terribly. I’m tempted to write another Angeline story. “We shall see,” as my Brit mom used to say. One thing I know for sure—I need to start writing again. Whatever the story.
Valerie’s short story prequel to the Angeline Porter trilogy is available for free.
Download it here: “Lake Winnisquam 1982”
Michael was born in Manchester, England. He lived in France and joined a French Order of Missionary priests. He spent ten years in West Africa, several of them during a civil war when he was stood up to be shot. He spent a year living as a hermit in Northern Ireland, was a teacher in Madrid, Spain, and as part of the British ‘brain drain’ taught at the Univ of Puerto Rico.
The owner of MJB Consultants, he flew all over the world monitoring and evaluating humanitarian projects and has worked in more than thirty countries. He is fluent in several languages, an avid golfer, and academically considers himself over-engineered, having three Masters’ Degrees and a Ph.D. On his bucket list is to pilot a helicopter, become fluent in Arabic, and spend a week’s retreat at Tamanrasset in the Sahara Desert.
Michael lives with his French wife, who designs and paints the covers of his books, and a Tibetan terrier in Clayton, California.
His latest novel, The Ethiopian Affair (May 2022), begs the question: Is there a plot to abduct the US ambassador to Ethiopia? MI6, the CIA, and NISS (Ethiopian Secret Service) are faced with discovering the truth.
He has always been a writer, and his first book, The Bishop Wears No Drawers (2017), is a memoir of his time in Africa. Let the Peacock Sing (2020) is a historical novel set against the backdrop of the French Resistance during World War II. His second novel, a coming-of-age book, Becoming Anya, was published in November 2021. Michael also writes fiction and nonfiction articles for several magazines, including Alive East Bay and The Big issue (UK). He is a feature writer for the Mt Diablo Gazette.
Do you write in more than one genre? My first book is a memoir of ten years spent in Nigeria as a catholic missionary priest, where I was stood up to be shot. My second book is the historical novel Let the Peacock Sing.
What brought you to writing? I have always been a writer, mainly nonfiction and academic articles on philosophy and spirituality. Retirement gave me the time to develop my craft and let my imagination run wild.
Tell us about your writing process: I treat my writing like a job as if I am employed and quite disciplined. I usually spend six to eight hours a day on a book, either writing or doing research. I take breaks with a round of golf and vary my writing by producing fiction and nonfiction articles for various magazines.
With fiction, I usually have an idea with just a couple of specific points, and the rest of my process depends entirely on my characters. As they grow and develop, they tell me who they are, what they want to say, and what they are doing.
Nonfiction: It depends on my mood and particular interest at a given moment. I occasionally do book reviews.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The only challenge I have as a writer is that there is insufficient time to write all the stories and characters in my head.
What are you currently working on? I am five chapters into a novel comprising six different stories, all intertwined with links to two main characters. It’s fun and challenging.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Not really. I joined CWC because writing is a lonely business. I started the Writers Connection, where a group of us could meet to socialize and talk about anything related to writing.
I read more biographies than novels. Who’s your favorite author? Depends on the type of book. Thrillers: John Le Carre; Literary: Edna O’Brien & Jose Luis Borges. Paul Theroux is, for sure as a travel author.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Love/romantic scenes are particularly difficult to write, just to get the language balance and sensitivity right. My wife, who is both a painter and psychologist, is always the first to review my drafts and gives me excellent feedback.
Do you have subplots? Always have several subplots. That’s a major part of the fun and challenge in writing.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Yes. I believe that almost every author, especially early in their career, base some characters on their own experiences. We often write from what we know.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? Sometimes it’s difficult to access or find all the information needed about a character. For example, I needed a great deal of information about the French railways during World War II. There are lots of bits and pieces, but that complete history has still to be written. I have researched French archives and come away empty-handed.
Where do you place your settings? Depends. I write a lot about places and countries I have lived in, especially France, Ireland, Spain, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Latin America.
What is the best book you have ever read? Henry Kissinger: 2 Vols. The Whitehouse Years, and he was writing in a second language. From the point of view of command of language and style, Mark Kishlansky’s A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603-1714.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? My head is full of characters wanting to tell their stories. I’ll just keep writing because I must. I would like to see my book Let the Peacock Sing turned into a mini-series, and I am working on that.
How do our readers contact you?
Fleur Bradley has loved puzzles and (scary) mysteries ever since she first discovered Agatha Christie novels. She’s the author of numerous mysteries for kids, Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, which was on many award lists, including the Reading the West, Agatha and Anthony Awards, Sasquatch Award, and won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, Sunshine State Young Readers Award, and the Colorado Book Award.
A reluctant reader herself, Fleur regularly does librarian and educator conference talks on ways to reach reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in Colorado with her family and entirely too many rescue animals. Find out more about Fleur at http://www.ftbradley.com and follow her on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor.
Daybreak on Raven Island: From the critically acclaimed author of Midnight at the Barclay Hotel comes a thrilling new middle-grade mystery novel inspired by Alcatraz Prison.
Tori, Marvin, and Noah would rather be anywhere else than on the seventh-grade class field trip to Raven Island prison. Tori would rather be on the soccer field, but her bad grades have benched her until further notice; Marvin would rather be at the first day of a film festival with his best friend, Kevin; and Noah isn’t looking forward to having to make small talk with his classmates at this new school.
But when the three of them stumble upon a dead body in the woods, miss the last ferry back home, and then have to spend the night on Raven Island, they find that they need each other now more than ever. They must work together to uncover a killer, outrun a motley ghost-hunting crew, and expose the age-old secrets of the island all before daybreak.
Do you write in more than one genre? Although most people know me as the author of mysteries for kids, I also write short stories and YA. It’s good to stretch your writing muscle a little, I think. I also make sure I read a lot outside my own genre, so I know what’s going on.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my home office—I’m so fortunate to have one! For years, I wrote in waiting rooms (while my kids were in gymnastics or art classes), food courts, and my dining room. It’s so nice to have a dedicated space. My kids are grown, so that helps too. I have all the time to write.
Tell us about your writing process: I usually start with a broad concept—the crime, since I write mystery, and what I want the book to feel like. That last part is a little vague, but I know a good recipe for a book when I see it, even if it’s just in my imagination.
Setting is a big part of my process too. It creates the mood, and with some research, I usually find ways to use setting. My most recent book, Daybreak on Raven Island, is set on a fictionalized version of Alcatraz. I used the real-life setting as inspiration for everything from the horror feel of the book to the mysteries my three kid characters are trying to solve.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Probably letting it go once it’s time for publication. You can edit forever. That’s just the truth. There comes a time to let readers pass judgment.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Both MWA and SinC here in Colorado have been hugely helpful. They cheer me on and provide simple camaraderie. It’s nice to have people to talk mystery with.
On the children’s writers side, I love my local chapter of SCBWI. I’m very lucky here in Colorado to have so many writer friends.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? I was not a fan of Stephen King until I started reading his short stories. I still don’t always have the patience for his really long books, but I can appreciate the storytelling now.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I love outlining, and the longer I’m doing this, the more I believe in outlining. It just takes too much time to edit without a solid outline. I teach outlining workshops now; I’m such a believer.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I like to take a real-life setting and then fictionalize it, so I can make it what I want. For Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, I used the Stanley Hotel here in Colorado (from The Shining, in case you’re not familiar). For Daybreak on Raven Island, I ‘built’ Raven Island based on Alcatraz. It’s such an incredible tool. Setting can change a story completely, so I try to have that figured out early on in my process.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Daybreak on Raven Island just came out, so I’m spending a lot of time doing virtual and in-person events. Writing-wise, I’m working on another mystery for kids and another for teens. I hope to finish both by the end of 2022 and then will have to see if they find a home somewhere. There are no guarantees in publishing.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Stay positive, and surround yourself with people (especially fellow writers) who lift you up. Publishing is tough and full of rejection. You want friends to pick you up when you’re down and buy you cake when there’s something to celebrate.
How do our readers contact you?
Here’s my website: Fleur Bradley (ftbradley.com)
I hang out on Twitter: Fleur Bradley – preorder DAYBREAK ON RAVEN ISLAND! (@FTBradleyAuthor) / Twitter
And Instagram: Fleur Bradley (@fleurbradley) • Instagram photos and videos