Suspense thriller Black Label, the latest release by author James L’Etoile.
Author Interview + Book & Author Info + Author Pet Corner!
Suspense Thriller Black Label by James L’Etoile
Relentlessly fast-paced and compellingly twisty! The talented James L’Etoile sets up an irresistibly high-stakes situation: a woman is certain to be charged with murder and doesn’t remember a thing. Can she prove her innocence before she’s silenced forever? A dark journey through the world of big Pharma and big money—you will turn the pages as fast as you can. — Hank Phillippi Ryan USA Today Bestselling author of THE FIRST TO LIE
A pharmaceutical executive wakes up in a strange apartment and finds herself suspected of the murder of her company’s CEO. Believing she’s insane, or a murderer, Jillian Cooper finds herself on the run from not only the police but also gang enforcers.
Life-sustaining prescription drugs are a trillion-dollar industry, but who really knows what’s hidden inside those pills and capsules? 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.
Jillian is left to unravel the company’s secrets before she lands in jail or becomes another victim.
Tight, terrific, terrifying. BLACK LABEL delves into the murky world of pharmaceuticals where profit is prioritized above all else. L’Etoile creates a strong female lead in Jillian Cooper, a woman who faces obstacle after obstacle, but still charges into the abyss. More unnerving than a fistful of amphetamines. Unputdownable.” —K.J. Howe, international bestselling author of SKYJACK
To purchase Black Label, click on any of the following links: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, Kobo & Face in a Book
Suspense Thriller Writer James L’Etoile — The Interview
Black Label is your latest release with a new publisher. This book is also departure from your detective novels, At What Cost and Bury Your Past. What prompted you to write about an amateur sleuth?
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 at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference a few years back where 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 has to struggle through the helplessness, when the police, the press, the corporate boardroom, and her own mind are ready to take her down.
Suspense Thriller: Part action, part psychological manipulation to increase tension.
What should readers know about Jillian Cooper?
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.
Your career in the Criminal Justice System gives you firsthand experience with many of the situations you write about. How has your work life influenced your fiction?
I can’t help but let some of that experience out onto the page. After I retired from twenty-nine years in the correctional system, writing became a therapeutic tool where I could vent some of the frustrations, violence, and tension I absorbed over the years. They may have been characters who met a brutal, justified end in a novel draft or two. (They remain forever entombed in my desk drawer—may God have mercy on their souls).
My stories draw upon situations and characters I encountered during my career. At What Cost was pulled from a series of events starting with the shooting of an Aryan Brotherhood gang member while he was trying to stab another inmate. After the gang member died, the local hospital called wanted to donate his organs. It got me thinking, even though this man was a filthy, racist, gang member, would I really care where the organs came from if my child needed one to survive.
Even though Black Label isn’t a police procedural, Jillian comes in contact with prison gang elements working in the community. There have been instances where criminal organizations have secured state contracts in California and run their criminal enterprises through these business fronts. Fiction borrows from real life once more.
Want to read more? Check out our 2018 interview!
What do you wish the average citizen knew about the Criminal Justice System? What do most people “get wrong” about working within the prison system?
The inner workings of a prison are unknown to the general public. It’s not like Orange is the New Black, or The Green Mile. It’s a place where bad people go and they disappear from society—literally out of sight and out of mind. Prison is a place where time stops. Men doing decades behind prison walls lose contact with the outside as the world goes on without them. They are frozen in place at the time when they were pulled from society.
In a maximum security prison like the places I worked, there is a very real convict subculture, one based on power, dominance, and violence. One of my assignments was in a Security Housing Unit, the SHU. The SHU is a prison within a prison and every man in that unit earned their cell in SHU. Most were there because they murdered another inmate in the general population. For inmates like them, there is no rehabilitation, only a life of predator and prey.
But, most inmates housed in prison cells across the country don’t fall into that category. They may be sex offenders, gang hit men, or violent criminals of another stripe. The fact is that a large majority of these men and women are coming back home. For the most part, correctional systems do little to prepare them for return to the community. As a result, these inmates are doing life on the installment plan.
A common misconception readers (and editors) have is prisons (in California) decide when to release inmates. Most states have a form of sentencing that requires release after a specified amount of time. They go back into the community regardless of their behavior in prison, no matter if they are prepared for the challenges of housing, employment and lack of support systems ahead of them.
Another common belief is that all prisons are like the SHU, or Shawshank. Fortunately, they make up less than 20 percent of the population. The vast majority of inmates are housed in medium and minimum security settings, in dorms, support facilities, and camps. I once wrote a novel that had an inmate escaping from a minimum facility and walking away. The editor rejected the premise that someone could simply walk away—after all they’re in prison.
I’ve been lucky to connect with writers who want to get the look and feel of prison right in the written work. I held a week-long Q&A session with the Romance Writers of America’s Kiss of Death Chapter and they had dozens of great questions about the inner workings of the prison and the people who enter those gates.
Some of your short stories are available in anthologies. Tell us about that experience, what’s it like writing shorter works? Where can we find those books?
I’ve been fortunate to have some of my short stories selected for a few cool anthologies. I was lucky to be a finalist for the Bill Crider Award for Short Fiction at the 2019 Bouchercon in Dallas. The short form has taught me to tighten up my prose and often what’s left out of the story is as important as what on the page. I find it harder to write a short 5,000 word piece than a 100,000 word novel. You have to distill the story down into a compact space. There’s no time for lollygagging about building background—light the fuse and get to it!
I’ve also found that playing with short stories lets you experiment with different POV’s and storylines. A recent short helped me line up a novel I’ve been trying to write. Getting the characters on the page and seeing that interaction gave me a few ideas where to take the novel.
A couple of the most recent published shorts are “Billy’s Plan” in the Eviction of Hope, and “Birthright” in Shattering Glass.
What are you working on now?
In July 2022, the first in a new series will debut. The first installment will be titled, DEAD DROP and it’s 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 and must rely on the very people he chased back across the border for his own survival.
Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:
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.
Great advice! And lovely to have you back on my blog. Readers, don’t miss my review of Black Label on July 20 as part of its Partners In Crime Book Tour!
Author Pet Corner!
Emma and Bryn are Pembroke Welsh Corgis and are certified therapy dogs. Therapy dogs are different form service dogs in that the therapy dog is focused on someone other than their owner. These two dogs give comfort and a chance to decompress to people who need that little extra support in assisted living facilities, nursing homes, group homes, and memory care facilities for seniors suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.
They also really enjoy reading to the dogs, where kids at our local bookstore and libraries grab a book and sit and practice their reading skills with a non-judgmental dog. Remember how we hated to read aloud in school? Therapy dogs take the fear away. Emma has been doing therapy work for over seven years while Bryn has been at it for about two years.
Then there’s #NotMyCat. I don’t have a cat, really I don’t. She lived down the street and about four years ago started showing up in my house. In the guest room bed, the living room sofa, and napping on the dog’s bed.
She’s developed a pattern where she sneaks in the dog door (something Emma and Bryn are not too keen in doing) and camps in the house at night so she can meet me for early morning coffee. The owner has moved away, but #NotMycat remains here bringing me the occasional bird and mouse parts as rent, I suppose.
My most read blog post to date was when my cat Coal Train interviewed #NotMyCat, did you miss it? Don’t worry, you can click the link here to read.
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 and consultant on prison and jail operations.
L’Etoile’s crime fiction work has been recognized by the Creative World Awards, Acclaim Film, and the Scriptapalooza Television Script Competition. BURY THE PAST was a 2018 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award finalist for best procedural mystery of the year. Look for Black Label in July 2021. He is also a frequent contributor to top short story collections.
Major social themes weave through his work, including the world of human trafficking, black market organ transplants, homelessness, domestic terrorism, immigration policy, political corruption, and the pharmaceutical industry.
James is represented by the Kimberley Cameron & Associates Literary Agency.
To learn more about James, click on his name, photo, or any of the following links: Facebook, Instagram & Twitter
Elena Taylor is the author of All We Buried, available now in print, e-book, and audio book format at all your favorite on-line retailers. And don’t forget many independent bookstores can order books for you and have them shipped to your home or for curbside pickup.
For more information on All We Buried, click on the link here to visit the home page.
Foreword INDIE Award Finalist, Best Mystery 2020