From the Booking Desk:
James is one of those guys I always look forward to running into at the various crime fiction conventions. I was able to have a lunch with him during Left Coast Crime Albuquerque and the conversation was fascinating. James knows a lot! And in particular, I love to hear him talk (or write) about our prisons and the need for prison reform. As luck would have it, I will also get to moderate James on the Best Novel Nominee panel at the upcoming Left Coast Crime in Tucson, AZ. That’s going to be a blast. Needless to say, I was delighted when he agreed to participate in the Composite Sketch series. Let’s see what he wants to share with us.
Name: James L’Etoile
Location: Cameron Park, California
This person from my personal life is such an inspiration:
For me, inspiration and influence come from different sources. I’ve been influenced, both positively and less so, by teachers, friends, family, and co-workers on life choices and tough decisions. Inspiration, though, finds me at the strangest times. Even if that means it comes on a prison yard.
I remember sitting with a convict one day and we were watching a few hundred inmates on Folsom Prison’s main yard. Billy was an older Black heroin addict who had been living in prisons, jails, and juvenile institutions for most of his life. He was a walking crime history book. He had a way of looking at the world that was infectious. He could find the smallest positive thing in his day and reset his emotional compass. Hot oatmeal in the morning, canteen day, or laundry issue—any of these events we’d consider routine in the scheme of things, Billy would celebrate and not let the violence and madness of living with two thousand other convicts ruin his day. Billy would bemoan the younger inmates coming in and bringing the street violence to the yard, yet he would try to show these young gang bangers how to survive inside. Part of that was celebrating the little things. Finding a glimmer of hope in a sea of desperation.
I’ve used Billy’s advice more often than I can count, and it applies to my life as an author where rejection is part of the business. Celebrating all the successes of our friends in the crime fiction community is what Billy would do.
One of the people I admire most in the crime fiction community is:
Oh, man, this is tough. Only one? I have to admit when I first jumped in and started writing; I didn’t expect the crime fiction community to be so open and supportive. Where I came from, backstabbing was common, and I literally had to wear a protective vest.
My friends in the crime fiction community have served as my advisors, confessors, therapists at times, but one person really stands out. Shawn Reilly Simmons. I’ve known Shawn for years and she’s a terrific author, editor, and one of the best people I know. One of the founders of Level Best Books, she attracts authors who want to work with her because of who she is. She’s a rock. No matter the adversity, Shawn masters it. Personally, she’s been my sounding board, counselor, and helped me become a better writer. I’m proud to call her a friend.
STALKER ALERT! If this fictional character were real, they would likely need to get a restraining order against me:
So, so many… I think I’d start with Lou Norton from Rachel Howzell Hall’s brilliant series set in Los Angeles. Lou defines what women face in law enforcement and the additional pressure she feels with complicated family dynamics, and as a person of color in a male-dominated profession. Yet Lou comes through with a fierce dignity. I’ve worked with women like Lou and Rachel has bottled that struggle, personality, and fear.
People are always surprised that I am a fan of this individual (singer, actor, or artist):
I’m an 80s grunge fan and one of my favorite bands from that period was Stone Temple Pilots with Scott Weiland. I was able to see them three times. The last was a solo performance a month before Weiland died from a drug overdose in 2015. I got to talk with him backstage and talk about an interesting guy. You have a rock legend who played sold out stadium shows, and he turns out to have severe social anxiety. Like other tragic stories, Weiland self-medicated and we saw how that ended. The man was an inedible talent.
My personal catch phrase is (or should be):
I never thought I had a catch phrase. But I do occasionally respond with “Just Ducky” when someone asks, “How you doing?” Just Ducky kinda means I might look calm on the surface, but underneath I’m paddling like hell to keep up.