James L’Etoile on Process, Internal Editor, and Rewriting

Keenan: I met James L’Etoile at Left Coast Crime a few years ago (one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet), follow his Facebook posts featuring his Corgi masters, and have enjoyed watching his well-deserved success in publishing. And I’m thrilled that his book, The Face of Greed, is coming out in November. So, I asked him to drop in and give us some insight into his process. That is what he said:

James L’Etoile

Many thanks to Keenan Powell for the invitation to come and guest post here on Miss Demeanors. Oh, if you haven’t checked out Kennan’s latest, Implied Consent, you need to run out and fix that. As much as I liked her thrillers in the Maeve Malloy Mystery series, I believe she’s found her wheelhouse with the legal thriller. Implied Consent is the perfect blend of legal drama, family suspense, and thriller.

Keenan’s invitation came at the perfect moment. I’ve recently completed that dreaded first draft of the second book in the new Detective Emily Hunter series. I felt that rush of relief when I typed the last words and hit save. The feeling of accomplishment lasted for about an hour—oh, who am I kidding—ten minutes, before the nagging anxiety of all the work ahead to turn this massive, inconsistent pile of 101,000 words into something I’d be willing to share with anyone but my Corgis.

Writing Process

I’ve changed my writing process over the years, this manuscript will end up being my ninth published novel, and one thing I’ve learned is to muzzle the internal editor as I draft. My internal editor is particularly ill-tempered and if I let that voice creep in while I’m trying to write, I start questioning everything from the character’s name to my choice of coffee. I’ll be typing away and the voice chirps in my ear. “Really? That’s the best you could come up with?” Or “That’s the word you going to hang your hat on? You can do better than that, writer-boy,” in a voice that sounds like a cross between Gilbert Gottfried, and Rodney Dangerfield. Yeah, it really gets under your skin.

The Internal Editor

This uninvited internal editor has their place, but if left unmuzzled, they’ll slow or completely shut down my production. When I hit the mute button, I’m able to power through and finish that first draft. I’m more of a plotter than a fly by the seat of my pants kind of writer. I know where my story is going and most importantly, I know when it’s done. I’ve come to accept the fact that my first draft, is exactly what it is supposed to be—a draft. It won’t be perfect. It will have holes, warts, and the parts might be disconnected in a circus freak show kind of way—and that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be a pristine, perfect first draft. We all know what Anne Lamont says they are. I cast a suspicious, if not jealous eye on authors who claim to write a clean, polished first draft ready to submit to their agent or editor. First, a pox on your house. Second, it’s probably not as polished as you think it is.


What my first draft will be is the framework for the book. Next comes the most uncomfortable part of the process for me—doing nothing. But there’s all this work left to do, what do you mean do nothing? It won’t magically revise itself.

My manuscript needs to ferment in a warm dark place for as long as possible. I need to get my head out of that story and disconnect. Work on another project, write a short story—something unrelated to the manuscript I just spent the last couple of months creating. If you’ve been writing that novel for ten years, workshopped the bejesus out of it, and it feels like you’re rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, it’s probably a sign to take a break from it for a while.

Sometimes contractual deadlines limit the amount of time you can uncouple from the manuscript. I’ll take as much time as I can before I start rewriting and revisions. The break helps me come at it with fresh eyes and the glaring plot holes, or storylines that don’t quite make the right connection are more visible. Scenes that seemed great as you were pounding them out at the keyboard come off as incomplete, or flat when exposed in the light of day.

When the Magic Happens

Rewriting and revisions are where the real magic happens. I know the story I’m trying to tell at this point, so now I can trim away the excess that doesn’t move the reader to that conclusion. Spending some time away from the manuscript, I’m sensitive to the pacing, the transitions from one POV to another, and where plot points or twists need to happen.

I’ve come to enjoy the rewriting process. I know the work waiting for me in this latest draft, but that’s the challenge and the joy of it. I’m a woodworker and there are some similarities between writing a novel and crafting a shaker-style table. Drafting the manuscript is cutting all the pieces to the right length, arranging them in the correct order, and getting a dry fit on those hidden dovetail joints. Revisions are microplanning the edges of those dovetail joints for an exact fit, gluing it all together, and exposing the grain on that table surface. Exposing the grain of my story is what the revisions are all about.

Detective Emily Parker Series

This manuscript is due for release in November 2024 and will be the sequel to Face of Greed set for release on November 7, 2023. Face of Greed is the first in a new series featuring Sacramento Police Detective Emily Parker as she investigates the brutal murder of a man in his home. What seems to be little more than a home invasion gone wrong, starts to unravel to reveal darker forces in play. Political powerbrokers want the case dropped which make Emily dig in. While Emily balances caring for her mother with early onset Alzheimer’s, it’s a race to control the dead man’s secrets. A deadly game of greed and deception pulls Emily deeper into the shadowy world of gang violence and retribution. Emily walks the razor’s edge to identify the killer without becoming the next victim. I drew inspiration for Face of Greed from, one of the first murder cases I worked.

I hope you have a chance to check it out. New York Times Bestselling author Wendy Corsi Staub says, “Face of Greed skillfully walks the line between procedural and domestic drama.” Here’s the pre-order link.

Thanks for hosting me here!

James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, and director of California’s state parole system to influence his award-winning novels, short stories, and screenplays. His most recent novel, the Lefty Award nominated Dead Drop released in July 2022. Look for Devil Within and Face of Greed, both coming in 2023. Find out more at www.jamesletoile.com.


  1. James, the new series sounds interesting. Unlike you, I’m a pantser but I feel the same way about the first draft. Getting the bones of the story down is the hard part.

    Thanks for sharing your process with us.

  2. Wow, the new novel sounds really good! As for internal editor? More like infernal editor. It has stifled me many a time. Kudos for figuring out how to chase him back to the dark circles of hell where it belongs. Thank you for visiting and sharing your story!

  3. “Rewriting and revisions are where the real magic happens.” YES! I couldn’t agree more. Just wish I had a button to turn off my internal editor. And oh, yes–I love the woodworking metaphor. Excellent interview! Best of luck to both of you on your new books!

  4. I love the term fermenting for the period when a draft sits waiting for the writer to simmer down, get a little distance, and then return to do the fun stuff. Your new book sounds fascinating and I’m glad I have the time to meet Emily in the first in the series before November. Thanks for visiting Miss Demeanors, James!

  5. James, looking forward to your new book! And couldn’t agree with you more. I have to resist that urge to constantly edit, so my compromise is to start work by rereading the pages of the day before. That allows me to get into my rhythm with only fixing glaring errors and keep going.

    PD James told me once that “the real writing gets done in revision” and I think of that all the time when I do settle in for revising.

    Thanks for joining us today~

  6. What a great post. Your process sounds fascinating, and I love the way you describe the various stages. Looking forward to reading the new series. Thanks for joining us.

  7. James,
    Great to hear from you! I enjoyed our time together last year at Killer Nashville. Loved your woodworking metaphor. Spot on. The internal editor during the first draft is an idea killer and so hard to turn off. It’s my biggest challenge. I’m impressed your 2024 book first draft is already completed! All the best, Judy

  8. James, I have been a fan since I saw you on some podcast or other. It’s great for this wimpy English teacher to “meet” someone who actually knows about investigations. Right now, I’m in what I call editing hell. Magic.? Ha! I’m going to stop fast drafting, I think. What a balled up mess I have on my hands! Anyway, I enjoyed your post.

  9. What a wonderful background you have! I love the idea of letting things ferment. Thanks so much for stopping by.

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