By L.J. Sellers
Being compared to Lisa Jackson with her debut novel is quite a coup for Leslie Tentler. After years of writing press releases and other PR copy, Tentler made the leap and wrote Midnight Caller, a romantic thriller. Publisher’s Weekly says “A smooth prose style and an authentic Big Easy vibe distinguish Tentler’s debut…the shivers are worthy of a Lisa Jackson.”
The story features late-night radio show psychologist Rain Sommers, who is used to the crazies who call in to rage from the back alleys of the French Quarter. But one caller’s chilling obsession with her and her long-ago murdered mother has even the jaded Rain running scared as a sadistic serial killer prowls New Orleans. FBI agent Trevor Rivette is convinced her midnight caller and the killer are one and the same. But he soon discovers that his secretive past and troubled present are intertwined, and that he may die trying to keep Rain’s fate out of a madman’s control.
Leslie Tentler tells us more about her debut in her own words:
Q: How did the story develop? Did you start with an idea for the plot or did you conceive one or both of the characters first?
A: The character of FBI agent Trevor Rivette came to me first. I’d been thinking for a while about a federal agent forced to deal with some personal issues while also handling a major murder investigation. He sort of grew from there, as did the entire Rivette family. Trevor is a native of New Orleans who’s been gone for many years, and the murder investigation requires his return to some things in his past he’s been running from for a long time.
Once I began to formulate the plot, Rain Sommers, my main female character, emerged more fully. I wanted her to have close ties to the New Orleans Goth community, which factors heavily into the story, without actually being Goth herself. In fact, it’s those ties that entangle her pretty quickly in Trevor’s serial murder investigation.
Q: You live in Atlanta but the story is set in New Orleans. How big a factor does the French Quarter setting play in your story?
A: Setting-wise, it plays a big role. The serial killer in the story has been dubbed as “the Vampire,” and New Orleans seemed the perfect place for him to be. I was also somewhat familiar with New Orleans, having visited there several times. It’s an old, crumbling area with a lot of deep southern glamour and romance, so there’s a lot to work with visually.
Q: If you had to describe the book in one sentence, what would you say?
A character description would be something like this: When a sadistic killer known as “the Vampire” strikes New Orleans, FBI agent Trevor Rivette is forced to return to his hometown, to a place and a family he’s avoided for years.
Q: Did your background in public relations help prepare you for writing a novel?
A: Oh, absolutely. I worked almost exclusively in PR as a writer and editor. The job taught me how to write tightly and succinctly, and how to conduct research to make myself a quick “expert” on different topics. It also gave me familiarity with working on deadline, and how to accept constructive criticism and apply it to my work.
Q: Has the publishing experience lived up to your expectations?
A: Because I sold Midnight Caller as part of a three-book deal, I’ve spent the last year and a half basically in front of a computer screen, writing the two other stories in what is being called the “Chasing Evil” trilogy. My life hasn’t changed all that much from when I was working full-time as a PR writer. It’s still all about getting it down in type and completing a product. I am looking forward to seeing the first novel on stores’ bookshelves. I think that will be a tremendous payoff in terms of realizing a longtime dream.
From a business perspective, I’ve approached the publishing experience as a total “newbie” and I’m still learning. Every day.
Q: What can readers expect from the next two books in your series? Do you feature the same characters or setting?
A: The Chasing Evil trilogy is a very loosely based series, with each book centering on a different agent working for the fictional Violent Crimes Unit of the FBI. The VCU specializes in serial killers, similar to TV’s “Criminal Minds.”
The setting each time is different, as well. The second book is based in Washington, D.C. and Middleburg, Va., and the third one, which I’m finishing up now, is set in Jacksonville, Fla.
Q: What have you read lately that made you think: I wish I’d written that?
A: My favorite book of all time is Chelsea Cain’s Heartsick. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s another serial killer story, but with a very different spin on things. I love tortured characters and Portland Detective Archie Sheridan is unforgettable.