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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Paulson

A sixth sense for serial killers: Author MJ LaBeff

MJ LaBeff describes herself as the girl next door with a dark side. If she moves into your neighbourhood, though, have no fear: she’s too busy writing suspense novels, working in the financial services industry, exercising, running after three dogs and — when she has time —watching the Investigation Discovery channel. The dark side is entirely engaged in creating compelling characters, notably her protagonist Rachel Hood, and serial killer plots.

Meet MJ LaBeff.

Welcome, MJ. You're the author of the Last Cold Case series; three have been published and one lands in January, I believe. What inspired you to write this series?

Initially I became intrigued by how changing seasons and moon phases can affect people and from there each story was inspired by something different that helped me shape the crimes (in each book there is a current case linked to a past cold case) and the serial killers. I tend to look at situations real and imagined and wonder, “what if?” I create character enneagrams and dive into their back stories to develop what I hope are realistic characters and serial killers. I put each serial killer in a specific situation and then look at what dark could emerge from that incident(s).

Last Summer’s Evil book 1 developed out of my goal to create a sympathetic serial killer and not reveal if the person were male or female to keep readers guessing until the very end. It might’ve been the most difficult book to write because there were abductions and murders taking place simultaneously.

Last Fall’s Hunted book 2 was inspired by a personal family experience; my aunt had kidney disease and lost her battle in the mid-eighties. At the time, I was quite young but remember her being on dialysis and looking sick. I think about her often and started asking my mom questions about her illness and the kidney transplants that sadly didn’t work and then my imagination took over: “What if a parent was so desperate to save a child that they took horrific measures and employed the help of other family members too?”

Last Winter’s Taken book 3 started around two ideas. The first was the lengths a woman might go to to have a child. I was intrigued by the idea of someone having such strong motherly instincts but also having a diabolical side conflicting with that nurturing nature. The second was a fascination with the Salem Witch trials after coming across an article about an archeological dig and artifacts found. As I continued to ponder the “what ifs” and my main character’s back story, I saw this thread bringing these ideas together.

Last Spring’s Stranger book 4 was the result of an article I read about bullying but the real inspiration came from a childhood game of truth or dare. I recalled being at a sleep over and a girl took a dare. She was dared to drink a glass of toilet bowl water. Thank goodness she didn’t. Can you imagine how sick she could’ve gotten? That grade school memory had me wondering, “What if a prank ended in death?” Of course, what happens in the book is much more intentional and sinister.

Tell us a bit more about your detective, Rachel Hood. Was it important to you to have a female main character?

Rachel is smart, strong, fearless and a psychic empath. She runs toward danger. She loves chasing down a criminal. She wants justice for all and risks her life for it.

Paranormal activity and psychic abilities are fascinating to me. I believe we all have a very strong sixth sense but choose to ignore it. Some people might call it gut instinct. I think it’s more than that. Having this psychic gift causes Rachel to feel every ounce of the victims’ pain in the books. However, she does need to have some personal connection to that person. Often it’s hard for her and FBI agent Nick Draven to determine what connects her to the victim. Although the psychic empathy adds a different layer to the plot, hard evidence must be found to capture and convict a killer.

It was important to have a female lead for a couple of reasons. Being a female writer, I could relate to Rachel physically and emotionally, and I admire women who are courageous. I wanted to develop a female homicide detective who was equal to her male counterparts and extremely driven. The two things she fears are marriage and having children. She’s confident in her career but highly uncertain about being a wife and mom since she grew up without one. However, FBI agent Nick Draven isn’t allowing her to go so easily. There’s a light romantic thread that develops between them throughout the books. I felt this helped to make Rachel more realistic.

You've also written one romantic suspense novel.

I’ve written several novels. Many aren’t published and probably never will be. Let’s face it. Some books just need to go to book heaven.

Mind Games was my debut novel released in 2015. It was not the first novel I’d written but the fourth. After much persuading, I ended up self publishing. The book had languished for so long and after nearly 50 agent rejection letters, it was time to breathe life into it. It’s available exclusively at Amazon in eBook and paperback and at Barnes and Noble in paperwork only.

Here’s a brief synopsis of Mind Games to whet your reading appetite.

Sparrow Von Langley had a childhood that was anything but typical. Born into the privilege of wealth in Crystal Cove, California, her father is Dr. Theodore Von Langley, a well-respected, nationally-known behavioral therapist. Tormented by frightening visions brought on by a series of mysterious deaths, Sparrow is determined to search for the truth behind the tragedies and reconnects with Dr. Derrick Sloan.

Derrick has been searching for his missing sister, Kathlyn “Kat” Sloan, since her disappearance ten years ago. A hypnotherapist helps Sparrow pull together the pieces of her traumatic past, and her repressed memories reveal the twisted truth behind the mysterious deaths and Kat’s disappearance. She is shocked to discover her father’s possible involvement, and when her hunt collides with Derrick’s search for Kat, she must decide if she can trust him enough to follow the evidence trail together or risk losing the man she loves.

Will the only daughter of the respected doctor prove his guilt or innocence in his quest to change lives? Find out in MIND GAMES.

Why did you become an author? Were you always driven to write, or was there an inspirational moment?

I love reading and books. Even in grade school, high school, and college I always read for fun. One of the greatest joys before I started writing my own books was reading others. I would marvel at sentence structure, word choices, and how a simple phrase could convey an emotional reaction whether it was fear, sadness or happiness. I love how really great writing can make me laugh, cry, or panic. Now my time is limited so I don’t breeze through even the most engaging books. Sorry, but a girl needs to sleep.

Prior to working in the financial services industry, I worked in marketing and advertising and that fed my writing desire. When I changed careers, I missed writing a lot. Since I was a little girl, I had always wanted to write a book, but it seemed like an unrealistic dream. Now I could kick myself for not writing much earlier!

I started my first book on January 1, 2007 (unpublished and never will be) and discovered how much I liked the writing process. Since then I’ve written a book every year except for 2019; I focused on polishing a manuscript to query literary agents. I’ve received several positive responses but those agents felt they didn’t have the right editor to pitch. Next.

Did you start by seeking a publisher, or by publishing independently? How did your relationship with Muse It Up come about?

I had high hopes of landing a literary agent. Between my novels Haunting Lyric (unpublished for now) and Mind Games I collected 80 or so rejections. I’m a stubborn, persistent kinda girl and for each rejection I’d picture this pair of boxing gloves and just think, “Next!” I wasn’t about to let a rejection letter TKO me! Rejections didn’t devastate me; they made me write more, polish manuscripts and try again. They were disappointing and fuel for some great workouts too!

By the time I was half-way through writing Last Spring’s Stranger, book 4 of the Last Cold Case series, I couldn’t imagine submitting to an agent. I was ready to unleash these books on the world. I started looking at smaller publishers and came across Muse It Up. I read some of the authors with MIU and thought this could work. I submitted Last Summer’ s Evil book 1 and in my query pitched the series. They loved it and wanted all the books! The senior editor and publisher battled each other in an email for editing dibs but for the sake of continuity, they agreed to work together. What do you like to read? Who are your favourite authors, and did any of them inspire or motivate you?

I love mysteries and gritty, dark thrillers. My favorite author is Mary Higgins Clark; she’s brilliant. I discovered her books in college in the ‘90s when a friend gave me Where Are the Children? By then Clark had so many books out, I devoured every single one.

Ironically, it was a romance author who truly inspired me to write. I had the pleasure of meeting NYT bestselling author Vicki Lewis Thompson. We struck up a friendship and she looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Just write.” So, I did. I was blessed to have her endorse my novel Mind Games and critique a few of my early books. I also owe a lot of thanks to my critique partner, Patricia Forsythe Knoll. She’s been hanging in there with me for years now and reads/critiques my dark thrillers.

I have so many favorite thriller authors, and I continue to discover more and more- Carter Wilson, Bryan Gruley, Bruce Coffin, Karin Slaughter, Meg Gardiner, Lisa Gardner, Dean Koontz and . . .

If you’d like to learn more about me and the books I write, please visit my website and let’s be friends on FB or Twitter and Instagram @MJLaBeff. The books in the Last Cold Case series are available where all eBooks are sold and in paperback online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Thank you so much, MJ! See below for links to Last Spring’s Stranger book 4.




Barnes and Noble

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