Monday, December 28, 2009

Laura Elvebak's Lost Witness

Laura Elvebak is the author of the Niki Alexander series, LESS DEAD and LOST WITNESS. Born in North Dakota and raised in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Laura settled in Houston, Texas in 1981 with her three children, now grown. She is the past chapter president of Mystery Writers of American Southwest Chapter, and presently serves as Treasurer and has been editor of the chapter’s newsletter, the Sleuth Sayer, for five years. She is also finishing up her term as Vice President of The Final Twist Writers and she is a member of Sisters-In-Crime. Her short stories have been published in two anthologies by The Final Twist Writers and three of her screenplays were optioned by a production company.

Laura, thank you for joining us so soon after Christmas.
When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?
I have already been a day dreamer. My mother died of cancer when I was five and my father in his grief left me with my grandparents for the next three years. I had one friend who lived across the street, a little girl who also lost her mother and lived with her grandmother. When I wasn’t at her house, I spent the time reading and making up stories to entertain myself and escape.
When my father remarried and I went to live with them, I started to write short stories, impulsively sent them off to magazines like The Ladies Home Journal, and always got a polite rejection. I was an avid reader and loved to go to movies. At night before going to sleep, I had to plot a story or continue the one from the night before, always putting the previews first. Just like the movies. Starting reading mysteries with Nancy Drew then graduated to romance and adventure –Harold Robbins and Frank Yerby were two of my favorite authors at the time.
I was on the rebound from a year-long marriage to a man ten years older when I met my second husband. He inspired me to write mystery and suspense. Not that he approved of my writing, especially when I wrote about him, but he was just a wonderful character. His life as a hard hat diver and world traveler spurred my imagination. He was thirty years older – I was twenty when we met; he was fifty. We spent six months in Baja California where he fished and I wrote. After a summer in New York, we spend two years in Florida and I wrote every chance I could.
I am no longer married, but I continue to write mysteries. Sometimes I feel like I have lived my life as I would have written a character in a book.

Briefly tell us about your latest book. Series or stand-alone? If you have written both, which one do you prefer?
My two published books are part of a series. Niki Alexander is an ex-cop who quit the Houston Police Department after she killed a seventeen-year-old boy in a shootout. Traumatized by this event, she became a counselor for a teen shelter, determined to help troubled teens so they wouldn’t end up like the boy she killed. In the first, LESS DEAD, Niki searches for a missing street teenager who had been abandoned by her father months earlier.
LOST WITNESS is the second and latest book and deals with a younger child than Niki usually comes into contact with. A traumatized child is found next to the body of a murdered drug mule by a street teen who reluctantly takes him to the nearby street church for the homeless. Niki is there dealing with her friend whose granddaughter is being adopted by her foster parents because the mother is an addict who lives on the street.

What’s the hook for LOST WITNESS?
The hook is the Hispanic child so traumatized he cannot speak about what or who he saw when his mother was killed. After Niki turns him over to CPS he is placed in foster care and soon afterwards disappears. Niki feels responsible and goes to great lengths to find him.

How do you develop characters? Setting?
Most of my characters have come from real life. Tara in LOST WITNESS is an older friend of my youngest daughter. She has helped me paint and tile my home, has babysat my grandkids. She has survived on the street, overcome drugs and has many of the problems as her character in my book. Ric is also someone I know from my kids and, like his character, is in a wheelchair and no one is quite certain from where he gets his money.
The books are set in Montrose, a part of Houston near downtown. Open Palms is loosely based on Covenant House, a teen shelter I have visited several times and where my son once stayed in his teen years. I have been at the street church and talked with the homeless teens at length. They were eager to tell me their stories.

How do you determine voice in your writing?
I write from Niki’s point of view. It’s easy to get into her head, feel what she feels. I hear her voice in my head as I write. Likewise, I hear Rube or Nelson or Tara or Ric. Okay, yes, I hear voices. But only when I write.

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?
I write a synopsis and characters sketches first. I don’t always stick with the synopsis but it gives me a start. While I write I keep a timeline, and do a chapter by chapter outline. That keeps me on track.

How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
That’s a loaded question. I find quirky characters everywhere. I listen to the way they speak and what they say because most times their dialogue and their actions reveal how they think. I’m always fascinated by why people act as they do. What motivates them? What do they care about most? What or who would they die for? I had a very open-minded upbringing in California and I find other peoples prejudices sometimes disturbing. When I come across an idea, or someone’s actions, that really annoys or angers me, I am compelled to build a story around it. Passion about an idea always will spark my imagination and turn into a story. Take whatever it is and dissect it and examine it, and do something about it in the guise of fiction.

Have you started any online networks or blogs to promote yourself and others?
I seem to be everywhere. I have a website: and a blog: I am also on Facebook, MySpace, Crimespace, Redroom, Goodreads, Amazon Authors, Shelfari, L&L Dreamspell, and The Final Twist Writers. And I twitter. Who has time for it all? I try to attend workshops and conferences, such as Bouchercon, to network. I also belong to two critique groups which I attend every week and am active in writing groups. I try to make a promotional dent, but then it’s back to writing. Oh yes, I also hold down a full time job as executive secretary for a small oil and gas exploration company.

What are your current projects?
I recently finished a short story for an upcoming Final Twist anthology and helped edit the other submissions. Now it’s back to work on the third Niki Alexander mystery.

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
My website, my blog, L&L Dreamspell and Facebook
Thank you very much, Susan, for this opportunity.

My pleasure, Laura. Happy New Year!


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Laura,

You've certainly lead an interesting life! Niki sounds like a very well-developed character, perfect for a mystery series. I prefer characters that have a basis in real life like yours.

Best of luck with this new novel,

Jacqueline Seewald

Allan W. Azouz said...

You write that you enjoy using quirky characters. You certainly have material for them in your exes.

Allan W. Azouz
Shadows of Souls

Betty Gordon said...

Laura, an enlightening interview. I have your latest and waiting for the holidays to wind down before reading...great expectations!

Re hearing character voices--I'm glad it's only when you're writing .

My best, Betty Gordon

Anonymous said...


I don't know when I have enjoyed an interview so much. I like books that deal with the troubled areas of life. You mentioned author Frank Yerby, who was one of my favorites. I read some of his books over and over again until the covers fell off. I wish you the greatest success as a writer.

Joe Prentis

Susan Whitfield said...

Betty, I think they're plenty of us in the mystery genre who hear voices. I have to wonder what the romance/erotica genre writers hear. I agree that our own emotional past adds depth and feeling to our writing. I'm looking forward to reading your work too, Laura.

Laura Elvebak said...

Thank you all.

Joe, I'm glad someone else read and remembered Frank Yerby.


dkchristi said...

I'm particularly interested in the screenwriting aspect. It seems that's a more lucrative writing venue; but I may be wrong. dkchristi, author of Ghost Orchid, where the mystical ghost orchid is central to a story of love, lies and redemption in the Everglades.

Loretta said...


Excellent interview! I've learned so much about your characters in reading this, that I find them even more fascinating:)

Your life has been a very diverse tapestry hasn't it? I like that. It wasn't at all easy I'm sure, but look at the broad scope of colorful people and situations you are able to pull from:)

BTW...I hear voices too:) Like you, they're inside my thoughts though...Thank God!:)

All the best with your work this year,


Laura Elvebak said...

D.K., I wish screenwriting was more lucrative, but it is the hardest venue to break into unless you know someone in the business. Everyone in L.A. is writing a script. I sold options to a local production; they were actually works-for-hire, but I specified in the contract that they would be options for a limited time period.

firewoman said...

Wonderfully inspiring.

The Belle in Blue said...

I don't always stick to my synopses either, Laura! Those characters have a way of rewriting their own stories sometimes, don't they?

Your books sound wonderful. I'm a bit envious of your personal history to draw from. Makes my life seem boring in comparison! LOL