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!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Maggie Bishop Talks Appalachian

Maggie, thanks for dropping by for an interview. Please give us a brief bio.
I hike, ski, golf, swim, explore and write in the mountains of North Carolina where I settled in 1993 with my husband and cat. Every time we travel, we seek out other mountains but none are as exciting as the ancient Appalachians. When asked, "What do you do?" my answer is, "Entertain with word pictures." Through my books, readers escape to the mountains.

I was chosen as one of “100 Incredible East Carolina University Women” for literature and leadership. I’m an Air Force brat who put myself through ECU and received a MBA degree, a former manufacturing executive, founder and past president of High Country Writers, past Secretary of Central Pennsylvania Romance Writers, and am a member of Romance Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

My workshops include: Write Now! The 5 Cs of Mystery; Write Now! Get Started, Get Organized and Get Going on Novel/Memoir; Write Now! Plot Your Novel in an Hour; On Stage! Booksignings and Promotion! for Authors

As an East Carolina Pirate myself, I'm so proud of you!
Briefly tell us about your series.
I am the author of a mystery series, Appalachian Adventure Mysteries, and two romance novels set in the Mountains of North Carolina in the Boone area. I started with romance and have turned to murder. In Perfect for Framing, greed and a lust for power led to murder in a clash of personal versus public needs. Murder at Blue Falls has Jemma who leads trail rides on her parents’ guest ranch as a suspect in the murder of neighborhood dogs and well as a man. Emeralds in the Snow involves skiing at Sugar Mountain, an emerald mine, and a cold case murder. Award winning Appalachian Paradise takes place on a five-day backpacking trip in the spring amongst the bears, boars and girl scouts.

On a different note, Meow Means Me! Now! is a rhyming feline allegory with poetry and photos. This gift book is a departure from my novels but sprang from her love of cats. Think Dr. Suess meets Marley & Me.

When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?
Just before my husband and I left for vacation to a dude ranch in the 1990s, I asked a lady in the office for a book to read. She gave me a short, contemporary romance. That year, I read 400 books. I read at stop lights while driving, during dinner, before sleep and just after waking in the morning. My husband had to touch me to get my attention. When I declared “I can do this!” he was relieved. I joined Romance Writers of America and attended their craft workshops at the annual conference. I’ve been hooked on writing ever since.

How do you develop characters?
Detective Tucker came to me one morning while on vacation at the beach. On the balcony overlooking the dunes and the ocean at six in the morning, I watched a deer cross in the high grass and soon after followed a bobcat. Tucker popped into my mind fully formed. Jemma Chase is based on a woman I met years ago who was six feet tall, had a braid down her back to her waist, and was a carpenter.

Why do you include sports in your mysteries and romances?
Life as writers is solitary and sedentary. If I didn’t involve myself in an outside activity, my blood would become sluggish, my brain would coagulate, and my imagination would stall. Hiking in these mountains renews my connection to the earth, trees, other animals, clean air, sparkeling streams–everything that enhances a person as a whole. If a person is too busy to break away and do something away from concrete, a short break through my novels will help. I did a five-day backpacking trip like in Appalachian Paradise. I love to ski and was a ski patroller at Sugar Mountain like in Emeralds in the Snow. Some of my fondest memories with my husband were on dude ranches so I set Murder at Blue Falls at an imaginary ranch in my valley near Triplett, NC. I also enjoy swimming and golf.

Why do you include real people in your novels?
Jane Wilson, author of the cookbook, Mountain Born & Fed, inspired me to use real people like she did in writing up stories about her recipes. It started in the second novel when I wanted to include fellow ski patrollers who are also my parents, Pearle and Lyle Bishop, mountain manager Gunther Jochl, and mountain groomer Joe White. Joe White’s real job is shoeing horses which fits into the dude ranch story. He gave me permission for him to be a suspect. I list the real people in the acknowledgments, everyone else is pure fiction.

What is your current project?
One Shot Too Many will be out in June 2010. Yesterday's regret; today's deadly fix. Impulsive acts during emotional upheavels from the past return to haunt, ending in the death of a photo-journalist near the cozy mountain town of Boone, NC. Detective Tucker must deal with his past while investigating the secrets of suspects determined to keep from facing their own histories. Jemma Chase, trail-ride leader and CSI wanabe, follows clues, even though her interference may cost Tucker his job.

How much research and plotting do you do before you're ready to write a book?
When I turned to murder, I interviewed Dee Dee Rominger, the Chief of Detectives at our local sheriff’s department and then she read an early draft of my novel to suggest changes. For example, the detectives get on a first name basis for anyone they talk with as soon as possible rather than use the formal address of Mister or Missus. Since it is a contemporary series that features the same two main characters, recurring characters and is set in the area I live, my research in those areas was largely done with the first mystery.

Once I have the opening scene, I make a list of the suspects and play with their characteristics and backgrounds. I brainstorm some possible plot points. The plot grows organically from there. Needless to say, I do a lot of rewriting. The one time I plotted ahead, the pages went dead on me and I abandoned the project. I could no longer discover the action like a reader would.

What is your typical writing day like?
I wish I had a typical writing day. I write in spurts of two months. Way in advance, I begin thinking about my characters and plot. The setting is the mountains of North Carolina which is perfect with the hollars and high peaks, the visitor attractions and sports, and the unpredictability of the weather. I liken it to the pressure built up behind a mountain dam - my head keeps filling up with a sense of what the characters will be going through. No details, just the anticipation of emotions and action. Once I have the emotional space and projects in the real world can be put off, I open the flood gates and write. I awake and begin writing long hand the next scene between fixing breakfast and my husband’s lunch, feeding the birds and tending to the cats. Once my husband is off to work, I continue writing either long hand or at the computer. After a few hours, I do a half hour on the elliptical machine, have lunch and return to writing. While exercising, my mind is on the story. I love it. This is the grand, expanding part of the whole experience of creating these people and events. The first two hours in the morning (5-7) are spent on the Internet at various sites authors need to keep up with in order to market books. The creative work on my manuscript is from 9 to noon. Sometimes I’ll work in the afternoon for a couple of hours. My brain shuts down at 5 so it is crucial that I write in the morning. I manage to arrange writing days 3 to 4 times a week.

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
My website is and I’m one of the Dames of Dialogue who blog at

Maggie, continued success, my friend and fellow Pirate. ARRRR!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Rebecca Vickery's Looking Through The Mist

In addition to being a wife, mother, grandmother, and daughter, Rebecca J. Vickery loves writing romances when she can find the time. These stories include a twist of the paranormal (special gifts), mystery, adventure, or suspense along the way to a happy-ever-after ending. She is currently experimenting with self-publishing and also has books submitted to traditional publishers.
Rebecca, it's a pleasure to have you here.

When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?

I loved writing assignments in school. When one of my poems was included in the Children’s Highlights Magazine at an early age, I was hooked on being published. With romance being my favorite genre to read, I could think of nothing better than to write exciting contemporary romances.

When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?

When I began writing novels, I wanted to provide escape and relaxation for those who enjoy reading and hopefully make enough to cover my writing expenses. That goal has evolved into a determination to write quality fiction, be an accepted member of the industry, and to help other writers whenever I can as well as paying my writing expenses. My message to readers would be for them to realize that shared love and never giving up will see us through a lot of ordeals. I put my heroes and heroines through some grueling circumstances, but love always triumphs in the end.

Briefly tell us about your latest book. Series or stand-alone?

 My latest book, which will be available soon (maybe even before this is posted) is Following Destiny. It is a stand alone, but there is room for a sequel if I ever have time to write it. This paranormal romance is about Andrea Duncan. She inherits a house and a very special ring along with a friendly local sheriff and a large ugly mutt.

What’s the hook for the book?

Andrea hears voices. They eventually lead her into a serial killer’s path. Must she die to follow her destiny?

My characters tend to develop themselves. I feel like a lowly scribe at times taking dictation as the characters tell me the story. I often hear a snippet of news, or see something on television that starts the “what if’s” in my head. I usually know the area for the story and the main details for the primary characters right away.

Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?

I think Cord McConnell, the tough but tender hero from Surviving With Love is probably my favorite and most likeable character. He isn’t typically handsome, but he has such a good heart especially with kids, you just have to love him. You have to read the book to understand what I mean. My most unusual character would probably be Heidi, the large ugly dog, in Following Destiny. She hears the voices right along with her mistress and has a very definite personality.

How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

I have always enjoyed the outdoors; camping, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding. And I was raised with the old-fashioned values of love, commitment, and working hard. I think all of those factors are very evident in my writing.

What are your current projects?

I’m currently working on 3 different contemporary romances. Finding Treasure is set in Seattle and features a woman with a special gift for locating hidden treasure and lost items. Seeking Shelter takes place in South Dakota where a modern-day rancher purchases a rogue stallion someone wants to kill. Then there’s Healing Rain about a young woman in Texas with the gift of touch healing who works with problem horses.

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

The best way to keep track of me is to check regularly at my home website, Romance With a Twist: or on my blog at My books, Looking Through The Mist and Surviving With Love, are available on and at
Thank you for having me on your blog today, Susan. I have really enjoyed this interview.

It was my pleasure. Contnued success, Rebecca.

Susan Whitfield, author of The Logan Hunter Mystery Series

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hell Swamp excerpts

HELL SWAMP excerpts:

I could hear myself screaming. I snatched out of the fingers’ grip and fell. Fell a long way. Then the dirt hit my face. I was being buried alive! I scrambled sideways when I realized there was nothing to stop me. When I hit the table, I woke up, piled on the floor with the aloe plant from the bedside table and all its dirt on top of me. The nightmare I’d once had was back and more frightening than ever. I sat up on the floor and spit out dirt, flipping the plant unto the floor. I trembled, realizing I had peed in my pants.

I saw tree limbs hanging out over the river but I was past them before I could react. I soon saw more branches and grabbed at them as they broke off in my fingers. I’m not sure how far I went downstream before I saw the tree, bent far enough into the river I might have a chance to grab something on it. I hit hard when the river suddenly hocked me into a thick limb. I managed to hang on to substantial tree growth by shear determination. The current was stalwart. If I didn’t get to the bank fast, I’d be going on another water ride. I reached deep inside for enough strength to throw my leg over in spite of the river pulling on me. Once on the tree, I shimmied to the bank and stretched out until I caught my breath and calmed profuse shivering.

My eyes peered over the edge of the loft floor and I almost fell backwards. I’m certain my eyes flew out of their sockets and then withdrew as far as unbelief would allow them. Bones. Hair. Teeth. What I’d thought was fertilizer was apparently lime, to keep down odor and rodents. I climbed down once my feet let me, and ran to the Hummer to call Sheriff Gunn. As I dialed the number, pain invaded my eye and the world went dark.

Some folks were already setting up yard decorations for Christmas. Even Mr. Grady went all out. Colored lights that ran back and forth on some kind of netting covered his roof. I looked in my rearview and since nothing was behind me, I stopped in the middle of the road and giggled until I broke out in a full-blown howl. In front of the house a partially inflated and extremely jolly Santa waved at me, and he appeared to be humping Rudolph, well inflated and right in front of him. Next to this inflatable, Frosty and his family came to life in a snow globe. At this point in the inflation process, Frosty’s carrot nose seemed firmly wedged in Mrs. Frosty’s large white buttress. He grinned to the brims of his top hat.

I jumped to my feet as everyone started to look up and pray, each prayer very loud and different from the next. The prayers reached a fever pitch when the preacher handed Rose a vial, which she held up and poured down her throat. The service crescendoed as Rose Paul Hill let out a yell louder than anyone in the church. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. All of a sudden her loose false teeth bounced out of her mouth and across the floor, breaking into several pieces. The room became frighteningly quiet.
Rose fell to the floor; nobody tried to catch her. I worked my way to the end of the pew and ran to the front. The preacher at first seemed delighted that the Spirit moved me—until I stopped and knelt beside Rose.
“What did you drink, Rose?”
“That’s poison!”
“I’m anointed, child. It won’t kill me.” Rose Paul’s unconvincing voice grew weak. I glanced over at her broken dentures, wondering if the dental bill would finish her off. I saw movement under the front pew and blinked several times, my eyes clear and focused, and, more than likely, outside their sockets.
“Holy Shit!” I yelled out, snatching a raggedy old toupee off a man’s head as he let out a yelp. I threw it at the snake, hoping he’d think it was an animal he could overpower.
It didn’t work. The humongous snake, thicker than my upper arm, came straight toward me. I could see his beady eyes under the hairpiece as he moved swiftly across the wood floor. Grabbing the Glock from under my jacket, I aimed and shot the rattlesnake twice.
“She’s got a gun!”
People screamed and stampeded for the doors. The preacher and some of the men jumped me, wrestled the gun away, and pinned me to the wood floor. Somebody lifted Rose away from the ruckus.
“What are you doing? A snake under that pew. I killed it for you.”
Preacher Hawfield shrieked into my face, “You imbecile! That snake and all the others are for this worship service!”
All the others?
Two hefty men escorted me out of the church and deposited me in the dirt near my Hummer. One man threw my gun down beside me.
I was still on the ground when Preacher Hawfield appeared again. I thought he’d peck my face with his beak of a nose. “You’re not welcome here. Don’t you ever come back!”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Meet Me At The River

After my third mystery, Hell Swamp, debuted I was fortunate to get an email from Raleigh Parks and Recreation. Carmen Rayfield, Director of "Read and Go", told me that seniors at RPR were reading North Carolina writers' books and then traveling to visit with the writer. She wanted to plan a visit with me. Wow! I was honored and thrilled. Together we planned a picnic on Black River at Black River Plantation, a 200-year-old mansion and the scene of the crime in my book.

On May 14th a tour bus arrived at the plantation, followed by a caterer and two reporters and a photographer. Ed Padfield, the owner of the mansion, had already opened the gates and doors, set up tables and chairs on the front porch, and covered the tables with red cloths.

What a memorable day it was! Both reporters interviewed me and the photographer took many pictures. I inserted a few here just to give you an idea of how special this event was to all of us. You may be wondering how this all came about. It all started at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, where the folks have been truly supportive of me. By the way, they are regarded as the most highly respected independent bookstore in the state--another honor for me to be part of their huge inventory. In my opinion, they blow the big chains out of the water;-]

I'm told that Susan Alff of Quail Ridge gave Carmen my name and contact information. The rest is history, as they say. I have to thank Susan and Carmen for making me feel like a star in the east. I will continue to support Quail Ridge and RPR. THANKS SO MUCH!!!

You, as a writer, can have the same kind of event in your area if you are visible. Be certain to get to know store owners. Many of them are like family. They want us to succeed! We want them to succeed as well. Plug the indies every chance you get. I have over a dozen with whom I do consignments. I get to see them regularly, and you never know when something awesome like a readers' picnic might crop up. Let folks know you're willing to speak, read, or just sign copies of your books on the street or inside the store. Go to a few festivals.

I could go on, but you get the message. I hope this blog spurs you on to even greater success. Step outside your comfort zone and ask your local parks and rec, civic groups, and stores about events they might not have thought to ask. Enjoy the pictures.