My guest today is quite an impressive woman! Laura Elvebak is the author of the Niki Alexander mystery series. Laura was born in North Dakota, but raised in Los Angeles and San Francisco. She draws from her nomad kind of existence in various cities throughout Baja California, New York, Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania before settling in Houston with her three children, now grown. Along the way, she studied writing at UCLA, USC, Chaffey Community College, and Rice University. Laura optioned three screenplays to a production company and a fourth script placed second in the Empire Screenwriting Contest. Laura also wrote, directed and acted in a play staged in Houston. She is a member of The Final Twist Writers, Sisters-In-Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Whew! That’s quite a list of accomplishments.
MA: Please tell us a little bit about your professional and personal background, if you don’t mind me asking. I’m interested in what shaped your writing career.
LE: I have always been a writer preparing for my ultimate goal of being published. I picked my six husbands because they were great characters – a motorcycle racer, a wounded ex-hard hat diver and demolitions expert, an actor/bartender, a Hawaiian chef and martial arts teacher, an Israeli, who eventually opened a New York restaurant, and a truck driver. Unfortunately, they didn’t make good husbands. To subsidize my writing and support the husbands and three children, I worked as a waitress, a go-go dancer, car saleswoman, department store clerk, psychiatrist assistant, and a legal and corporate secretary. I also studied writing at UCLA, USC, Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA and Rice University. I’ve written screenplays and sold four screenplay options to a production company. I have lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, New York City, Atlantic City, NJ, several towns and cities in Florida, Baja California, and now reside in Houston. (My second husband moved us regularly and insisted we change our last name. I think someone was chasing him.)
MA: (holding my side, still laughing) What an interesting set of life and love experiences. So why novels? You could write a screenplay about your real life, perhaps even a sitcom!
LE: I think in novels or movies. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t go to sleep until I imagined a plot – with the previews first. I could step outside myself and write what I was doing in third person. The plots would be intricate and novel form.
MA: I can only imagine that, with all you’ve experienced in life, you’ve met some interesting people who’ve managed to invade your writing mind and find themselves on paper…true?
LE: I have met many fascinating characters, a couple of bosses – lawyers – I would have liked to kill (in fiction). Several I met while dancing have inspired as well. Several of the characters in “Lost Witness” (my second book) are people I’ve met. Tara, for instance, is based on a real person I’ve known for years through my youngest daughter. She once lived on the street and both her daughters have lived on the street. I’ve fictionalized them in actions, but they are very real to me.
MA: You know you keep putting me in stitches! This is probably the “funnest” interview I’ve done so far. Tell us about your writing.
LE: My first novel is “Less Dead,” published in 2008 by L&L Dreamspell (ISBN: 9781603180405). When a homeless teenage girl wakes up in Houston’s Tranquility Park next to a murdered city councilman and disappears, Homicide Investigator Luis Perez turns to his ex-partner Niki Alexander, now a counselor with a teen shelter, for help in locating the girl. Three years earlier Niki quit the Houston Police Department after she fatally shot a teenage boy. Haunted by the memory and the guilt, she is driven to help troubled teens who have run away or been abandoned. She soon suspects that the missing teen is the street girl she knows as Jade. Meanwhile, teenage prostitutes and runaways are being brutally murdered and she fears Jade may become a victim, if she isn’t one already. With the help of a street thug known as the King of the Street, she discovers a connection between Jade and the murdered man that was not initially apparent. Niki’s search takes her among homeless teens and into predominantly male gay bars where dangerous secrets are revealed. But she isn’t the only one desperate to find the girl. Someone else will do anything to stop her from uncovering the truth.
The second in the series, “Lost Witness,” a mystery suspense thriller, was released October 2009 (ISBN:9781603181440). A lost little boy winds up in the world of homeless teens and in the arms of counselor Niki Alexander. Did he witness a gruesome murder? Homicide Investigators Luis Perez and Nelson Spalonetti suspect a woman found murdered in an alley was a drug mule from Mexico. Could the child who appeared at the same time be her son? The traumatized boy won’t speak, and when he disappears, Niki feels responsible and fears the killer may have found him. Her search leads her from Montrose to River Oaks to a Mexican drug cartel.
MA: Those are some stirring plots, wrapped around the sad and true world of homeless teens. How did you come up with Niki as your heroine?
LE: I had her name and characteristics first, but Niki Alexander really came to life when I realized what she did. I always wanted to show the teens on the street, how they survived day to day, what they felt and how they kept on. I wanted Niki to be well acquainted with the cop world and having her kill an older teen during a shootout gave her motive to quit and turn to a profession that would help or save teenagers.
MA: So from what well does Niki draw her strengths? How about what makes her weak?
LE: Niki is loyal and stubborn. When she sees a wrong, and a kid is hurt, she determines to fix it. She is a workaholic who cares too much and an idealist fighting the pressure to become a cynic.
She’s been hurt by love and is afraid to commit. Her husband of one year, a motorcycle cop, was killed in a auto accident. Yet she is drawn to Nelson Spalonetti, who took her place as Luis Perez’s partner in Homicide. She and Nelson become lovers in this second book.
MA: So a little romance blossoms in the second story! How about her nemesis – or nemeses, perhaps?
LE: The “bad guy” is the hitman. Her nemesis is a drug dealer who is trying to escape from that life to care for his son who had been taken from him. But he hides his motives and his actions seem to be everything Niki is fighting against.
MA: So what’s in your writing future?
LE: I will continue to write Niki Alexander mysteries. I feel close to her and through her I can tell the stories I feel need to be told. There are also several other ongoing characters. Nelson Spalonetti and Luis Perez, the homicide investigators; Rube, the “King of the Street” is a young black man on has been on the street since he was a young teenager and often brings a bad situation to Niki’s attention. Alice is the shelter’s intake supervisor and Niki’s boss. Tara will probably show up again with a few others.
MA: Laura, I have thoroughly enjoyed this interview! You are a fascinating lady with an amazing life. Thanks for spending some time with me today.
You can read more about Laura Elvebak and her novels at her website: http://www.lauraelvebak.com/
And please be sure to visit her blog: http://www.lauraelvebak.blogspot.com/