Category Archives: Uncategorized

A New Look at Teen Shelters

In the Niki Alexander mystery series, Niki is a counselor for a teen shelter. In Houston we have Covenant House.  As part of my research in 2007 when I was writing the first of the series, Less Dead, I visited the shelter and was taken on a tour by one of the counselors. I also knew some kids who spent a few days there. Covenant House became the model for Open Palms, the fictional shelter. More more information, I spent one evening interviewing kids at the street church across from the shelter. That evening was the inspiration for Lost Witness and much that I witnessed is included in the book.

Recently, Covenant House had open house with an invitation to take a tour. Naturally, I wanted to see if it had changed since my research in 2007. It had. I was amazed at the change.

The biggest change was the age group. Back 2007, young teens were allowed to stay there. Now the accepted age is 18-21. The reason for this, I was told, was to protect the younger kids from possible preditors who might sell them drugs or pimp them or use them sexually. 
Young kids who find their way off the street to Covenant House are not turned away, however. They can be visited by a staff nurse, can take a shower, get some clothes, some food, and talk to a counselor. They are encouraged to call their parents and work out a solution so they can return home.  Sometimes this isn’t possible because of severe abuse or neglect at home. In that case, CPA is called in and they are taken to another shelter for children. 
Covenant House has counselors trained in drug abuse, anger management, sexual abuse. They have a nursing staff. The older teens can attend school, get their GED, learn a trade, write a resume and get recommended for jobs. Before they can do this, however, they will have to stay at the shelter for six months to get clean of drugs and go through counseling before they can go through the Rite of Passage and attend their college.
They don’t have a 100% success rate. Who does? These young people have had to struggle with abuse and/or neglect, have nowhere else to go. They are offered a chance. Some will succeed. Others will fail. But it offers hope and a life beyond what they had before.
Open Palms will continue in my Niki Alexander books that started with Less Dead and Lost Witness. I’m in the process of writing the third in the series. Open Palms will still open its arms to teens regardless of age and Niki will continue the fight to protect them, teach them skills and see that no harm comes to them.

Sleuthfest -A New Experience

I’d heard about Sleuthfest, the Florida chapter of MWA’s annual conference, for years – how wonderful it was, how generous and kind to other writers. So this year I decided to go, and you know what? It was wonderful. Everything everyone said about it was right. But the best part was connecting with dear friends and meeting new ones.

Yes, the panels were informative, funny, entertaining and educational. My own panel on publicizing ebooks drew a good crowd, which emphasized how popular ebooks were these days in an ever evolving world of publishing. My own books, Less Dead and Lost Witness, were published by a small press who simultaneously put them both in print and in ebook format. How do I publicize ebooks? Social network and word of mouth, much the same as the print edition.

Sleuthfest wouldn’t have been the same if my friend Anita wasn’t there. She always makes me feel included and her vibrant laugh is infectious. We’re Reed’s Rowdy Redheads – that would be Reed Farrel Coleman, who is unfailingly engaging, warm, encouraging, and funny, even when he is under deadline and in pain from a shoulder injury.

We met new friends, too. Micki and Dave Browning, retired cops from California now living the good life, traveling and enjoying each other. Micky is a very talented writer who will soon be discovered. Of that I have no doubt. Deborah was another new friend. We met her at the Saturday luncheon and her bubbly personality won us over.

The panels I attended were great, and I’ve ordered ten others that I missed.

Elaine Viets, moderator (one of the best for being funny and keeping everyone on track), Charlaine Harris, Brendan Dubois, Toni LP Kelner, Chris Grabenstein and Dana Cameron.

Fun for all Saturday night at Agents and Editors Cocktail Party. That’s Jeffrey Deaver on the end Chris
Grabenstein at the microphone.

Don Bruns, Reed Farrel Coleman and Michael Haskins.  And the winner is…

These are only a few of the highlights.The live auction with Chris Grabenstein, Donna Andrews and Hank Phillippi Ryan was a tremendous success. Two winners pledged $1000 for a chance to meet Nicole Resciniti, agent with The Seymour Agency in New York. The auctioneers did a terrific job – kept us laughing and never let up until they squeezed every bit of money out of the audience.

To top off the conference, Heather Graham’s The Slushpile entertained us at The House of Blues with her wacky band of misfits.

I didn’t sell any books at the conference, but I met a lovely lady on the plane on the way, Jan Yates, who loves cat mysteries. I emailed her the name of Leann Sweeney and Dean James (writing under Miranda James) for their wonderful cat books.

At the airport coming home, I sold two books. One each to two gentlemen who sat with Anita and me for lunch. When they found out we were writers, they wanted to see our books. I happened to have ten copies of Lost Witness with me. They each bought one. One man worked for Chevron in Louisiana and the other was an ex-cop from Oakland, CA. That made the conference complete.

My Neighborhood Library is Alive

Last Saturday Linda Stevens of the Harris County Public Library spoke to the Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America in Houston at our monthly luncheon.

I was amazed at the changes going on. I meakly admit I haven’t visited my local library in a while so I was delighted to find that the libraries have been updated. By that I mean they are no longer the “no talking” quiet room that we expected in the past. Although they do provide a quiet room if you wish.

The new library has several computers which are free for card holding members. They welcome writers groups, talks from writers, even signings. They welcome children and have a children’s hour during which someone reads aloud to them. They also hold classes, such as the free computer classes in my neighborhood branch.

To cut down on expenses, several close on Saturdays or Sundays or shortened their hours. I’m glad to report that my library, the Everett D. Collier Branch on Pinemont near Bingle in the Northwest is open on the weekends.

Another addition is Overdrive where you can rent e-books and load them on your computer. When the rental period is up, the e-book magically disappears. I’m happy to say that even my books are available to read on Overdrive, thanks to L&L Dreamspell, my wonderful publisher of the Niki Alexander series, Less Dead and Lost Witness.

 
A REVIEW BY
LAURA ELVEBAK

In the white irises in the Hargrove Family Cemetery in DeWitt County, Texas, a black professor from San Antonio is murdered as he tries to dig up hidden treasure.

Caroline Hargrove Hamilton, a former journalist and recent widow from Houston, is finding new meaning to her life by returning to her roots in DeWitt County to chronicle her family’s history dating back to the Civil War. Getting re-acquainted with her cousin Janet as her guide, they become amateur detectives after they stumble upon the body of Professor Harrison next to an old grave dating back to 1875, where a second body is suspected to have been buried with the original deceased. Only by digging up the past and solving an old murder can Caroline and Janet find the answer to who killed the professor. By doing so they unearth a treasure of secrets that no one could have foretold, bringing unexpected revelations about their ancestors to an exciting climax that pits Caroline with the murderer.

Well written in a leisurely and detailed style, Connie Knight uses her skill as a journalist and magazine editor to introduce us to a diverse and delightful cast of characters that could only come from the South Texas Plains. We meet Caroline’s extended family as well as learning about her ancestors as she researches the past with the meticulous gathering of papers, letters and interviews. We also meet Constable Bob Bennett who is not only investigating the case but is sparking the flames of love that Caroline once thought had died with her husband. Cemetery Whites is a thoroughly enjoyable excursion into the heart of Texas and the rugged, hardy people who made it great.

What Would You Do For Love?

I’ve given Niki Alexander a short break while I embark on a new endeavor.

Meanwhile, there is a story that has begged telling for a long time, and my muse, stubborn and insistent, refuses to stay silent and hidden. I’ve entitled the work, The Flawed Dance, which takes place from 1968 through 1970 in Philadelphia. I have dug into my past for a life so far away from my own present life that it must be fiction. While I wouldn’t call this a memoir, per se, it takes from my memories of life back then. I’ve twisted reality into a darker place, a noir mystery. The result is the story of Erin Matthews, early twenties, who can’t seem to stay out of trouble and makes all the wrong decisions that leads her further down a dangerous road from which escape is near impossible as she seeks love, acceptance and redemption.

A funny thing happened to me as I immerged into Erin’s mind and soul. I became embroiled in a love affair that Erin would have jumped into without a second look, as she did with every challenge in her life. If it was beyond the norm, or a little risky, she might have doubts. But if it also had romance, glamour, excitement and passion, Erin would not hesitate. She is a sucker for love, needs it desperately, but will turn away as abruptly and cruelly if the object of her passion turns and bites her.

For several weeks I have become Erin, much older and, I thought, much wiser, though now I have my doubts. You see, I have fallen in love with words. The written word can be very powerful. Letters from an unknown lover, for instance, can arouse the imagination and create a passionate foreplay that could far surpass reality. Words can convey hope and promise. Words can convey a great love and ignores pending disappointment and failure.

I know which road Erin in the past will travel in The Flawed Dance. I am not sure what happens to the Erin in the present. But I will keep you apprised, dear reader, in future installments.

Review of Lost Witness in Midwest Book Review

Lost Witness

Laura Elvebak
L&L Dreamspell
Friendsville, TX
9781603181440 $17.95 www.lldreamspell.com

Niki Alexander, counselor of runaway teens at the Open Palms Shelter, becomes involved in the investigation into the murder of a young woman from Mexico when Barky, a runaway, finds the woman’s body near a small boy hiding behind a dumpster. Barky, afraid he will be blamed for the murder, turns the boy over to Niki. The traumatized boy refuses to talk but connects with Niki and she is reluctant to hand him over to child protective services. Not long after he is placed with a foster family, he disappears and Niki, feeling guilty, is determined to find him. So are homicide investigator Luis Perez and his partner Nelson Spalonetti, who suspect the dead woman was a drug mule and that the small boy may have witnessed her murder. Niki turns to the street for answers to the boy’s whereabouts while peripherally teaming up with Nelson Spalonetti. As they follow clues to a case that becomes more complex as it develops, the attraction between Niki and Nelson heats up, as does the unknown danger awaiting them.

Lost Witness is Elvebak’s second thriller featuring teen counselor Niki Alexander. Niki is an intriguing character, a former police officer who quit the force after tragically shooting a teenage boy and now is committed to helping runaways so they don’t suffer the same fate. Elvebak delivers a well-written mystery, set against the colorful backdrop of Houston, Texas. The galvanizing plot is filled with twists and turns and enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing throughout. Characters are realistic and credible, and Elvebak’s portrayal of runaways insightful and empathetic.

Christy Tillery French
Reviewer

The Characters of Lost Witness

Lost Witness is not just about murder and who did it. It’s about family dynamics. Five-year-old Estefan’s mother was murdered in front of his eyes after they had crossed the Mexican border. The motive appears to be about the drugs she was transporting. But why take the child? And when the child disappears, more questions arise. Who does the child really belong to? In what country does he belong?

I got the idea for Lost Witness when I visited the street church while researching Less Dead. They hold evening church services outside in a parking lot across from Covenant House in Montrose. While I was there, someone mentioned that the FBI was watching them, maybe someone pretending to be homeless. Maybe he was paranoid; maybe he was right. I never found out, but this started my mind going in all directions. Why would they be watching homeless teens? Then, we had a representative from the FBI speak to us at a Mystery Writers lunch meeting and I got my answer. Of course, they would look at homeless teens. Who else would be more vulnerable to being initiated in a terrorist camp against a country who couldn’t provide shelter or healthcare for them.

I find characters everywhere. Some I can’t resist putting them in a story. Most of the time, I change their names. Funny thing, when I do, the real life person become that name. Next time I see them, I’ll want to call them by my character’s name. Why? I can’t remember their real name. Any writers out there have the same experience?

One of my daughter’s oldest friends is a woman named Tara Barlow and I asked her permission to be in Lost Witness. Throughout the fifteen years we’ve known her, she’s been either homeless lived with someone or she shared a place with her boy friend. To pay her way, she’s cleaned houses, babysat, cleaned apartments and houses, and she even painted the rooms and tiled the floors when I bought my house. Because she’s been so close to my family, she’d never forgive me if I called her a fictional name. I asked her permission to use her real name and she agreed. I reminded her several times and she would smile back at me. I used her boy friend’s name, too, and said he would be a gangster. He just shrugged when I told him. Maybe because he used to be a gangster or at least used to be in a gang until the police dumped his unconscious body on a railroad track and the train rain over his foot and now he has only half a foot. He loves telling that story whenever he gets drunk.

Tara knows the street. Her oldest daughter was homeless and that’s one of the reasons she brought me with her to the street church so she could say goodbye to the granddaughter who had been in foster care because Tara’s daughter was an addict and lived on the street. She was there to say goodbye to her daughter. I did change her name, and of course, I can’t remember her real name.

Several things happened at the street church. Tara introduced me to several of her friends. She also introduced me to the minister, who has been there for the teens on the street. She told him about my books and he got on the mic and told the group who I was and that I wanted to talk with however many kids who wanted to talk to me. I was surrounded from at the time on to the time I left. They were open and eager to tell their stories. Several were in their late teens and early twenties, Iraq vets, struggling to survive, physically as well as mentally. Many of these kids were surviving by taking odd jobs or making something with their hands to sell on the street. They were young and most of them were eager to work. They told me where they slept at night, mostly in Hermann Park or under the bridge.

There’s another character in the book who was a long-standing friend of Tara’s. His real name is Rick. For the book I dropped the “k” in Rick. Like Ric, my character, he’s in a wheelchair as a result of a shooting over a woman and I don’t know how he makes his money and I don’t ask.

How do I find these people? My kids, believe it or not. These are people they met when they were teenagers and their friendship remained over the years. Tara comparison shops for my daughter to get the best deal as she does for Niki in the book. There isn’t much she wouldn’t do for my daughter has helped her out in many ways.

My protagonist, Niki Alexander, is not always sure of herself, but she believes in taking care of the kids who don’t have anyone else to care for them. While she was a police officer, she was forced to kill a teenager, high on PCP and who was trying to kill her. This so devastated her that she quit and went to work with troubled and runaway teens.

In my first book, Less Dead, we first meet Nelson Spalonetti, the homicide investigator who took her place with her ex-partner, and toward the end saw an attraction building between him and Niki. Nelson gets a bigger role in Lost Witness because he is a hunk and Niki has been a widow for a long time and pretty much devoted to her work.

The first time Niki saw Estefan and brought him home with her and kept him over night, Niki knew she would go to the ends of the earth to see no harm came to him. When he disappears despite her good intentions, she becomes a mama bear, tenacious in her search. She is not happy at first to be working with Nelson and he’s not happy working with a civilian, but their relationship slowly revolves. While they both search for a missing child who hasn’t spoken since he witnessed his mother’s murder, they are brought together in more ways than one.

There is a story I heard recently that I’d like to finish with.

A man walking along the beach saw a boy covered with starfish. He was throwing them back into the ocean.

The man told him, “You die they are just going to end up back on the sand and die. You’re wasting your time. There are too many of them and you can’t save them all.”

The boy pulled another starfish off him and tossed it in the water and watched it float out on the waves. He turned to the man and said, “I saved that one.”

And one at a time, Niki will strive to save another one.

Is it a Job or a Scam to Steal Your Money?

As a mystery writer, I am always on the lookout for crimes against person or persons. I didn’t know that this time the target would be someone close to me. Here is an example of what they will try to do. Unfortunately, this is not fiction.

They are getting creative out there, folks. As bad as the economy has been, there is always someone to take advantage of those in need and out of work. Consider this real case. Shawn had been out of work for almost a year and collecting unemployment. Everyday she went online and sent out resumes, desperate for work. Finally, someone from Craig’s List responded. The company claimed to be a medical firm and needed to fill a clerical position, and since she had years experience as a medical assistant in hospitals, she was excited by the prospect.

What she couldn’t understand was why they were sending her a check “so she could pay customers.” What customers? She was smart enough to be suspicious and to not give out her bank information or social security number.

A few days after submitting her resume and emailing back and forth to the party, she received a check for $2,850.55. For someone who is needing money and out of a job, this is very tempting. You want to cash that check. You want to believe it is real.

Here’s the following email conversation between Shawn and the person who sent her the check:

Shawn: It just came.
Moore Shawan: ok nice. pls confirm the amount to me
Shawn: 2,850.55
Moore Shawan: correct
Shawn: I can open account at Chase today.
Moore Shawan: don’t you have any other bank closer to you?
Shawn: That is the closest
Moore Shawan: like credit unions
Shawn: Chase is the closest
Moore Shawan: chase banking system slow, and you need this funds urgently so i’m asking if you have any other place you can get it cashed faster
Shawn: If I go to another bank it may take a while to clear.
Moore Shawan: yeah, that you can deposite it and they will give you some funds instantly
Shawn: Don’t I need to get a form of credit card so I can perform payments with this money for your company
Moore Shawan: yeah, when seting up new account you will have to apply for Visa card also so you will take the chck to the bank right now and deposite it….ask the bank to give you some funds that its urgent, so you will be to carry out your assignment today…ok?
Shawn: Ok
Moore Shawan: ok go now what ever they give you let me know
Moore Shawan: how long will u be back?
Shawn: I have to take a bus to get there, I will let you know as soon as I get back
Moore Shawan: ok… make sure they give you some funds ok? cos they always do
Shawn: How much?
Moore Shawan: $1,650
Shawn: on a visa card?
Moore Shawan: the Visa card won’t be ready.. that will take 2 weeks
Shawn: Cash then
Moore Shawan: when you return with the money i will instruck you on what to do but lets take one at a time
Shawn: I will get back to you when it is done
Moore Shawan: ok i ill be here – bye for now

At this point, Shawn looked up the name of the company and couldn’t find any information on it. She then called Chase Bank since the check was drawn on a Chase account. They told her that the check was fraudulent and they received one of these at least twice a week.

Shawn got back online with Moore.

Shawn: I found out about your scam, you should be ashamed of yourself to pray on people that our trying to make a honest living. I have turned it over to the fraud department and contacted an attorney.
Moore Shawan: Hello
BUZZ!!!
Moore Shawan: what do mean
Shawn: You know exactly what I mean!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Moore Shawan: pls expland
Moore Shawan: explain whats exactly thats going on
Shawn: how dare u prey on people that r trying 2 do good 4 their family. the check is fraudulent i called the bank in arizona
Moore Shawan: bullshit…..why calling the bank? were you to pay yourself
Moore Shawan: i told u take check to bank…let them do their jobs
Moore Shawan: pls stop telling me shit
Moore Shawan: go get the chech cashed
Shawn: cause this clerk position is bullshit along with you and ur bullshit check.
Moore Shawan: f…k that the check is ok
Shawn Collins: no f…k u u cash it

Is nothing sacred? The scammers are out there, so beware. If someone sends you a check that you haven’t earned and haven’t requested, it is a fraud. These people are innovative and resourceful. Never give out your bank info or your social to anyone. The bad guys are out there, folks, just waiting to take advantage. Don’t let them win. I wish this was fiction. It would make a good thriller. Unfortunately, it’s real.

Getting Busy Writing Anew After Promotion

I wrote the first three chapters of the third Niki Alexander mystery several months ago. Seems like ages ago. Everytime I revisited the work, I stalled. With the second book, Lost Witness, just out in October – actually the night before I went to Bouchercon in Indianapolis – I knew I had to promote the book. Too late, I told myself, to get my publicist, PJ Nunn, involved. But I had to do something – get reviews, get signings. Just before Lost Witness came out, A Box of Texas Chocolates, The Final Twist Anthology, which carried my story, “Dying for Chocolate” was released and the authors were promoting. Then, of course, I had my full time job at Black Pearl Exploration.

To tell you the truth, I felt overwhelmed. I’ve done a few signing for A Box of Texas Chocolates and none for Lost Witness. I’m waiting for a date with Murder By The Book. By word of month, I’ve sold several copies – not enough – and sent my book out for reviews, put up my author page on Amazon and Goodreads, let people know on Facebook, but there’s always more to do.

At the same time I was finishing a short story for next year’s Final Twist Anthology with the Texas Landmark theme. Once I finished, I was given the opportunity to edit other stories which would be included. That took time.

Don’t let me forget Mystery Writers of America and getting out the Sleuth Sayer for the Southwest Chapter and doing my Treasurer duties, and being on the nominating committee for next year’s election. A lot of work for a national organization who won’t even recognize my published books. But that’s another story for another day. No more whining.

All this time, the third book is calling me. I’m always thinking of the plot and the characters and what goes next. I read over the three chapters. I didn’t have a clue where to go next. I bought 3×5 cards. I set my eisel in the office next to my writing desk so I could do a story board. Materials were ready, but I was not. Darn!

So finally, I got most of the other stuff done and out of the way. Thanksgiving is finally over with, thank God! We won’t even go there. Too personal. Maybe another day I’ll write about my family’s dysfunction. For now I’ll write fiction.

So I spent most of the weekend rehashing the backstory of Niki and the characters that people my untitled manuscript. I found something I didn’t expect. I found my original character sketch of Niki Alexander. She wasn’t the same person I wrote in Less Dead and Lost Witness. Most of her character was there, but several paragraphs of her past had never come up. In fact, I’d forgotten the character I had imagined back then. Maybe that part belonged to another character whose story I haven’t written yet and but will someday. So I rewrote her biography the way she turned out in my books. Now I had to face the actual writing.

It took quite a while and then I realized what was wrong. I didn’t like the first three chapters. It had a good hook, but I couldn’t make sense of it. What I had didn’t go where I wanted, or how I had planned in the beginning. I needed it to start with a problem that I could fix. The new problem that I discovered by doing the synopsis. I had to kick life into the characters and get to the main plot. So the first three chapters went away.

I’ve only written three pages so far, but I like what I have and I’ll keep writing. I still have several hours of writing time today. So until later, I bid you adieu. No more procrastinating.

Talent Show

The talent show at Bouchercon was fantastic. Anyone there will tell you the same. Above is my roommate for the festivities, Roberta Rogow, a wonderful singer.

When Don Brun emailed everyone for volunteers to be a part of a talent show at Bouchercon 2009, I plunged ahead without even thinking. What was I thinking? Good gravy! It’s been 40-some years and a good 40 pounds less since I performed as a dancer. But I couldn’t resist. I still love to dance, but haven’t in public in a very long time. Still, when the music plays, I sway. My feet move, my hips swivel, my hands take off on their own. What the heck? Why not? My new book came out the night I left Houston, so how else would I get recognized? Darn, I’m a writer, not a dancer.

Here is Parnell Hall, Peter Lovesey and friends, and Don Brun.

And then there was me.

I was the only dancer.