Laura Elvebak – The Story Behind the Fiction

The DancerI always wanted to be a writer but first I was a dreamer and a reader. My taste tended toward great adventures and romance. War and Peace, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, Nancy Drew mysteries. I fell in love with the heroes in the Frank Yerby and Sidney Sheldon books. I yearned to escape into those worlds and live with adventure and romance. I wanted to write big stories like those. Every night when I went to bed, I dreamed up a story to be continued the next night. There would be previews first, a taste of what was to come.

I read books on writing, attended university classes, and attended workshops. One lesson declared, “write what you know.” Great. I didn’t know anything. Like most teenagers I didn’t want to grow up to be normal like my almost invisible and boring parents and their friends. To be a writer, I must experience adventure and romance so I could write about them.

That’s how I met my six husbands. That’s how I got to ride on the back of a motorcycle and participate in a documentary with the Hell’s Angels. It’s why I chose a bus ride to Canada to see a motorcycle race instead of staying in college. It’s why I became a go-go dancer to support myself and my daughter.

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My Day at Prison

Several weeks ago, an amazing young woman named Sara, who teaches non-fiction and poetry, offered me the opportunity to teach a one-time class on writing mysteries to her students at a nearby prison. My initial reaction was to decline and offer to find someone else.  Strange as it may seem, it wasn’t the thought of being with the prisoners that gave me second thoughts. I’m not a teacher. I’ve never taught a class before. Secondly, I’ve only two published books and four short stories included in anthologies. There are lots of mystery writers more qualified than I am.  Then Sara told me I was referred by a mystery writer they had asked first, one for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration, and whose books have appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

So I got to thinking, what are my qualifications? There are the fiction and screenwriting classes I took at UCLA, USC, Beyond Baroque, and Rice University. There are the mystery writing classes and countless workshops I attended. I have both attended and participated on conference panels and even been a featured speaker. More important are my critique groups who pointed out to me what I was doing wrong and have continued to support my writing for years, not to mention the film producers who hired me to write screenplays. Not only have I been writing most of my life, I have benefited from all those amazing teachers and fellow writers that have given their time and expertise to teach me.

I accepted Sara’s offer because I wanted to pay forward what I have been given. I decided I could and should share some of what I’ve learned to men who could benefit the most and were soon getting out of prison. They had been preparing for life on the outside since being moved to this medium security prison from where they were serving time because their release date was coming soon.

I arrived at the prison with Sara. Twenty-one prisoners rewarded me with their attention, their enthusiasm, and insight. I know I got as much out of that class as they did. I don’t know their backgrounds or why they were incarcerated, nor did I care. All of them were preparing to get out of prison and back into the outside world. They had stories to tell and wanted their voices heard.

Some were writing novels, others screenplays, some were using poetry. All wanted to know more about the publishing world and what it took to get published.  I came with lessons on creating characters, how to use setting, on editing, and steps on building the plot for a mystery. They in turn shared their ideas and what they were working on. We had a question and answer session. In two hours, we built something that will last in my mind for a long time and, hopefully, will impact their lives as well.

The program that brought me to the prison is PEP, or Prison Entrepreneurship Program. Established in 2004, PEP is a Houston-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. They have pioneered programs that connect the nation’s top executives, entrepreneurs, and MBA students with convicted felons.

The Creative Writing Program is just one of several that these men were participating in. They took computer classes, attended programs by CEO’s and lawyers, learned to write a business plan, and were offered housing when they got out. It’s a rehabilitation program that I never knew existed in the state of Texas. It took a non-profit and many volunteers to offer an opportunity to reformed inmates who thrive on challenge and accountability to get a fresh start.

The following week after I gave the class, I got another call. For the men’s final session with the Creative Writing Program, they will be reading what they have written. They were given the opportunity to invite up to two volunteers to attend. I was privileged to be given one of these invitations. In two days I will return to the prison at their request. I’m looking forward to being in the audience this time and learning from them.

For more about this program, go to

Fifty Shades of Grey – Some Thoughts

I recently read Fifty Shades of Gray. I wasn’t going to read the book at first, certainly not all three in the trilogy. But I have to admit that once I got started, I couldn’t put it down. That sounds like a cliché, so it probably is, but that does describe what happened.

I think many readers picked up the first book, Fifty Shades of Grey, out of curiosity because of the hyped erotica. At least, I did, at first and because I wanted to know what made this book stand out and beg to be read. Since I’m a writer, I want to know these things. What makes a reader pick a certain book? What makes it a best seller? What made readers go on and finish all three books?

If it was just erotica, I would have been bored and lost interest immediately. The erotic scenes would not have sustained my attention for three books. For one thing, there was no sex in the beginning. I became involved with the characters. Anastasia Steele is a memorable character.  In the beginning we meet her in her ordinary world, learn what her goals are, who her friends are, how she thinks of herself.  She’s likeable enough to go the journey with her to meet Christian Grey.

She stumbles literally into his life. He is everything she is not. She resists. He chases her, and she resists again. He is rich beyond her dreams, powerful, controlling, gorgeous and magnetic. She doesn’t understand why he is attracted to her. She doesn’t see her own possibilities or who she really is inside.

It is the ultimate love story.  The attraction, the ensuing resistance on both their parts, the inevitable clashing of two attractive, strong individuals. Their love affair is two powerful as they discover each other and, at the same time, themselves.

Their story is also part mystery, thriller and suspense. We learn about Christian Grey’s childhood, his crack whore mother, the pimp who abused him so terribly, the woman who took advantage of a disturbed and unhappy teenage boy. All these events, along with his loving adoptive parents, are what made Christian the man he became, the man Anastasia grows to love.

There is tension and conflict throughout. Christian is a dominate looking for a submissive. But Anastasia is no submissive. There are people in Grey’s past looking for revenge and would do anything to destroy their search for happiness. These are the ingredients that make us turn the pages, go to the next book and read to the finish to find out what happens to them.

The one thing that does disturb me about their relationship is Christian’s need for control,  his jealousy, his need to punish. Women who get attracted to such men most of the time end up getting abused or even killed. There is such a fine line between Christian and the way this book portrays him, and the mirror image of this model in real life.

In the books, Christian learns to accept and to give love, but he does not know he’s capable of feeling love in the beginning. This man could be dangerous to women in real life. In the beginning, he liked to beat women with a whip. We know the women were submissives and we are told they wanted this and they had to sign a contract first and could stop him by giving a safe word. But what if he didn’t stop? What if he got so jealous of his wife that he flew into a rage and  punished her and couldn’t stop?

The author was very careful about how she portrayed Christian Gray, making him a philanthropist, a decent and caring employer, reaching out to feed the world, caring for ex-submissives financially, and being a loving and caring son and brother to his adoptive family. These traits set him apart and made us believe that Grey could be rehabilitated to a loving husband.

But in real life, if a woman thought she saw Christian in her controlling and jealous boyfriend and he didn’t have the good traits that Christian had, she could be in real trouble. 

Another aspect of the book that has attracted so many women and men is the sexual S&M flavor that can be experimented by two consenting adults. The author teases and teaches many avenues of pleasure. I cannot or won’t comment on these personally, only to say that there are many different tricks to learn if one is open to them.