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.

Continue reading “Laura Elvebak – The Story Behind the Fiction”

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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 http://www.pep.org.

BEYOND THE CANDELABRA – LIBERACE AND ME

I was sixteen and already somewhat of a rebel. We lived in Los Angeles, and I attended school with children of movie stars. Nancy Sinatra was two years ahead of me. I had already transferred to Hamilton High from University High, where Nancy attended and brought her famous father to the prom. Our school was lucky to have a prom because of rich, unruly teens. Our trip to Knotts Berry Farm was the last of an annual tradition, because of a few reckless students.

I belonged to the youth group at the First Baptist church. We had fun like any other teenagers. Beach parties at night were frequent in the summer. One night a group of us went driving around in the car belonging to one of the older boys. We were bored and looking for entertainment out of the ordinary.

We drove up Mulholland Drive in the hills of West L.A. I’d been there before. It was a favorite parking spot for couples. The view of the city was spectacular and we felt far enough away from the noise and traffic to feel secluded.

We were almost at the top when we noticed Liberace’s house. Hard to miss with the lighted piano hovering over the house. We stopped and stared wordlessly for a moment. Then someone had an idea. A dare. They dared one of us to go up to the door and when Liberace answered, ask him the time.

Usually I was the shy and observant type. But tonight I wanted to show off to the others and prove I was just as brave as any of them.  “I’ll do it,” I told the others. To my surprise, they were not as enthusiastic as I’d hoped. They seemed a little afraid. But I hopped out of the car and strode resolutely to the front of the house.

I rang the doorbell. No answer. I rang again. I heard the car engine roar. My friends were getting nervous. They yelled at me to come back. I rang a third time.

The door opened. A distinguished gentleman stood there, looking curiously at me. I knew right away it wasn’t Liberace. I swallowed and said in a loud voice. “I need to know  what time it is.”

He glanced beyond me to the car. Then he smiled and invited me inside. Without a glance behind me, I followed him in. He introduced himself as George, Liberace’s brother. Liberace wasn’t home, regretfully. Then he took me into the beautifully furnished living room and showed me a large grandfather clock. I noted the time. I don’t remember what it was. But definitely late. After eleven.

“Is there anything else?” he  asked. He was so pleasant and agreeable, never chastising me for interrupting his evening or for being rude. I don’t know how Liberace would have acted, but probably the same. George was polite, friendly and the perfect gentlemen.

I went back to the car amid taunts and rolls of laughter as we drove away. But I’ll never forget my brush with fame at the home of Liberace.

I’ve been more reckless since and I’ve let my curiosity follow to its end. I think that one incident in my youth taught me that celebrities were only people. It also taught me to dare to be different and follow a dream.

One Night Stand

A one night stand? Could that really happen?

Last night I was in a bar, watching the bartender pour drinks while I held some sweet concoction in my hand. I turned to the sound of a male voice and recognized him from earlier. Slender, dressed in light blue, gray hair curling down his neck, a scruffy gray stubble. In his hand was a leash attached to the collar of a beautiful dog. 

“Do you mind if I bring my dog,” he asked.

“No,” I said, without thinking. I wanted to take this man home, dog or no dog.

Then reality interrupted. “I have a son,” I told him. “He sleeps in the living room.” I tried to picture taking him upstairs to my room. “I sleep with two dogs. They probably won’t get along with your dog. And the cats will either be terrified or attack your poor animal.”

The beautiful man in my dreams drifted away.

Reaching A Certain Age

I read an article today in Parade about Neil Diamond still performing at age 70 and soon to be married for the third time after many years. Jane Fonda was on the Sunday Morning show. Also in her 70’s, she performs in a Broadway show or two and has produced several workout DVDs. I think about Betty White in her 90s, two TV shows and multiple appearances. As I hear them say, I feel like I’m in my forties or fifties. I have plenty of energy and my interests keep me alive and too busy to hear my bones creak and moan, so I imagine they don’t.  

Those entertainers make me feel better. I’m almost there with them. I write mysteries full time, one a work-in-progress, one finished except for continuing editing due to more insights and critiques. I’ve had two mysteries published by a small press. I’ve co-written, acted and directed a play that was produced on stage. I’ve recently become involved in the 48 Film Project as a screenwriter and have produced four scripts to be considered for this upcoming 48-hour weekend. Will work on whatever is chosen this Friday night, attend the shooting of the film on Saturday, and rest while the editors edit Sunday and turn in the project. I’ve written and optioned several screenplays in the past, but this is a new experience and I’m loving working with the team.

So many exciting endeavors since I’ve retired. What we seniors seem to have in common is the passion for our work and play and what we strive to do each day. The LOVE of the work we’re doing. Along with this life style comes certain necessary responsibilities we owe ourselves – eat right, exercise regularly, write everyday to keep our brain active and sharp.I attend two critiques groups a week. They keep my imagination and writing sharp. Without them, I would have to work even harder to make the ideas not only flow but to make sense.

I go to several writing conferences a year. This gets me out to meet people, new and old friends, mingle with contemporaries, network, go to cities and towns I’ve never been to before, get away from the keyboard for a few days and energize.

Keeping healthy is vital to living a long and productive life. I have good genes and I heal quickly. My family lives close and I love them. I try not to interfere with their personal lives. My two daughters are in relationships, have children. Four grandchildren are adults now, so they don’t act like it most of the time. All of them have their problems and would love for me to solve them for them. I didn’t go to my parents or grandparents to solve my problems. I learned by experience. They can, too. Otherwise, my time and energy would be drained away. They have their lives according to their choices, and I have mine. My son lives with me. He will be 40 this year. He works and is a good companion and roommate. He doesn’t have the issues the others have so our lives are harmonious.

I’m not married anymore. Six times did it for me. At my age, I will and sometimes do enjoy a lover, but I’m happy being single and able to do what I want, when I want. The husbands I chose were great characters, I loved each of them passionately, but when the passion left and reality set in, it was time to leave. I have no regrets about my past. My experiences made me a better writer because I am able to look back and reexamine situations, certain choices, dig into the psychological pit.

My advice to all is to be passionate about something and commit your life to living with the riches of your imagination.