Sunday, August 15, 2010

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.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Review of Lost Witness in Midwest Book Review

Lost Witness

Laura Elvebak
L&L Dreamspell
Friendsville, TX
9781603181440 $17.95

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

Saturday, February 20, 2010

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.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

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
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.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Texas Education Code – Section 25.093

Please forgive the rant, but when an injustice is done, I have to write about it. The Texas Education Code- Section 25.093 is grossly unfair to parents.

My daughter is a single mother with two children in the Spring Branch School District, a girl that just turned eight and a fifteen-year-old boy. She has been accused of contributing to her children’s nonattendance: Texas Education Code—Section 25.093 and ordered to pay an exorbitant amount in fees.

Texas Education Code—Section 25.093 does not detail the circumstances of whether she kept the child at home for no good reason or if the child was too sick to go to school; i.e., fever, vomiting, stomach pain, headache, etc. According to this Section, the parent is criminally negligent for keeping a sick child at home instead of sending the child to school.

My daughter has a good job, but has to struggle every month to pay her bills. When the children are sick – and they have been sick a lot through the cold winter with the flu prevalent in our city—she had to miss work and stay home with them. Everyone is told not to send sick children to school so they won’t infect others. They must be a lot of sick kids still going to school and spreading the germs. But this law says that if the children miss school, regardless of the reason, the parent has committed an offense punishable by fines.

Once the school children are well enough, they return to school. But according to the Texas Education Code—Section 25.093, they should have gone to school sick. Each day they are sick, the parents have to pay. Not only does the parent miss work, the parent is charged fines for keeping their sick kids at home and taking care of them. I remember the time when the child was made responsible and had to make up the time he or she missed by staying after school or taking extra work home. At least it teaches the child responsibility instead of punishing the parent.

What constitutes an excused absence? Nowhere in the code does it specify what constitutes an excused absence. If the parent forgets to write a note, or doesn’t have health insurance to take the child to the doctor, or if the child loses the note on the way to school, then the parent gets punished and has to pay a fine.

If a child is late for any reason, this constitutes nonattendance and the parent has to pay. There could be many reasons for being tardy to class that a parent has no control over. Does a teacher have to pay if he or she is late to class? What is the parent’s defense? For a single parent, these fines can constitute a paycheck. How does this serve the child or the family? Maybe if the state would accept the government’s stimulus for the school districts, they wouldn’t have to rob the parents.