Laura Ellen is a full-time writer and mother of three who began her career as a teacher in both Language Arts and special education. Diagnosed with juvenile macular degeneration as a teen, she drew upon her own experiences with vision loss to write her first YA novel, BLIND SPOT. She was born and raised in Alaska, where her novel is set. She's lived in many states since then, and most recently moved to Scottsdale, Arizona.
So what's BLIND SPOT about? Here's a glimpse!
This unflinchingly emotional novel is written in the powerful first-person voice of a legally blind teen who just wants to be like everyone else. Roz is obsessed with proving she's "normal" despite her visual impairment. But her obsession makes her lose sight of everything else, including clues to her classmate's death.
Here's Diana Renn's interview with Laura Ellen!
(And be sure to enter our giveaway at the end of this interview!)
DR: I love the unusual structure of this mystery, as a missing person case morphs into a murder mystery case. (In so many mysteries, we get the murder in the first few chapters or pages). The result is we get to spend some real quality time with the victim, Tricia, before she becomes a victim. What drew you to this approach, and did you begin the novel with this structure in mind?
LE: Awesome question, and the answer is no, I didn't start out with this structure. Blind Spot walks a very fine line between thriller/mystery and contemporary “issue” book. The premise I wanted to create was a character so wrapped up in her struggles to prove herself, she misses everything around her, i.e. a muder of a classmate. To do this, I had to show her struggle first to make the reader see how she'd been “blinded” by her personal issues. However, I found that starting that way, sent the wrong “promise” of an emotional issue type book to readers. I had so many agents/editors be disappointed when it spun into a murder mystery. So, I started with the promise of the murder and went from there.
DR: Did you know who the villain was from the outset? Or did anything surprise you as you wrote? And do you think mystery writers should always know who the perp is, and all the details of the crime, before they begin writing?
LE: My perp changed three times! When I write, I have a vision in mind and as long as I achieve that vision, I don't care how much the plot changes. Every writer is different, but for me I like painting several into the role of villain and then seeing who steps up to the plate -- that to me is the fun of writing. I'm 'reading' the story for the first time, so I want to be as surprised as my readers are by the outcome.
DR: What was the most challenging aspect of writing a mystery/thriller for young adults?
LE: I think the most challenging part of writing a thriller, or really any novel, is making sure that the choices the characters make are the only choices that character could have made. When you have plot points that have to occur in order to unfold the story, it is tempting to give your character the easy way there. "'I'm trapped in this hole with no way out. Good thing I found this rope ladder on my way to school today." As hard as it is, you have to find creative and realistic ways to get your characters where they need to be.
DR: Some of the aspects of Roz’s school were more horrifying to me than the crime itself! The way in which Roz got thrown into a Life Skills for no clear reason – and had no voice – disturbed me. Her teacher Mr. Dellian’s controlling behavior and dismissive attitude – not to mention his suspicious activities outside of school – also alarmed me. Don’t get me wrong – these elements contribute greatly to the suspense of the book! But I’d love to know what motivated your decision to make school so nightmarish for Roz and others, and to make some adult characters so difficult to approach or to trust.
LE: I’ve had a lot of people find Mr. Dellian unbelievable as a teacher; I’ve also had many tell me his character brought back painful memories of their own school/childhood experience. I made Roz's experience so nightmarish because I wanted her (and readers) to see that despite everything they can rely on their own strengths, their own voices to get them through tough spots in life. I based this story on my own experiences growing up with a visual impairment (I had three Dellians!) and it took me a long time to find my voice. I wanted readers who are experiencing similar things with teachers or classmates or adults in their life to find their voices sooner than I did – I wanted them to say, “Hey that's me” and then "wait, I'm not taking this anymore."
DR: I love how Roz’s macular degeneration is a part of her character but not the focus of the novel. In fact it’s her failure of memory that she’s wrestling with, piecing together events of one strange night, and not the vision failure per se. What motivated your decision to include yet downplay her visual impairment?
LE: Too often books that have characters with disabilities make it about the disability -- or they go the opposite route and have characters who just 'happen' to have a disability without addressing what it really means to deal with that in your everyday life. I wanted my character to be real, which means being imperfect, not the fake perfect characters so often portrayed in these books. I wanted her to be angry and self-conscious and to make stupid mistakes; I wanted that to be her tragic flaw -- not her visual impairment.
DR: You handle the role of law enforcement and investigative procedures in a way that felt very plausible to me. How did you go about researching this?
LE: I watch a lot of Law & Order :) but I also have a good writer friend who is also a police officer, so I asked her many questions and ran those key scenes by her to make sure they were realistic.
DR: When I think of BLIND SPOT, one word comes to mind. SUSPENSE. Can you spill any of your secrets to good suspense writing?
LE: Wow, thank you. I'm glad you think so! I always try to keep my characters in jeopardy - either directly or indirectly. I also make a point of ending a chapter with something that keeps the reader from putting it down.
DR: Did you grow up reading mysteries? What mysteries did you read as a teen, and which authors do you enjoy today?
LE: Not only did I grow up reading them, I grew up listening to them on an evening radio show called Mystery Theater. They'd act out stories by authors like Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie over the radio. I lived for that show! Growing up I read all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, Edgar Allen Poe, Lois Duncan, Joan Lowery Nixon, Mary Higgins Clark, Phyllis Whitney, and Stephen King. Nowadays I read anyone who can spin a good mystery!
DR: Can we expect more mysteries from you in the future? Do you plan to stay with this genre?
LE: Definitely! I don't think I could write anything without having at least a little mystery in it. Right now I am working on two new thrillers, both set in Alaska, but like Blind Spot, they will be stand-alones with all new characters.
Looking for Laura Ellen online? Here's where she lurks!
Her website and blog
Ready for a giveaway? Click on the Rafflecopter thingie to enter to win a signed hardcover of Laura Ellen's BLIND SPOT, plus swag! (Note: This contest is U.S. / Canada only! Sorry!)
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