By L.J. Sellers
KIRKUS REVEWS says, “Roz is an enormously appealing narrator, her tangled emotions about everything from needing to ask for help to navigating friendships are both believable and sympathetic.”
The protagonist, Roswell Hart, is an Alaskan teenager with macular degeneration, accused of a murder that happened six months earlier, and the author writes from her own experience.
“I knew the heart of this story had to be about growing up with this condition,” Laura says. “But more important, I wanted it to be an exciting thriller.” Her biggest challenge she says was separating herself from the character and finding the balance between showing readers how Roz really sees the world and crafting a believable plot. Based on the reviews and cover copy, it seems she found that balance.
When a truck plunges through the thinning ice of Alaska’s Birch River, Tricia’s body floats to the surface—dead since the night she disappeared six months earlier. The night Roswell Hart fought with her. The night Roz can’t remember. Missing things is nothing new to sixteen-year-old Roz. She has macular degeneration, an eye disease that robs her central vision. She’s constantly piecing together what she sees—or thinks she sees—but this time her memory needs piecing together. How can Roz be sure of the truth if her own memory has betrayed her? Can she clear her name of a murder that she believes she didn’t commit?
From an early age, Laura knew she wanted to be a writer, but after hearing adults laugh about her aspirations, she kept the idea to herself and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English, and eventually a masters in children’s literature. But after teaching for a few years, she left to raise children.
“But I went absolutely stir-crazy,” Laura says. “Then I finally realized it was because I wasn’t writing. So I decided to finish a novel I’d started.”
After that practice book, she knew she could do it. She went on to write BLIND SPOT, a story she says was cathartic and had to be written…and rewritten, until she got it right.
But the author is quick to point out that she doesn’t want to be defined by her condition or limited to writing about a character who has it. Her next novel is also a YA thriller, but the protagonist is a whole new character.
Still, Laura’s visual limitation affects the logistics of how she writes—documents maximized on the screen and a painstaking editing process—as well as her perspective as a novelist. “I don’t write a lot of description,” she says with a laugh. “I’m more inclined to include sounds and smells.”
But it’s her background that has the most impact on her stories. “Growing up in Alaska is so much a part of who I am that it’s where I draw from creatively,” says Laura, who currently resides in Scottsdale, Arizona. “We lived out in the boonies, and our mom was at work and our dad traveled, so it was just me and my sisters and we were so bored we’d do crazy stuff.”
One of those stunts was to take strips of fabric, sprinkle them with red dye, and hide them in the woods. Then they told their neighbors they’d heard screaming out there. So Laura, who read Stephen King as a teenager, had the heart of a thriller author from the beginning.
Her next novel is set in Alaska in the summer, when it’s daylight for twenty-four hours a day. “It’s kind of creepy, being out in the woods in the middle of the night and have it be daylight,” Laura describes. “The Alaskan landscape is so unique, it’s like having another character in the story.”
Book two is also young adult fiction. Laura says the YA genre “allows you to be so much more creative and experimental than writing for adults.” It’s also where her voice is. She recounts a college critique group in which another student kept telling her she was writing for children. At the time, it made her mad. Years later, she came to realize she was writing for teenagers and that was where her heart was.
“But I’d love to write that crossover novel that appeals to adults as well,” she adds. With BLIND SPOT, she may have already done it.
Laura Ellen writes YA mysteries and thrillers. She used her own experiences growing up with macular degeneration to write Blind Spot, her debut novel. Laura has a MA in Children’s Literature and is a former middle and high school Language Arts teacher. Born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, she now writes full-time from her home in Scottsdale, Arizona. You can also find Laura blogging with other young adult and middle-grade mystery and thriller authors on Sleuths, Spies, and Alibis.
To learn more about Laura, please visit her website.