Author Interview: Across the Mekong River by Elaine Russell

Welcome to Author Elaine Russell

Elaine Russell worked as a Resource Economist and Environmental Consultant for 22 years before beginning to write fiction for adults and children. She became inspired and actively involved with the Hmong immigrant community after meeting Hmong children in her son’s school in Sacramento and reading Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Since then she has been to Laos many times to research her book and as a member of the non-government organization Legacies of War.



Please tell us in one sentence only, why we should read your book.

This is a story of love and sacrifice,–the unique story of a Hmong family, fleeing war and persecution in Laos and coming to the U.S.,–which explores the resilience of the human spirit to overcome tragic circumstances and timeless themes that run true for all new immigrants, arriving in America, filled with hope, only to face a harsh reality.


2.       What inspired you to want to become a writer?

It sounds like a cliché, but I wanted to be a writer from the time I was a little girl. I’ve spent much of my life with my nose buried in books, particularly books about other places and cultures. While I wrote occasional short stories and articles when I was younger, I didn’t have the opportunity to write full time until I was older and stayed home to raise my son.

3.       What is one book everyone should read?

I have so many favorite books that it is difficult to pick one to recommend. A book that I fell in love with in my twenties, and which inspired me to write, is Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. It eloquently portrays human frailties and passions. Of course you have to like lots of detail and get past all the long Russian names!

4.       What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen?

I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird in high school and being so moved by the simple and beautiful story of fairness, compassion, and finding the strength to stand up for what is right.

5.       What is your dream cast for your book?

In the case of my book, this would be Hmong actors who lived through the experiences and trials that I dealt with in the book.

6.       What is your favorite quote?

“A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”  Mark Twain

7.       What’s the best writing advice anyone has ever given you?

Listen to the advice of your writing buddies and really think about what they are saying. While we all want others to read our work and think it is wonderful and perfect the way it is, this never happens. Step back and consider different options, other ways to deal with a story line or scene, the voice of a character, etc. More often than not, there is a good reason others have reacted they way they did—especially if you get the same comment from several people. 

8.       Finish the sentence––one book I wish I had written is….

One book I wish I had written is Ann Patchet’s Belle Canto. The prose is so lyrical and beautiful. And I love opera, which figures prominently in the story.

9.       Favorite places to travel?

My husband and I travel a great deal. We have been to many parts of the world and enjoyed it all.  But I’d have to say France is my favorite country with so many amazing regions and wonderful food. And really, who could resist loving Paris? I provide the French with great amusement as I subject them to my awful attempts at speaking their language!

10.    Any other books in the works? Goals for future projects?

I just published my second Martin McMillan middle-grade adventure novel, The Secret of the Ruby Elephant, a sequel to The Lost Inca City, and I have a young adult novel that is going through final revisions. I also began research on an adult novel set in Denver, Colorado, in 1900 and very loosely based on some of my family history. I adored the book Cold Sassy Tree and hope to write a story with that kind of subtle humor and humanity. I have so many ideas for stories, but never enough hours to write them all.

Across the Mekong River

In a California courtroom, seventeen-year-old Nou Lee reels with what she is about to do. What she must do to survive. She reflects on the splintered path that led to this moment, beginning twelve years ago in 1978, when her Hmong family escaped from Laos after the Communist takeover. The story follows the Lees from a squalid refugee camp in Thailand to a new life in Minnesota and eventually California. Family members struggle to survive in a strange foreign land, haunted by the scars of war and loss of family. Across the Mekong River paints a vivid picture of the Hmong immigrant experience, exploring family love, sacrifice, and the resiliency of the human spirit to overcome tragic circumstances.

Giveaway Details
1 copy of Across the Mekong River
Open to US only
Ends 8/29/12

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