After graduating with a BA in History from the University of California, Davis, and an MA in Economics from California State University Sacramento, I worked as a resource economist and environmental consultant for over twenty years. In 1993, I also began writing fiction for adults and children. My early publications included a number of short stories in small literary magazines and a story sold to Highlights for Children magazine. The first book in my middle-grade adventure series, Martin McMillan and the Lost Inca City, was published in 2004. It is now in a second edition since 2012.
I became interested in the large Hmong immigrant community in Sacramento after meeting children in my son’s school and reading Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. This led to the short story “Sky King,” about a Hmong-American family, which was published in the literary magazines Red Wheelbarrow (Summer 2004) and The Armchair Aesthete (Fall 2004). It also won First Place for a Short Story in the WIN-WIN Conference 2003 Persie Writing Contest. I began writing my adult book, Across the Mekong River, shortly after this. Before publication, the novel was a finalist in the Carolina Wren Press 2010 Doris Bakwin Award for adult novels, the Maui Writer’s Conference 2003 Rupert Hughes Prose Writing Competition, and the Focus on Writers 2001 Friends of the Sacramento Library Awards. The novel also won four 2013 independent publisher awards after publication in 2012.
I published the second middle-grade book Martin McMillan and the Secret of the Ruby Elephant in 2012. It won four 2013 independent publisher awards as well. My most recent publication is the young adult romance novel, Montana in A Minor, released in 2014. It won an award from the Friends of the Sacramento Library Awards in 2010. Since publication it has been selected as a finalist for the Readers’ Favorites 2014 awards.
I am married with three grown children and two grandchildren. I currently live with my husband in Sacramento, CA, and part time on the island of Kauai.
My Connection to Laos
I first traveled to Laos in 2006 to research Across the Mekong River where I fell in love with the beautiful landscape and gentle, sweet Laotian people. On this trip I learned about the terrible legacy of unexploded ordnance from the massive U.S. bombing campaigns in Laos during the Vietnam War-era. As a result, I began volunteering with the U.S.-based nongovernment organization Legacies of War. I served on the board for four years from 2008 to 2012. I returned twice to Laos with Legacies in 2008 and 2010. I also traveled to Laos in 2011 with my husband and 2012 with my son.
Legacies of War raises awareness about the history of the war and U.S. bombing, which left close to 80 million unexploded cluster bombs. Forty years after the end of war, unexploded ordnance continues to kill and maim Laotians every year. Legacies advocates for greater funding to clear unexploded ordnance and assist victims.
As part of my work with Legacies, I authored two articles on the history of the war in Laos and the aftermath of unexploded ordnance.
Russell, Elaine, "Living with Unexploded Ordnance: Past Memories and Present Realities in Laos". In: Vatthana Pholsena & Oliver Tappe (eds.), Interactions with a Violent Past: Reading Post-Conflict Landscapes in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Singapore: NUS Press, 2013.
Khamvongsa, Channapha and Russell, Elaine, "Laos and Cluster Bombs, "Critical Asian Journal, Vol. 41, No. 2, June 2009.
In 2010, I spoke about Laos at the European Southeast Asian Studies annual conference in