A native of the working-class white north county. Elaine lived in Florissant with her parents and three younger brothers, whom she refuses to talk to for the last 20 years. She then went to UMSL and hung out on st.louis's southside which she so famously writes about. The statuesque (almost two meters) Viets has a degree in journalism and became a long-time popular media figure in St. Louis. She was a regular columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for twenty-five years, her columns focusing mostly on local issues and human-interest fare. She also hosted the local light-news television program Viets Beat, for which she won Emmy Awards in 1989 and 1990. After moving to Washington, D.C. and leaving the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Viets wrote a syndicated column carried by United Feature Syndicate and later by United Media.
She also began writing mystery novels, and eventually left the newspaper business almost entirely to become a full-time novelist. Viets first drew on her professional experience to produce four novels set in St. Louis and featuring fictional St. Louis newspaper columnist Francesca Vierling (and exciting speculation over which characters might represent real-life Post-Dispatch figures).
By the time she had written the last of these, Viets had relocated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1997, which became the locale for her next novels, the Dead-End Jobs series. Viets researches these books by herself taking the same sort of low-level dead-end jobs—telemarketer, shop clerk, and so forth—as the series' protagonist, Helen Hawthorne.
Viets, married for over thirty years to author and actor Don Crinklaw, is active in the trade organizations Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. She is a board member of the Mystery Writers of America. In 2004 she was nominated for three Agatha Awards. In 2005, she won awards presented for Best Short Story at two notable mystery conventions: an Agatha Award at Malice Domestic Ltd, and an Anthony Award at Bouchercon, both for her story Wedding Knife.
On April 11, 2007, Viets' fellow contributors to The Lipstick Chronicles reported that Viets had suffered a stroke. According to a subsequent update, Viets is recovering well and is again creating mysteries based on real life and the people who live it.
Viets, Elaine (2000). "Introduction". In Quinta Scott (editor). Images of St. Louis. University of Missouri Press. ISBN0-8262-0697-2.
Kramer, Staci (February 1, 1996). "Viets-Post marriage on the rocks? Editor Woo takes over negotiations. (Includes related article on the 'Retain Elaine' party at Pancke House)". St. Louis Journalism Review26 (183).
St. John, Burt (September 1, 1996). "Viets' future with the Post uncertain; she continues to build syndication.". St. Louis Journalism Review26 (189).