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Missouri author takes a dark twist
The professor's frozen body hung from a high branch overlooking the school near Lake of the Ozarks, a thick stream of blood plastered to his cheek. The branch was so high, detectives had to use the ladder from a Canton County firetruck to reach it.
This isn't a crime story. It's a scene from "Dark Places," the latest installment in a detective series by Poplar Bluff, Mo., resident Linda Ladd.
Ladd, born and raised in Southeast Missouri, began writing in 1984 with historic romance novels. Her writing career began on a whim, but has grown to include 21 novels and a movie option. After a brief sabbatical in the early 2000s, she returned to the book scene with a new genre: murder-mystery.
"I just wanted a change of pace," Ladd said. She admitted to liking mystery novels the most and decided she could write what she'd been reading.
When Ladd first started writing, more than 20 years ago, it was largely because she was an avid reader. So many writers live their lives with a passion for crafting words, she said, but the extent of her writing career had been college papers.
"It wasn't something that burned inside of me," Ladd said. Nonfiction bored her, but when Ladd tried her hand at writing fiction, she found a calling.
"I like to make it up and be creative with the characters."
Ladd earned a business degree from Southeast Missouri State University and taught business law for a while. She stopped working after she had children.
Ladd used to make up bedtime stories about the "Sutton Street Dogs" for her children but still never wrote anything down.
"I just decided one day I ought to try this," she said. She sold her first book, "Bittersweet Temptation," and kept going.
"I just sort of happened onto it and loved it," she said. "I really don't know why I never tried it before."
Over the years, Ladd has built up a reputation with her readers.
"Linda is a pretty well-known writer," said Barnes & Noble community relations manager Jill LeGrand. "It looked like in the past she was enjoyed by quite a number of people."
LeGrand helped set up a book signing with Ladd at Barnes & Noble in West Park Mall later this month. She said she probably would not read from the book but that the event would be "pretty informal, pretty laid-back," "I've always heard writers do better if they write what they know," she said. "You just have a better feel for the vernacular and the people."
Her series is set in central Missouri, near Lake of the Ozarks. The hotels and resorts in the book are based on real resorts.
"I wanted to write in Missouri and mention the places here, in my own state," Ladd said. She mentions Poplar Bluff and Springfield, Mo., and she chose a popular vacation spot as the setting for her murders.
"It's really a good place for serial killers because they can come in, kill five or six people and then take off," she said.
At 59 and 5-foot-5, Ladd looks like she should be knitting socks, not weaving murder plots.
"I just find them fascinating and figure a lot of people do," she said. Ladd researched the traits and triggers of serial killers to better understand her villains.
"As a writer, you just use your imagination and you do your research," she said. "If you understand the background of most serial killers, you can hopefully take one out of your head and put it on paper without being one or having one in the family."
But people still tell her husband to sleep with his eyes open.
Ladd's first book that strayed from her typical romances was "Running Scared," about a Van Buren, Mo., woman who goes on the run from men who want to kidnap her adopted baby.
RHI/Hallmark Entertainment bought the movie option for a possible adaptation of the novel. The company is also considering buying the rights to "Head to Head," the first in her Missouri detective series.
She recently finished the third book in the series, "Die Smiling," which should hit shelves in late summer 2008. She has a contract with Kensington Publishing Corp. to write at least one more book.
335-6611, extension 246