Author Julie Miller has a method to her writing.
"I like to blow things up and stab people and have good twisty mysteries — but I want everyone to live happily ever after," she said of her books.
The romantic suspense author spent most of her childhood in Fulton and returned to town Thursday to speak at the Callaway County Public Library. Miller has published several books through publisher Harlequin Intrigue. She now lives in Nebraska with her husband. Her mother, Barbara Binger, still lives here.
"She's my ace PR person," Miller said about her mother.
Miller lived in Fulton from fourth grade through her high school graduation. She said she was a quiet child, always buried in a book. The library holds some of her fondest memories.
"Downstairs in their fiction area, they had a wall of fairy tales and folk tales," Miller recalled. "I read all of them, more than once."
Miller was so shy, she went through a phase where she communicated through notes. She kept herself entertained by getting lost in books and making up stories in her head.
"My big brother introduced me to Encyclopedia Brown, and I read them all," Miller said. "Later, I read all the Nancy Drews. I like puzzles."
Her early love of mysteries and puzzles influenced her choice to write romantic suspense.
"Between reading stories and making up stories, when I got a chance to sit down and write, I really liked it," she said. "When I realized I could make money, I really, really liked it."
That realization came after she graduated from the University of Missouri and was raising her son, Ryan. Writing became a way to cope with boredom during the day. She continued honing her craft after she rejoined the workforce as an English teacher.
"In my 13th year of teaching, I sold my first book," Miller said.
She continued juggling writing, teaching and parenting for several years afterwards, but the stress eventually led to her getting sick. She was frequently writing until 2 or 3 a.m. Eventually, she suggested to her husband that she quit teaching and start writing full time.
"I was lucky enough that he said, 'Mm, OK,'" Miller said while laughing.
Binger has been an avid supporter of her writing career, often vying with her now-deceased husband for the chance to read Miller's newest book first. However, she did think maybe Miller should have tried a pen name.
"I wanted her to be Sebastian or something," Binger said.
In 2000, venerable romance publisher Harlequin picked up Miller. She's been writing for the publishing house ever since, primarily in its Harlequin Intrigue line. She sets many of her stories in Kansas City, a place she knows well, and most of them star uniformed heroes (and occasionally uniformed heroines).
"I like a man in uniform," she said. "(Also), their calling is to serve and protect. They protect their community and protect the person they're falling in love with."
These heroes range from Marines, like her father, to firemen, policemen, FBI agents and beyond. To get a taste of the type of stories she loves to write, she recommends starting with "The Marine Next Door" or "Accidental Bodyguard," though the latter is only available as part of an anthology.
The author offered some writing advice to the attendees. Miller writes for about eight hours a day, she said. When she gets stuck, she has a trick.
"Just put something down on the paper," she said. "Start writing simple, declarative sentences, like 'My hero is a policeman.'"
Eventually, those will blossom into potential scenes and plots, she said.
Miller's daydreams provide a stream of inspiration, she said. Even as she begins her 68th book, she still loves her genre and loves writing.
"If it ever gets old for me as a writer, that's when it will get old for the readers," she said.
Miller's latest book, "Protection Detail," was published July 18. Find the author and links to her works at juliemiller.org.