Susan Allison, who has edited the Anita books the past six years, credits Hamilton for creating the subgenre of paranormal fiction: a blend of horror, mystery and romance. Now, almost all best-selling romance novels feature vampires and werewolves, but, notes Allison, "Laurell was there first."

In the words of USA Today, "What The Da Vinci Code did for the religious thriller, the Anita Blake series has done for the vampire novel."

Hamilton has a slightly more acerbic take on her role as a trendsetter. "If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, I'm as flattered as I want to be."

Hamilton's two biggest fans are her husband, Jonathon Green (pictured), and her assistant, Darla Cook.
Jennifer Silverberg
Hamilton's two biggest fans are her husband, Jonathon Green (pictured), and her assistant, Darla Cook.
Hamilton's assistant, Darla Cook.
Jennifer Silverberg
Hamilton's assistant, Darla Cook.

"I'm not the kind of writer who can read a guidebook and write a city," Hamilton says. "I need it to be solid. Since I live here, the Anita books are set here. I love St. Louis. It's home. I get to drive around and bury bodies." (For the record, Hamilton's favorite local boneyard is Bellefontaine Cemetery. "Give me angels weeping to heaven," she says. "And weeds. Weeds are pretty.")

"St. Louis is a combination of a big city, the country and the suburbs," Hamilton continues. "You have the Fox Theatre and then, half an hour away, there's trees and wilderness. There's no other city like that."

Hamilton moved here from Los Angeles in 1987 with her then-husband, who'd found a job as a computer programmer. She discovered St. Louis' potential as a setting later that summer after attending a bachelorette party on Laclede's Landing. "It was perfect," she recalls. "The river, the narrow streets, the cobblestones. It was a happy accident." In the Anita books, the Landing is known as the Blood District because so many of the clubs are owned by vampires.

In later books, Anita buys her coffee at V.J. Coffee & Tea on Olive Boulevard, complains about the traffic on I-270, tracks serial killers in Wildwood, visits a bondage club in Sauget and goes on a date to the Fox, which both Hamilton and Anita consider the most beautiful building in St. Louis. Hamilton tries to use real locations as much as possible, though she makes exceptions for places that might pose dangers to overenthusiastic readers.

"In one of the books, Anita had to swim through an underwater cave, which is very dangerous," Hamilton explains. "And then at one signing, a couple of people came up to me and said they were tracking Anita though St. Louis and the cave wasn't where I said it was. They would have gone exploring in that cave!"

Hamilton lives in a secluded corner of south county with her husband, Jonathon Green, her daughter, Trinity, and two pugs. She writes on the second floor of their newly renovated home in a large, light-filled office with exposed wooden beams and pale-blue walls, a color she says stimulates her creativity. She has four desks, so if her writing stalls, she can move to a different space. When the writing is going badly, she sits at the desk facing the wall. "I sit there to block out distractions," she says.

She works in two four-hour blocks during the day while her daughter is at school. She starts at 8:30 each morning and stops when she completes her daily allotment: four to eight pages.

Green and Darla Cook, Hamilton's personal assistant, help her with the non-writing aspects of being a writer, like answering fan mail and maintaining the computer system. Green also helps plot out the Anita comic books. Both have learned to gauge how well Hamilton's daily writing is going by the music they hear coming from her office.

"She usually picks one CD for each book," Green explains. "Of late, she's been using more heavy metal and hard rock. If it's not going well, she plays musicals. And if it's really not going well, she plays Christmas music."

Not many questions at Q&A sessions surprise Hamilton anymore. She stands at the campfire waiting, and, sure enough, one of the most oft-asked inquiries comes out of the darkness: "Where do you get your ideas?"

Hamilton takes a deep breath. "My writing comes from a place of deep emotional pain, which is limitless," she says. The sad facts of her childhood are already well known to most of her fans: Her parents were divorced when she was a baby; she never knew her father; her mother was killed in a car accident when Hamilton was six years old.

"I never had that feeling of immortality as a teenager," Hamilton says. "The death of my mother took that away from me. My sense of safety was gone."

Hamilton was raised by her grandmother, Laura Gentry, in Sims, Indiana. She was the only kid at school without parents. "I was terribly not typical," she says. Gentry didn't drive, which added to Hamilton's sense of isolation.

At home, her grandmother told her Ozark ghost stories and together they watched horror movies on TV. Hamilton liked the vampires, and particularly enjoyed one film called Vampire Circus. "I preferred things that could eat and feed off of people. It was visceral. The danger was more real." (Strangely enough, upon viewing the film as an adult, Hamilton realized its lead vampire resembled Jean-Claude, the master vampire in the Anita books.)

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