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Lakewood Is a Diabolical Hotbed in Crime Novel Every Missing Girl

Leanne Kale Sparks might have grown up in Colorado Springs, but her novels are set in Lakewood
Leanne Kale Sparks might have grown up in Colorado Springs, but her novels are set in Lakewood Leanne Kale Sparks
Mystery author Leanne Kale Sparks might live in Texas these days, but she sets her crime and suspense novels in the state where she grew up: Colorado. More specifically, Lakewood — which in her mystery series is a hotbed of diabolical misdeeds masked by a sheen of neighborhood amiability, guarded by “badass FBI agent Kendall Beck.” (And probably a stern letter from the HOA.)

The first book in the series — Sparks’s debut novel — is 2013's The Wrong Woman, which kicked off the story of Kendall Beck. Sparks is doing two readings of her second novel in the series, Every Missing Girl, along the Front Range this weekend, and hopes to continue with a third and possibly fourth book. “It would be fun to expand Kendall’s story further,” says Sparks. “And I’m not quite ready to leave Lakewood just yet.”

But Sparks is used to moving around. She left Colorado in 1991 when she married into military life. “My life growing up was really good practice for becoming a military wife,” Sparks says, “because we moved around a lot in Colorado Springs when I was a kid.” She went to two different elementary schools, two different middle schools, and two different high schools in the Springs, with “eight or ten” different houses during that time.

Why all the moves? “My mom really liked new homes,” Sparks laughs.
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Sparks attended the University of Northern Colorado for a few years before moving back to the Springs and working until she met her husband and moved out of state — but she kept enrolling in different colleges wherever they were stationed, working to finish her degree.

“I think by the time I applied to law school, I had transcripts from eight different schools,” says Sparks. She finally got her bachelor's degree from Utah Valley State College, and went to law school in South Dakota. “I was done taking my time,” she recalls. It took eighteen years to get her bachelor's degree but only three to get her law degree, which she completed in 2007.

Her career in law was admittedly short, according to Sparks. Moving around so much didn’t allow for much in terms of longevity for any position, and transferring from state to state meant new licensure all the time. “In the end,” she says, “I really just got tired of taking the bar exam.”

So she turned to writing around 2012, thinking she was going to write romance novels. “I thought it would be easy to write,” she says, shaking her head. “I thought I’d get into it and learn the business. Please don’t kill me, people who write romance. I understand now! I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was really difficult.”

Back then, the self-publishing world was just beginning to boom, as well. “I was too impatient,” says Sparks. “I wish I’d just slowed down, not rushed it. I’m just not the kind of person who can handle the business end of [self-publishing]. I just couldn’t do it.”

And part of the problem, she admits, is that her heart wasn’t in it. “I started writing romantic suspense,” she says, “because I liked writing mysteries and thrillers and murder and stuff like that. I’d get to the end of a story and I’d realize, 'Crap, I forgot to put the romance in there.'”

Sparks had a fellow writer and friend in Denver who read an early draft of The Wrong Woman — sans romance — and told her, “This is what you should be writing. Stop romance, and go here.”

Sparks took that advice, and things began to fall into place. She revised her manuscript, found an agent, and sold her first book by the following year. “I lucked out,” she says.

But luck, so they say, is recognizing when you’re in the right place at the right time. Everything Sparks experienced seems to have led her to the authorial life she’s currently living, from her Colorado roots to her itinerant home life, her law degree and the mysteries she pens. She credits the stories of Perry Mason more than anything else: she watched the reruns with her North Carolina grandmother religiously every summer, and her stepfather was a cinematographer who worked on some of the Perry Mason TV movies filmed in Denver in the 1980s.

And Sparks says she’s fascinated by the criminal mind. “How do you get to that mindset where it’s acceptable to kill somebody?” she ponders. “It’s so interesting to me how that happens, and why. I think that’s universal, that natural curiosity. It’s like an accident on the interstate — everybody slows down to see what’s going on. Nobody wants to see the blood and gore, because that’s sad. But you also kind of do want to see, because you want to know the story.”

Leanne Kale Sparks will read and sign Every Missing Girl at 6 p.m. Saturday, February 11, at Tattered Cover in Colorado Springs, 112 North Tejon Street, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, February 12, at the Barnes & Noble in Denver West Village, 14347 West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen

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