L.J. Sellers freely acknowledges she has killed at least seven people in her crime spree thus far.

L.J. Sellers freely acknowledges she has killed at least seven people in her crime spree thus far.

"I do have moments of guilt," she says, then adds with only a slightly maniacal laugh, "but they don't last very long."

Moreover, Sellers fully intends to commit as many ruthless murders as she can get away with, painstakingly planning them with an aplomb that would have impressed Agatha Christie.

But there is no need to call Crime Stoppers.

Sellers is THE mystery novelist who hails from Cave Junction. The 1977 Illinois Valley High School graduate last month signed a contract with Echelon Press to publish her next three novels.

The book deal came two days after she was laid off at The (Eugene) Register-Guard newspaper, where she was a part-time features writer for special sections. Sellers, 50, the mother of three grown sons, lives in Eugene with her husband.

At a time when many of us journalists are nervously looking over our shoulders in fear of the next round of layoffs, hers was serendipitous.

"It is so exciting to be able to focus on my mystery novels," she says. "Writing for me is a joy. And to have people read my stories and get excited about them is an amazing feeling."

Her Oregon-based stories feature homicide detective Wade Jackson, who calls Eugene and its environs home. The single father takes on bad guys — and gals — while trying to properly raise his daughter.

To add that vital ring of authenticity, Sellers has been to crime scenes and interviewed various crime fighters, including real-life homicide detectives. She also has Detective Jackson sauntering into real places in Eugene.

"Jackson gets his coffee and pastry at Full City Coffee," she says, referring to a real-life coffee house on Pearl Street. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to acknowledge that our daughter, Sheena, manages the place. Mr. Jackson obviously is very discerning when it comes to coffee and the people he hangs with.)

A native of California, Sellers arrived in the rural Illinois Valley with her parents and five siblings in the 1960s. Her father was an electrical engineer; her mother an elementary school teacher.

"Our parents were terrific, very supportive," she says. "They always said you could do anything, that you just had to believe in yourself."

Their home was a few miles east of town in the Sucker Creek drainage, with its deep canyons and beautiful green mountains. The Oregon Caves were only half a dozen miles farther east.

"I enjoyed living there," she says. "That's where I spent the bulk of my childhood. I did a lot of reading."

She loved poring over whodunits during those wintry days living in the Siskiyou Mountains.

"I was one of those kids in school who actually liked writing reports," she admits.

But she also spent a lot of time hiking and played sports in high school. She had a part-time job working at the Dairy Queen in CJ by the time she was 15.

Upon graduating from high school, she headed straight for Eugene, where she would graduate from the University of Oregon with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

For the record, there are about half a dozen journalists who hail from the Illinois Valley. What's more, we all graduated from the U of O's journalism school.

You're right: must be something in the water.

Sellers launched a career in publishing and writing while continuing to read pulp fiction by the likes of Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Sanders.

"Around the age of 30, I was reading a novel but threw it down when I was about halfway through," she says of the book that obviously wasn't by Leonard or Sanders. "It wasn't very good. I decided to write my own. It was terrible, but I had fun with it. I loved doing it."

Like anyone who enjoys her work, she became very good. Mystery Scene magazine, which keeps tabs on crime writers, describes her books as "provocative page-turners" that are sharply detailed and deeply layered.

In other words, you won't toss them aside halfway through.

Her first book in the Jackson series was "The Sex Club," published in 2007, followed by "Secrets to Die For." The third, "Thrilled to Death," will be out in August.

Sellers, who also teaches a writing workshop called "Your First Draft Doesn't Have to Suck," has two more books in her contract. They will be published in 2011.

"When the kids were still home, I wrote whenever I could find time," she says. "Now that they are grown, I start writing between 5:30 and 6 every morning, write for two or three hours to try to get 1,500 words done."

She then needs to take a break from crime by doing some physical exercise. After all, the work is, well, murder.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.