Erica Spindler caught the writing bug in 1982, right along with a bad summer cold. A K&B cashier tucked a free Nora Roberts novel into the bag with her Kleenex and cold medicine.

“I’d never really read a romance novel, and I loved it,” Spindler said, speaking from her home in Mandeville. “But it was Nora Roberts, so of course I loved it.”

Then an art teacher at Southeastern and Delgado, Spindler made a change. “I went on a frenzy — every time I went to the K & B, I was looking for a new Nora Roberts novel. And I thought, ‘I’ll try to write one of these.’ ”

That’s how it started. Now, with New York Times and USA Today bestsellers to her credit, you could certainly say Spindler has mastered her craft. In 1996, after 13 romance novels, she made a change to romantic suspense and never looked back.

“I just loved painting pictures of crime scenes and serial killers,” she said. Elements of crime fiction had been working their way into her earlier novels, so she just followed those instincts, and her publisher supported the move. All along the way, she educated herself in her craft, co-founding SOLA, the local chapter of the Romance Writers of America, taking classes, attending conferences.

And at one of those conferences, she finally met Nora Roberts. “I was just speechless,” Spindler said. “I was a total fan girl. I said something original like, ‘I just love your work,’ and she was so nice.”

Spindler’s newly published novel, “The Other Girl,” is a perfect summer thriller, the story of a young cop, Miranda Rader, in Harmony, Louisiana, who was once a troubled teenager with a reputation for lying. One desperate summer night, she went to the police for help, but no one believed her story of abduction and violence. Now, Miranda has gotten her life together when a series of murders takes place — and the only link is that long ago night. It’s a chiller, with a nod to the dark underbelly of small-town life but an even greater celebration of women’s strength and courage.

“People have called my work intimate suspense,” Spindler said. “I think it’s the small-town feel of everybody knowing everybody’s business, along with the idea that it’s so wholesome, that everybody goes to church on Sunday. I was influenced by my time in the Mississippi Delta, which was such a culture shock for this Midwesterner.”

Spindler and her husband, Nathan, met in college at Delta State University. They came to New Orleans for the King Tut exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1977, saw the long lines for the tickets and decided to play in the city instead. They had so much fun, they spent their honeymoon driving here in a U-Haul to settle for good.

Of course, when a writer spends her days killing off people and solving crimes, the neighbors start to wonder.

“When word got out that I was a writer, people were curious,” Spindler said. “ ‘Were you abused? Where do these things come from?’ Those were the questions. But that was better than the sly wink and dirty chuckle that came when people made a joke about being a romance writer.”

One night, when they were at a block party, a neighbor asked her husband, “Hey, how do you sleep at night? With one eye open?”

Her husband, humoring the guy, said, “Watch this,” and yelled over to Erica in her lawn chair. “Hey, Erica, how do you keep a body submerged for a long period of time?”

“And I didn’t bat an eye,” Spindler said. “You need a counterweight of 10 percent of the body weight plus 10 percent.”

All in a day’s work — and fun for the neighbors. Fun for readers, too.

***************

What: Erica Spindler signs “The Other Girl”

When and where: 1 p.m. Aug. 26, Barnes & Noble, Mandeville

2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Aug. 27, Barnes & Noble, Metairie

Susan Larson hosts The Reading Life on WWNO-FM.