FRANKFORT — Maybe someday best-selling author Will Lavender will write a fiendishly clever mystery about a missing Kentucky lawmaker or a psychological thriller about a controversial bill in the state legislature with deadly consequences for its sponsors.
Who knows what intriguing story ideas the 32-year-old writer, whose first published novel, Obedience, landed on the New York Times best-seller list in 2008, will get from his new job with the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission?
"We've had some published authors employed here, but I don't know of any best-selling author," said Bobby Sherman, director of the fact-finding and service agency for Kentucky lawmakers.
Lavender, a Somerset native who grew up in Whitley City in McCreary County, is the LRC's new research editor.
Filling a vacancy at a salary of $42,000 a year, he's in charge of researching, compiling and editing numerous publications for the agency.
The question arises: Why is a best-selling writer working for the LRC?
"The book industry is so shaky," said Lavender, who longed for a job with more financial security, especially since he and his wife, Sharon Lavender, a former teacher, have two young children — Jonathan, 5, and Jenna, 2. They live in Louisville.
"Unless you reach that top tier of writers, it's a tough living," he said.
Lavender was born on Feb. 14, 1977. His father, Tim Lavender, is a lawyer in Whitley City. His mother, Becky Lavender, is a former teacher. A younger sister, Emily Lavender, is an administrative assistant to the McCreary County school board.
In the McCreary County school system, Lavender said, he was "a decent student" who was interested in reading paperback novels.
"I always had a knack with language and words," he said.
He majored in English at Centre College and obtained a master's degree in creative writing from Bard College in New York.
Lavender said he spent much time reading horror master Stephen King, but now splits his reading evenly between fiction and non-fiction.
Lavender was an English professor for six years at Jefferson Community College and Indiana University Southeast until he got a big break with the sale of his first novel.
His first published work came at age 19 at Centre when a University of Hawaii journal picked up a piece dealing with the religious practice of speaking in tongues.
He would not publish again until Obedience came out in February 2008.
It has sold about 30,000 copies in the United States and Canada and climbed to No. 31 on the New York Times list of best sellers. It was a best seller in Taiwan for more than six months and has been published in at least nine countries.
The New York Times called the book "a twisty tale." It involves students in a logic and reasoning class on a fictional college campus who receive a startling assignment from a quirky professor to find a missing girl named Polly.
Lavender wrote the book in two months — five days a week about five hours a day. "I knew it was going to be good," he said, "but I told people it wasn't going to be a best seller."
A Hollywood agent told him two years ago that some big celebrities like actor Brad Pitt and director Ridley Scott were looking at the book for a possible movie, but no deal has yet materialized.
Meanwhile, Lavender is working on another book set on a college campus. It will be called Dominance and he has an October deadline to finish.
"I'll work on it on weekends now that I have a 40-hour a week job," he said.
Lavender hopes he will have a lifelong career in books.
"But I don't want to sit in front of a computer all the time," he said. "I believe it's important to get life experiences. That's what I'm doing now."