Julie Smith was born November 25, 1944, in Annapolis, Maryland, where her father was stationed during World War II. Malberry Smith, a lawyer, and his wife Claire Tanner Smith, a school counselor, moved the family to Savannah, Georgia, after the war. Julie Smith grew up there, leaving in 1962 to attend the University of Mississippi, where she majored in journalism. After graduating in 1965, Smith moved to New Orleans and talked her way into a job as a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. A year later she left for San Francisco, landing a position at the San Francisco Chronicle, where she worked for more than a decade. Intent on pursuing a career as a fiction writer, she wrote dozens of stories and drafted several novels while holding down her job as a reporter. In 1979 she and two friends started Invisible Ink, an editorial consulting firm. Smith stayed with the firm for three years until her first novel, Death Turns a Trick, was published in 1982.
Buoyed by her success, Smith determined to write full time, and over the next eight years she published five novels set in San Francisco, three featuring feminist lawyer Rebecca Schwartz and two showcasing Schwartz’s friend Paul McDonald, a struggling mystery writer. In 1990, Smith chose a new location for her fiction, and for her first novel about New Orleans, New Orleans Mourning, she received the 1991 Edgar Award for best novel—the first time this award had gone to a female novelist since 1956. Although Smith published two more novels featuring Rebecca Schwartz, after 1990 the city of New Orleans became her principal métier, and novels about Detective Skip Langdon began appearing regularly. In the eighth Langdon novel, Eighty-two Desire, Smith introduced Talba Wallis, a computer whiz turned private detective, who would become the main character in a new series initiated by Louisiana Hotshot in 2001.
In the mid-1990’s Smith married business entrepreneur Lee Pryor and moved to New Orleans. Intent on assisting other authors who were struggling as she had to establish careers, she created a Web-based course in writing to help them master the basics of their craft. In an example of life following art, after relocating to New Orleans, Smith took the necessary steps to become a licensed private investigator.