An evening of surprises with best-selling crime novelist Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter is one of my favourite authors. I’ve been a fan for years, but never thought I’d get the chance to meet her in the flesh – until tonight, when I saw her interviewed by Hearst Publications.

It was slightly surreal, seeing this petite, unassuming woman from Georgia interviewed in the wholesome surroundings of the Good Housekeeping Institute, but GH’s Books Editor, Joanne Finney, is an accomplished reader and very evidently a Karin Slaughter super-fan.

Unsurprisingly, I loved their conversation. Beginning with Slaughter’s childhood, early love of writing and eventual move into crime fiction, it then embraced her new novel, ‘The Last Widow’, of which I now have a pre-publication copy. Yay!

She always, Slaughter told us, wanted to be a writer. Aged six, she wrote her first book, about her sisters being murdered (yikes); her father loved it and rewarded her with 25 cents. And so, a career was born…

Aged 12, Karin’s English teacher told her that she was a good writer – but that “she could be better”. “I was stung”, recalls Slaughter, “but she challenged me to read books other than ‘Lace’”. ‘Gone with the Wind’ was an early influence; unsurprising, given that Slaughter grew up just down the road from Margaret Mitchell and their two families knew each other. Mitchell, so I learned, was in an abusive marriage for years and eventually managed to divorce her husband at a time when women of that social class did not get divorced. She was also, refreshingly a suffragist.

After graduating from high school, Slaughter went to college where, we were surprised to learn, she was “a bad student: I wasn’t ready for it”. She went on to try out a number of jobs including being an exterminator, a house painter (“with a feminist crew who sexually harassed me when I knew nothing about sex”) and, eventually, owning her own signage company. Successful in her day job, she wrote, in bursts, everywhere she could.

Always, Karin has been interested in the darker side of life: “People assume that women aren’t – but we always have been” (nods from the predominantly female audience). We all like the sense of justice that most crime fiction novels deliver – and Slaughter makes a point, in her own books, of ensuring that victims of sexual violence are believed.

Interestingly, Slaughter stated that it’s rarer for people to be interested in lightness these days – a point which hadn’t occurred to me but, on reflection, I believe is true. Isn’t that strange? You’d think that, in this era of political turmoil, we’d be desperate for some light relief, yet gritty crime dramas have never been more popular.

A number of factors drove ‘The Last Widow’, which features Will Trent and Sara Linton. Slaughter was blunt in explaining them: “Americans have a dream about the American dream”, she began, “and it’s bullshit. It’s only now, for example, that small towns such as the one featured in my novel are finding out that being in a minority sucks”. This is a subject close to Slaughter’s heart, but one that she has shied away from in the past, as with anything overtly political.

She also wanted to “do something different with Sara” – and ‘The Last Widow’ puts Sara in a position where she uses her medical knowledge to hurt people. We see her much more vulnerable than usual.

And then there’s the subject of cults, with which we are all, let’s be honest, fascinated. Slaughter told us that she wanted to understand why people join cults. “You see cult-like behaviour everywhere: we gravitate towards one leader, who we think knows everything”. Finally, she had fun figuring out how Sara and Will can be close to each other without being too secure: “That would be boring!”

If you’ve read any of Karin Slaughter’s novels you’ll understand that there is some violence in them, although she never, she insists, sets out to shock. Every detail is carefully researched; Slaughter draws on the case notes from autopsies, post-mortem reports and witness statements, always mindful that a crime happened to an actual person, whose families are still involved and which were investigated by police officers who gave everything to secure a conviction.

Slaughter sets her books in Georgia because it’s where she’s from – and because of the misconceptions that many people have about it, particularly that it’s full of racists. I, for one, hadn’t realised that Georgia is 65% African American and also, thanks to Coca Cola, has a large expat population. “I’ve never voted for a white person in an election. I love the history of the city and believe it has been misunderstood for a long time”.

She has, Slaughter believes, changed as a writer over the course of the past 20 years and sees the world differently now, as do her characters. Sara Linton, I wasn’t completely surprised to learn, is loosely based on Karin herself, but with some embellishments: “I always wanted to be tall, and a doctor”. Over the years, Sara’s character has evolved and picked up other people’s characteristics. “She has my moral compass”.

What next for Karin Slaughter? Excitingly, ‘Pieces of You’ is being made into a Netflix series, with to be announced soon. She also teamed up recently with long-term friend Lee Child, which “was fun; we’ve grown up together”. Child loves Sara and Will and Slaughter loves Jack Reacher, which meant they were able to write each other’s characters in a believable way, once they’d identified a storyline which honours all the characters.

“It’s a crazy life, being an author”, concluded Slaughter, and she’s grateful to be able to escape to her cabin, secluded in the woods with a creek outside. From time to time she’ll open her front door and find food packages that her father, who lives just down the road, has left for her.

Wherever and whomever she is with, though: “The story is always the thing”.

23 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your impressions- another author for me to discover.

    On Tue, 25 Jun 2019 at 2:22 am, London Life With Liz wrote:

    > londonlifewithliz posted: ” Karin Slaughter is one of my favourite > authors. I’ve been a fan for years, but never thought I’d get the chance to > meet her in the flesh – until tonight, when I saw her interviewed by Hearst > Publications. It was slightly surreal, seeing this petit” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Liz, this is SO cool! I’m beyond excited reading this and I may just be the tiniest bit jealous 😂 An interesting point about being more attracted to the darker side of things, not just for women but society as a whole, especially of late. Slaughter is one of my favourite authors also; she’s able to sculpt an imaginatively creative plot along and breathe life into her characters life, so you just know when you pick up one of her books that it’s going to be a thrilling read. I have her latest offering with Lee Child to read soon, so I’m glad that got a mention; have you read it yet? I’m always willing to post you my copy after I’ve read it if you’d like, Liz. Thank you for sharing this!
    Caz xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gosh, Caz, I am so terribly behind in replying to my messages and so sorry for not having responded to you before now: you must think me terribly rude. Life has a terrible habit of getting in the way of the things that I really want to be doing! It is lovely to find a fellow Karin Slaughter devotee; I’ve enjoyed her books for such a long time and believe her to be one of the best thriller writers around. I completely agree with what you say about her plotting and her characterisation: she’s a master of both. What I particularly like about her characters is that all of them are flawed – just like the rest of us. Thank you so much for offering to send me the Lee Child collaboration: I already have a copy – but you offering to do that is very much appreciated 🙂 I am yet to read it, though: dare I ask what you thought of it???

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not at all rude Liz, honestly, don’t worry about it! Thank you for taking the time to give such a thorough reply. Is it odd that I’m so excited to find another Slaughter fan? She’s one of the very few ‘celebrities’ and authors I follow on social media. On Facebook, she often posts funny cat photos, and she strikes me as very down to earth. I agree on the characterisation front about them being flawed, too. And yet she does it in a natural way, without drawing attention to the flaws too dramatically, she can just weave it in to the make-up of the characters. A very talented author. I’ve not read the Lee Child collaboration just yet – I had a bunch of books from the library that I couldn’t bear to let go of before reading, so I’m just finishing up those first. I’ll be honest though, I’m not getting my hopes up too high for it. I don’t know why. It’s a lot thinner of a book than I’d anticipated so I don’t imagine it’ll take long to zip through it. If you get to it before I do then enjoy! xx

        Liked by 1 person

      • Interestingly, the reviews haven’t been great for the Slaughter-Child collaboration, although I guess a certain amount of sniping was inevitable, given how successful they both are. It is odd how short it is, but I’m staying optimistic! Completely agree that Slaughter comes across as down to earth: she’s very likeable – and humble, with it. As far as I’m concerned, every time she publishes a new book is cause for celebration!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I used to love Karin Slaughter and haven’t thought about her in a long time. When she killed Sara’s husband Jeffrey, I was so shocked and angry that I stopped reading her books. I loved this post and as I read it I got mad about Jeffrey all over again. 😂 It sounds like I need to forgive her and try one of her books again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You won’t be surprised to hear that Jeffrey’s death came up more than once during the talk I was at! You definitely aren’t the only person not to have forgiven Slaughter for killing him off. For my part, although I was shocked at the time I can understand her reasoning: as she said at this talk, where do you go, plot-wise, with a “happy” couple? I hope you’ll pick up her books again, and enjoy them: most recently, I read her standalone novel ‘Pieces of Her’, which I really enjoyed. If you do read it, I hope you’ll let me know what you think – and thank you for being so lovely about my post 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Dennis, what a lovely message. I really enjoy your writing; although I don’t blog much about it, wine is one of my passions and I always find that I learn something new from your posts. I also appreciate that you prefer to write about the positive, rather than the negative, side of life.

      Like

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