Karin Slaughter


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Our featured author for September/October is Karin Slaughter!


Review of her latest, A Faint Cold Fear:

When Grant Countyís Chief of Police, Jeffery Tolliver, is called in to handle a suspected suicide of a college student, he summons his ex-wife and current lover, Sara Linton, who is the medical examiner to assist on the case.  She brings along her pregnant sister Tess, and what follows is nothing short of tragedy when Tess is brutally attacked and left for dead.  Following this event is yet another suicide, and when itís discovered that these deaths are in fact murder, all eyes turn to Lena Adams, an ex-cop who now works security for the college, as the prime suspect.  Lena, still recovering from an attack which nearly left her dead the previous year, is on the brink of complete self-destruction, and the events that follow may only bring her closer.   

A dark and disturbing book, Slaughter delivers yet again.  Feeling like the emotional equivalent to a punch in the gut, this powerful and evocative portrayal of lives in anguish is brutal in its honesty.  To say the suspense is high is an understatement, and says nothing of the deep and often tormented depiction of these flawlessly rendered characters, especially Lena, whose spiraling descent into near-tragedy is so utterly wrenching, it will leave the reader breathless.  This is a must read for the intelligent mystery lover, and we canít wait for the next in this remarkable series.            


Interview with Karin:

1.  Tell us a bit about Sara, Jeffrey, and Lena.  Where did they come from? 

Sara Linton is the pediatrician/coroner in the fictional town of Grant County that I write about it.  She is, first and foremost, a person who is devoted to her family, something which comes to play in FAINT COLD FEAR, the latest installment in the series.  Sara was born and raised in Grant and is the fulcrum that pries open most of the story. 

Jeffrey Tolliver is Sara's ex-husband and is also the chief of police in town.  Like a lot of people, he moved from the big city--Birmingham, in Jeffrey's case--to small town Grant County because he wanted to get away from the stress and violence of big city life.  What he found is what most people find when they do this, which is that the violence follows you.  The face of small town America is rapidly changing into a scary place indeed, and as a writer, I use Jeffrey's point of view as a way to express this outrage. 

The final narrator in the series is Lena Adams.  She is the only female detective in an all-male force, but even without that, she has quite a chip on her shoulder.  In the first few books, she's had a lot of bad things happen to her, and FAINT COLD FEAR is all about how she deals with those things and fights to become a survivor.


2.  Which character is the most difficult to write, the easiest?  And which one do you feel closest to?

 Lena is the most difficult to write because she's always changing the story.  I never want Lena to appear to be a victim or a bad person, but there are things she does that are unlikable, so if I have a Lena scene where she's doing something stupid or making a bad choice, I always try to balance it the next time around and show that she made these choices because she is, at heart, a person with flaws.  As a Southerner, I might have an inordinate interest in flaws, but I don't find perfect people that interesting.  To me, Lena's faults help her drive the narrative.

As far as closeness, I have always felt a kinship with Sara.  She's everything I would like to be.  I think that a lot of authors project themselves into their books, but for me, Sara is my ideal while Lena is closer to who I actually really am.

3.  Lena is one of the most interesting, but seriously damaged and scarred characters, to come along in a while.   Why did you go down that road so intensely in her evolution, besides the obvious reasons?

 I am an avid reader of all types of books, and when I sat down to write Blindsighted, my first published novel, I was very conscious of the people who had come before me.  I can't stand when women who are assaulted are turned into martyrs or catatonics.  I wanted to show as realistic a recovery as I could, and not just because I think it's an interesting thing to do.  The majority of readers in the world are women, and with Lena, I get to speak to them and hopefully point out the fact that you can make really bad decisions and still be a good person.  I think when you're writing about something as serious as violence against women, you owe it to yourself and the reader to not sugar coat it.  This sort of thing happens every day all over the world, and to me, it is better to meet it head on with an unflinching eye than to cower in the back, afraid.


4.  Do your characters, and/or plot, ever start out one way at the beginning and then take over, ending up in a completely different place than what you had originally imagined?

Lena is constantly changing the narrative, but what I've found as I've been working on Indelible, the fourth book in the series, is that Sara does this too.  She is just more subtle about it.  Indelible focuses on Jeffrey and Sara when they first got together more than ten years before Blindsighted began.  They're very different people, which has been tricky to pull off, but a lot of fun.  

5.  Most people will never experience some of these horrific and traumatic events that your characters go through.  How do you manage to write these scenes, and their aftermath, so realistically?

I suppose it's cathartic in a way, but part of it is just natural curiosity on my part.  It may not be ladylike to be interested in murder and serial killers and the such, but I have always had a fascination for the dark side.  Though I will add that I have never been particularly interested in WHAT people do so much as WHY.  That's what motivates me to write: figuring out why people do the things they do.  I would say that figuring out people is the main focus of my work.

6.  Now some technical questions.  At what age did you know you wanted to write?

 Well, I'll get a lot of crap for this because no one ever believes me, but I've known I wanted to be a writer as long as I've been able to hold a pencil.  I have tons of books I did when I was a kid (I even did the illustrations) and while I never thought I could ever make a living writing, I always knew it would be a part of my life.  In the beginning, it was a very private thing.  I worked for several years to get an agent and when I finally got a book deal, a lot of people who knew me were surprised because they had no idea I'd been writing on the side.  I have a Writer's Market from the late 1980s where I was marking pages and taking notes on what I needed to do to get published.

7.  How hard was it to get from just dreaming about it, to actually doing it?

 As far as writing is concerned, it was never a matter of dreaming about it.  I just sat down and did it.  The hard part was getting to a point where I thought I had something good enough to send out to an agent. That took several books and several years.  The point is that you can never give up.  Every time I got a rejection, I just took from it what I could and put my head down and kept butting against the wall until there was a break (in the wall, not my head, though some days I wonder...)

8.  Who inspired you?

Teachers have always inspired me.  I was one of those weird kids who loved going to school (until I got to high school and came to my senses, that is)  My ninth grade teacher, Ms. Bennett, was the first teacher who sort of took me by the collar and told me I could do better.  As a student, I pretty much coasted along and thought everything I wrote was golden.  Ms. Bennett actually corrected my work and showed me how to enhance it.  I owe her my career, though when I say that she brushes me off.  I dedicated Blindsighted to her and my father, because they both were so important to my development as a storyteller.

9.  It seems to me that until fairly recently, woman mystery authors followed a few standard formulas, but now have evolved into writing more character-driven and individualistic type stories.  Why do you think this change has finally, thank goodness, come about? 

 I think that women have finally realized they can write about what they want to write about without appearing to be godless hussies.  As I said before, it's very unladylike to be interested in this sort of thing, but when you consider that women are by far more likely to be victims of these sorts of violent crimes, it makes sense.  There's also the "playground rules," where if a boy gets mad at another boy, he punches him; if a girl gets mad at another girl, she calls her fat and gives her an eating disorder.  We're not taught to talk about these things, and deal with them head on.  Now, you've got women like Denise Mina, Mo Hayder, Tess Gerritsen--and dare I say me--who are not afraid to write about it.  We've taken some punches for it, too.

Let me also add that we writers owe a lot to the ladies who came before us.  Women like Mary Higgins Clark, Sara Paretsky, Dorothy L. Sayers and Sue Grafton took the early steps toward breaking that glass ceiling.  I would argue that they're still leading the way with the stories they write. 

10.  Do you have any secrets for getting past the blank page and blinking cursor on those really bad days? 

I don't write until I'm ready to write.  If it seems like I'm pulling teeth, then I need to be doing something else.  Thankfully, I've had the luxury of never feeling like I HAD to write, but I dread it if it ever comes.

11.  And finally, what's next for these wonderful characters?

Indelible is just about completed.  I wanted to get it done before my tour starts so I could concentrate on promoting Kisscut and A Faint Cold Fear, and Iím just about to the end.  There have been a lot of pleasant surprises along the way, but the journey has been well worth it.  I am also editing a short story collection called Like a Charm.  Itís a novel, really, written in serialized form by some of my best friends who just happen to be great authors: Laura Lippman, Mark Billingham, John Connolly, Peter Robinson and Kelley Armstrong, just to name a few. Basically, itís about a charm bracelet that has a nasty curse attached to it, and each author has to pick up where the last one left off.  So, since at the end of Jane Haddamís story she has someone leave the bracelet in a cab, Peter Moore Smith has to explain how his character  in his story found the bracelet and brought it to the Midwest.  Iíve been reading the short stories between breaks in writing Indelible, and itís just been a treat reading what these folks have come up with.  I canít wait until itís out next year.

Karin's Bio:

KARIN SLAUGHTER grew up in a small, south-Georgia town and now lives in Atlanta. She is currently writing the fourth Grant County novel, Indelible