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Karin Slaughter

e-interviewed by Lyn Seippel (June 2011)

Karin Slaughter is the #1 internationally bestselling author of several novels, including the Grant County series. A long-time resident of Atlanta, she splits her time between the kitchen and the living room.

Karin's recent thrillers have brought together her Grant County and Atlanta series and characters, in particular pediatrician Dr. Sara Linton and dyslexic Special Agent Will Trent.

Her engrossing new chiller, Fallen, develops their relationship as it takes readers deep into a retired police captain's past to solve a brutal kidnapping that left behind two corpses.

Q: I read that your novels always begin with character rather than plot. I'm sure you know all your characters well by now, but in the beginning, how well did you need to know your characters before you started to write?

A: I have to know my characters intimately before I can write about them. Sara Linton, for instance, was a real person to me by the time I sat down and wrote Blindsighted, my first novel. I love reading, but as a reader, I have to feel invested in the character or the plot doesn't matter. Conversely, the plot has to hold up or you really don't care about the characters. I think this is the best thing about writing crime fiction. You have to have strong characters and a strong plot. A lot of other genres don't call for that, which makes for very boring reading.

Q: You are brutal to your series leads, their friends and families - was this a style choice you made right from the beginning, or did it evolve as a way to build tension between strong characters?

A: Oh, I wouldn't say brutal! I try very hard to make them survivors, no matter what horrible things they come up against. Every human being living on the planet has had something bad happen to them at one point in their lives. And that's if they're lucky. Usually, it's many, many times that disappointment or adversity visits us; that's the nature of being a human being. We lose people. We find love and lose that. We find great happiness and great sorrow. Granted, I'm writing fiction, so the characters might seem to endure more than most, but that's what makes them interesting. I am not interested in writing about perfect people. It would make for a very boring story if everyone were happy.

Q: Your murder methods also tend to be more gruesome than most - how do you research them and do they ever make you flinch?

A: I don't think my scenes of violence are any more gruesome than my contemporaries. In Ken Follet's World Without End, for instance, a woman who was being brutally raped stabbed her attacker in the eye and he ejaculated inside of her as he died. To me, that's gruesome stuff. What happens in Fallen pales in comparison. That being said, I always try to show violence for what it is. It's not a joke. People don't have violent things happen to them, and their response is to make a wry comment and move along. I think readers are drawn to a certain type of crime fiction because they want that taste of realism - but they also want the fantasy, because many times in real life awful crimes are never solved, or the bad guy is found and there's really no reason for him committing heinous crimes. From talking to police officers, I know that most people kill or hurt others for either no reason or incredibly stupid reasons. I loved Silence of the Lambs, but the criminal world is not full of Hannibal Lecters.

Q: Did you know that Will Trent would some day be Sara's love interest when you introduced him in Triptych? At what point did you decide to bring together your Grant County and Atlanta series?

A: I hope this doesn't give too much away for people who haven't read the earlier Grant County books. If you haven't and you hate spoilers, skip down to the next question. If you have or you love spoilers, here goes: I knew in Indelible that Jeffrey was going to die. So, for two more Grant County books, I basically lied to people about what was coming. I planted clues in the subsequent stories that cued up the death, but most people were shocked when he died. And many were angry. I'd say 99% of them forgave me and understood why I did it, but that remaining 1% still breaks my heart. It was the hardest decision that I've ever made as a writer, but I had to do it. What I'm writing about with Will and Sara is like a breath of fresh air. It goes back to my earlier statement: no one wants to read about happy people. Sara was too happy. There had to be a change. So, when I wrote Triptcych with Will Trent, I knew that eventually he would meet Sara, and I had an idea about what might happen, but I didn't know it would happen the way it has. If that makes sense. I mean, Will is a prickly kind of guy. He doesn't want people to feel sorry for him. He's never needed anybody in his life. He has actually conditioned himself not to need anybody. So, here comes Sara, and she's very good at being in a relationship, and part of being in a relationship is feeling like your partner needs you. As in many of my stories, nothing is ever easy.

Q: Will is severely dyslexic. How frequently do you have rethink something you've written because of his handicap

A: It's so organic to me when I'm writing about him that it's second hand now. In the first Will Trent book, Triptych, I became aware of a lot of things. Left and right aren't something he can use when he's describing a room or a crime scene. His spatial perception is a bit skewed, so often he'll make what I think of as "known" comparisons - for instance, a dollar bill is six inches long, which is half a foot, so many times Will uses that as a reference. I've obviously given a great deal about how Will sees the world. Part of this was helped tremendously when I was touring in Antwerp. I looked at all the signs, which were written in Flemish, and thought, "this must be what itís like for Will." Because Flemish, like Dutch, is very similar to English. So, you look at a word like "telefoneren" and think, "Okay, that's weird, but I know that word is telephone because it's above a telephone booth." Now, Will can read, he just can't read quickly. He relies on other cues to indicate the word. Dyslexia is a language disorder. The typical person uses one small part of their brain for language processing. Will uses five times the area to process language.

Q: Can we look forward to a story with a major role for Will's wife Angie soon? I'd like to know where she goes when she disappears.

A: There will be a major Angie book coming up. That's all I can tell you, though! But, I've got more space here so why don't I tell you about Criminal. It's primarily a book about Will and Amanda. Part of it takes place in present day and part of it takes place back in 1975 Atlanta, when Amanda first became a police officer. I show you some of her "old gal" network in Fallen, and you'll get to meet these ladies in the flesh and explore how she became an old battle-ax.

Q: Lena is another interesting, flawed character, one who always manages to dig herself deeper into trouble. Do you have a book planned primarily for Lena? And will her relationship with Jeffery's son continue?

A: Lena has another book coming up as well. I'm not just going to drop her with Jared and leave it at that. She tends to mess up the good things in her life, and I think people will be surprised when we next check in with her. The great thing about writing about the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is they can go anywhere in the state to solve a crime. Lena's in Macon now, which is a fascinating city south of Atlanta. It's sort of a mini-Atlanta in some ways and still a small southern town in others. So, I'm looking forward to writing about her life there - and the trouble she makes for herself.

Q: Did you design your own website? It's great fun. If there are any fans out there who haven't visited, itís well worth their time.

A: I worked with a friend from my previous life (when I owned a sign company) to get the design down, but all the technical stuff is done by my webmaster, Beth Tindall. She's great because she anticipates all the crazy stuff I want to do and she understands my readers need to be able to find it. And she makes sure that it's accessible for the sight impaired, which is very important to me. I write about a person with a disability; I don't want to shut out the disabled from my site.
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