Thriller writer Karin Slaughter has the kind of career every author dreams about — a string of New York Times bestselling novels, glowing reviews, and she routinely tops the charts in Europe, too.
What do you think is the secret to your success?
I’ve been very lucky to have publishers in Europe and around the world who are really excited about my work. They “get” what I’m trying to do–that I’m not writing slasher books or romantic suspense. My characters feel very deeply when bad things happen. I honestly think that good crime fiction tells a universal story. Maybe that explains the success, too. I’m writing in a genre that lends itself to a larger conversation.
Tell us about your current book, UNDONE
The book opens with an elderly couple driving down an old country road. A woman walks into the street and there’s a very bad accident. The woman is taken to Grady Hospital in Atlanta, where Sara Linton is her doctor. Sara quickly discovers there’s something else going on besides a car accident; the woman has been tortured. Will Trent and Faith Mitchell are assigned the case, and the plot goes on from there.
What would you do for a living if you weren’t a writer? And what did you do before that first book sale?
I’d love to be a master watchmaker. There’s a school in Amsterdam I visited many years ago and I was just fascinated by the bits and pieces that all go together to make a watch work. The precision appeals to me on an aesthetic level. So, my dream job other than writing would be working with time pieces. The job I had before I got published is very different from that–I owned a sign company. I am fairly artistic, and it was very rewarding to put together something with my hands and see it out there in the world. I love working with my hands.
Tell us about your process. Do you outline, make notecards, or just drink a lot of coffee?
I take lots of little notes to myself when I’m traveling or driving, and then I get home and think, “what the heck does that mean?” Lots of times an illegible note leads to a good story, though, because I have to get creative. The clues in the book are very important to me, so I tend to do clue-oriented notes, like, “the knife is hidden behind the toilet.” Of course, if I can’t remember why the knife was there in the first place, then I’m screwed.
Your novels depict violence against women (and some men), but the acts are graphic without being sensationalized. You’ve said before you hope to promote dialogue about violent acts — can you talk a bit more about how you hope achieve this through your books?
My focus is always on the survivors of violent crime–the families, friends and community around the victim. And sometimes the victim him or herself. According to the FBI, every year for the last ten years, 250,000 women have reported being raped. And that’s just women over the age of eighteen who went to the police to report the crime. It appalls me that this number is so high, because we only hear about these women if they die. No one wants to talk about the women who survive. And if we do hear about these dead women, there usually are three criteria come into place: she has to be pretty, wealthy and white. The one thing sexual predators depend on is silence. I’m not going to be silent anymore. I want to tell these womens’ stories. I want to start a dialogue about the fact that every single year inAmerica, a quarter of a million citizens have something horrible happen to them, and yet you never see it in the news.
How has the rise of social media – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – and the increased pressure on authors to promote themselves affected you?
I haven’t felt any increased pressure, but perhaps that’s because I’ve been actively involved in the online community from the start. I’m not a Twitter person–I’m not sure I’m interesting enough to update folks 24 hours about my life–but I’ve found that Facebook is a good place to be. There’s a great sense of community there, and I can keep in touch with my readers more easily than with my website, which is very passive. Not that I don’t use my website a lot. I try to see what visitors are interested in and give them more of that. The puzzles, for instance, are a big hit. I also do newsletters around publication and I have lots of contests that people seem to love.
“Slaughter” can’t possibly be your real last name, right?
It really is. I guess it’s a good thing I’m not writing romances!