Between the Lines With Karin Slaughter

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Before she was a thriller writer, Karin Slaughter owned a sign company. Now she is an internationally bestselling author at the age of 34, with 5 million books in print. Slaughter's writing life is every author's dream, with a book contract in the high seven figures. Her latest novel, Faithless, is guaranteed to keep you nervously biting your nails, on the edge of your seat. The book is the suspense-filled story of a young woman who was buried alive in the Georgia woods, whose body was discovered by Slaughter's favorite characters, medical examiner Sara Linton and her former husband, police chief Jeffrey Tolliver. We caught up with Slaughter by phone at her home in Atlanta, where she was busily packing her suitcase for her 12-city U.S. book tour:

Galley Girl: Do you spook yourself with these plots when you're writing? Does it put you on edge?

Karin Slaughter: Sometimes when I'm thinking about how I'm going to do a plot, how a story's going to turn out, I get a little nervous about it. But ultimately, I'm in control of what's going on in the books, so I can back off, if it's scaring me too much.

GG: How do you come up with these ideas without breaking the law?

KS: Fortunately, it's not illegal yet to think of dastardly things, as long as you don't do them. But a friend of mine who's a crime writer said that we share the same interests as serial killers. We're interested in the law, and crime, and we're not going to back away from looking at a crime-scene photo, or things like that. We're always the person at the front asking, 'Hey, what would happen if the killer did this?' We're always trying to figure out those clues.

GG: Do you read true crime yourself?

KS: I love Ann Rule [the leading true-crime writer, with some 20 New York Times bestsellers]. I like that she makes these people real. I'm not somebody who believes in evil. I think that people do things for a reason—that we have mental illness, that we have genetic wiring that can get triggered by certain environmental factors. I think that it's important to understand how that occurs. Just to put a blanket term on it, and say, 'Well, they're evil'—that doesn't really explain what happens. The fact is real people are committing these crimes, and it could be your neighbor, or the local high-school gym teacher, or whatever. They are real human beings. They had childhoods, they had events in their lives: their first kiss, their prom date, all of this stuff. That's what I'm interested in—the psychological switch in their brain that takes them from being a person like everybody else, and puts them in a position where they can justify a murder or a rape, or all of it combined.

GG: How do you research your books?

KS: I just start thinking about different crimes that I've seen in the news, or that I know about from my childhood. This was a few years before me, but there was a woman named Barbara Jane Mackle, who was an heiress who was kidnapped and buried alive in Duluth, Georgia, which is about 40 minutes from where I grew up. The kidnappers were ransoming her. The FBI finally found this woman, but she was trapped for two or three days, buried alive with a pipe. That's something that's always terrified me, just the idea of being buried alive. I wanted to explore that, and maybe put a little of my own twist on it.

GG: How would you describe your heroine, Sara Linton?

KS: I like that she's not perfect. That's the one thing I would say makes her interesting. Maybe it's because I'm a southerner, but I'm interested in flawed characters. She's not always going to make the right decision; she makes mistakes sometimes. I think that's far more fascinating in literature than some kind of Superwoman, who goes around and plucks a pubic hair from a pillow, and says 'Ah, our offender is a right-handed Caucasian with a harelip.' She's never going to do that kind of thing. She's always going to be kind of in the background of the investigation, and she's Jeffrey's sounding board. She's very much like most of the women I know. GG: How would you describe Jeffrey?

KS: He's a lot like my dad. I love my dad to death, I think he's the best dad in the world, but I would probably kill myself if I was in a relationship with him, because he's just that type of guy. He's going to be thinking of himself first. But guys are raised to think that way, just like women are raised to kind of subvert their feelings. What I think of [Jeffrey] as is this kind of manly man, but he does have a sensitive side that he only shows to Sara.

GG: And how would you describe your genre?

KS: It just depends on what country I'm in. I'm sold as a literary writer in Holland; I'm sold as crime fiction in England; and a thriller [author] here. I think of it as just literature. To Kill a Mockingbird — that's crime fiction. That's a murder story. Snow Falling on Cedars. Oliver Twist. What's more violent than a bludgeoned prostitute? A lot of novels use crime as a stepping stone to talk about greater issues. So I just think of myself as a writer.