“Writing a Book Should Never Be Easy”: Scott Butki Interviews Karin Slaughter

9780062858085_d69dfWith her 19th novel Karin Slaughter continues writing fast-paced action stories with excellent plots and fascinating characters. After writing some books about Will Trent and some about Sara Linton in recent years she’s combined them, meaning both characters are in the same books. Sara is a medical examiner and Will, her boyfriend, is an investigator with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

In this one Karin starts the book with a great twist, Will and Sara try to help strangers at a crime scene and he gets hurt and she gets kidnapped, becoming part of a crew that has already kidnapped another woman. Great plots and character insights follow.

I first read and interviewed Karin about 9 years ago and I was struck by the amount of violence in her books. So I asked a possibly sexist question, namely, Why so much violence? It’s a question she gets asked a lot and she has a perfectly reasonable response: If women are more often the victims of violence why shouldn’t female writers be addressing that.

Karin was kind enough to let me interview her again, by email, for her excellent new book, The Last Widow.

Scott Butki: How did you come up with this story, which starts with the big twist of Sara Linton being kidnapped?

Karin Slaughter:  When I began working on this book I knew I wanted this story to put Will and Sara in the most scary and vulnerable situation imaginable. I’ve spent so much time bringing them together that I thought it would be interesting to see what happens to them when they are forced apart. That was the seed and the rest grew from there.

S: Do you want readers to start at the beginning of your series or can they start with this book?

K: Absolutely they can start with The Last Widow. I purposely write my books in a way that readers can start with any book and be able to easily fall into the story. But if they are OCD, like me, they probably will want to begin at the beginning, anyway. My hope is that new readers will start with The Last Widow, and if they like it they’ll go back and read the other books in the series.

S: As the press release for this book notes, you often have “strong themes of female empowerment” and have an “incredible skill for holding a mirror up to society to explain what is going on in the world.”  How do you go about putting those themes in? Is that something that goes in as you write the early drafts?

K: I think it is much more organic, and really just about my life experience. I know the challenges that I and my female friends face, and I write from that experience. There are just some things that men don’t have to deal with—I’m not talking about the “known” issues like misogyny and harassment (though men can be harassed, too). There’s so much more to being a woman, and as writers, we are very good at knowing what scares other women. We know what a struggle it is to just be a woman in the world.

S: What do you hope readers will take away from this and your other books?

K: I always hope readers just have a great time reading, and find something that thrills them. I read for fun, and I know how transporting a great book can be. I try to deliver that experience every time.

S:  I see that one of your standalone novels, Pieces of Her, is going to be an 8-part Netflix adaptation? What is that like to imagine your book becoming a TV production?

K: It’s a bit surreal. I don’t really have ideas about what the characters look like and sound like as I’m writing them—they’re just there in my head. But thinking that something I created in my pajamas alone in my cabin being interpreted for the screen is bizarre. In a good way, though! The team at Made Up Stories is tops and the writer is amazing. I know that their vision for this is really well-thought out and designed to honor what I’ve put on the page. I feel like the story is in very capable hands.

S: What do you like about writing a story in this series versus standalone novels? What do you like about doing the standalones?

K: Standalone and series novels each have their own challenges; it seems like it would be easier to write a Will Trent book because I’ve known him and I’ve written about Sara from the very beginning. But the challenge is to say new things about them that aren’t surprising, like suddenly Will loves to collect civil war memorabilia, and you never knew that. I have to figure out ways to make them interesting to people. But when I’m doing a standalone the big challenge is, for example, when I did The Good Daughter, I go back and read it from the beginning and say, “O.K. is the Charlie you see at the end of this novel believable as a Charlie in the beginning?” Whatever they go through has to make sense for their personality. I don’t want someone who is very timid to be kicking butt at the end; I want her journey, for lack of a better word, to make sense. That’s sometimes more challenging in a novel because as you’re writing this character you are getting to know them as well.

S: I interviewed you once before, way back in 2010. It is great to be able to touch base with you again. In between that and this interview you wrote many more best-sellers. Is it getting easier or harder to write new books?

K: Oh yeah, I remember that! Isn’t that one of the great things about this business, you get to be a part of a kind of community, right? But writing a book should never be easy. If anything, the more I write, the harder and more challenging it gets because I learn something new with each book. If there’s an easy part, it’s that I have a lot more resources now. If I need to talk to a cop about how to commit the perfect murder, she’s not going to put me on a watch list. I hope.

S:  I read a piece where you interviewed Will Trent. Was that fun to write?

K: It was a lot of fun to write. My audio publisher is actually turning this into an audio piece which I’ll post on my website and social media. The interviewer will be my regular audio book narrator, Kathleen Early. I really hope people like the narrator they chose for Will Trent. It will be a good little test run.

S: Can you tell me about your Save the Libraries? What is it and how can people help?

K: Save the Libraries Foundation was started in 2008 when the economy went to the toilet. I am someone who has always toured libraries and I noticed that some of my favorite librarians were no longer there. They’d been asked to retire or their hours had been cut back. I noticed just in my own community that the hours were cut at the local branch and we had a lot of kids on the street that would normally be in the library. And, I thought, this is something I feel very strongly about because as a child the library was my haven. I will say part of that is because it was the only air conditioned building in town, but they had a lot of books too. I just thought, we have to do something about this; I talked to a bunch of friends of mine who are authors and we all feel this way. You can talk to Lee Child, Mike Connelly, Neil Gaiman, Laura Lippman, just a cast of any authors and they’ll tell you the libraries were probably the most important thing they had when they were growing up. We all decided, well, we need to give back. I did a fundraiser in my library system in Dekalb county and we had Kathryn Stockett and Mary Kay Andrews come in. I also partnered with the Indigo Girls to do a concert in Atlanta to raise funds. We did block grants to libraries around the country, actually around the world, because we did some in Europe and some in England. We said if you have a need, here’s some money, you know what you need, buy what you need and so far we have given away over $300,000.

S: What are you working on next?

K: I’m working on a new Sara and Will book for 2020!

You can order your copy of Karin Slaughter’s latest, The Last Widow, now.

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