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Karin Slaughter on Modern Signed Books!

Bestselling author Karin Slaughter discusses The Kept Woman on the Modern Signed Books podcast.

Episode transcript (also available as a PDF):
Intro: Welcome to Modern Signed Books. If you're interested in what makes your favorite authors tick, then you'll love hearing what they have to say in our interviews. Learn how they got started writing, the books and authors that inspired them, and much more. Meet today's hottest authors as they discuss their lives and writing with our book specialist, Roger Nichols. Don't forget to pick up a copy of your favorite books at Here's Roger.

Rodger Nichols: Welcome to Blog Talk Radio. Our guest today is one of the premier writers of crime fiction. Karin Slaughter burst onto the scene back in 2001 with Blindsided, which became an international success. Published in almost 30 languages. Short-listed for the Crime Writers Association Dagger Award for best thriller debut.

Since then, she's sold more than 35 million copies of her books, which include the highly popular Will Trent and Grant County Series, and since then she's joined the two, the latest, featuring Will Trent and Sara Linton, The Kept Woman, now in mass market edition. Very pleased to welcome Karin Slaughter.

Karin Slaughter: Good morning.

Rodger Nichols: What a delight. Now I'm going to have to do something I never do. I'm going to unlock the storage room where I keep the superlatives and simply say that the prologue to The Kept Woman is flat-out the single most chilling introduction I have ever read in my whole life. Without spoiling it, at one point you added additional detail to an already highly charged emotional scene that rockets the intensity off the charts and sets up a desperate struggle.

Then, you shift to the first chapter and Will Trent is worrying about something as mundane as having his dog's teeth cleaned. It's like waking up from a nightmare to boring normalcy. It's very fascinating.

Karin Slaughter: Well thank you very much. I worked very hard on that transition. I always feel like there needs to be some kind of shock in the beginning of the book that grabs the reader and pulls them into the story. Generally, my pattern with Will Trent is he's doing something mundane like you talked about, or he's very happy in his life, everything's going great, and he gets pulled into something awful and definitely what happens in that first opening is really awful.

Rodger Nichols: When I first read it, I grabbed the book and I went in the other room where my wife was and I said, "Let me read you this, but sit down first." She had the same reaction. Then of course I had to fight her for the rest of the book but that's a whole other situation going on. I know you love hearing stories like that because it means that you've done your job as a writer superbly.

Karin Slaughter: Absolutely.

Rodger Nichols: Thank you. When I had an opportunity to talk to you back in 2014 for Cop Town, you said a crime fiction writer's job is to hold a mirror up to society. As society gets stranger and more stressful, does that make the job easier or harder?

Karin Slaughter: Well I think it's two sides of the same coin. As a crime writer, things being harder makes my job easier. But as a human being, of course I'm pretty appalled by stuff I see going on. But you know, I think when I write a story, what I really concentrate on is not so much the crime but how this crime affects people personally, emotionally and communities at large. What does this say about us?

I definitely think I'm still trying to hold up that mirror. Especially with The Kept Woman where I'm talking about domestic violence. I just want to show people this is why sometimes women and men make that choice to stay in an abusive relationship and the consequences for them if they try to extricate themselves.

Rodger Nichols: Yeah, and there are actually multiple examples of that where a number of people in there have been abused in multiple ways, including Will of course.

Karin Slaughter: Absolutely. You know, I always remind people who are concentrating on the love triangle between Will and Sara and Angie, who is Will's soon-to-be ex-wife, that Angie's pretty horrible. She's abusive to him. She treats him very badly. She jerks his emotional strings around. She's just not a nice person. But also, she is a person and there is a reason she is that way and that's why I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about what her life looks like. Both she and Will grew up in the foster care system. They both experienced some horrific things.

At some point in his life when Will is an adult, he told himself okay, well this bad stuff happened but I'm going to try to be a good person. Angie is a counterbalance to that because she said this bad stuff happened and I'm going to punish everybody and I'm going to do whatever it takes to survive no matter who it hurts. Sometimes that person she hurts the most is Will.

Rodger Nichols: Yeah. You make a point in the story someplace, it says that Angie is the only person in Will's life to have been there for 30 years.

Karin Slaughter: Exactly. Will did not have a family. Angie was the one who was always his safety net in some ways. The fact is, she did save him but then she turned around and punished him for needing to be saved. It's a very abusive relationship. It's very manipulative. I don't know if I think that he loves her, but I think that he thinks he needs her. Sometimes that's even worse than love.

Rodger Nichols: It's an addiction of a particularly horrible kind because it's very hard to shake.

Karin Slaughter: Exactly.

Rodger Nichols: One of the things I enjoy about your writing is you have these little telling character reveals. Faith Mitchell is driving along and she's texting while driving and your comment is that she's being one of those cops who only saw infractions in other people. I think that's a great little character reveal.

Karin Slaughter: Well, you know, that comes from being around some cops who are exactly like that. It's a slippery slope, right, because you don't want police officers deciding what's right and wrong and who gets to do right and who gets to do wrong. You know, I think we all have that ability in ourselves.

We've all been in the grocery store and we've taken a grape and eaten a grape without paying for it or we've been speeding home. Which is breaking the law, you know? If you're speeding and said to ourselves, "Well I need to get there. I'm just speeding because I have a good reason." Faith is definitely one of those people who can justify her actions.

Rodger Nichols: You know, I want to go back a bit in your background. You said in the previous interview that you were always drawn to crime fiction. When other people are reading these much less or maybe less frightening and safe books, you're reading Anne Rule and Helter Skelter. You also lived in Atlanta at the time of the Atlanta child murders, so do you have any concern about that or is it something you glory in?

Karin Slaughter: You know, I don't have a concern about it. I just think it's part of how I'm made. When my grandmother was alive, she loved this magazine called True Crime Magazine.

Rodger Nichols: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Slaughter: Which is just basically snuff porn. I mean it's horrible things happening to women. You read it and you are afraid to leave the house. But she loved that magazine and she read it every week, but she was ashamed that she did and so she head it under her chest of drawers. I think probably a lot of people have that interest in crime and in the darker side of things, but the difference now is no one's making us feel ashamed about it. I think CSI and shows like that had a bit to do with it because you could finally admit that you were interested in crime and crime stories.

Rodger Nichols: There's a lot of nifty bunch of bits of police procedural stuff in here too and I learned some stuff about that actually, how you work an Eldon card for instance. I've heard about them but you go through the detail on how they work that and how they set it up. That's fascinating. Whether you're interested in crime or not, that's still fascinating.

Karin Slaughter: Well you know, I try to write the kind of book that I want to read and I try not to get bogged down in the forensics too much. I want to just give an overview of it. That was a lot of fun to look into. I talk to police officers all the time and other agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and honestly, they've been a font of knowledge for me and I think people want to know those details because they want to feel like they're in the middle of investigating a crime themselves and try to figure out what the clues point to and what's really going on.

A lot of people will try to solve it before the character does, which is fine with me. I mean I want to play fair with my reader and I always put all the clues out front and if they put it together, that's great. If they don't, either way I hope they still keep reading to figure out how Will finds out what happened.

Rodger Nichols: It does, it does. A couple of other things that I noticed first is I learned about uremic frost, which I'd never heard of before, and the fact that Luminol only works once and you have to catch it before it goes away. That's fascinating too.

Karin Slaughter: Yeah. There was a Lifetime movie years ago where some parents went to sleep in the bedroom of their son who was accused of murder and they said, "Oh, he's innocent. He's innocent," and then they went to bed in the bedroom where the son had killed his wife and they turn off the lights and the walls glow with blood splattered Luminol. But it's a chemical reaction. It only happens once. It happens very quickly. Those are one of the many details that I pick up when I talk to forensics people.

Everyone has something that they're sort of a quasi expert in and it really annoys them when people will show Luminol just glowing all the time. I thought, well you know, this is the common myth. Let me explode that. I like doing that for my readers. I like for them to understand what really happens and also it gives them some insight as to why every crime doesn't get solved, because it's not always easy.

Of course, in my books every crime gets solved, but in real life a lot of times the cops know exactly who did it, but they don't have the proof. Proof is what really makes the case.

Rodger Nichols: Yeah. There's so many layers to this particular novel and so many interesting and complex characters and the interaction between them. I mean, every situation is complicated because you start out with an ex-cop being found dead but he's found dead in this partly completed big giant complex that's owned by one of these sports stars and of course it's surrounded by a phalanx of lawyers you describe as interchangeable Bond villains. It's all wonderfully layered and complex. Again, it's the kind of book that we love to read. This is maybe why you're doing so well out there.

Karin Slaughter: Well you know, I think that crime writers have always held up American society and said, "Hey this is what's going on." Really, the genesis of this book was, as I live in Atlanta where a lot of athletes live, a lot of very wealthy athletes, their wealthy agents and wealthy lawyers have houses here, I wanted to talk about something that I was seeing happening, which is a lot of athletes were being accused of doing horrible things. In some cases, they probably absolutely did it, but unlike a lot of people they had a lot of money. They were able to hire lawyers and support staff who could get them out of trouble.

Rodger Nichols: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Slaughter: That's something that happens more often than not. We hade a spate of cases like that in Atlanta where the police were just outgunned because they didn't have the money for the experts, for the lab stuff that was done. Then there's an external pressure that happens when athletes are accused of doing horrible things where their fans come in and they vilify the accuser and they turn the press against the accuser. There's just a pattern to it that I saw over and over again and I wanted to just talk about that in my books.

Rodger Nichols: You did very well in this one because ...

Karin Slaughter: Thank you.

Rodger Nichols: A whole lot of stuff, as I say, going on there. There's so many nice little details. I mean, you mentioned once that, just kind of in passing, that Will had worked at a grocery once and the walk-in where they kept the frozen foods was not dissimilar to the mortuary he goes to visit.

Karin Slaughter: Yeah. That probably makes people reconsider where they buy their meat.

Rodger Nichols: It probably does. Can I check the provenance of this particular steak, please? On a more serious side, there is a page where you describe Sara's feelings when she looses her husband and having been through that, having lost my first wife, I identified with it so strongly, I'm wondering if perhaps you had a similar experience.

Karin Slaughter: Well I had lost my mentor, my ninth grade English teacher. Obviously I'm not in ninth grade anymore. I won't do the math and let people figure out how old I am. But it's been a while. We were very close and a few years ago she passed away and it really threw me for a loop. She had cancer and the loss of her is something I think that I brought to the books. I think it's important to talk about that kind of loss.

In some ways, a lot of people want to put a time limit on it or they want to talk about other things. They don't really know how to help someone get through that. Honestly, it's something I think you have to get through yourself. But I will say that a friend of mine said to me, "You know, your relationship with her doesn't end when she dies. In many ways it continues." I think that's true.

I think Sara having gone through this horrible thing of losing a man who was, she thought, the love of her life, it's something that I wanted to talk about because I talk about people dying all the time in my novels, but I wanted to talk about what that does on a personal level to someone.

Rodger Nichols: Again, that's the similar sort of thing as your thought about what crime does to people. What do these major events or things happening, how do they react to them, how does it affect their lives, how does it change things?

Karin Slaughter: Absolutely. I think all good crime novels do that. Even novels they don't call crime novels because people who think they're really smart love them. You know, if you think about Gone with the Wind or The Great Gatsby, there are myriad examples of novels that endure in the American and English cannon that really are crime stories. To Kill a Mockingbird, you can't get more crime-y than a courtroom drama and a man falsely accused of rape who's eventually murdered. Spoiler alert.

Rodger Nichols: Yeah.

Karin Slaughter: I think it's really important to talk about crime in our society and really investigate what it does to us on an individual level and every book I write has something to do with that.

Rodger Nichols: When you go to see your friends in the police, the people you've worked with and got information from, do they feel comfortable in opening up with you now or sharing that information?

Karin Slaughter: I think they do. The great gift of some of them is that they're retired, so they can say whatever they want. They're not really telling me anything top secret information like that. But like any job, there are politics involved. The agents and the police officers who are retired are a little more free about their opinions.

But I think it's really important, in my work at least, that Will is a good guy. We have myriad examples of people doing bad things and cops doing bad things. You can't turn on and watch the news a week without seeing something awful happen. I want to show that Will is a good guy. He tries to do well. He doesn't want to cross lines, he wants to stick to the law. You know, even when that works to his detriment, he really thinks it's important that he be better than the bad guys and not stoop to doing the things that they do.

Rodger Nichols: That's a wonderful lesson for all of us I suspect out there as well.

Karin Slaughter: Absolutely.

Rodger Nichols: One final thought, quick question. Can we take a peek behind the curtain and see what you're working on next?

Karin Slaughter: My next novel is out August 22. That's called The Good Daughter. It doesn't have Will Trent, but I hope people like it anyway. It's about a family of lawyers. I know what you're thinking. How did I not just kill all of them in the first chapter? But hopefully people will like them and be interested in what happened.

Rodger Nichols: Should be great. There have been some great legal dramas out there as well. Our guest this morning has been the amazing Karin Slaughter and the book, The Kept Woman, is one of the finest I've ever read. I really appreciate it and I highly recommend it. Thanks so much for spending time with us today.

Karin Slaughter: Thank you.