Sunday, July 03, 2011

Karin Slaughter at the Poisoned Pen

When Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen Bookstore, introduced Karin Slaughter, she mentioned that Karin had just left New Orleans' heat and humidity for Arizona's 113 degrees. Karin admitted she had complained about New Orleans heat, and people at the American Library Association conference talked about the city's rich culture, and that they were helping New Orleans come back. Karin said she didn't care; it was still hot.

Barbara said she and Karin actually met a year before Karin's first book came out, and they've been promoting all of her books. So, she asked her how things have changed for her since that time. Karin's first response was to say, obviously she is not a better dresser. And, she can now talk without a voice tremor. She kept her life normal. She didn't want to lose touch with the person she was. She had a goal and a dream to be a published writer. Karin feels her stories are successful if she feels good about them. "Is this book as good as I can write it?" And, she wants the next one to be even better.

Karin told us people are always coming up to her and asking her if she remembers them from school. She even had one woman say they went to kindergarten together. She said she always remembered Karin because their teacher asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, and she thought the two of them were the only two who successfully achieved their dreams, saying, "You wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to be divorced from a wealthy man." Karin said, "Sheila!"

Barbara said what she really meant when she asked how things had changed was in the life of a writer. At one time, publishers did all the marketing, and writers could go right back and start work on the next book. Nowadays, they expect authors to tour and most of their own promotion. Karin answered that even Dickens gave readings. She said Shakespeare would have Tweeted. She admitted with Facebook and Twitter, it's a balancing act. But, she remembers her first Bouchercon when she had to read from one of her stories. It was a horrible experience. She knew she had to get better because those authors who tour and look at it as a business are more successful.

According to Barbara, publishers expect authors to write, and do publicity. The personal connection is becoming more important. Publishers are taking a harder line, expecting the authors to do face time. People want to touch the celebrity. Then, she said Karin had done a worldwide Facebook campaign, telling people to contact Poisoned Pen to buy her book, Fallen, and she would sign it. But, the server for Poisoned Pen changed that day, and Peters had eighty emails saying people couldn't get to the website. Slaughter's fans are global, and her books have been published all over the world.

Karin does travel a lot to promote her books. She said there's nothing like being at a Danish crime festival outside a prison with someone singing Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" in Danish. She doesn't know that she wants to go back to Singapore, though. She learned not every place has western toilets, and she doesn't have the leg muscles to use them. She loves Australia. Fallen came out there first. And, this is the first time the book was published in the U.S. before the U.K.

So, before discussing Fallen, Barbara Peters wanted to apologize again to Karin's global fans, but said they had caught up, and Karin signed their books. The first thing she wanted to say about Fallen is that it's a blend of Sara Linton and Will Trent. They both have a lot of baggage, and a potential future.

Karin said her characters are real people to her. When she sits down to write about them, their voice comes back. She learns new things about her characters as she writes.

In this book, Will is starting to have a new life. He has a crappy wife. Karin told us she was really tired of reading books in which women had crappy husbands, so she wrote a book with a man in a really bad relationship. She's watching him try to extricate himself.

Faith Mitchell is probably the most like Karin, though. She's cranky, and Karin is too. She has no patience with stupidity. She saw the same thing twice on this book tour. She saw men in the airport take off their shoes, and clip their toenails. She wanted to contact their mothers. On her Baltimore flight, she had been upgraded to first class, but the man beside her was dipping stuff and spitting into a bottle. Then, he went to leave it behind when they were getting off the plane, and Karin gave him "That look," and he picked it up. Faith probably would have chased him down the aisle, and thrown it at him, which was Karin's first inclination. Barbara felt that when people starting dressing down in society, they lost courtesy.

Faith has an interesting mother. Fallen includes Evelyn's backstory, and Karin liked writing it. Faith was in high school when she got pregnant. Like a girl Karin went to school with, she was ostracized, and couldn't stay in school. So, she was brought close to her mother at an age when girls normally hate their mothers. Faith was pregnant at fourteen, a single mom at fifteen, and then again at thirty-three. The second time, though, there wasn't the same stigma about being a single mom.

Mothers and daughters have complicated relationships, and Karin resisted writing about it. When Barbara mentioned Faith's bad taste in men, Karin said women cops tend to have boyfriends they can take care of. The men are wounded and need taken care of, and then the women get pissed off that the men are that way. They want it both ways.

Her next book, Criminal, will be partially set in 1975. She talked to a lot of women cops in doing her research. Once they retired, they really dish the dirt. In this book, she tries to talk about how women tear each other down. She quoted H.L. Mencken as saying, "A misogynist is a man who hates women as much as other women do." The 1975 part of Criminal is Amanda Wagner's story. She had to put up with a lot to get to where she is, and, then she kicked any women who wanted to follow her.

Karin thinks male writers are writing more complex female characters. She uses Lee Child as an example. His character, Jack Reacher, may have tender sex with a woman, but then they both grab their 9mm, and go out together the next day. Slaughter's women aren't superheroes. But, she put Sara, and Faith, and Will on an equal footing.

Barbara liked the older women in Fallen, and the complex family issues. She liked Will Trent, and what he's evolving into. This is a transformational book for him.

Slaughter said, in Broken, Faith and Will have a conversation. Will tells her he only has two testicles; Amanda has one, and my wife had the other. If you want one, you'll have to fight for it. Will is learning to pick his battles. He fights more in Fallen, which shocks Amanda. His life is changing. According to Karin, that's the fun of writing characters, watching them come off the shelf.

She knew when she wrote about Sara Linton in Indelible that Sara would meet Will some day. Unlike other people, she sees his dyslexia as just a part of him like the color of his eyes or hair.

Will Trent first appeared in Triptych. Asked if she saw him as a continuing character then, Slaughter answered that she always intended him as a series character. She had things mapped out for him. He changes a lot because of Faith, who he met for the first time in Fractured. But, don't think their future together is certain. Karin also said Triptych was the only book in which Angie's viewpoint is heard. She thinks she read Flowers in the Attic too much when she created Angie's relationship with Will.

Barbara told Slaughter that many authors are at a disadvantage when they write police procedurals because their character is limited to one jurisdiction. Karin agreed, saying that's why Will is an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He can move around the state. Georgia has 159 counties. By law, the legislature is not allowed to make any more counties.

There are distinct pockets of the state for crime. For instance, Dalton, Georgia is the carpet capital of the world. There are also more pedophiles in Dalton than anywhere else in the country. Slaughter said she wants to set a future book in Macon. That city is rife with crime. Atlanta is cosmopolitan. It's sucked in many of the surrounding communities. Karin grew up in Jonesboro. It was forty-five minutes away from Atlanta, a small town. At that time, if you went to Atlanta, you didn't want to be there at night. Now, Jonesboro is just part of the large community around Atlanta.

For Atlanta, 1975, part of the time frame for Criminal, was a pivotal year. Maynard Jackson was mayor, one of only two black mayors in the country at the time. He didn't care about race. He dragged the city up, making it pro-business. He made the city modern. When Peters said, it's always been said, if you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere, but for African-Americans, it's always been, if you can make it in Atlanta, Slaughter agreed. She's been talking to Vernon Jordan in doing research for Criminal. There was so much opportunity for blacks in Atlanta. In fact, Will Trent is a minority in Atlanta. There are more white women than men in Atlanta. Will had to learn to adapt, but in researching those who grew up in state care, Karin said that's a trait many share, adaptability.

Barbara asked Karin about a cabin where she writes. Karin's father built a cabin for her in northern Georgia. When she goes there, she writes for 12-15 hours a day for a couple weeks in a row. The few people who have her phone number know not to call her.

Barbara told us that Karin's characters come together in Fallen, and she found it enthralling.

Karin was asked about her background after college, and she said she owned a sign company. Peters thought she was in advertising, but Slaughter said, no, she didn't design signs. She actually dropped out of college, and she was painting houses, working on an all-women crew. She told us she was never so sexually harassed. When there was an opening at a sign company, she took that job. Six months later, she was managing the company, and then she started her own. She was fairly successful.

But, Slaughter had always wanted to write, since the time she was six. She sold the company so she could concentrate on writing, with the intention to be published by the time she was thirty. Karin had a book deal at twenty-nine, and the book was published when she was thirty. Peters was surprised, and Karin said she actually fired herself. Other writers had similar experiences. Lee Child lost his job, and decided to write. Peters mentioned Mary Higgins Clark was widowed, and had children to support. Karin said those circumstances force you to sit down and write. She tells people that you don't choose to write. Writing chooses you.  And, writers have to keep reading. Reading trains the mind.

Karin was asked if there was any interest in her books from TV. She is working with a producer right now to try to turn the Grant County books into a series. She co-wrote the pilot, and now they're going to see if anyone wants it. She also mentioned a novella, "Martin Misunderstood," that she's hoping will be filmed next year.

In mentioning her novella, Slaughter said, the Dutch government, unlike some other governments, knows how important it is that people read. Every year they sponsor one person to write a novella, and subsidize it. They distributed over one million of Slaughter's novella in one month.

Peters asked why the British are so interested in Grant County. Karin's theory is that there are so many small villages in England. The Grant County stories are universal, with town busybodies and other people that are easily recognizable. She said southern writers do well internationally.

One question was about a book called Like a Charm. Karin edited it, and it was a story collection. Each story stands on its own, but they all dealt with a charm bracelet. Each author left the charm bracelet someplace, some in disgusting places, and the next author had to say where they found it. The book is hard to find. Peters said story collections that go out of print quickly benefit from e-books. They can sometimes be found in that format.

I asked Karin to talk about the Save the Libraries initiative. She said libraries are in danger. A couple years ago she went to a PLA (Public Library Association) meeting, only to find about half the normal attendance. The funding just wasn't there for librarians to attend. Everyone in the audience at the Poisoned Pen loves reading. A child who reads builds pathways in their brain. Children with strong cognitive pathways do better in school.

Libraries are vital tools. Philadelphia Public Library showed that for every $1 spent in a library, $5 is returned to the community. So, Karin started Save the Libraries. They did their first fundraiser in Atlanta with Kathryn Stockett, who wrote a little book called The Help, and Mary Kay Andrews. They had an online component. She's sure the man who paid $3000 to have his name in a Michael Connelly book didn't care about Atlanta libraries, but he sent the money. They raised $50,000 for Dekalb County. That was the entire amount the Dekalb County Libraries had to buy books for the entire year. Libraries are in need.

Slaughter had just been in Las Vegas. If you want to work at a casino, you need to apply online. Many people need to use library computers for job applications. It's vital that people have access to libraries. Libraries are the great leveler. The next event for Save the Libraries will be at the Boston Public Library with Dennis Lehane, Linda Fairstein, and others. It's easy to get authors to say yes to libraries. As a kid, Karin lived at the library. She was awkward, a reader who wasn't like her sisters, but she felt as if she belonged at the library.

Then she was asked how the digital age has affected her book sales. Karin answered that earnings have changed publishing. For the authors, as content providers, it puts them on a sounder footing. The publishing model is based on what worked during the Depression. Bookstores were sent books, and, they sent back whatever didn't sell. It was the only way they could handle books. Barbara Peters jumped in to say that there are still costs to publishing digitally. Publishers still have to acquire the book, typeset it. There are costs, but digital books don't have to be printed and shipped. Slaughter compared it to dvds and downloads. Someone still has long-term costs. And, she said authors need publishers. The printed book has to support other costs.

Peters said we don't really know how well e-books are doing. We're in a bad economy, and it's cheaper for people to download a 99 cent book, but is it any good, and are they reading it? Amanda Hocking, who had been the largest selling e-book author just signed a print book deal. She was quoted as saying if she wanted to be a billion dollar author, she needed to sell at Walmart.

And, Slaughter said all authors need to be edited. She feels authors get better with a good editor, and she has a great editor.

Peters reminded us there are counter reactions to trends as well. As emails became more popular, there was also an increase in stationery stores. She also said, "For every book you read, there is one you didn't read." She has 340 Advanced Reading Copies for September releases alone.

Karin's final story came when someone in the audience asked her to tell the dog story. Slaughter said Sherry Lang from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation told her some great stories for a crime fiction writer, but some that are terrifying as a human. Sherry was great at her job, so some would call her a bitch. She was called out when a dog found a foot. They have to investigate when human bones are found, but sometimes nothing comes of the investigation. So, this dog, Rascal, had found a left foot, fully intact, with the skin. And, Lang called out the search team, but they didn't find anything. She told the owner to let them know. The next day, she received another call. Rascal had found another left foot. So, they had two intact left feet, but never found a body.

It's the second time I saw Karin Slaughter this year. I'd certainly recommend that anyone who enjoys crime fiction take the opportunity to hear her in person.

Karin Slaughter's website is

Fallen by Karin Slaughter. Random House. ©2011. ISBN 9780345528209 (hardcover), 400p.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

Holy cow, do you ever take good notes! Great recap!

Lesa said...

Thanks, Jill! I try to take good notes, and it's nice when someone has been there, and knows it was pretty accurate.

Liz V. said...

Have read blogs w/ Karen because of her library initiative. Libraries mean so much to so many--to me, as a child when I volunteered and now as a retiree who could not hope to buy all the books I read.

Best wishes to Karen on all her books.

Happy 4th to all.

Kay said...

So wish I could have been there to hear this. Would have loved it. Plus seeing you, Lesa, and meeting Jill. Ah well. Maybe next year.

It was nice hearing Karin's take on her characters and where she might go with them from here.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Liz. You're right. Unfortunately, so many times, politicians responsible for funding libraries don't care that children, the unemployed, and retirees depend on libraries.

Lesa said...

Maybe next year is right, Kay. I'm glad you had the chance to read about her appearance.

Cozy in Texas said...

I stopped by your blog today.

Lesa said...

Thanks, Ann.

London Escort Service said...

Someone really needs to make a movie series of your Grant Country series! Just reread the books yesterday and I still absolutely love it.

Sandra Parshall said...

Karin is one of my favorite writers and Barbara is my editor, so I doubly appreciated your recap of the interview. Thank you!

Lesa said...

Thanks, London ES. Karin's working on getting them made into movies.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Sandra. I'm glad you enjoyed the recap. I try to capture the flavor of the events.

Liz said...

ps: Sorry to have misspelled Karin's name.

Lesa said...

I'm sure she'd forgive you, Liz. Do you know how many times mine has been misspelled?

Karen said...

An amazing post; interesting and entertaining! Thank you!!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Karen! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

caite said...

I am a huge fan of Ms.Slaughter and am full of envy. Would have loved to have been there! Thanks for getting me as close as I could be.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Caite. I'm glad I could give that little bit of closeness.

Mareth1969 said...

Great blog--I was lucky enough to be able to watch it on the webcam and you certainly do write it as it was. I will say I'm a bit jealous you got to see her twice this year! Keep up the great work!