By James W, Sunday 11th November 2018
Karin Slaughter is truly a global superstar when it comes to crime fiction. Her work has been translated into 37 different languages and sold over 35 million books! In Episode 5 of Written in Blood, Karin introduces Simon to the case of Casanova Killer Paul John Knowles, a spree killer who terrorised the US, and who came within a few miles of Karin's home. Her she chats about this and her writing career.
CBSR: Was there one writer or person in your life who inspired you to become a writer?
KS: My biggest hero was my ninth grade English teacher, Ms. Bennett. She was the first adult who told me, “you’re a good writer, but you could be better.” Up until that point, I had heard plenty of the first part of that sentence and I was a bit of an arrogant ass about my skills. Ms. Bennett put novels and short stories in my hands that helped mold me into a better story teller. She understood intrinsically that talent is either there or not, but mastery comes from studying the craft. The idea that you can hone that talent, that you can use your words to make people feel and think and laugh and understand, was completely new to me. In the Good Daughter, I was actually thinking about Ms. Bennett when I wrote the character of Gamma, because she, too, was an opinionated woman, and kind of bossy, and very intimidating, but once you earned her respect, you felt like you were worth something. Unfortunately, Ms. Bennett passed away last year, but I still hear her voice in my head every time I start a new story. For a writer, the one measure of our skill that counts is to be even better the next time. Whenever I start a story, I have it in my head that my only goal is to make sure that the book I deliver to my readers is better, different, more interesting than the book that came before. I have my teacher to thank for that.
CBSR: Can you recall your feelings when you saw your first novel in print and on sale in stores?
KS: Well, I think the big fear was that it was ONLY at that store. Then I started touring and saw it at other stores and thought, “phew.”
CBSR: Does real life tend to inspire your work, or do ideas just come to you?
KS: With most books, I have no idea where the inspiration comes from. Generally, it’s a “what if” moment. That’s what gets me going: answering the what ifs. Though I have a lot of access to real-life cases, I never take one in its entirety and put it in a book. I always remind myself that these crimes happen to real people, and I need to honor that fact, not exploit it. So, I pick and choose different details from different cases and blend them together. That being said, there is nothing a fiction author can come up with that hasn’t been done before in real life—usually far more horrifically.
CBSR: Do you have a strict writing regime?
KS: When I’m ready to work on a story, I drive two hours outside of Atlanta to the Blue Ridge Mountains, where I have a cabin that my father built for me. I wish I could say that I have a very balanced day when I’m working, but all I do is get up in the morning, start writing, then stop writing when I can’t see or think anymore. Sometimes, that can be 12 or 16 hours (with naps in between) and sometimes that can be four hours (with more naps) but I’ve always been better in isolation. My dad lives right up the road, so sometimes I’ll open my front door in the morning and he’s left me soup and cornbread to make sure I’m eating. I don’t understand how people can work in coffee shops or, worse, be in the middle of a chapter and just stop. I suppose part of it is my obsessive/compulsiveness. I’m completely incapable of not finishing something I start.
CBSR: In your episode of Written In Blood, you talk about the crimes of Paul John Knowles, which took place close to your home. What effect(s) did this have on the local community?
KS: You know, I can’t say exactly what effect his crimes had on the community, as I was very young when this happened. What I can tell you is how the story strikes me. Like Ted Bundy, Knowles was handsome, so the media nicknamed him the Casanova killer. The original "Casanova" has been recycled into an adjective for a romantic ladies man but in actuality, Casanova himself was a kidnapper and rapist, and bragged about drugging women, gang raping them, and basically doing whatever he wanted with them. This is not a romantic character but a criminal, a predator who is about control and violence at the expense of his female victims. The overall arc and mythology of the Casanova character pretty much represents the male villains in my books. The world would be a very different place if all men respected all women.
CBSR: Having sold over 35 million books, does it add a certain pressure when you start writing a new book?
KS: Not really, because at the end of the day I am just a storyteller trying to tell a good story. I never think about my readers when I’m writing. I love it when they’re there when I finish writing—that’s fantastic--and I like hearing from them and reading their questions, but I never think about them when I’m writing. What that first chapter is, is something to make me interested. It’s sort of like, there are two kinds of cat toys: one is battery operated and it moves, and the ones that are static. I’ve always been drawn to the sparkly, movey things. That pulls me into the book and makes me interested in the story.
CBSR: What else are you working on at the moment?
KS: I’m currently working on the next book in the Will Trent/Sara Linton series, which comes out in 2019!
CBSR: Karin Slaughter, thank you very much.
Episode 5 of Written in Blood is showing on Tuesday 13th November at 10pm.
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