In this exclusive cut of the WD Interview with Karin Slaughter, the author talks about what led to her Save the Libraries nonprofit, social media for authors, and what the future holds for her beloved characters. Read the full WD Interview with Slaughter in the September 2019 issue of Writer’s Digest.
The first thing that strikes you about Karin Slaughter is how down to earth she is. She doesn’t really need to be—she’s a bestselling author, whose crime thrillers have been published in 37 languages, 120 countries, and sold 35 million copies around the globe. Three of her novels are currently in production for film and television.
Slaughter is an incredibly successful writer by any measure. She’s been turning out a novel (or more) per year since her first in 2001. Her primary goal in writing is to give readers the best story she can give them, every time. The popularity of her Will Trent and Grant County series and her four standalone novels attest to this.
Slaughter’s stories grab you by the collar, pull you in, and keep you there until the last page. Her latest, The Last Widow (August 2019), tackles domestic terrorism with the breathlessly paced plot and stunning twists that she is well-known for. It continues the story of her beloved characters Will and Sara. The plot is so current it feels ripped right from cable news.
The author has used her success to give back, too. Her Save the Libraries nonprofit, formed in 2010, has raised over $300,000.
Slaughter sat down with WD to talk about her process, what being a writer means to her, crafting realistic characters, what makes good crime fiction, and how libraries are a critical piece of the social fabric.
You started getting your work picked up for film and television. What’s that been like for and what have you learned out of that process?
It’s really flattering to have that happen, to have people interested in adapting my work. At a very base level as a writer talking to other writers about their ideas and the inspiration they get to tell the story visually as opposed to in words, which is the difference between being a television writer and being a book writer. It has been amazing, the collaboration of it, and I’m excited to see what they come up with. I’ve already read one of the scripts and they have done a really great job of not just drilling into the characters but expanding on them in ways that I couldn’t in the book, because I’m writing a thriller and I have to keep that momentum moving, especially in a book like this. The pace of it is so fast and it’s very different to do that in a book as opposed to doing it on television, because it’s a different language.
When did you know in your bones what your life’s work was going to be?
I always knew I was a writer, but when I knew that I was successful writer, that I was going to be able to do this for a living, that came with my fourth or fifth book. I remember the moment. I’m a very tense person, especially about business stuff. I had been at my editor’s house in London and we’d had a lot of wine and I never drink, I’d much rather eat cupcakes for those kinds of calories. I was in the car on the way back to my hotel thinking, “Wow, I’m in London, I’m a number-one bestseller internationally. I feel so good about myself. I feel successful.” The next morning my editor said, “Did you know the two of us went through four bottles of wine?” That explained why I was able to unclench for two seconds.
To be a writer and to actually have the nerve to call yourself a writer, it’s a challenge.
I never told people before I was published, because I always felt like everybody says they’re a writer and you say, “Oh, what do you write?” And I say, “Oh, I write poetry about my cats” or they’re self-published, back when self-publishing had more stigma attached to it. I didn’t want to call myself a writer to people until I was published. Now, I don’t want to call it because then they’re like, “Oh, you write children’s books” because they just assume as a woman that’s what I’m doing. I thought that I had to be published before I could call myself a writer, before that I just thought, “Oh, you write stories.”
You started a nonprofit, Save the Libraries. Why did you start it and what you do you want to do with it? What do you wish more people knew and understood about libraries and how important they are?
I started it at the economic downturn because so many libraries were suffering, staff were getting fired. I go to ALNA quite a bit and I noticed that the people used to see at these events were no longer attending because they couldn’t afford to, or they’d been fired, or they’d been forced into retirement, or their system didn’t have the money to send them. These conferences also are very, very good for librarians because they learn about the industry, make contacts, there’s important business that goes on So I started looking into it and I realized that a lot of librarians were losing jobs.
In my local system, for instance, they cut library hours, and they usually cut them at the neediest libraries. Right at the time when people couldn’t afford to buy books and they were cutting internet in their houses because it was too expensive, libraries were closing or shutting early so kids had nowhere to go. A lot of kids in rural areas, their only access to the internet is at the library. A lot of people who want to apply for jobs, you have to do it online; if they don’t have any internet at home, there’s no way for them to do it other than the library. It’s a really important institution for people to have. I thought, “Well, let me start this charity and see what authors can do.” I got a lot of authors to do fundraisers. We gave block grants. I donated the proceeds from a short story to the charity. We’ve given around $300,000.
It’s great that more authors are doing this because most of us got our start in the library … From a financial standpoint, it’s really cheap for a community to keep a library open as opposed to spending money in the juvenile justice system when kids get bored and do stupid things. The loss of income from children not having access to reading is massive compared to the little amount it costs to keep the library open.
The library was my savior. If I hadn’t had it to go to, I’m not sure I would have turned out the same way.
Same for me, if I hadn’t had reading in my life, I’m not sure what my life would be.
How do you feel about social media as a writer? It’s kind of a necessary evil—some writers love it, some writers hate it. How do you feel about it?
It’s necessary for writers to be available like that. The trick is finding a balance because I don’t think we need to be too available. To some degree, my readers don’t want to know every detail about me. So, posting about my cats, they’re all over that, and they can get down with how fantastic my cats are. But I’m not going to post political stuff because I don’t want to alienate them. If somebody asked me my opinion face to face, I would tell them, but I don’t think that that’s the forum for me. With the kind of writing I do, it’s clear where my politics lie and I don’t think that that’s the point. If you want to have political discussions on Facebook, there are a myriad of places to do that. As a writer, I think it’s a place to have a little fun, show a quirky side of my personality, because everybody assumes that I sit around thinking about murder are all the time. Mostly it’s cats and cupcakes. But also, I’m a public person so I don’t put private things on that because I’m aware there’s some weird people who might do something with that. But I do think it’s necessary. I’ve always been on social media from the beginning, so I have no problem with it. You just have to be careful because you don’t want to upset people. If somebody likes my books and they love my characters and they’re on my Facebook page, I don’t want to insult them. I’m grateful for them.
What do you see for Will and Sara’s future? Are you going to write more stories? Their love story is so real and complicated and multilayered.
I’ve been writing about Sara since my first novel, so she’s a character that I’ve enjoyed writing for almost 20 years, and the novel that’s coming out next year is another Will and Sarah [story], because I felt really energized by what was happening in The Last Widow and thought of another idea for them. But I do like making their relationship complicated. It’s difficult to write about people who are in love with each other. There’s a reason why the last page of the book is usually “they fall in love and live happily ever after,” because that “happily ever after” is the complicated part. I for a while enjoyed that challenge of writing about people in love with each other but disagree on some things, but still you know they’re not going to break up every other page and back together in the middle. I want to write a real relationship or as real as you can fiction, where they can argue and get really mad at each other, but you know that they still love each other and they’re going to find a way to work it out.