by Kurt Anthony Krug
In her latest mystery-thriller “Pieces of Her,” New York Times-best-selling novelist Karin Slaughter wanted to explore the differences between two generations of women.
In the first chapter, Laura Cooper, a 50-something speech pathologist, is celebrating her daughter Andrea’s 31st birthday at a restaurant in a mall when a gunman comes in and opens fire. Laura effortlessly takes down the shooter as Andrea looks on in horror and amazement, seeing a side to her mother she’s never seen before. It turns out that Laura has been laying low for the past 30 years, hoping that people from her past won’t find her – successfully up until then.
“That’s really a springboard for the rest of the novel,” said Slaughter, 47, of Atlanta. She signed Pieces of Her (William Morrow $27.99) on Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Kent District Library in Comstock Park.
Slaughter continued: “The simple question is: Who is this person? Because Andrea has in her mind – ‘This is my mom. She’s a speech therapist. She’s divorced from my dad. She was at my school plays.’ And suddenly there’s this other side to her mother that she never knew existed and she realizes Laura has been lying to her entire life. She has this deep, dark past no one knows about.”
A day later, an intruder who’s spent the last 30 years looking for Laura finally tracks her down and shoots her. Andrea must try to discover her mother’s secret past and stay a step ahead of sinister forces who are now gunning for her.
“The further away Andrea gets away from Laura, the more she has to grow up. Her safety net – her parents – is taken away from her very early in the novel. She can’t call them. She can’t email them or reach out to them in any way because it’s too dangerous. For the first time in her life, she’s really completely on her own – emotionally and physically. As she gets further along, she has to make decisions about her life. In a lot of cases, she’s making life and death decisions,” explained Slaughter.
When Slaughter begins writing a novel, she knows how it will end.
“I have to know where I’m going, so that part is very carefully planned,” she said. “The stuff in between is the fun of writing, figuring out where the twists and turns are. The readers assume you’ll go left, then you go right – I love that part. That’s the trickery of it. I love knowing secrets and throwing them out at the right time for the best impact and giving the reader that roller-coaster feeling … The hardest part is always the end. When you first start a book, it’s very exciting and you pour your heart and soul into the first part. I want to make sure the ending is just as fantastic as the beginning. When the reader finishes that last page, I want them to say ‘Wow!’ I hope that ending stays with them long after they finish the book.”
When she broke into print in 2001 with Blindsighted – the first book in the Grant County series, with medical examiner Dr. Sara Linton and her ex-husband Police Chief Jeffrey Tolliver – Slaughter’s novels were considered too “female-centric” for Hollywood.
Nowadays, she has three movie and TV deals. Before Pieces of Her was even published, it had already been optioned as have her two other stand-alone novels The Good Daughter and Cop Town. (She couldn’t talk about these deals since they’re in the early stages of development.)
“I think that maybe we waited long enough where it’s acceptable to have stories about complicated women,” she said. “When I first started out, me, Patricia Cornwall, and Kathy Reichs were [the only women] writing what they call ‘meaty thrillers’… [It] was shocking for the world to know women would be writing about stuff that men normally write about. Early on, one of the things I kept hearing people say was, ‘Wow, you write like a man.’ That’s a compliment.”
Slaughter believes the advent of the #MeToo Movement and the fact that TV series are no longer all weekly stand-alone stories are other factors in her Hollywood deals.
“TV is more about telling long-form stories and the whole idea of bingeing TV shows is acceptable parlance,” she said. “I remember when my Grant County series was optioned, they wanted to change everything and make them stand-alone stories week to week because nobody cared about serialized stories. Now that’s all people care about. The world has changed since I’ve been writing books. There’s so many shows where women are multi-faceted and they’re not just talking about ‘I hope I have a boyfriend’ and they’re not just here to support the man who’s the hero.
It’s really about showing women who they are as opposed to someone’s aspirations of who and what women should be.”
Slaughter will be involved in these three adaptations in some capacity.
“[The creators] have been generous in letting me talk to the writers and producers,” she said. “They see writers as an asset rather than as someone who they’d pay to go away. I feel lucky they’ve involved me in the process.”
Slaughter spoke about the dark tone of her novels. “For a while, people didn’t want to believe that women could think like this... anyone who knows that a woman can give birth can put up with [expletive],” she said, laughing.
According to Slaughter, homicide is always one of the top five causes of mortality.
“I think it’s something women don’t dwell on, but they’re cognizant of it and makes them take inventory of their surroundings,” she said. “It changes their lives in a way men don’t really have. For instance, women are much more careful online than men have to be... Just the language against women can be scary.”
Slaughter continued: “A lot of crimes in the world come from a place of hating women. If you look at a lot of serial killers and school-shooters, their initial rage is focused on women and what they think women should give them. [Sandy Hook shooter] Adam Lanza’s first victim was his mother... I think we should start looking at the way language around women is permitted to be violent.”
Many fellow novelists have praised Slaughter’s work, including attorney-turned-novelist Anthony Franze, a former professor at Michigan State University College of Law and vice president of the International Thriller Writers.
“Karin Slaughter is in that elite group of authors who is loved by readers, adored by critics, and revered by other writers,” said Franze. “Add to that her work to save libraries and she’s bound for literary sainthood. And if you’ve ever been to one of her events, you know she’s both edgy and hilariously funny.”
Hank Phillippi Ryan, author of the upcoming Trust Me, agreed with Franze.
“Karin Slaughter is brilliant, endlessly brilliant,” said Ryan. “She’s not only a devoted writer, constantly challenging herself, and consistently brave, but passionately concerned with making her books not only chilling, but relevant. Plus, if I told you how much fun she is and how hilarious, you might not believe it.”
Detroit native Steve Hamilton, a University of Michigan alumnus and author of the Alex McKnight series – including the recent “Dead Man Running” – called Slaughter a “special kind of warped.”
“She’s like the best living example of how people that you never would suspect would have such stuff going on in her head,” said Hamilton. “I met her at Bouchercon (the world mystery convention) years ago. She was this really nice, smallish young woman who was shy and cool at the same time. She played basketball with us and we became friends. All of this happened before I knew she has this warped mind. I say that with love, of course, because all of us do – anyone who writes this kind of fiction is warped. But hers is a special kind of warped because she writes some pretty dark stuff. She’s really, really good. She started with a splash and just ran with it. She’s a really good writer.”
Slaughter took what Hamilton said as compliment. She said she was looking forward to returning to Michigan last weekend.
“Michigan is one of my favorite places to visit,” she said. “[I]t’s such a funky state because it’s so different. You’d never guess Detroit and Petoskey are in the same state, but they work well together.”
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