From the Booking Desk:
Last week, I posted my review of Karin Slaughter’s new stand-alone thriller, Pretty Girls. Today, I am very happy to welcome Karin Slaughter to the blog for this launch day interview. Read on and then be sure to pick up this new book as soon as possible.
BOLO Books: Pretty Girls is your first psychological suspense stand-alone. How was your writing process different for this novel?
Karin Slaughter: I had to look at the story in a different way, because I was writing from the point of view of characters who are not cops. With my other novels, I didn’t really grasp how much easier it is to write police officers, because they have a reason to be at crime scenes and interrogate suspects and follow clues. So, writing from Claire and Lydia’s perspective, I had to find believable ways for them to be caught up in the central crime story, and for them to take reasonable steps toward figuring out what was really going on. I didn’t want it to be “two feisty gals solvin’ a mystery!” I wanted it to feel realistic, and for the reader to understand why they were making the choices they make.
Karin Slaughter: I’m the youngest of three girls, so I borrowed heavily from my own life. Claire is the youngest, and as the youngest I can bear witness that the youngest is always the most loved and most beautiful. Unlike me, Claire has contrived her life to make sure that she is taken care of. She doesn’t want indecision. She doesn’t want to have to make difficult choices.
Lydia, on the other hand, is impetuousness defined. She was wild in her earlier years—a singer in a bad girl group, a drug addict—but having a child straightened her out. This pretty much follows my own sister’s journey, because she lost herself to drugs for many years, then woke up one morning and decided that she wasn’t going to live that way anymore.
Then there is Julia, the oldest sister, who went missing when she was nineteen. Her disappearance has really shaped the entire family. Not knowing what happened to her ripped them all apart, and they put themselves back together in different ways.
BOLO Books: A tragic event in Claire’s life is the real starting point for the present day portion of the novel. At what point did you decide to put this key moment early in the book?
Karin Slaughter: I always envisioned the story opening that way. Claire needed something to shake her up, and there’s nothing more earth-shaking than what happens in the first chapter. It turns her world upside down, but it gives her an opportunity to examine who she is and why she does the things she does. That introspection and growth would not come without that tragedy, which is, I suppose what makes it even more tragic.
BOLO Books: Do you outline? And more specifically, did you know in advance that some of the twists in the story were coming or were they as much a surprise to you as they were to the reader?
Karin Slaughter: I don’t outline in the typical sense. I have a “this happens, then this happens, then this happens” narrative in my head, but I don’t follow it one hundred percent. The twists are my favorite part, because I love fooling the reader. So those tend to come very early, and then I find ways to write around them. The most important thing I do when I write a book is go back to the beginning and make sure the characters we meet in the first chapters are believable as the characters we read about at the end. Their emotional journey, their improvement or decline, has to make sense. I also make sure all the beats are there—that when you get to the middle of the book, it feels like you are in the middle of the book. That might seem obvious, but there is a meter to storytelling and I pay close attention to that.
BOLO Books: Claire is often thinking about the complex answers her husband would have given to many of the situations she encounters after his death. She talks about things like dyadic completion and confirmation bias – topics I will admit sent me to the Internet for more information. Were these topics you were already familiar with?
Karin Slaughter: This is the part where I reveal my inner nerd. Yes, I am familiar with these things. What I realized as I wrote Claire was that through Paul, she was familiar with these things, too. Her memory is how I showed the reader that Claire is a very smart person. Yes, she’s a Tennis Wife and she has a rich husband and she spends her day making busy work for herself, but her mind is very sharp, and she has a wicked sense of humor, and I wanted the reader to understand that even though we make snap judgments about stereotypes, every person is uniquely themselves. To dismiss them as a “type” does them (and you) a disservice.
BOLO Books: The narrative of the novel is broken up with some letters from the girls’ father to Julia, the missing daughter. What made you decide to use this method to impart that portion of the tale?
Karin Slaughter: The idea for the letters came late in the process. I was thinking about the overall structure of the novel, and I had this lightning bolt hit me that I needed an anchor of kindness to all the bad things Claire and Lydia discover. Though their father is dead, I needed a way for us to hear from him, to understand what really happened (Claire and Lydia are unreliable about Julia’s disappearance because they were kids) and to fully grasp the sense of loss that wrecked this family. We also get a lot of information about Helen from the father’s letters. Again, Claire and Lydia see Helen as Their Mother, not as this fully developed human being. They don’t understand the choices she made, but Sam does.
BOLO Books: There are multiple references to music throughout the book. This often helps to set the time-period, but I’ll admit to being delighted to see mention of The Indigo Girls and others. Are you a big music fan?
Karin Slaughter: I am a fan, especially of Indigo Girls. Every time I hear their voices, it just puts me in that place and time back in the late eighties when they first broke out. They are amazing writers, amazing storytellers, and they were doing something that no one else was: speaking to young women about their fears and hopes and dreams. They really keyed into that dichotomy of “holy crap, I am an adult but I still want to be a kid.” It’s funny, because I had to get clearance to use “Closer to Fine,” and I happen to have a very new friendship with Emily Saliers, and rather than go back and forth through lawyers and stuff, I took a chance and asked her directly. She’s really an amazing person, and her mother was a hugely well-known and extremely well-respected (and loved) children’s book librarian, and I think when you listen to Emily’s lyrics, you get that she came from a family that valued reading. You can’t fake that kind of literary fluency.
BOLO Books: The title, Pretty Girls, seems fairly non-descriptive at first glance, but actually works very well once the novel has been read. Were there other working titles for the book?
Karin Slaughter: I had originally wanted to call it the Truth About Pretty Girls. The problem was that I had written a short story by this title many years ago, and my UK publisher had published it digitally, and Amazon was really having problems separating the two. So, we shortened the title to make it easier, but I get that it feels more anodyne, so I am glad that it resonated when you got into the story.
BOLO Books: When an author writes in a new “genre,” I always wonder what other authors they read in the style. So, which authors do you read for psychological suspense?
Karin Slaughter: I think Gillian Flynn is the reigning modern master of psychological suspense. When I blurbed Gone Girl all those years ago, I compared her to Patricia Highsmith, and I think that’s a spot-on comparison. Denise Mina is also very good at that slow turning of the screw. We all owe a nod to Daphne Du Maurier. Is there any better psychological suspense than Rebecca? I hate making stupid, blanket statements, but women authors are so freakin’ good at playing mind games. They think about things that men just don’t get. I remember I once got an email from a woman friend saying it was all right that I couldn’t come to her birthday party, and I forwarded it a male friend of mine with a “CAN YOU BELIEVE SHE SAID THIS?” subject line, and he responded, “??? I thought she was being nice.” He just didn’t get the nuance.
BOLO Books: What’s next for Karin Slaughter? I hear there is a possible return to your series character(s).
Absolutely! I am working on the next Will Trent, The Kept Woman, which will be out next year. I don’t want to give too much away, but Angie is back, and it’s not pretty.
BOLO Books: If forced to choose only one format for all your future reading, which would you choose: Hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, or e-book? And why?
Karin Slaughter: I am an old-school hardback reader, though I love having my device when I am traveling because it’s about eleventy billion pounds lighter than carrying a stack of books. I like the weight of the book in my hand. I like reading a book when it’s fresh off the presses. I like the visual memory of the paragraphs and words on the page. It’s a tactile experience, and I love every part of it.
From the Booking Desk:
My thanks to Karin Slaughter for stopping by BOLO Books today. I hope that you all are significantly intrigued and want to rush out to buy Pretty Girls or any of Karin’s fabulous backlist.