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Author Talk: September 2003

Q: So could you talk about the inspiration behind writing A FAINT COLD FEAR?

KS: What I was interested in most with the third book was to show an aspect of the college that I talked about in the first two that you don't really see. I wanted it to be a mysterious death that begins the book. I wanted for the person who has been reading the series all along to be sort of rewarded by what they find out in the first few chapters and they can think back and say "oh I know about this". And I also wanted to the new reader to be engaged by it and to have a complete understanding just with the first few pages of what's happened before in the series and sort of have a crib sheet of what's gone on until then so they can also enjoy the book. But mostly what I wanted to talk about was how people deal with violence and how they recover from something horrible happening in their mist. It is very much a series. So the events that happen in the first two books are still lingering in the third book and that basic two page background that you sort of get in the beginning again will help the new reader understand what's going on. It also gives you some sort of context to understand why what happens next is that much more horrific to the characters.

Q: So we were introduced to Sara Linton, Jeffery Tolliver and Lena Adams in BLINDSIGHTED and we learned more about their stories in KISSCUT. A FAINT COLD FEAR continues with the strong story line of their lives. How do you see your characters changing as the series progresses? Do they ever surprise you?

KS: They often surprise me especially because they're very realistic to me not as characters but as people. People are often asking me, "is this character based on yourself or someone in your life?", and it's certainly an amalgamation of everything I've experienced. Everyone I've met, every thought I've ever had. Jeffery has my strong willed characteristic. Sara is my ideal because she's tall and redheaded and every girl I know at some point in their life has wanted to be tall and redheaded, except maybe Nicole Kidman, and Lena is probably some of my weakest characteristics. So I have that mixture of them, I want them to grow, I want them to change.

I am an avid fan of thrillers, I love mysteries, I love serious books, and I wanted to show you know here they are in the beginning and this is what's happened to them, and this is how they've changed. I don't like when you read about something horrible happening to a character and a paragraph later they're fine and they're making a witty comment and they've gone on, because that's just not how it happens in real life. So definitely you will see them evolve, you'll see them age which seldom happens in a series, and you'll see them respond to what's happening in their lives and hopefully learn from it.

Q: So how do you come up with your titles and which do you think of first, the title or the story?

KS: I think I'm very rare in that I always have to come up with the title. With Blindsighted it really directed where the book was going because the killer was hiding in plain sight. So they were blind to the killer in their mist. Kisscut is a printing term and it means to cut through the surface of a thing without going all the way through the meat of it, and that plays out in the book because you get the first part of the story and you don't really realize what's going on as far as the crime until you're in the middle of the book. A Faint Cold Fear is from Shakespeare. It's actually an homage to my ninth grade English teacher who taught me Romeo and Juliet. I was horrible at learning lines from the plays and she made us learn passages. Mine was the scene with Juliet and the nurse, and Juliet is about to take the potion that will make her appear dead and she says "I have A Faint Cold Fear of thrills through my veins that almost freezes out the heat of life" and that plays out in the story. You of course have Jeffery and Sara as star-crossed lovers and you have Lena who's recovering from an earlier ordeal and it's somewhat part of the living dead in a certain way, and she's going through her recovery from that ordeal and that's where the title actually inspired the work for me.

Q: Have there been any true crimes that have inspired or affected your work?

KS: Certainly, for Blindsighted actually it's a mixture of some of the serial killers I've read about when I was a kid. Ted Bundy, the spree killer, Richard Speck that killed the nurses in Chicago and its just, my reading actually paying off finally. My dad said I was gonna drive myself crazy reading all these true crime books but I'm just fascinated by not what they do, but why they do it. Motivation is just probably the focus of my work. I'm not interested in 'this is the horrible thing this person did', I'm interested in 'well you know this person had such and such happen to him, he took these steps toward becoming the type of person that can justify taking a life or justify being the kind of person that can put their needs or wants above another persons'.

Q: Where do you think your gift for storytelling comes from and how do you come to writing?

KS: I've always written, my first book was written when I was six years old and it was based on a man who worked for my father who was very overweight and had polio, it's called Rolleo with Polio and I made six copies of that before I got a spanking for playing with the scissors. But that was something I really liked to do, I liked to tell stories and thinking back on it I get that from my father, and he got that from his father. There is a huge oral tradition in southern culture. I can't tell you how many times I've asked for directions and gotten a story behind it -- you don't just go up the street and turn left, you pass the first paved road and there is a cow there or there is a building with some sort of history. There is always a story behind everything and there's just a certain music to the story and if you develop an ear for listening to the rhythm of how someone tells the story and for the dialogue and for everything behind that, then I think that growing up in that environment you can't help but duplicate it.

Q: You grew up in a small town not too different from Heartsdale in Grant County, the setting for the series of books. Would you tell us a little bit about what your upbringing has brought to your work?BR>
KS: It's very important to me. The town I grew up in was a very small town when I was there, it's not considered a small town anymore. It was sucked into the city of Atlanta like most small towns in the suburbs. I think my dad said it went to hell in a hand basket when we got a shopping mall. A lot of people moved out of the town because of that, because it was getting too big for them. But I knew if I got in trouble at school I was in more trouble at home. I knew if I was on main street and I did something stupid by time I got home my dad would have heard about it. I mean it was just very much a community, and a community focused on children. Because this is a suburban area, everyone has children, everyone's invested in raising children and that sort of life. So I felt very much part of the town. In addition I think that a lot of people are losing sight of that now which I think is sad because we all have this sort of Mayberry ideal of small towns and a lot of people have moved out of the cities into these towns because they think their getting away from the violence and the crime and one of the things I talk about in the book is how these people bring the violence and the crime with them. In a small town you're not looking over your shoulder, you're not locking your doors, you're not worried about leaving your keys in the car and there are people who can prey on that and actually choose small towns to go into. Some of the most horrific crimes that I can think of happened in the last five years have all been in small towns.

Q: Who are some of the authors and their works that have influenced your development as a writer?

KS: I read a lot of different writers. I think that probably the most influential ones were
Q: Gone with the Wind and the story of the Manson family, Helter Skelter. I read that in puberty and I think that had a lot to do with how I turned out actually, and a lot of my work is informed by that. The thing that I loved about these two books was they asked a central question about characters. I don't think there is a more finely drawn character in literature than Scarlet O'Hara. I mean especially in the book, the movie is great, but in the book she's much more interesting to me and she makes incredibly stupid choices and her life is a reaction to those choices. The people around her evolve and respond to those choices and she creates her own destiny in a very interesting way. And if you look at Helter Skelter here you have people like Patricia Kurnwincle who came from a similar background as me. When I was a kid I was in this middle class family and had sisters and all this, and she managed to get sucked into that and she got to this point where she became this different person from the person she was when she was raised in this family. That's what's interesting to me. I think everything I read since I have read since then has some sort of question like that, has a question like that, a question of personality, a mystery of character you know what is this person going to do?

Q: Could you talk a little bit about your writing process? How much time do you spend writing a day and do you work on one project at a time?

KS: I wish I could say that I kept regular hours but its more like this passionate fury I get into when I work 12 and 15 hour days and I have to get the story out of me. I haven't met a writer yet who doesn't get to a point where they're writing something and they feel completely drained doing it. Just because I don't if it's a muse or endorphins or if it's the sleepless nights or what but you get into a story. Well I get into a story, and I'm so involved with the characters and what's going on that it's my life and I can't get past that. And it's so tiring that I get at the end of the story and I need a break from that. I know some writers, especially some who've been in newspaper and have that sort of background. They can get up and work four hours a day and they go and do their chores or whatever and the next day they get up and work four hours and that is great for them but I just, I can't do that. It's more like a mad passion for me and I just have to get it out.

Q: How did you pick up your knowledge of forensics and law enforcement?

KS: Well I hadn't had any sort of formal training, but I had been reading these sorts of books for as long as I can remember. And I hope what I bring for the reader is my passion and my interest in these subjects. I'd read some books that had been written by doctors and they'd gotten to this point where they are writing this scene and they know they have to put this certain medical detail in there and their training kicks in and they have to give you the number by number procedure for a certain ailment or whatever. And I can pick and choose and actually blend in the fiction. I do have two doctors who answer questions for me. They say, "well, you really can't do that", or "if you did do this, this person would die", and you don't want them to die. And I try to take what they're telling me and make the scene as realistic as possible, but still keep it moving. At the end of the day its fiction. And my primary goal is to entertain my reader. I'm not writing a textbook. I'm trying to give them enough information so that they know what is going on, they have an understanding, it seems realistic, but they're also enjoying themselves, and feeling sucked into the story. Because that's what I like when I read thrillers, or when I read anything, really. I want to be invested in the story. I want to have this sort of interest in what is going on so that I can't stop turning the pages. That's my primary goal.

On the police side of it, Jeffrey does a lot of stuff that a small town police chief can get away with that a big city police chief would be sued over. He would probably be in jail! I do have a friend of mine who is a cop and she gives me advice on that. My goal is to keep it as realistic as possible and not make it sound like a textbook.

Q: What do you like best about what you do?

KS: I think my favorite part is when I get to meet readers. And when I get feedback from them and they give me advice where they think Jeffrey and Sara should go. I have in my mind where the relationship is going to go. I know what's going to happen with Lena. I've planned out the series well into the next three or four books. So I know emotionally where the characters are going to be. It's such a compliment to me that people have thought about the relationship, or thought about what a character is doing enough to form an opinion on that. And not just that, but after they've finished the book they're still thinking about it. When I get to meet them, they come up to me, we have a dialogue about that, that's really very rewarding. Because writing is such a solitary art, I never imagined that part of it, where I'd get to meet the reader. I have a website, and I get a lot of email and I love reading it, because it's just great to get that sort of feedback when for nine months out of the year I'm sitting with me and my screen, and no one's telling me anything.

Q: What do you like least about what you do?

KS: Oh, boy. Actually I'm a solitary person at heart, and I do enjoy that time alone. I think every writer is a bit of an introvert. Yet we're writing stories that reach out to people. It's an interesting dichotomy when you think about it. A friend of mine who's a writer said that if we weren't writers, we'd probably be diagnosed schizophrenic. Because we just have these two very different sides of our lives. I like after I've had a long period of time where I've been holed up in my office, I like going out and meeting people and doing that sort of thing.

But the down side would be probably right after a book is finished, and I feel like I'm never going to be able to tell another story again that anyone will be interested in. Thankfully that only lasts a couple of weeks, and then I get enough sleep and start thinking, "oh, wow, where I left off in Faint Cold Fear I can see a starting point for Indelible." Which is the next book.

I'm very excited about Indelible because it takes place in the past. So you see Jeffrey and Sara ten years before Blindsighted even started. You have more of an understanding of the relationship, and why what happened in their marriage was such a violation to Sara. There are definite interesting points as I've been thinking of as I've been working on Indelible that I think the reader will have as they read the first three books. Now I'm going to be able to answer them. Of course, there are always more questions, too, so we'll see what happens.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring young writers?

KS: To read. I think it's the best gift you can give yourself. Every writer I know makes time to read. I consider it part of my job because I'm fortunate enough to be able to support myself with my writing. I block out time to read. I'm not doing it because I want to keep up with the market, or for any business sense. I'm doing it because I want to train my ear so that I understand how stories work. It's a fabulous thing to be able to just sit down and spend three or four hours at a time just reading something, and its so inspiring to me, too, because there are so many great books out there. I love sharing that with people. I've often gotten into trouble when I do signings sometimes I get started talking about writers, and someone will nudge me and say, "you need to talk about your work."

Q: What is next for Karin Slaughter?

KS: Indelible! Which is the fourth book in the series and I'm working on that. I'm extremely excited about it. There's a sort of cliffhanger at the end of A Faint Cold Fear which I won't go into it and spoil it for anyone, that takes up in Faithless, which is the fifth book. So I'm sort of wanting to get through Indelible so I can pick up the cliffhanger, and write about it in Faithless. I'm extremely excited about both of them.

I also have a short story collection that will be coming out, which I'm sure Morrow will do a great job on. It has a lot of different writers, who are also friends of mine, working on short stories. That's basically what's in the works.

Q: To wrap things up, we have prepared a pop quiz for you. SO -- it's a dark, stormy night, and you're all alone in a cabin deep in the woods. You hear a strange noise outside, and you think someone is out there but to no good that you can think of. Which would you prefer, Edgar Allen Poe or Flannery O'Connor?

KS: Flannery O'Connor, definitely Flannery O'Connor.

Q: Dracula or Frankenstein?

KS: Frankenstein, because I love Mary Shelley.

Q: Scooby Doo or Lassie?

KS: Scooby Doo.

Q: Dr Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

KS: Mr. Hyde.

Q: Arsenic, cyanide or a baseball bat?

KS: Baseball bat, it's quicker.

Q: Thanks, Karin, for talking with us!

KS: Thank you.