A warm Vermont welcome (from the "cool blue north") to Atlanta, Georgia, resident and crime fiction author Karin Slaughter, whose new police investigation CRIMINAL takes the Will Trent series deeper, tougher, and ironically, sweeter (well, look at all the strong women involved in this police force!) -- but with a lot of death and complications along the way. For a review of CRIMINAL, check here. Thanks, Karin, for stopping by to answer questions about the book and your writing!
photo by Alison Rosa
1. In CRIMINAL you've shown how the crimes of the past have festered, erupting in crimes in the present -- and possibly in Will Trent's inability to continue the investigative work that suits him so well. Do you believe that unsolved crimes are always likely to lead to further evil -- or, on the other hand, that their solution is likely to create release from turmoil and nightmare?
Karin Slaughter: I absolutely believe that unsolved crimes not only fester, but lead to other crimes. Very seldom does a criminal just do one bad thing, then go on to live an exemplary life. It's human nature to push extremes, and we all tend to have very short memories about bad consequences. (If you've ever been caught speeding, then never went over the limit again, I'd like to shake your hand)
One of the projects my good friend and fellow author Linda Fairstein is taking on is trying to persuade police departments to test DNA from old rape kits. There's been a lot of push-back on this for some reasons that are obvious--money and scarce resources--but there's also been a few instances where the local politicians have grumbled that the cases are probably just wives accusing husbands to "get back at them." What Linda's project has proven is that men who rape once are apt to rape again, so a guy who raped his wife back in the nineties might currently be an anonymous tag of DNA numbers in the databank. Testing that kit means that guy gets identified and prosecuted, and future victims are saved from his savagery.
2. What were the best routes into Atlanta police history, as you did the massive amounts of research that fed this book of policing "then and now"?
Karin Slaughter: I found a dissertation written by a grad student back in the seventies. She rode around for two years with Atlanta police officers and then she culled all her data and anecdotes to investigate how women were integrated into policing and the effect (if any) that they had. It was a fascinating read, mostly because it was written in the 1970s, so there wasn't the usual struggle for political correctness. She just laid it out how it was. I also spoke with many different police officers--female and male--who came up during that time. It was fascinating to hear about their struggles, and I hope that I did their stories justice. They were trailblazers, and they had no idea at the time what they were doing for women not just in policing, but everywhere. In the 1960s, female athletes were made to stand nude in front of men who worked for the Olympic committee to prove that they were, in fact, female. Now, there are more women on the US Olympic team than men and no one bats an eye.
3. No woman rises to the top without learning to handle sexual harassment, right? The way Amanda Wagner and Evelyn Mitchell must, in the Will Trent series? So -- what have you faced in this way yourself, and how did you learn to deal with it?
Karin Slaughter: The thriller field is a wonderful one to be in, but it's certainly male-dominated. I think the biggest problem is that no one really talks about that fact. No one asks why women are rarely nominated for awards. No one asks why they are routinely ignored for the top speaking honors at some of our conventions. No one asks why they are continually left out of "best of" short story collections or not asked to appear on panels. Considering that women comprise around 80% of readers and women tend to do all the grunt work in organizing conventions and such, it seems like we'd be more keen to celebrate ourselves. There are some very, very good men who try to level the playing field--Lee Child, John Connolly, Mark Billingham, and many others, but for the most part, we either toil in collegiate obscurity or get compliments like, "You write like a man." Which, I suppose is a way of saying, "Wow, who would'a guessed a woman could write well!"
On the other hand, Kathy Reichs, Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Gardner, Ruth Rendell, PD James, Patricia Cornwell, Tana French, Denise Mina, Gillian Flynn...these ladies sell a TON of books. I think if you asked them which they would prefer: the accolades or the sales, they'd choose the sales. My druthers would be for them to have both. The first American detective novel was written by a woman named Metta Fuller Victor. Not many people know her name. Poe, Hammet, Chandler--those are the names that are celebrated. Our history seems to be weighted against remembering great women.
4. Right now, the idea that sexual criminals grow from molested children is socially a "hot" notion in America? Do you think it holds up? And, critically for the developments in CRIMINAL, what happens to the children of serial killers, whether they know their parentage or not?
Karin Slaughter: No, I don't think it holds up at all, and it does a disservice to abused children to say so--"hey, kid, sorry about what happened, but you're probably gonna grow up to do the same thing to a child, so let's just assume you're bad." It also in some ways excuses the behavior of the predator--as if there's no free will involved. The fact is that one in four girls and one in six boys has been sexually molested. If you do the math, we would be covered up in pedophiles. What we should worry about more is the toxic environments that help cover up the actions of pedophiles. More women and children are in slavery now than ever before in our history. When the Super Bowl is held, children are shipped in from around the country--sometimes the world--to service the sexual deviants who pay their pimps. This is commonly known among all police forces. And yet, we don't hire enough officers to police this. We don't hire enough judges. We don't hire enough parole officers. We don't spend enough on schools and teachers and social services, and then we act outraged when child sexual predators thrive in these conditions.
The DSM says that pedophilia is a mental illness. It's not created from scratch. It's not automatically passed down from parent to child. Nor is being a serial killer. Charles Manson fathered several children. So did John Wayne Gacy. So did the Green River Killer. Their kids, to my knowledge, are good people with a horrible, horrible cross to bear.
5. As you craft crime, harassment, and corruption scenes in practically your own backyard -- the city of Atlanta, Georgia -- do you feel the city's resonance changing within yourself and your own ways of experiencing it?
Karin Slaughter: I love Atlanta and cannot imagine myself living anywhere else. Like all major cities, we have crime. As a crime writer, that's not altogether a bad thing! I always keep in mind, though, that the crimes I write about are real crimes. I never take one single crime and transfer it straight into a book. I change things, I make alterations, because I don't want to exploit a person's horrific experience. Someone out there is a real victim. The impact of the crime resonates to family members, the community, the cops who investigate, the reporters who cover the story--they all feel it and they all know that a life has been either lost of inexplicably changed.
6. That question we all ask, after we devour a book as compelling as CRIMINAL: What's next?
Karin Slaughter: Well, I can't say much, but...Unseen will be out this time next year (2013). Will has to go undercover, which is creating all sorts of problems in his personal life--especially because one of the cops he's investigating is Lena Adams.