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“I Basically Popped His Short Story Cherry”

By Dawn Ius

Few events can fire up readers more than a collaborative effort between their favorite authors—so when a couple of genre heavyweights get together to write, it’s a big deal. Especially when the authors in question are Karin Slaughter and Lee Child, arguably two of the biggest names in thriller.

In a riveting short story that took five years to come together, CLEANING THE GOLD will send Will Trent to Fort Knox to investigate a 22-year-old murder. His prime suspect? Jack Reacher.

Meanwhile, Reacher has his own agenda: to bring down a dangerous criminal ring operating at the heart of the military.

But of course, there’s a bigger conspiracy at play, and to get to the heart of it, Trent and Reacher are forced to work together.

With it’s high stakes tension, rapid-fire pacing, and infusion of quick wit for which both authors are known, Slaughter and Child make it look easy—probably substantially easier than it was for Trent and Reacher to put their personal agendas aside.

In this quick Q&A with The Big Thrill, Slaughter talks about the genesis that became CLEANING THE GOLD, what it’s like to work with Lee Child, and why Brad Meltzer may or may not be a demon.

For fans of thrillers, this collaboration is pretty much a dream come true. How did it come to be? 

Karin Slaughter

Over the years, Lee and I have talked about writing something together, but neither one of us wanted to tackle this kind of project unless it could be 100 percent fun and really deliver for the readers. I think I first had the germ of the Fort Knox idea five years ago, so it has taken at least that long for us both to have the time and space to do it right. Not many people know this, but the very first short story Lee ever wrote was for my collection Like a Charm, so I basically popped his short story cherry is what you could say in a headline and it would be 100 percent accurate.


Lee Child is a pretty laid back guy—at least in public. What was it like working with him on a collaborative story? 

In my experience, really successful authors tend to be laid back in general, but professionally, they are extremely driven and always hit deadlines and approach projects with a singular focus. Lee was no exception. Actually, this is why I love doing events with him. On stage I know I can trust him to be thoughtful and kind to the audience and to other authors. Lee and I both take what we do very seriously, and we are always mindful that we need to make sure our readers don’t feel like we’re doing something just because we can. We want them to have as good a time reading a story as we do writing it. The same thing goes for events. It’s our job to make sure everyone has a good time.

Lee Child

What was your process for envisioning the plot, divvying up the workload, and polishing up the story? 

Several years ago, I was perusing the channel guide on my TiVo and I saw Brad Meltzer had some kind of documentary on the gold bullion depository at Fort Knox, and I thought, “How did this bozo get to do a show on the gold bullion depository at Fort Knox?” So I taped it, but I never watched it (and weirdly, my TiVo won’t let me delete it, which proves that Brad is a demon, which is something I’ve said all along). But anyway, I visited the Fort Knox base last year. The librarian there is so fantastic about bringing authors in and the people on base are amazing. As I was looking around, it made my mind go to all these crazy places, and I emailed Lee and said, “Hey, I’ve got this idea. What do you think?”

Will Trent and Jack Reacher are two of the most recognized protagonists in the genre. How did you balance their distinct character traits so both Will and Jack had his own time in the spotlight? 

I think they’re both pronounced equally because as writers, Lee and I are very certain about the voices of our characters. By design, the story gives them both their own lanes, so Reacher and Will each have opportunities to shine. And also to poke a little fun at each other. (My Incredible Hulk joke, I feel, is up there with William Shakespeare.) I will add that anyone who knows anything about ’80s yacht rock will find quite a few Easter eggs in there.

Is this the start of a more involved collaborative effort? 

I hope so, but keep in mind this one took five years.