Explores the Darkness of Humanity
The Big Thrill Interviews Karin Slaughter
Trigger Warning: This interview contains a conversation about sexual assault (SA) and domestic violence (DV). If you or someone you know has experienced SA or DV and needs help, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
AFTER THAT NIGHT is the highly anticipated 11th book in Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent/Grant County series. It’s so highly anticipated that a friend of mine from the swimming pool saw me reading the Advance Reader Copy the publisher sent me to prepare for this interview and tried to tackle me for it. But nothing could pry it from my hands.
There’s a reason Slaughter’s fans are excited for AFTER THAT NIGHT to hit shelves. Will Trent is now a hit ABC television show. With that show, 11 Will Trent novels, and 6 Grant County novels that feature Dr. Sara Linton, the characters in AFTER THAT NIGHT feel like old friends. Plus, Slaughter’s intense thrillers satisfy like few others.
In AFTER THAT NIGHT, we explore the darkest time of Dr. Sara Linton’s life—the night she was brutally sexually assaulted during her medical internship. Sara was one of the lucky ones. Her attacker was brought to justice, and Sara was able to put herself back together and move forward into a life of love with Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Will Trent. But the horror of that night comes crashing back after a woman stumbles into her ER with a story eerily similar to her own.
The Big Thrill was delighted to sit down with Karin Slaughter and discuss how to tell difficult stories, the growing book banning campaigns, and writing when your characters are walking around on television.
AFTER THAT NIGHT is about the rape of Sara Linton and how it connects to a recent sexual assault. You treat the worst night of Sara’s life with a gentle deftness that doesn’t gloss over the horrific nature of the assault yet refrains from brutal gratuitousness. How did you achieve walking this very fine line in your writing?
I’m always careful when I write about things like that. But being very mindful of how sympathetic [Sara Linton] is and how much people like her, I wanted to be very careful about framing [her assault]. It’s sort of like the Jaws School of Writing, where you just show little bits and pieces until you see the actual shark toward the end. That [technique] was very deliberate on my part to ease people into it.
We when we think of rape, if we think of it at all…it’s kind of blurred…because we don’t want to accept the reality of it, I guess. So, I wanted to talk about it in a realistic way, but also to ease people into it so that they had an understanding that this is not just a crime that happens to this fictional character. This is a crime that happens every second of the day in the world.
We’ll hear men say, “When I had a daughter, I realized this was bad.” Or we’ll talk about rape, and we’ll say—and obviously it happens to men too, at a far less degree—but we’ll say, “She’s somebody’s sister, she’s somebody’s mother, she’s somebody’s daughter.”
Well, the rapist is somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, somebody’s husband, and we don’t talk about the fact that it’s an actual person and not a boogeyman. It’s someone you might work with or live with or go to school with…and we need to accept this happening. And instead of putting the focus on what women are doing “wrong,” we need to put the focus on telling men not to rape.
AFTER THAT NIGHT also challenges us to feel outraged on behalf of a woman who isn’t easy to like. You remind us you don’t have to be likeable to be someone worthy of being saved, but Britt makes it very hard, even after you show us some of the hell she’s living in. When creating a character like Britt, how do you balance her mean girl side with her vulnerability?
Every woman has met a Britt. She can be sympathetic, and she should have sympathy, but also, she’s a horrific person. She is a mean girl. It was a very important thing for me to write about that kind of victim, because it is in contrast to Sara, where [her ordeal] is very clear cut and no one would argue that she deserved that or invited it. [Britt] was a counterbalance to that.
Why do we have value judgments about that? It’s because we look at women differently when they’re victimized. Rape is the only crime where people say, “Did it really happen?” or “Did she change her mind?” or “Do you want to prosecute this?” No one has their lover killed and the police [say], “Well, we can find out who did it, but it’s going to be really tough on you. Are you sure you want us to investigate this crime?” That just doesn’t happen.
And rape is like a murder. It destroys the person you were going to be. It takes away a sense of self, a sense of safety. If you’re lucky, you managed to get back from that. Some men and women don’t. We need to look at why we treat this crime differently from every other crime. When something happens to a man, we take it far more seriously than when something happens to a woman.
Your novels have been praised for their exhaustive level of detail that bring a crisp realism to your work. How do you achieve this easy conveyance of depth of knowledge while not getting bogged down in the minutiae?
It takes time and discipline. You can’t be precious about your work. If [the material] is not working you’ve got to take it out, no matter how many hours you spent researching it. And if it doesn’t work in this book, I can try to make it work in the next one or the next. That gives me a little freedom to say, “OK, well, it’s not working, I need to find something else.” But as a general rule, [your researched details] should all work in service to the plot, and if it’s not working, then you need to take it out.
Has having Will Trent on television changed or influenced how you’re writing him in your novels? If not, how are you resisting the temptation?
Not at all. They did me a great favor because Ramon Rodriguez, who plays Will Trent in the show, looks very different from my Will. It was a little harder with Toni Colette because she was a very believable Laura in PIECES OF HER. So when I wrote…Toni’s version of that character kept infiltrating. I had to keep my Laura in mind and not Toni’s Laura. That was really difficult.
I’m super pleased with what they’re doing with the TV show. I think they’re coming up with new and interesting ways to do things. I think Ramon gets the heart of Will. Ramon grew up with sisters and a single mom raised him, so he knows what that’s like. I couldn’t be more pleased with what he’s doing.
But that being said, he’s different from my Will, so when I think of Will, he looks very different in my head and that keeps me on the path of writing my Will. When I got the first script I wanted to cut all the dialogue because my Will doesn’t talk that much. You could get three pages of his thoughts and then he [speaks.] You can’t really do that in television. They did say to me—they were really nice about it—“He actually has to talk,” so it’s a good thing I didn’t adapt those early Will scripts. But it’s like a joyride and it’s very flattering to see what their interpretation of my characters has been.
But Betty is the same.
If you don’t want your child to read a book, don’t let them read a book. But the idea that you can stop another parent from deciding how they parent their child is so anti-American to me.
Yeah, she’s got the same sass. She looks the same, so I’m real pleased with that. She’s adorable. She’s amazing. She’s very professional. She will hit her mark every time.
And you’ve been on the set. What was that like?
It was really fascinating. I have in my head what these places look like, and so to walk on the sets…it was really bizarre in a way, but it was super, super cool to see all these people working on this thing that I do alone, usually in my pajamas with my laptop, you know? And suddenly you’ve got 500 people who have jobs because of this one thing. I mean, it’s crazy to think about.
Is it true the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) got so many Google alerts about GBI agent Will Trent they looked for him in their employment records before they found out he was a fictional character?
Yeah. So [when] I wrote the book, I knew a retired GBI agent, but I hadn’t talked to anyone in the organization. When I reached out to them through the press office, the press officer said, “I am so glad you reached out to me because I get constant Google alerts on this and I was like, ‘who is this agent? He sounds fantastic.’”
In an interview with the Georgia Center for Books, you mentioned your love of reading English Renaissance literature like Emily Brontë, who famously wrote Wuthering Heights (known in my circle of friends as the “I can make him worse” novel). What is it that you love about this literature?
Cathy [from Wuthering Heights] is such an awful person. I mean, they’re all terrible people. Like Lockwood. He’s like a Real Housewives sort of guy. Heathcliff is a monster [if you see] at the way he treats his kids. And Cathy is a spoiled brat. That was the part I liked about it; they were all such terrible people. It was one of the first books I read that was more of an adult book. It was a good introduction into literature. This is supposed to be a love story, but if you look under the surface, none of them deserve love. They’re just really horrible people.
I borrowed a lot of their names, like Cathy Linton and Sara Linton. They’ve got a cousin named Hareton Earnshaw, who they call Hare. I thought that was really funny to do at the time. I never knew I would be in Singapore trying to explain it.
But the thing that I love about Renaissance poetry, in particular, is it’s all such a coded language. It says one thing, but there’s deeper meaning to every word. That [parallel] lends itself well to writing a crime novel. You have fast-paced action…but if you [look for] a deeper meaning, it’s also there.
You are the founder of the Save the Libraries project. On the website you say, “Libraries are the backbone of our educational infrastructure,” which I can’t agree with more. You’ve done a ton of fundraising, including having an Indigo Girls Benefit concert and selling merch that includes a t-shirt that says, “I Got Slaughtered,” and “Linton & Daughters Plumbing” mugs. What inspired you to start STL and what’s on the horizon for the movement now that so many states are enacting book banning legislation?
I started Save the Libraries in 2008, when we had that really horrific financial downturn, and I was seeing that a lot of library systems were suffering. One thing authors can all agree on, is we love libraries. I worked together with a lot of my friends to raise money. And we’ve raised about half a million dollars so far. That’s all gone directly to libraries. And internationally, not just at home [in the United States].
This turn toward book banning is really alarming. If you don’t want your child to read a book, don’t let them read a book. But the idea that you can stop another parent from deciding how they parent their child is so anti-American to me.
The book banners are never on the right side of history. But we also need to contextualize this because there are approximately 50 million kids in public schools, with at least 50 million parents. The groups that are trying to do this—Mothers of Liberty being one—it’s only 1,000 or 2,000 people. Why do they have so much power? Why are we letting them win? I think the fact is, people who have hate make time to hate, and people who don’t are just living their lives. We need to start paying attention and shutting these people down because they have an outsized amount of power and influence.
Next up is my tour. I’m going everywhere so I hope people come out and see me. And then I start writing the next book, which is going to be a Will and Sara novel, and it will be out next year.
The Big Thrill Interviews Karin Slaughter