Thriller novelist Karin Slaughter talks new book ‘False Witness,’ cooking with Coca-Cola

Author Karin Slaughter has staked out a distinct territory for her mysteries and thrillers, setting her 10-title Will Trent series in Atlanta and her seven-title Grant County series, five standalone novels and 10 novellas in Georgia.

“I know there are other people writing mysteries set here, but I could probably take them in an arm-wrestling match,” she once told me. “The South is who I am.”

Slaughter, 50. was born in Jonesboro, 18 miles from Atlanta, a town so small at the time that “if you got in trouble on Main Street, by the time you got home your mom would have a switch waiting for you.”

Slaughter’s career path was shaped by her love of books, which she says was “the greatest gift my father ever gave me. I grew up with the appreciation that having a book is a luxury,” says Slaughter, who is the founder of the national nonprofit organization Save the Libraries.

Her new stand-alone, “False Witness” (William Morrow, $29, July 20), features two sisters at odds – one is a successful attorney who lost her marriage over her drinking; the other is a homeless heroin addict.

“They’re torn apart by the trauma they experienced growing up and by what happens in the opening of the book,” Slaughter says. “They always have each other’s backs, but it’s difficult for them because trauma is the language of their relationship.”

Slaughter’s books are published in 120 countries in 37 languages, with sales of 35 million. Her debut novel, “Blindsighted,” made the Crime Writers’ Association’s Dagger Award shortlist for “Best Thriller Debut” of 2001.

 Q: One of your goals was to be published before you were 30.

A: I was 26 and found an agent who shopped my (historical fiction) book, but nobody wanted it, fortunately. I said to myself, “I guess that’s it.” But the agent called and said, “What are you going to do next?’ So I wrote a thriller that turned out to be “Blindsighted.” It was easy to write because I’d found my voice, and 30 countries bought the rights to it right off the bat. I had a three-book deal just before I turned 30. The training wheels were off. Now, at the end of the day, I write big commercial fiction.

Q: As in most of your books, “False Witness” focuses on contemporary social issues and women who survive hardships through their courage and wits.

A: Those themes are very important for me. One of my sisters struggled with addiction for many years – thankfully, not heroin – so I know what that looks like. I know how it is to be the successful sibling who isn’t struggling, and in “Blindsighted” I wanted to write as believably as I could about what that’s like from both sides.

Q: Your writing is cinematic and tense, with scenes as dark as any in thriller fiction.

A: I made the choice early on to write as realistically as possible about issues. One reason is my grandmother was horrifically abused by my grandfather, and we never, ever talked about it. Neither did she. It never helped her to be silent about it, it only helped him. It was very important to bring a woman’s perspective to those sorts of crimes, but my grandmother would have been mortified by me writing books like this.

Q: This year, Netflix will debut the eight-episode first season of your bestselling thriller “Pieces of Her” starring Toni Collette. What’s that been like?

A: It’s crazy because it’s all happening in Australia. They were set up to film in Vancouver, then the pandemic hit. Toni’s from Australia and the producer knows how to get a show done there. It’s so weird seeing photographs of Toni holding the blue Samsonite suitcase I wrote about on my laptop while I was in my pajamas, and suddenly it’s there, realized.

Q: Something your fans may not know is that you had a recipe in the 2015 “The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook,” for Cathy’s Coke Roast.

A: The editor asked me for a recipe and she was horrified when I told her I knew only one and what it was. My grandmother would soak every piece of meat in our house in Coca-Cola overnight — everything from cow to deer to squirrel — and that made it so tender.

Q: What’s coming next?

A: I’m working on another standalone and have been talking to a lot of U.S. marshals for it, and they’re pretty freaking amazing. But I’m still wrapping my head around it. Usually, a lot of my thinking is done in airports and hotels, and in the backs of cars on the way to and from airports and hotels and bookstores. Not having those moments because of the pandemic has made me have to rethink how I plan books. Like, I’ve been on the treadmill far more than I should be.

Q: What’s your best advice for your readers, particularly women?

A: There’s nothing wrong with asking for what you want. The most important thing I learned in my 40s was, if I could get back all the emotional energy that I expended in my 20s on worrying about managing men’s feelings, I would still be 30.

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