“I have a lot of readers who are probably Trump supporters”
Karin Slaughter has spent 20 years writing books about violence against women and the silence that surrounds it. She wrote her first novel Bloodsighted in 2001 and has sold over 35 million books worldwide. Her 21st novel, False Witness, will be released later this month. It is the story of two sisters and a childhood secret. It explores the legacy of child abuse and rape, as well as the rage and vengeance of survivors.
Slaughter talks to me on the phone from her home in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s early in the morning there, but that’s fine with him. “I am very disappointing as an author. I am not an alcoholic. I get up early.”
Known for writing about rape and murder in great detail, Slaughter enjoys facing the darkness head-on. She remembers her early career where she was often described as “writing like a man”, but she was actually tired of reading about violence against women from a male perspective. About 85% of detective story readers are women. “Just knowing the things that women are afraid of. . . Guys aren’t built like that. I wanted to write realistically what this violence looks like. It’s not sexy. It is not moving.
What is wrong with us if it is a pregnant white woman, all of a sudden our heart goes out to her but if it is a colored person, we wonder, what is it? was she doing in this neighborhood?
There was also a very personal reason to speak out about the silence surrounding violence and abuse.
“My grandmother was abused when I was young. We teased her about being awkward as a kid, but as I got older I thought no one is this awkward. She had broken bones, black eyes and severed lips. Saying nothing only helped my grandfather. It only protected him, it did nothing to protect her. So I thought, I’ll write about it. I will tell these stories realistically. I will show the nuance of the abuse. I will show how this affects the men and women around the abused person, and how it affects the police and forensic scientists and how women feel when they hear these stories and how sometimes the woman is not particularly sympathetic. , is not it ?
“And what’s wrong with us, if it’s a white pregnant woman, all of a sudden our heart goes out to her, but if it’s a colored person, we wonder, what what was she doing in this neighborhood? This is the kind of thing I wanted to talk about in my fiction. And as I get older it has become more important, because it seems that even after “me too” not much changes.
Slaughter’s new novel takes place in the present, with all of its masks, disinfectant, Zoom, and fate. Given that we have just emerged flashing in the beer garden, are we ready for a pandemic novel?
She once aspired to write timeless novels, but “as the world got crazier and crazier I felt more compelled to write and include stuff from today.” While some people might turn to a novel to escape, it’s fascinating to see characters grapple with the story as it unfolds.
Conservatives are drawn to black and white books where bad guys get punished and good guys live to fight another day. I didn’t want to disable them on the first page
“Fiction tells us more than history books. It gives us the taste, the sight and the feeling of what it is to live these moments. Dickens tells you more about what was going on in London than a textbook, ”says Slaughter.
The challenge lay in the changing information landscape. “As I was writing this what we knew about the virus has changed, the way we have adapted to it has changed, the madness and politicization of not wearing masks. I had to make choices about what to include, especially in America because it’s so polarized. “
And a character’s reaction to the pandemic can read like some kind of shorthand for a reader – anything you might infer from someone refusing a mask.
“I wanted to be careful because I am aware that I have a lot of readers who are probably Trump supporters. Conservatives are drawn to black and white books where bad guys get punished and good guys live to fight another day. I didn’t want to turn them off on the first page. I think I’m saying some important things about what this pandemic has brought out; the disparity between the haves and have-nots.
She doesn’t mind having Trump supporters. “I think it’s great, because I’m not a conservative. It gives me the opportunity to chat with them. No one recognizes himself in fiction. And while she is keen to explore both sides of an argument in her writing, there is a line. “I am very attached to anti-vaccines because it is such a white Western privilege. Go to India and Brazil and tell me you don’t want a vaccine.
The way we treat drug addicts, especially in the United States, is horrible. We have been punishing them for years. And nobody says, it doesn’t work
Slaughter’s books are often inspired by real crime, but her latest was inspired by the pervasiveness of sexual abuse of young girls. Slaughter set the inciting incident of the novel in the early 1990s, right after the infamous Amy Fisher affair in the United States (a 16-year-old girl shot the wife of a man she was having an affair with) . “She was called the Long Island Lolita. She was a teenage girl having an affair with a much, much older man who was married, and the whole country was on the older man’s side, like she had seduced him. Nobody thought, hey, this guy raped a kid, and that perception hasn’t changed much. We don’t allow young girls to be girls. Immediately, if they are involved in something like this, they are called women. And they are not women. It’s not his fault. I have never taken the Nabokov train.
Describing her work as “socially conscious storytelling,” in False Witness, Slaughter also explores the effects of the opioid crisis in the United States, having witnessed it firsthand.
“We have had family members struggling with addiction,” she says. “I wanted to humanize addiction in a way my readers may never have seen before. The way we treat drug addicts, especially in the United States, is horrible. We have been punishing them for years. And no one is saying it doesn’t work. They say you have to double down and make it even more difficult. There are people in Mississippi who have been in jail for 25 years because they had a bag of pot in their car. That’s crazy.”
I mention Mare of Easttown’s recent success with this new genre of female detective hero who, like the female protagonists in Slaughter, doesn’t have to deal with the feminine. She might still be a bit tough and whiskey drinker, but also motherly and empathetic.
I think what we need now are normal people surviving horrible bullshit which is kind of what we all do at the same time
Slaughter says that for a long time, strong women were described as having “masculine attributes, they smoked cigarettes, wore leather, and rode motorcycles.” Now women can write “in a way that matches women’s strength, rather than fantasy.” As a readership and audience we want more believable people because there are a lot of Marvel and DC movies if we want superheroes but I think what we need now are normal people surviving. horrible shit, which is kind of what we all do at the same time.
She remembers going to the movies when she was younger with her mother-in-law to see a film based on a novel by Sara Paretsky (author of detective novels, best known for her novels on VI Warshawski). His mother-in-law hated it. “She said, I just don’t think a woman can be punched in the face without crying. This perception that women are so delicate. My God, if women really did talk about shit they’re going through, and we don’t, we’re trained to just take it and not talk about it because it’s whiny then. And if a man goes through something like that, it’s just heartbreaking and what a powerful story. Hopefully that’s another thing that changes. If there was one thing I could get back from my 20s, it would be all the emotional energy I spent to make men feel good about themselves.
The day after my conversation with Slaughter, Jeannette Winterson burns her own books because, she tweets, the blurb made them sound like “Wimmin’s worst fiction.” Debates about gender and snobbery are resurfacing. Slaughter is no longer interested.
“I like great commercial fictions. I write great commercial fiction. I’ve never been upset to be in this genre as it basically includes the bestseller list in almost every country. It’s funny when people say I don’t read sci-fi, but love The Martian, or dystopia, but did you like The Handmaid’s Tale? Then they say it ‘transcends gender’. If that makes you think you’re smarter than everyone else, go for it. I write what interests me. If people want to call it a thriller, chicklit, whatever. I don’t have a bullet on my shoulder on this. I think good books are good books.