Interview with Karin Slaughter

THE GOOD DAUGHTER by Karin Slaughter bares no bones. This emotional crime mystery delves into family, grief, regret, and guilt. Known for not sugar coating the violence, Slaughter writes a dark and graphic story, but this only adds to the intensity. Twenty-eight years ago two sisters, Charlie and Sam, were at home with their mother, Gamma when two masked men entered the house. They shot Gamma dead, pushed out Sam’s eyelids, shot her in the head, and buried her alive, while Charlie ran for her life and endured her own horrific attack. Fast forward to today where Charlie runs towards the violence and becomes a witness of a school shooting. Now the sisters must work together to find the answers to the past and present events as they attempt to heal their relationship.

Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?

Karin Slaughter: My Grant County novels had a setting of small towns. But since I ended that series much has changed within small towns where they are more divided and isolated. In this book I wanted to explore how difficult it is to be that person who is considered “unusual.” In either big city neighborhoods or small towns sometimes it is hard to find people who think differently and someone who does can be ostracized. I set out to write a Victorian novel that talks about society, family, poverty, and social divides.

EC: You start the book off with the sisters practicing track and field. Did you ever run?

KS: No. As a child I was not very athletic. Now I like to run on the treadmill. What I put in the story is what I am interested in learning about.

EC: After Sam was shot she developed a head injury. Did you know anyone?

KS: I toured military bases with the author Lisa Gardner and saw those kinds of injuries. Also, the husband of a friend of mine flipped head first over the bike handlebars. He became brain damaged. When I spoke with my friend, his wife, she talked about their struggles. This is why I put in the quote, ‘Sam often compared her first year of recovery to a record on an old turntable. She awoke at the hospital with everything playing at the wrong speed.’ Sam knew what she was and knew what her life would be like from that point onward. It can be even more psychologically scarring for people who are cognizant of what they’ve lost.

EC: The family came upon their original hardships because of clients of their father Rusty, a defense attorney. He pretty much fits into people’s views of them as slimy?

KS: I think all of us can understand a prosecutor’s duties, but have trouble with defense attorneys. They are thought of as someone who just gets bad guys off. I spoke to several to find out what it is really like. This one woman saw her job as leveling the playing field. Since a District Attorney’s position is elected they always want to make sure they charge as many counts as possible to look tough. On the other hand, a prosecutor’s job is to balance that aggressive approach so that criminals are charged fairly but not excessively.

EC: So you don’t think all defense attorneys are unscrupulous?

KS: I spoke with one who was able to work out a diversion program for a sixteen-year-old child charged with possessing marijuana so he would not be put away. These are actions I can get on board with. The boy did not get off, but he wasn’t put through having to go to jail. If she were not there this teenager’s life would be over. You know the saying, “if you were not a criminal when you go into prison you will be when you get out.’ This is the kind of lawyer I can get behind and understand. I think my character Charlie is this type of lawyer. In that way she did not follow in her father’s footsteps.

EC: The violence in this novel was pretty graphic?

KS: If you write about crime you have to choose how you present it. It is an awful thing and I want to show it as such. People don’t realize attorneys fear for their lives and for their family. It can be a very dangerous profession. I hope that the readers like the characters and will care about them once the violence is inflicted on them. What is important to me is that what happens to the characters resonates and opens up to a broader story where readers understand how shocking and life altering these events can be.

EC: Is any of you in any of the characters?

KS: Charlie and Sam learn that their dad is not the perfect guy. Charlie’s view of Rusty is a lot like my view of my dad, when I was little I just thought he was amazing. Now as an adult, I can see why my mom divorced him. I still love him and think he is a great dad, but I would not recommend anyone marrying him again.

EC: One of the main themes of the story is how people grieve?

KS: I do not think all people grieve in the same way. Charlie was in denial, while Sam deals with it head on. Every morning Sam wakes up and is faced with what happened, but has learned how to deal with it. Yet, Charlie looks back on her life and realizes she is not the person she hoped to be. This makes her miserable. She keeps doing the same thing and it is not working, but never self-reflects. Rusty on the other hand damages himself by taking on more dangerous cases, drinks too much, and smokes too much, despite having a major heart attack.

EC: There is a lot of repetition about the event. Why?

KS: A line from the book, “a never-ending sphere,” shows how circular life is. Charlie stops her story, because she is avoiding what happened to her. If you notice the first time she tells it the emphasis is on how others were impacted, not herself. I wanted to echo back with the point; you really cannot escape your past. You can learn to deal with it, but should not let it hold you hostage.

EC: What are your next projects?

KS: The next book will be a stand-alone because the idea I have won’t work within a series. It will have an international component based on the cool places I have traveled to. The subsequent Will Trent book will come out in 2019. Two of my books are optioned for TV, the Will Trent series and a stand-alone I wrote, Cop Town, about women police officers in the 1970s. It is important to me that the producers understand that to keep my readers happy they are true to the book.