Is there a better example of nominative determinism than Karin Slaughter? The tongue-in-cheek theory, which states that your name at birth decides your future career, fits perfectly with a writer whose crime novels are often violent, harrowing and packed with mayhem and murder of all stripes.
People always ask me if it's my real name," the American author says. "When I was a little girl, I hated the name. I remember telling my dad that I'd be dropping the 's' and calling myself 'law-ter' - he pointed out that that just spelled laughter'."
It was, the genial 49-year-old jokes, a good job she didn't end up writing romances. But she "always wanted to write, absolutely, right back to kindergarten. What I didn't know was that it was possible to make a living being a writer. It is rare, so I feel very fortunate now. I tried all sorts of jobs along the way to support my writing habit, until eventually I was lucky enough to get a three-book deal".
Her debut, 2001's Blindsighted, was first in the six-part Grant County series of thrillers, set in rural Georgia. Since then, she has published another 19 novels, won sundry awards, been translated into 37 languages, founded a non-profit organisation to protect public libraries - and sold some 35 million books along the way.
Her latest, The Silent Wife, is the 10th of her Will Trent novels. Played out in Atlanta and across the broader state, this instalment follows the titular Trent, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, his partner (professional) Faith and his partner (romantic) Sara as they attempt to solve a series of horrific rape-murders.
Slaughter grew up in Jonesboro, a town of roughly 5,000 people in Georgia. "Small-town, idyllic life, very homogeneous, very religious," she recalls. "Not exactly my passions, so I did what most kids do who don't belong in small towns, and moved to the big city when I turned 18.
"That said, growing up in a small town gives you experience of both urban and rural life. And while I'm not particularly religious, it gave me an understanding for it - plus when someone quotes a Bible verse at me now, I can shock them by quoting something back. When I started out, I wrote about a small town. I felt you should write what you know about."
Apart from a gripping mystery storyline - actually, two mystery storylines, taking place today and eight years ago - what sets The Silent Wife apart from a lot of crime fiction is how intensely it focuses on victims and bereaved. Sometimes they're essentially pieces of a puzzle; cops try to solve it, baddies try to evade detection.
The Silent Wife, though, is an angry cri de cœur on behalf of the victims - something Slaughter has always tried to bring to her writing. "From the start, I wanted to know about how crime changes communities," she says. "To focus on victims in a way I didn't feel was being done in crime fiction. And to bring a woman's point-of-view to these crimes: violence that predominantly happens to women.
"I felt that what I was reading was a sort-of male idea of how a woman would behave if something bad happened to her, and I knew that not to be true. I wanted to bring my perspective to it, what I'd seen happen with friends and in my community."
Victims of crime are often seen less as individual humans than some abstract concept. In America, she says, "if a woman is murdered, for her to make it to the news she has to be white, middle class and preferably pregnant. So I decided to give a voice to victims, very early in my career.
"And, as a writer, it's harder to write about someone who survives a crime and has to deal with the emotional fallout - but that aftermath is more interesting. It's a way to show that these women have lives and agency, they're not just victims. They're mothers and sisters and have an impact in their community."
I take an unflinching look at crime, and you always want to balance that with something funny or relatable.
Slaughter has a process of sorts when writing, though she reckons she likes it more than needs it: she'll drive two hours to a cabin in north Georgia, spending two or three weeks there, immersed in the work, creating these fictional universes and characters which can feel realer than real.
"I'm pretty introverted - I just discovered that the life I prefer is actually called 'quarantine!' - and when I'm at the cabin, I can go two or three days without even talking, and I'm perfectly fine with that. I can't write in a coffee shop or listen to music; I like silence and staying in the story as much as I can, and it's a real reset for me to drive to the mountains.
"I just calm myself down and think about the part of the book I'll be writing for the next few weeks. I think only of the book: not readers, marketers, sales or anything else. It's just me and the story I want to tell."
Twenty years and 20 books: it sounds like a heavy work schedule but Slaughter insists that she is still passionate about it all. "I know authors can get tired," she says, "especially in the thriller genre, doing a book a year. But I've never had a moment where I wanted to be doing something else, or considered updating a book from years ago because that would be easier. I always feel like I'm doing something new and different with each book, and I love that excitement."
Mystery is a key ingredient for her, that sense of an author knowing more than they're telling us readers; knowing how to layer the story, when and where to drop revelations like jewels in the mud (and blood). Humour is also an important element of Slaughter novels, especially motormouth, no-brakes Faith - "my inner extrovert", she laughs.
Most important of all, perhaps, is humanising the characters: "That gives emotional balance to the dark things I'm exploring. I take an unflinching look at crime, and you always want to balance that with something funny or relatable. Unrelenting darkness would be too horrible to deal with."
'The Silent Wife' by Karin Slaughter, published by HarperCollins, is out now
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