On Thursday, the Burlington Public Library brought together Karin Slaughter and Alafair Burke in a terrific event moderated by Melodie Campbell. This dynamic duo travelled from their homes in Georgia (Karin) and Manhattan (Alafair), all the way to Burlington, Ontario to delight a room full of readers.
Karin has had a prolific history in publishing, writing 18 books which have sold over 35 million copies in 36 different languages! She focuses on writing characters, honouring stories of assault and told the audience how she had been influenced by growing up in the time of the Atlanta child killer. Her idyllic community was on high alert because of the serial killer which led to a more supervised childhood, more time spent inside and more television. Her parents did not share much information about what was going on so Karin began making up her own stories. She became a paid author when her dad rewarded her with a quarter for each book!
“Crime fiction’s job is to hold up a mirror to society” (Karin Slaughter)
Alafair is a busy woman – not only does she spend time writing books but also teaches criminal law and is a former prosecutor. She can’t say no to work and grew up in a house of reading and writing. Her father (James Lee Burke) is also a popular author yet she attributes her writing to her mother who took her to the library each week. This excursion gave her father time to write and opened up a world of books for her. She described her childhood in an era of latch key kids, being careful to lock the door, being mindful of creepy vans and calling 911 many times due to her active imagination. In speaking about the #MeToo movement, Alafair noted that her books speak to the “worst fears of women” and what happens when we can’t trust those that are closest to us.
Although Karin’s sense of humour is not reflected in her books, she had the audience laughing throughout the evening. The two authors had a great camaraderie on stage and appeared to be close friends. Both women are avid readers. Alafair just finished an ARC of Karin’s later novel and feels that the worst thing about being an author is that she has less time to read. Karin loves to read and spoke about the loss of Sue Grafton since her books were “like a new friend every year”.
“I write the kind of book I want to read” (Karin Slaughter)
The moderator asked some great questions, starting with inquiring about unusual experiences when researching books. Karin shared that she had swam with sharks in Melbourne. She cheekily noted that she had also eaten peameal bacon which got laughs from the Canadian crowd! She had also completed training exercises at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and attended a simulated school shooter drill which helped lend authenticity to a novel. Alafair reflected that “research can be a writer’s worst enemy” and notes that she chose a job that enables her to sit at a desk. She has had a few research trips including a visit to Quantico. Her approach to writing is to “spend more time with the characters” and admitted that she has a great “electronic rolodex” of experts.
The authors described their writing days starting with Karin noting that Steve Barry gets up and writes at 6 am laughing and saying “what an asshole”! She admits that she is lazy and tends to “forget about everybody” and binge write at her cabin in Blueridge, Georgia where she will go for two weeks at a time creating a “creative shell from not bathing”, staying in her PJs all day and surviving when her father leaves both notes and soup at her door. Alafair says the “magic” happens when she is up “super late at night” and that she is sometimes writing until the wee hours of the morning.
What are they working on now? Alafair is doing a project with Mary Higgins Clark (wow, it has been a long time since I read a Mary Higgins Clark novel which were my favourites in the early 90s). Karin is finishing Pieces of Her which should be out in August and has plans for another Will Trent novel next year.
Both women take their writing seriously and are grateful to be successful authors acknowledging that many authors need to work other jobs or they would live below the poverty lines. Although Alafair has regrets about her first book, she spoke to the “world of friends” she has made through writing. While the writing process is isolated, she has a great team of writers and publishers.
I loved hearing Karin’s tale of her first published novel. Her version of a Gone with the Wind type of book had been rejected, she asked for copies of the rejection letters. What she found in the redacted letters was that the publishers liked her storytelling style but not the story. The agent encouraged her to write a thriller and amazingly, she sad down for 17 eighteen hour days, finding her voice and completing Blindsighted. While her agency took 6 months to read it, she completed a sequel. When it took the agent another 3 months to read it, she wrote a third book! She ended up with a 3 book deal over a 10 year period, launching her career.
“Not many people get to do for a living what they really want to do for their lives” (Karin Slaughter).
Despite her success, Karin is mindful of the cost of books. She remembers her days as a student with limited resources and always wants to give 110% to the readers. She laughed that it she wrote a “bad book”, it would be the only one readers would remember. Alafair, who has written 12 books, feels that it gets harder as she writes more books as she wants each one to be better but not similar. She feels the need to “up the game, or keep moving the game”.
Although crime fiction is not my go-to genre, I had intended to read the books prior to the event. Since my TBR pile is so large, I sadly ran out of time but am now inspired to enjoy these books and reflect on the fun evening with the authors.
Thank you to the Burlington Library, Harper Collins and Different Drummer for arranging a great evening! Thanks also to Kim, for taking great pictures at all the events, and Shalom for sharing a fun evening!