Thriller writer Karin Slaughter talks about true crime

Karin Slaughter knows a lot about crime.

The Atlanta-based bestselling author of 15 crime novels has spent several decades getting inside the mind of serial killers and the like. You wouldn't blame her if she were anesthetized to the many tragedies that happen around the country on a regular basis, but more often what she feels is anger, disgust and a nagging desire to understand why these things happen.

On Dec. 2, two mass shootings occurred within hours of each other -- one in Savannah and the other in San Bernardino. In Savannah, a woman was killed and three men were injured by a shooter who later killed himself.

In San Bernardino, a man and a woman killed 14 people and injured 21 more. Both were killed during a standoff with police. All of this happened just a week after a shooter killed a police officer and two civilians and wounded nine others at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs.

"I am just disgusted that this keeps happening so much. It concerns me and I know that a vast majority of Americans want something done about this," said Slaughter.

Still, the shootings didn't shock her, as they probably didn't shock most Americans. Politicians have said we can't allow these mass shootings to become normal, but given the frequency with which they occur, it would seem they already are.

When Slaughter was growing up, a different type of crime created a new normal. She remembers the impact the Atlanta Child Murders had on her Jonesboro community and her family.

"I was a nerdy little kid who watched the news and when that story would come on my parents would start talking about 'Hey, how did you do in school today?'" Slaughter said.

She didn't fit the profile of that particular killer -- the victims were overwhelmingly African-American boys -- but that didn't prevent widespread fear.

"It didn’t just change me. It changed the community. Everyone is afraid of crime. It is universal. But having it so close by, it made people different," she said. Slaughter learned then that crime can either bring people together or pull them apart.

Growing up with a serial killer on the loose got her interested in reading crime but she was drawn more to the impact those crimes have on families, communities and individuals rather than the salacious details of any one incident.

In her latest book "Pretty Girls," (Morrow, $28), Slaughter tells the story of two sisters torn apart and reunited by two terrifying tragedies that occur decades apart. She explores the difference in their reactions to the incidents as children and later as adults, all while the sisters uncover the terrifying and shocking connections their family has to both incidents.

Whether a crime is fictional or real, our fear about it comes from the unknown, said Slaughter. "My books don’t scare me because I know what is going to happen. Not knowing is the most terrifying part, like when you go to the doctor and think you have Ebola and you find out you have an ingrown toenail," she said.

Slaughter relies heavily on the Georgia Bureau of Investigations for insight into true crimes. The agents generously share their stories with her along with details of how investigations are conducted and how evidence is acquired and used when tracking criminals. While she may not use their specific stories, she often uses their take on crimes. And as bizarre as some of her stories or characters may seem, they are rooted in reality.

"There is nothing I can come up with that hasn’t been done and worse," Slaughter said. And as a writer, she is duty bound to fully develop all her characters, even the bad guys who still have some level of justification for what the horrific crimes they commit.

As evidenced in many of her story lines, Slaughter is particularly angered by crimes against women. "It is horrifying to me that around a quarter of a million women in American report being sexually assaulted and that is only women over the age of 18," she said. "I am just to the point where it just really pisses me off."

Slaughter is currently working on a new book in the series featuring GBI agent, Will Trent, but it is anyone's guess the direction she will go in next given her curiosity about crime and criminals.

“You have to write not just what you know but what you want to know,” Slaughter said. “I want to know why people do bad things. Crime is the best way to explore that.”