'Pieces of Her'

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Novel finds daughter trying to discover her mother’s secret past

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

 In her latest mystery-thriller “Pieces of Her,” New York Times best-selling novelist Karin Slaughter wanted to explore the differences between two generations of women.

In the first chapter, Laura Cooper, a 50-something speech pathologist, is celebrating her daughter Andrea’s 31st birthday at a restaurant in a mall when a gunman comes in and opens fire. Laura effortlessly takes down the shooter as Andrea looks on in horror and amazement, seeing a side to her mother that she’s never seen before. It turns out that Laura has been laying low for the past 30 years, hoping that people from her past won’t find her. She was successful up until now.

“That’s really a springboard for the rest of the novel,” said Slaughter, 47, of Atlanta. “The simple question is: Who is this person? Because Andrea has in her mind – ‘This is my mom. She’s a speech therapist. She’s divorced from my dad. She was at my school plays.’ And suddenly there’s this other side to her mother that she never knew existed and she realizes Laura has been lying to her entire life. She has this deep, dark past that no one knows about.”

A day after this shooting, an intruder who’s spent the last 30 years looking for Laura finally tracks her down and shoots her. Andrea must now try to discover her mother’s secret past and stay a step ahead of these sinister forces now gunning for her.

“The further away Andrea gets away from Laura, the more she has to grow up. Her safety net – her parents – is taken away from her very early in the novel. She can’t call them. She can’t email them or reach out to them in any way because it’s too dangerous. For the first time in her life, she’s really completely on her own – emotionally and physically. As she gets further along, she has to make decisions about her life. In a lot of cases, she’s making life and death decisions,” explained Slaughter.

When Slaughter begins writing a novel, she knows how it will end.

“I have to know where I’m going, so that part is very carefully planned,” she said. “The stuff in between is the fun of writing, figuring out where the twists and turns are. The readers assume you’ll go left, then you go right – I love that part. That’s the trickery of it. I love knowing secrets and throwing them out at the right time for the best impact and giving the reader that roller-coaster feeling ...
The hardest part is always the end. When you first start a book, it’s very exciting and you pour your heart and soul into the first part. I want to make sure the ending is just as fantastic as the beginning. When the reader finishes that last page, I want them to say ‘Wow!’ I hope that ending stays with them long after they finish the book.”

When she broke into print in 2001 with “Blindsighted” – the first book in the Grant County series, which introduced medical examiner Dr. Sara Linton and her ex-husband Jeffrey Tolliver, the police chief – Slaughter’s novels were considered too “female-centric” for Hollywood.

Nowadays, she has three movie and TV deals. Before “Pieces of Her” was even published, it had already been optioned as have her two other standalone novels “The Good Daughter” and “Cop Town.” However, she couldn’t talk about these deals since they’re in the early stages of development.

“I think that maybe we waited long enough where it’s acceptable to have stories about complicated women,” she said. “When I first started out, me, Patricia Cornwell, and Kathy Reichs were (the only women) writing what they call ‘meaty thrillers’... (It) was shocking for the world to know women would be writing about stuff that men normally write about. Early on, one of the things I kept hearing people say was, ‘Wow, you write like a man.’ That’s a compliment.”

Slaughter believes the advent of #MeTooMovement – a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault that began in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein that went viral last year – and how TV series are no longer weekly standalone stories are other factors in her Hollywood deals.

“TV is more about telling long-form stories and the whole idea of bingeing TV shows is acceptable parlance,” she said. “I remember when my Grant County series was optioned, they wanted to change everything and make them standalone stories week to week because nobody cared about serialized stories. Now that’s all people care about. The world has changed since I’ve been writing books. There’s so many shows where women are multi-faceted and they’re not just talking about ‘I hope I have a boyfriend’ and they’re not just here to support the man who’s the hero. It’s really about showing women who they are as opposed someone’s aspirations of who and what women should be.”

Slaughter will be involved in these three adaptations in some capacity.

“(The creators) have been generous in letting me talk to the writers and producers,” she said. “They see writers as an asset rather than as someone who’d they pay to go away. I feel lucky they’ve involved me in the process.”

Slaughter spoke about the dark tone of her novels.

“For a while, people didn’t want to believe that women could think like this. The fact that anyone who knows that a woman can give birth can put up with (expletive),” she said, laughing.
According to Slaughter, homicide is always one of the top five causes of mortality.

“I think it’s something women don’t dwell on, but they’re cognizant of it and makes them take inventory of their surroundings,” she said. “It changes their lives in a way men don’t really have. For instance, women are much more careful online than men have to be because you could piss off the wrong guy and there’s your address printed online for the world to see or you’re being stalked or you’re having the SWAT team show up. Just the language towards women can be very violent and scary.”

Slaughter continued: “A lot of crimes in the world come from a place of hating women. If you look at a lot of serial killers and school-shooters, their initial rage is focused on women and what they think women should give them. (Sandy Hook shooter) Adam Lanza’s first victim was his mother... Another key indicator of a serial killer who kills women is a hatred of women, so I think we should start looking at the way language around women is permitted to be violent, especially on the Internet.”
 

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