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Book Talk: Secrets behind the thin blue line

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Georgia FBI agent Faith Mitchell stops at her mother's house to pick up her infant daughter after work -- but her daughter is locked in a shed, there's blood on the front door, and no sign of her mother.
/ Source: Reuters

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Georgia FBI agent Faith Mitchell stops at her mother's house to pick up her infant daughter after work -- but her daughter is locked in a shed, there's blood on the front door, and no sign of her mother.

"Fallen," by Karin Slaughter, follows Mitchell as she goes in with her gun drawn, finds a hostage situation, shoots and kills one man, and ends up a suspect in the investigation that follows. The investigation stretches deep into her past and that of her mother, a former policewoman who resigned due to a corruption scandal.

Slaughter, who has written 11 books -- many of them bestsellers -- spoke with Reuters about her book and the pleasures and perils of writing a series.

Q: What gave you the idea for this book?

A: "I hang around a lot with agents from the GBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and they let me go on a training exercise with them. I wasn't training but I watched them and they took over an abandoned school and did a school shooter simulation. I got to follow each agent through as they trained for what could very well be a likely scenario.

"Just walking behind them, I was so full of adrenaline and my heart was pounding, even though it wasn't real and they were using fake ammunition. Even after going through 40 times with 40 different agents, it was still edge-of-your-seat exhilarating, and I got home and started writing the opening to 'Fallen.'"

Q: Has this kind of thing been an interest of yours for a while?

A: "I was in Atlanta and was a kid during the Atlanta child murders, so that made me very aware of crime at an early age. I was always an avid reader and started reading 'True Crime.' Of course the details of the crimes are interesting to me but my focus in my reading and in my work is always what it does to the people it leaves behind. Because living in a period in Atlanta history when children are being murdered, and being a child myself, I really saw from an under-the-table view how people change toward each other. It really made my life very different. Suddenly we had this fear in us that we didn't have before, and that makes people different people.

"That's always been the focus of my work, I do enjoy writing about the horrible things that humanity visits upon us, but I also think the fascinating part is what's Faith going to do after she shoots a man, her mother's missing. How she is going to respond to this and how will this change her as a person?"

Q: How did this series get started?

A: "I love reading thrillers and I love reading series, so I started my first series, which was called 'Grant County,' and I wrote six books in that. Sara Linton, who you meet in 'Fallen,' was in Grant County. And then I thought, it seems kind of improbable that such bad things keep happening in this small Georgia town ... so I decided to change things and pull Sara into Atlanta. I had already written a couple of books with Will Trent, with an eye to him eventually meeting Sara, and I just brought them together as part of my master plan."

Q: What are the good and bad parts of writing a series?

A: "The difficulties to me are the pleasures. With each book, I have to find something new to say about the characters. I also have to write it in such a way that even if you've never read any of my other books before, you know immediately who these characters are.

"I try to find something new to say about them each time, or a new thing to reveal about them. There are some things, like Will's dyslexia, that I have to reveal each time in a book. But as I've written about him more and more, that's become something that's less at the forefront. That's the fun of it. I don't want my readers to feel that they're being hit over the head with things, but I need to reward the long-time reader and also find a way to appeal to the new reader. That's a delicate balance.

"It's kind of like complaining about winning the lottery, because I get to write for a living, and there are so many people who would love to do that and who dream of doing that. Even bad days writing are better than good days working on a power line or whatever else people are doing out there."