The Booktopia Book Guru Asks
Broken, Genesis, Triptych and more,
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Convington, Georgia, which is about fifty miles south of Atlanta, where I currently live. I did the usual school, then went on to college at Georgia State University, where I studied Renaissance poetry. I dropped out two classes before graduation because I’d started my own sign company and wanted to direct all my time toward that. Plus, I didn’t want to take the requisite math classes that I was lacking!
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a writer. I’m one of those boring people who still have the first book they wrote when they were six years old. I never thought I could make a living from my writing, so I did other things, but at the age of twenty-seven, I sold a very successful business so that I could devote more time to writing.
I was determined to have a book published before I turned thirty. It’s funny, because you don’t often meet people who are doing exactly what they want to do for a job. When I was in kindergarten, the teacher asked us all what we wanted to be when we grew up (I think she was looking for alternative ideas to teaching) and there were only two kids who, as adults, are doing exactly what they said they wanted to do: me and a girl who said she wanted to be divorced from a very wealthy man.
That people are either good or bad. What I’ve found is that they are generally somewhere in between. That’s really the point of my work now—exploring that in between. The gray is much more fascinating than black and white.
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Flannery O’Connor’s essays, Mystery and Manners, had a huge impact on me. I read her short stories when I was a teenager, and I loved the sudden violence and humour, and that a woman from a good southern family could get away with writing about such gory things. When I studied O’Connor in college, I started to see that the violence was really more of a fulcrum to peel back the scab on humanity. If there is any one writer who’s had a direct influence on my work, it’s O’Connor.
I can’t say that a painting has ever influenced a story, but I really enjoy the photography of Catherine Opie. I’m not as keen on her portraits, but her freeway series manages to evoke both loneliness and claustrophobia at the same time; no simple feat.
I’m not one of those writers who can listen to music while I work, but I love Red Molly’s murder ballads and Shelby Lynne’s love songs. Anytime women sing in soft harmony, I’m there.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
You might as well ask me why I choose to breathe! I really enjoy painting and while I like music, except for the triangle, I’m not very good on any instrument (you can hear my triangling on my track, “Gimme Goobers” available on my website…) I love the written word. I’ve always been thrilled by language, and the craft of telling a story. I suppose I owe my southern roots a great deal of gratitude because the oral tradition is still alive and well here. Every person on every corner has a dark secret or shocking history that aches to be told. When I was a kid, I always loved going to church with my grandmother, because after the service she would introduce me to her friends, and as soon as they walked away, she would whisper something terribly indiscreet about them, “well, you know her husband drinks,” or “she caught her youngest son wearing her underwear the other day.”
Broken takes us back to Grant County. It opens with Lena watching a body being pulled out of Lake Grant. It looks like a suicide, but of course it can’t be that easy. Meanwhile, Sara is back in town for the first time in four years. It’s Thanksgiving, and she’s surrounded by her family, which is slightly overwhelming for her. She gets pulled into the case Lena is working on, and calls in Will Trent and Faith Mitchell, from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, in the hopes that she has finally found a way to punish Lena for her myriad crimes.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Primarily, I hope they think that they’ve read a very good story. I think a lot of authors forget they’re supposed to entertain readers, or they get caught up staring at their navels for hundreds of pages, which as a reader I don’t find very rewarding. If readers want to explicate the story on a deeper level, I certainly talk about social issues in my books, so if you’re looking for a glimpse of, say, poverty in America or racial attitudes in small towns or the long reach of domestic violence through generations of families, there’s certainly a slice of that.
I always try to keep in mind that while I am writing composites of certain types of characters, for the most part, there are real-life, breathing examples out in the world. I want to honor their lives. I’m not just writing for the person who can go into a bookstore and buy ten books without blinking an eye. I’m also writing for the person who has to decide between two paperbacks because they can’t afford both. They deserve a good story.
In crime fiction, I absolutely adore Mo Hayder. I think she takes amazing risks. Her work can be very dark, though, so I don’t recommend her for everyone. One book that I have forced on everyone I know is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I must admit a prejudice here since she’s a southern writer, but The Help is a wonderful novel. I so admire writers who set out to tell good stories and achieve their goals.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My goal all along has been to write a better book each time. I hope I am achieving that. It’s nice to top the bestseller lists or get good reviews and it’s certainly a pleasure to meet my readers when I tour for a new book, but at the end of the day, I am always competing against myself.
It seems really simple, but I always tell them to read. You might be surprised how many will say, “I don’t have time,” or “I’m too busy writing.” Reading is important to everyone—it trains our minds to question what we are told, it hones cognitive abilities. If you are a writer, reading gives you a sense or rhythm and how story works. Even if it’s a bad book or a silly book, you’re always learning something. And it’s very easy to spot the writers who aren’t reading, because they basically write the same book again and again. You’ll never grow as a writer—or (dare I say!) as a person—if you do not read. (BBGuru: Brilliant, brilliant advice!)
Karin, thank you for playing.
Thanks for thinking of me!