Karin Slaughter 

Atlanta author continues Grant County series in Beyond Reach

Author Karin Slaughter's murder-mystery thrillers make a killing on the best-seller lists. Beyond Reach is the sixth in a series chronicling Dr. Sara Linton, the pediatrician and coroner of a small Georgia town. This latest installment of the Grant County series is poised for as much success as its international-best-selling predecessors. Slaughter kicks off the promotional tour Tuesday, July 31, at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble Norcross.

When did your interest in writing mysteries begin? It started with Encyclopedia Brown when I was a kid, and I guess I haven't looked back since. Nancy Drew, Sara Paretsky, Denise Mina – I love stories where you're driven to find out how it's all going to end, so that's the kind of books I try to write.

What first inspired your Grant County series, which now consists of six novels including the latest, Beyond Reach? I wanted to write a story about the real South – my South. Television and movies always show the South as being filled with sweaty, racist hicks with trashy accents. And let's not forget the ubiquitous slide guitar playing in the background! We have air conditioners down here. Sweet Auburn was the Harlem of the South and gave us great men like Martin Luther King Jr. Also, having grown up in a small town myself, it seemed like a natural thing to write about.

For your novel, Triptych, you focus on Atlanta detective Michael Ormewood, leaving behind Grant County. What made you revisit Grant County and its colorful characters in your latest book? I can't imagine not having a Grant County story to tell. I just feel compelled to explore these characters and find out what makes them tick. That's not to say that changes aren't on the way, but for me, that's the fun part. I don't want the characters to ever become stagnant. They need to grow and change and have new experiences. I guess as a writer I feel the same way. Triptych was a nice break, and it made me even more passionate about going back to Grant County and telling Sara, Jeffrey and Lena's story.

Your writing has a great range. How can you convey such intimate, poignant relationships, while, in the same novel, commanding such shockingly gruesome images? I actually work on that balance a lot. ... It really is a tightrope, but to me, the intimacy acts as a counterbalance to the violence. I never want to write something graphic just for the sake of doing it. There has to be a point; it's the same as a sex scene. If the passage or observation doesn't move the story along, if it doesn't tell you something you didn't know about the characters before, then it doesn't belong. I also think that as these things go, I'm not the most graphic writer out there. It's because you care about the characters that the grittier scenes seem more visceral. The reader has to feel for the characters, to relate to them, at least, or the rest doesn't work.

You wrote a highly praised short story, "Cold Cold Heart," that was not a mystery. What plans do you have to stray from mystery writing again in the future? Oh, I don't agree that wasn't a mystery! Flannery O'Connor said that all good stories have some sort of mystery at their core, whether it's a simple whodunit or a question of "what will this person do next?" With Pam in "Cold Cold Heart," the mystery is certainly there. It starts in the first paragraph: What's with the ice? How did John die? What ruined their perfect life? But ... I have lots of plans to explore every corner of the genre.

What are you working on now? The next book is outside the Grant County series and takes place in Atlanta. It's not really a sequel to Triptych, but it has some of the same characters. Beyond Reach was such an emotional journey for me, and touched on a lot of issues I feel so passionately about – families, domestic violence, the scourge of meth in small towns. I just wanted to get back to a big city where violence isn't so unexpected, and I had some more things to say about Will Trent.

As an acclaimed author, you've spent a lot of time promoting your No. 1 best sellers around the country. What keeps you grounded in Atlanta? I suppose what keeps me most grounded is that Atlanta is the one place that really feels like home to me. I love the South so much. I don't think I could write about it if I didn't live here.

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