I didn't sleep much last week. I was exhausted. I drew dirty looks from my fiance--that is when I deigned to pay attention to him. My three year old had to say "Mommy" three or four times before she got my attention. My boss said I seem distracted. My work in progress was on hold. This could only mean one thing. The new Karin Slaughter book is out! It came out last Tuesday. It was supposed to be released on May 31st of this year but for reasons unknown to us lowly readers, they made us wait another 20 days. I had this book auto-delivered to my Kindle and I happily paid $12.99 for the e-book. Normally I would read this in one night but I forced myself to slow down. I wanted to really enjoy it. And I did. I realized this week that Karin Slaughter is my favorite author. I've never really had a favorite. In my mind, there were too many awesome writers out there for me to choose a favorite. Plus there are all those great, immortal authors whose works are so incredible they live on decades or centuries after the author has left us--Shakespeare, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Richard Wright, James Baldwin to name a few. I've had love affairs with the works of certain authors over the years--Milan Kundera was my constant companion in my late teens, early 20s. But I've never had a favorite author, really. Not an author whose newest book I wait longingly for and buy the day it is released. Most of the time, I'm not aware that my favorites have released a new book until a few months after it has been out. But over the years, Karin Slaughter has become my favorite author.
Karin Slaughter writes in my favorite genre which--in spite of my education in literature--is crime fiction. This also happens to be the genre I love to write. One of the things I love about Slaughter is that she never disappoints. She's got the Grant County Series and then she's got a few stand alone novels. The stand alones feature most of the same characters but you could easily read them out of order. The last few books she's brought the main character from the Grant County series and the characters from the stand alones together and in my estimation, this makes for better books! You can really read any one of her books as a stand alone. I started with the second book in her Grant County series and had no problems following things or falling in love with the characters. It will mean more if you read them in order though. Over the years, Slaughter has brought tears to my eyes and made me throw her books across the room screaming.
A few years back she killed off one of the main characters in the Grant County Series. A character I had been very attached to; a character I could not imagine the other characters living without. It was horrible. I felt betrayed and devastated. I vowed never to read another word Slaughter wrote. I wrote her a nasty letter which wouldn't go through to her email due to technical difficulties. It was just as well. I cannot resist her books. As soon as the next one came out, I shamefacedly read it, aware that all my bluster and nasty words had been for naught. I couldn't resist finding out what had happened to my beloved favorite characters. I read on. I read through the betrayal and now, a few fabulous books later I find that her most recent book, Fallen, is the most satisfying book yet. That's how I felt when I finished it Thursday night. Satisfied. Happy. I'm happy I kept reading. I love these characters. I root for them. Slaughter can be very ruthless--she doesn't pull any punches. I think her depiction of the evil people are capable of is particularly realistic which is what makes it all the more scary. Her characters are battle-scarred and world-weary but they are all the more loveable for that. They grow and they change--not always in the direction you expect or even want but they do change with time and experience. Personally, I love following a handful of great characters over a number of books.
As a writer, I'm always astounded by how tightly constructed Slaughter's plots are and this past week I noticed something that she does in every book that sucks readers in. I'm not sure how I missed it before. It's an old rule--hook the reader right away. Always with Slaughter her first chapter starts out normal--nothing dramatic, no explosions, no CGI. Fallen begins with one of the main characters--Faith--driving home from a work training session, worrying because she is running late and she cannot get ahold of her mother by phone or email. She is especially worried because her mother has been watching her infant daughter while she's been at work. But by the end of the chapter Faith's four month old daughter is trapped in a hot shed, her mother is missing and she's shot two people. The first few pages may not be particularly heart-stopping but the first chapter overall starts off with a breathtaking bang!
I thought back to all her previous books and realized that this is what Slaughter does in each book. The first chapter puts you right into the heart of the conflict at the center of the book. As I said, this isn't an old idea. Us aspiring writers who are looking for agents or publishers hear this all the time--you have to hook the reader immediately. Of course all the things I've read lately say you should try to do it in the first 2 paragraphs or the first 250 words. I don't think that's particularly realistic. I like what Slaughter does. Although the first few paragraphs or pages seem slow, she's giving you a chance to get to know the character before she puts her in peril. If I didn't know the main character in Fallen from previous books and in the first two paragraphs she had shot two people, I would think, "Who cares? Why should I care about this woman and who she killed and why?" But the build-up to the big bang at the end of the chapter is what makes the hook so masterful. By the end of the chapter you know that this woman is a single mother, a detective, a hard-working woman who struggles with diabetes. She has a four month old she cannot wait to get back to. She's close to her mother who is watching her baby that day. You have a chance to get inside her head and connect with her so toward the end of the chapter when she walks into a perilous situation, your heart is pounding. You're invested.
So in the matter of just a few pages, you've learned a lot of background about the main character, you've connected with her and then you've been catapulted into the mystery that is the plot of the book. I say catapulted because when you do get to the conflict at the end of the chapter, it's quite dramatic. This actually is my favorite start to any of Slaughter's books. She's at the top of her game in Fallen. This is what I want to try to do in my own work, starting with what I'm working on. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy Slaughter's latest book but I learned a lot from her too.