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Exclusive Interview: Karin Slaughter teases her upcoming thriller novel False Witness

Image of Karin Slaughter and book cover of False Witness.
Karin Slaughter’s upcoming book False Witness will be released this summer. Courtesy: Harper Collins

Karin Slaughter’s writing never fails to entertain and impassion her readers, leaving them in awe. This New York Times Bestselling author is best known for writing works that dig beneath the surface and seamlessly intertwine relevant social issues. Her upcoming standalone novel, False Witness, follows the same track.

Slaughter is an acclaimed author with 21 novels, published in 120 countries. She is also the founder of the nonprofit organization Save the Libraries.

Her latest novel False Witness will instantly hit her readers hard as it involves the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as Slaughter told us in our recent interview, “It’s not a book about the pandemic, it just takes place during the pandemic.”

Readers will find that as the story plays out, Slaughter and her characters effortlessly paint a picture of COVID-19 life by using the imagery and behaviors that everyone around the globe has grown used to.

The main character in False Witness is Atlanta lawyer Leigh Collier. Leigh has a constant inner dialogue about “mask-holes” and colleagues who instinctively pull their masks away from their faces while they chat. She catalogs her observations on vaccines and social bubbles, all while being pushed to the forefront of a violent crime that connects to her dark childhood.

Monsters and Critics was able to chat with Karin Slaughter about her upcoming novel, False Witness, and her decision to incorporate the COVID-19 pandemic into the storyline. We also asked about the Netflix adaptation of her prior novel Pieces of Her.

About the characters in False Witness

As False Witness doesn’t hit the bookshelves until July 20, Slaughter couldn’t share too much about the characters in the novel and their complicated story. Although when asked about her inspiration behind the “two really incredible, resilient female characters,” in False Witness, Slaughter said, “Initially, I knew I wanted to write this sister relationship. But, as the pandemic started really happening and I sat down to write, I thought this is an opportunity to talk about trauma because Leigh and Callie both experienced a horrific trauma in their youth.”

She continued to say, “And we see how that affects them as adults and how it splinters them in a way. They love each other and they’re sisters, and they care for each other. But when they’re together, they remind each other of that horrible past.”

Speaking about the stark differences between the two characters, Slaughter added, “Leigh’s response to it [her trauma] is to become very controlling, even down to who she is when she sees a different person; whether it’s her daughter or her husband, or her ‘f**k buddy,’ or her boss, or a client. She’s a different person to each new situation. Her response to this trauma is to have control.”

“On the other hand, Callie’s response is to completely abdicate control. You know, she just floats along. At times, she can control her addiction. At other times, she has to give in to it. She just really doesn’t have a lot of agency in her own life. Those two different traits became amplified as I wrote about them.”

About the pandemic storyline

When first asked to predict her reader’s reaction to the pandemic storyline, Slaughter shared, “Well, I hope they aren’t like: I’m sick of COVID[-19], I don’t want to read anything that’s COVID[-19].”

She chalked up her inspiration to the short story Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter — a novel that the author read while she was in college. Slaughter said, “I read Pale Horse, Pale Rider, which is the eponymous short story in the Katherine Anne Porter collection about the flu pandemic in 1918. And she had the flu, she nearly died.”

“Her body temperature rose so high, her hair turned white when she was a young woman. So, it really had a lasting impact on her. She wanted to write about the taste, the feel, the visceral horror of the pandemic. And I remember — you know, we read about the pandemic in school — it’s a paragraph: 1918, really bad flu. Then it went away.”

“But reading this story, it was like, holy crap.”

Continuing on, Slaughter added, “And I thought this is my opportunity to try to do the same thing; to capture things history books won’t capture. Like the disparity between Leigh, who’s this white-collar worker with all of these protections in place, and Callie, who lives a transient life. And the thought of wearing a mask is just kind of laughable to her.”

About the Pieces of Her adaptation

While False Witness is gearing up for its big release, so is the Netflix adaptation of Slaughter’s previous novel Pieces of Her which will star Toni Collette [Hereditary, Knives Out].

When asked if the on-screen adaptation of the book has changed her writing process, Slaughter shared that her writing process has stayed the same.

She told us, “I always pictured my books as shows or movies because that’s what I grew up on. My generation was the latchkey kids. We had a lot of TVs that we watched growing up when we got home from school. Between that and General Hospital, it really informed my writing.”

Speaking towards her involvement with the upcoming Netflix series, she shared, “Charlotte Stout is the head writer and she’s got a writer’s room that she’s put together. I met with them two years ago in Los Angeles when they were breaking the stories.”

“I’ve read the script and I’ll get questions at night because it’s in Australia. There’s like a 16-hour time difference. They’ll ask: Hey, how do you pronounce this character’s name? Or, what do you think of this, or what was your motivation for that?”

So I felt very involved in it. But at the end of the day, it’s not even an adaptation, it’s an interpretation. Like, I have Andy sitting in a car for three chapters and that would not be riveting television. Right? So they had to make some changes. But I agree with the changes. I think they’ve done a fantastic job.”

Watch our full conversation:

Check out our other interviews: Netflix’s Blue Miracle and The Bite.

False Witness goes on sale on July 20. It is currently available for pre-order at Harper Collins and all major bookstores.

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