When the best-selling crime novelist Karin Slaughter needs to bounce out of Atlanta to find the time and mental space to write, she beelines for the hills and her writing cabin in the North Georgia mountain town of Blue Ridge. “You can’t look out from a cabin, see trees, and not be relaxed,” she says. We chatted with the author, whose next novel (she has published nearly two dozen), False Witness, comes out later this month, about her latest projects, the pit stops she makes on the way out of town, and her favorite spots once she reaches cooler mountain air.
They filmed the bulk of it in Australia, but there will still be some filming coming up in Atlanta and Savannah—it’s set in South Georgia, and you just can’t transport bougainvillea and the real look of guys walking around in Bass shoes and shorts with a crease.
Where do you stop on the way out of town from Atlanta?
There’s both a QuikTrip and a RaceTrac on the way to and fro, each on opposite sides of the road, so I generally try to make a pit stop and get a Coke Icee, which is one of the treats I used to get when I was a kid. I don’t drink sodas, so it’s an extra punch of sugar when I need it most.
What route do you take to the mountains?
It’s a straight shot from Atlanta up to 75, then 575, and we’ve got something called a flyover lane now that makes it much easier if you have a Peach Pass. My father built a cabin on a creek up there for me almost twenty years ago, and a lot has changed since then, but the view is still the same spectacular view as always. (Funny story, we—my dad and I—designed our cabin together. Recently, when I added on, I asked if he had the original building plans and he said, “I don’t know where that napkin is.”) About ten miles into 575, you can feel the temperature start to drop and get peeks of the mountains, but it’s not until Ellijay that I feel my shoulders relax and my lungs take in a full breath of clean air.
Favorite things to see along that route?
The thing you’ll see most on the drive up is dentists who are weekend bikers, so there’s a ton of motorcycles and trikes heading up every weekend. There’s one scenic view worth stopping for on 575 that gives you a breathtaking mountaintop view. From Blue Ridge, you can do what’s called the “Suches It Is” loop through Morganton, Blue Ridge, Suches, and Blairsville. Along the way you can take in the Swinging Bridge over the Toccoa River, Vogel State Park, and the Chattahoochee National forest. When you get to the highest points in the county, you can see Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and the Carolinas by turning yourself like the hands on a clock.
Do you listen to music while you drive?
I don’t always listen to music, but if I do, I listen to country songs about lost love, murder, wanting to kill your husband, cheating on your wife… [Laughs.] Those songs set me in a frame of mind for the kind of writing I do. I’ll always pay attention when I hear Dolly, and I admit I will liberally steal ideas from her. I’m a huge fan. I still get choked up every time I hear “Jolene” or “Coat of Many Colors.”
What are some of your favorite spots in Blue Ridge?
Twenty years ago, there were very few restaurants and a smattering of antique stores along Main Street. Now, there all kinds of neat shops that feature everything from custom fishing rods to amazing wines, but my favorite is Blue Ridge Olive Oil Company. At first, I thought there was no way they could sell enough olive oil to pay the rent, but then I went inside and they were offering fresh bread pieces to dip into samples and that is how I ended up with $300 worth of E.V.O.O. in my pantry.
Harvest on Main in Blue Ridge is a terrific fine-dining restaurant. It’s probably the best place to get a steak in town, and they are known for their inventive cocktails. (Fun fact: the county was dry until my dad worked to get liquor by the drink approved. He got death threats, and someone shot up a sign in front of his house).
Mercier Orchards is another one of those places that has blossomed over the years. They ship worldwide, so it’s a great place to do your Christmas shopping. My favorites are the Braeburns and Pink Ladies.
I would be remiss in not mentioning the nicest, cleanest coin laundry in town, Blue Ridge Coin Laundry, which in the interest of transparency I should admit is owned by my father. Free Wi-Fi and clean bathrooms.
What’s the personality of the town like?
It’s an interesting blend—and not an unusual one for vacation towns—of locals and people from the cities. Among the waitstaffs of people who live and work there, you’ll hear a lot of that firm Appalachian hill accent way of speaking. “You’uns” is one of the words. One time I heard a waitress say, “Where is you’uns from?” And the guy said, “I’m from Athens, where are y’all’s people from?” It was like a battle of who is more Southern.
Do you go for walks up there?
I’m really a treadmill person. But a lot of times when I’m feeling exhausted, I’ll go over to Sue’s Burgers, the place with the slogan, “Best Burgers in Town.” Something about the hamburger grease lubricates my brain.
Are you able to get some solitude there?
Up there, I’m more famous for being my dad’s daughter than anything else. He knows a lot of people, and I have a lot of anonymity because I keep to myself. I just like it to be very quiet, me and the story. I have a busy mind and it calms me down and focuses me on the one task of writing. I get such a sense of accomplishment from being able to focus, to plot out my stories, and make sure that readers are always guessing.