Aug 212012

Two of the best suspense novelists working today, one lively conversation–what more could you ask for? Goodreads was kind enough to let us excerpt a portion of Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott’s chat, more of which can be found here. And don’t miss Flynn’s GONE GIRL and Abbott’s DARE ME, both now in bookstores everywhere!

Megan Abbott: A couple years back we realized we both had been strongly influenced by watching, as kids in the 1980s, true-crime TV movies (the Golden Age for these kinds of movies). Do you have a favorite or two?

Gillian Flynn: Oh, sweet, sweet movies of the week. My all-time favorite (as in, I own it and watch it once a year or so) is A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story, a 1992 TV movie starring the sublime Meredith Baxter. It’s based on a real case: Betty Broderick, a wealthy Southern California housewife, began spiraling out of control when her influential lawyer husband left her (after she helped put him through law school and med school). She ultimately shot both her ex and his new wife while they were sleeping. The case is much more nuanced than these basic outlines, but let me say that it intrigues me because it’s about a relationship gone very toxic, escalating animosities, the perils of attaching one’s identity to someone else, and the dangers of righteousness. The movie is legitimately great—Baxter is fascinating. If you want to read about the case, check out Bella Stumbo’s true-crime book, Until the 12th of Never. It’s stunning.

That’s my long answer: And you, Megan? Your favorite, legitimately good, and your favorite guilty pleasure TV movie?

MA: Oh, what a great question! I think A Friend to Die For AKA Death of a Cheerleader with Kellie Martin and (yes) Tori Spelling would be right up there. It’s actually a very meaty tale (based on a true crime) and speaks volumes about the pressures of being a teenage girl. Second only to Small Sacrifices with Farrah Fawcett, which I haven’t seen in many years but terrified me for years (“Hungry Like the Wolf” never sounded the same thereafter…)

Gillian, what was that one with Hillary Swank we both had watched?

GF: Dying to Belong! Hilary Swank’s friend joins a sorority, is hazed by the evil queen bee (Scrubs’s Sarah Chalke) and mysteriously falls to her death from a clock tower. Hilary investigates. I remember girls writing mean things on freshmen pledges with magic marker (am I making this up?) and also Hilary Swank and Mark-Paul Gosselaar riding a lot of bikes to the tune of Sophie B. Hawkins’ “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” This is starting to sound like a fever dream.

MA: Oh gosh, that’s totally right. They markered all over their body parts, telling them where they were too flabby. I never forgot that. If it’s a fever dream, it’s one that returns, like malaria!

GF: Megan, speaking of the evil girls do to each other, it reminds me of that fantastic line in DARE ME, “There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.”

Did that line come to you as you were writing, or was that a guiding theme early on of DARE ME?

MA: It came to me as I was writing, though originally it was buried later in the book. It kept sticking in my head, so I knew I had to move it forward.

I wonder with you about the notion of the “Cool Girl,” which is one of the most memorable passages in Gone Girl. (It begins: ““Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping…” and is quoted in full here.

Was that an early idea? When I read it, I nearly gasped it was so perfect, so incisive.

GF: I actually had a lot of trouble getting Amy’s voice and nailing her down. In the final version, she writes quizzes for women’s magazines for a living, but originally I had her as a columnist. So to figure her out more, I wrote a lot of her columns in her voice—just as an exercise. But that one I liked so much I couldn’t bear to get rid of it, so I worked it into the book.

Reader Question:: It seems like the “evil” female keeps cropping up this summer. Before I read Gone Girl, I happened upon Serena by Ron Rash. Now that’s an evil anti-hero(ine). I keep hearing selfish women in my music as well. Could this be a manifestation of frustrated feminists, not satisfied with women’s true roles?

Serena is a beautiful, haunting novel, isn’t it? Fear any woman who has a pet eagle.

I like to write about evil women because I think truly frightening women are under-represented in literature. Not campy villainesses but truly dangerous, evil-minded women. For me, I suppose it is in a way a feminist statement: I get weary of the idea that women are naturally good and nurturing. I think women struggle with evil as mightily as men do. I don’t want that struggle to be dismissed. I want credit for it!

MA: Evil is such a subjective word. I admit I never really think of any of my characters (or yours) as “evil.” One of the things I find so compelling about good crime fiction is it shows the complexities behind people behaving badly. That actions may be destructive or even cruel but as the book unfolds the picture gets more complicated. What do you think?

Like this conversation? Read it in its entirety on

Aug 202012

Sunny readingI seem to be on a cycle in which I finish books in early summer for a late fall release. It happened again this year – much, I’m sure, to my editor’s frustration. I’ve just finished up my next novel The Black Box, blowing all kinds of deadlines in the process. The frustrating part for my editor and copyeditor is that the longer I take, the less time they have to work their magic and make the book better.

But I have no worry this year or any year. The team that works on these books is the best and the book is in very good hands.

What’s been nice for me is that it turns summer into a real vacation for me. I don’t want to start my next book, even though I am thinking about it all the time, until all the editing and polishing of The Black Box is finished. That gives me time to catch up on books and movies and other projects. So then, here is an update on how I spent my summer vacation.

First, reading list. Most people think that because I write books that I must be reading books all the time. Not true. On one hand, you have to always be reading. It refills the tank, stimulates ideas and inspires. It’s important. The only problem is it can be intrusive to your own work. So when I am writing I am usually reading sparingly. I am lucky in that I get sent a lot of books to read. I look them over and put the one I want to read to the side for later. That is, if I can wait. Sometimes I can’t wait to jump on a book as soon as I pick it up at the store or it comes in the mail.

This has been a good summer for me. Reading both old and new books and even new old books (I’ll explain later), I have not been disappointed.

One book that really popped for me was Michael Koryta’s new novel The Prophet. Koryta seems to be one of the young writers everybody’s watching. He wrote some early private eye stuff that I really liked. He then flexed his muscles and took a few swings at some horror-tinged stuff. I liked his ghost stories but between you and me I was waiting for him to come back to crime. He has done that with The Prophet but in a big way with a big story about brothers that sprawls across a couple decades. This is a pitch over the plate to me. I call them time travel stories. Not because there is any sci-fi here, but because they are stories about how the past informs the present, how it reaches right across time and grabs someone by the collar. Koryta has done it here and I count this as his best book yet.

I also had a good time reading Alafair Burke’s latest, Never Tell, toting it with me across Italy on a half work/half vacation trip. Burke also returns to roots with one of her series characters, Ellie Hatcher. You can’t go wrong there.

One of the highlights of the summer was returning to Catcher in the Rye through the eyes of my daughter who was assigned the J.D. Salinger novel on her school’s summer read list. Also on there was John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which was fun because about six years ago John signed a copy of his book An Abundance of Katherines to my daughter and gave it to me, saying she should wait a few years before reading it. She’s doing that now.

The new old book I just finished reading was the latest from James M. Cain. That’s right, James M. Cain. The Cocktail Waitress was the last novel he wrote but it was never published and parts sat hidden in an agent’s file and the Library of Congress. The lost novel was tracked down by Publisher/Editor Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime and will be published later this summer. I wrote a review of the book for the New York Times.

There’s a couple other books out there on the horizon and will be published fairly soon. I am reading ahead of the curve because I get galleys of soon to be published novels sent to me. One of the perks of the job. Dick Wolf, the creator of all those Law and Order shows and spinoffs, has finally written a novel and its pretty damn good. The Intercept is a cool introduction to Jeremy Fisk, a detective with NYPD’s Intelligence Division.

And a perennial favorite of mine, Stephen Hunter, has a book coming soon that is sure to make a splash. The Third Bullet is a contemporary story that draws us back to the Kennedy assassination fifty years ago. The book is imaginative and riveting. I loved what Stephen King did with the Kennedy Assassination in 11/23/63 and Hunter’s book is equally up to the task of telling a dramatic fictional story from such a monumental moment in history.

Next up for me will be Megan Abbott’s new one, Dare Me. I can’t wait to get into that.

This summer has scene some pretty good progress on a pair of non-book projects that are near and dear to me. First up, the documentary I am helping to produce – Sound of Redemption; the Frank Morgan Project – is coming along nicely. Director NC Heiken began filming interviews of those who knew the gifted but troubled jazzman and gathering archival material. There is already enough there to make me very excited about this film that will examine and honor Frank’s life. We are now gearing up for the second half of filming this fall and the film should be finished in early 2013. This started out as a labor of love. I liked Frank a lot and loved his music. He was very giving to me as he was to many others. I felt his story should be told and now it is. But it is being told at a level I think is much better and beyond what I could have imagined. NC and her crew have really taken the project close to heart and I think something special will come of it.

Talk about things close to the heart, I am very excited these days about the prospects of seeing Harry Bosch realized as a character on television. It’s been a long journey but finally this year I wrested control of the rights to the character back. After much due diligence and cautious effort, the basis of a very credible production of the Bosch stories is taking form. I’ve partnered up with Eric Overmyer, a wonderful writer, and a production company called Fuse. Our group goal is to keep the integrity of Bosch and the stories as they go from the written page to the small screen. I think it can be done and I think this is the team to do it.

Henrik Bastin, the producer at Fuse, impressed me as the man to trust Harry Bosch with from the day I met him. We had breakfast in a Hollywood coffee shop. Henrik came in and put the cartridge of a rifle bullet down on the table. He said, “This is the kind of detail we must put into any Harry Bosch show.” Of course, I knew he was referencing the jar of bullet casings Harry collects at the funerals of officers killed in the line of duty. It told me a lot about what drew Henrik to the books and it made me excited. Now that Eric has joined the project I guess I am off the page with hope for something special. Stay tuned for ongoing developments.


"I did it for the money and the woman. I didn’t get the money. I didn’t get the woman.” I love that…"

 Dare Me, double indemnity, James M. Cain, Megan Abbott, noir  Comments Off on "I did it for the money and the woman. I didn’t get the money. I didn’t get the woman.” I love that…"
Aug 162012

““I did it for the money and the woman. I didn’t get the money. I didn’t get the woman.” I love that line. It’s classic noir. That’s really all you need to know.”

Dare Me author Megan Abbott’s favorite line. Via Omnivoracious.

May 252012

Noir sp

A recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

It’s like the lit crit version of “If you, foolish child, still believed in Santa Claus, it’s not my fault I ruined it for you.” It seems instructive in terms of that perpetual false paradigm of “literary fiction vs. genre fiction.” There seems a real desire to diminish or dismiss “suspense” as being a shallow  or ”dirty” thing. The subtext is: If we are feeling the thrill of “what next? what next?” it can’t be good literature. While Fish clearly sees immense value in Hunger Games (and his piece on it isn’t a review, after all, so I can see why he was surprised that readers considered him a spoiler), he still seems resistant to admit that suspense–sensation–is a worthy thing. He seems to view it instead as the shallow aspect we must dismiss to mine the story for more “significant” aspects. But what could be more significant about the reading experience, about stories themselves, than that sensation of: “What happens next? How will it end?”

Megan Abbott is the Edgar Award-winning author of five previous novels. She received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University and has taught literature, writing, and film studies at New York University, the New School, and the State University of New York at Oswego. She lives in New York City.

Dare Me, which Rosamund Lipton calls “arresting, original and unputdownable,” is coming from Reagan Arthur Books in July 2012.