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TV Movies and Evil Women

Aug 21, 2012 in Guest Posts, Writing

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 Goodreads.com.

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