Author Gillian Flynn reveals madness behind writing

Gillian Flynn is a really lovely person. Normal in fact.

Given the characters she writes — truly villainous, sociopathic females you wouldn’t care to sit and chat with — Flynn is a pleasant surprise.

She stopped in Cedar Rapids last week as part of the Out Loud! Author Series presented by the Metro Library Network, and given the 500-plus, record crowd she drew, readers from around the corridor were intrigued to hear from the woman behind the gripping novels readers love to hate but can’t put down.

The author of three books — “Dark Places,” “Sharp Objects” and the breakaway New York Times bestseller “Gone Girl” — Flynn herself says her latest book, “Gone Girl,” is a book people want to talk about. “That’s a really great compliment.”

Flynn says she has long been a writer.

“I always knew I wanted to write novels. I was a bookish kid. But I’ve also always had a fascination with why people do bad things,” she says.

She was raised in Kansas City, Mo., by a mother who taught reading and a father who taught film — and admittedly let her watch “Psycho” at a rather young age.

“I grew up in a house that loves stories and valued how we use them to understand our lives,” she says.

When she hit college age, Flynn decided she’d become a journalist.

“I drifted to journalism because I thought I wanted to get paid to write, and being from a Midwestern town, it seemed a little much to say I wanted to be a novelist,” she says.

Flynn landed a dream job at Entertainment Weekly and spent her years there reviewing movies, TV show and books — an influential experience on her path to novelist, she says.

“In the back of my mind, I always wanted to see if I could write a novel, though.” So she kept her day job and wrote fiction on nights and weekends. “It was an hour written here or there and sooner or later it got done. I snuck up on ‘Sharp Objects,’” she says of finishing her first novel.

After finishing her second book, “Dark Places,” Flynn was unexpectedly laid off from the magazine.

“That was the first time I had the luxury of having a day to myself and I treated it like a 9 to 5 job,” she says. “I wrote ‘Gone Girl’ when I was pregnant and during the first year of my son’s life. That was my job. And I actually overwrote it because I had more time. I wrote a 1,000 page book before I knew what ‘Gone Girl’ was.”

Flynn, in fact, writes copious amounts of content that never make it into her novels.

“I feel the way actors do when they take on a challenging role,” she says. “I go really deep into my characters. It takes me longer to write my novels because I do a lot of writing about them before I write the story. I know what’s on their iPods and what they eat for breakfast. It’s most important to me that the story is true to my characters.”

Like her readers, Flynn may not like her characters, but she says it is important that as the author she has empathy for them.

“When you know how someone grew up, you can figure out why they are the way they are. It doesn’t justify what they do, but helps you understand it. I really get into my character’s whole story so I can understand them.”

Flynn seems almost casual about the fact that her characters are dark, crazy, evil, noting that she has various methods of coping with the writing of them.

“You can tell when I’ve been writing a particularly nasty scene. It’s sits on you,” she says. “Particularly with ‘Gone Girl,’ I wanted to make sure to leave that at my desk. When you are in the mind of a sociopath you want to be careful not to bring that back into the real world.”

Flynn says her husband half jokes, half insists that she “leave the crazy downstairs” in her home office. Ten minutes before finishing her day of writing, for example, Flynn does a transitional activity, such as playing a video game or watching a clip of “Singing in the Rain” on YouTube — despite her dark side, Flynn has a secret love of musicals — before heading upstairs to enjoy her family.

Flynn has sold the film rights to all three of her novels, and is now writing the screenplay for “Gone Girl.” “Dark Places” is set to start filming at the end of the summer.

Flynn plans to get back to work herself this summer. Her Cedar Rapids appearance was one of the last on what has been a yearlong “never-ending” book tour and Flynn says she is looking forward to time in her basement writing lair.

“This summer I’ll get back to work and get back to my writing cave to play around with my next book,” she says.She’ll be back where she keeps the crazy, and Flynn fans everywhere surely can’t wait to read it.

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