“I knew I wanted a wife gone missing,” says Gillian Flynn. “I liked that image of a man coming home from work. That door left open, in that way where you think — that door is not open in a benign way.”
Flynn, a former entertainment journalist turned novelist, is talking about “Gone Girl,” her blockbuster third novel. Released in 2012, it’s since sold more than 6 million copies in hardcover (the paperback edition’s finally coming out later this month, after nearly two years), and a feature-film version scripted by Flynn and directed by David Fincher (“Zodiac,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) is coming in the fall, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. She’ll discuss the book, along with her other works, at Seattle Arts & Lectures next Thursday (see box).
A look inside the icy heart of one very twisted marriage, “Gone Girl” the novel unfolds at a runaway-train pace, initially told in the voices of husband Nick (on whom suspicion falls after his wife vanishes and foul play is suspected) and wife Amy (through diary entries made before her disappearance). Both are unreliable narrators — “Gone Girl” is a room papered with lies — and the reader follows breathlessly, entangled in the coils of the plot.
Flynn, speaking from her Chicago home last month, cheerfully admitted to “overplotting” the book. “I get really OCD when I start writing this stuff, and Amy’s point of view probably made me even more so,” she said. The novel went through several iterations; at one point, Flynn said, the entire first half was just Nick, without Amy’s diaries. “Once I started to figure out who Amy was, where she came from, who produced her, I thought, I really want to hear from her early on.”
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The intricate plot required “lots of road testing, planning things, ‘does this work if she does this?’ sort of like a weird dominoes set,” Flynn said. Downstairs in her home office, which came to look like “a crazy person’s lair,” she shaped the book, keeping intricate timelines for the chronologies, making charts of “who was lying about what when.” Even as her deadline drew near, Flynn was still making changes. “Getting ready to send the book to the printer, I was wondering if I could put some footnotes in [Amy’s diary] — I wanted everyone to know that it was all tested out.” (The publishers’ attitude was, Flynn said with a laugh, “Just give us the book.”)
With the release of “Gone Girl” came a movie deal — and a chance for Flynn to spend a little more time with Nick and Amy. The daughter of a film professor, Flynn is a lifelong movie lover (she wrote about movies and television for 10 years at Entertainment Weekly) and wanted to take a crack at the screenplay herself.
“I wasn’t quite ready to walk away from that story yet,” she said. “I love fiddling with my stuff. I like moving things around and seeing what happens.”
The collaboration with Fincher — “he’s always been one of my favorite directors” — worked so well that the two of them have launched another project together, an HBO show based on a BBC series called “Utopia.” Flynn is also looking forward to the upcoming movie version of her second novel, “Dark Places,” shot last year (starring Charlize Theron) and due out in the fall, and to finding time to work on her next novel, which she describes as “a sprawling crime epic, set in the plains.”
But she’s still looking back in disbelief at her “Gone Girl” ride. “It was like, ‘if I wrote a year, how would that year go?’” she mused. “People would really like ‘Gone Girl’ and it would sell really well and maybe become a movie and I would get to write the screenplay and David Fincher would direct it.” She laughed, at how the darkest of stories became a dream come true.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org