I think any writer needs to have a good sense of empathy

Interview of Gillian Flynn about her critically acclaimed third novel Gone Girl.

Press and publishers are forced by the Internet to mutate or else they will disappear. Since you deal with this subject in your novel, and since the book also had a digital release, what do you think of the ongoing book digitization?

The newspaper and magazine industry has taken a real hit with the sway toward the Internet—I wrote that into the book because I experienced it in real life when I was laid off from my magazine job four years ago. As for the book industry, I don’t know the economics as well. I am certainly happy people are buying books! I have friends who only read on e-readers, and I have friends who only read on paper. I’m happy they’re reading.

Do you like personality tests? Does a crime author necessarily have to be a good psychologist?

As a teenager I was obsessed with personality tests, because I was so desperate to figure out who I was going to be, and I wanted someone to tell me that in very specific terms. You are a leader, you are a wallflower, you are sensitive, you are daring! Now I know we are much more nuanced human beings: You don’t act the same way in every situation, or you actually would be a sociopath. Sometimes you’re the leader and sometimes you’re the wallflower. I think any writer needs to have a good sense of empathy: You need to be able to put yourself in anyone’s shoes and to really feel for them. I’m fond of even my darkest, most troubled characters because I’ve spent so long in their heads and I know why they act the way they do.

Do you think women should stop acting like cool girls?

I think women should stop worrying about whether men like them, and stop trying so desperately to figure out what men want and present that to them. It’s a disservice to both genders. I think it’s of note that women undervalue ourselves so much than we never consider the idea that a man should act like us for a change. As I said in the book: Men don’t read Jane Austen and learn to knit and take up our female-centric hobbies in order to charm us. Yet women feel like we should understand sports and play video games or other male-centric hobbies—that’s considered a good thing. (I am not saying that it’s a problem if a woman genuinely loves sports and video games; I’m speaking specifically about the idea that we pretend to like them even if we don’t.) So basically: both men and women are buying into the idea that it’s good for women to like everything men like, but degrading for men to like everything women like. That’s incredibly unhealthy. There’s a bigger societal issue here, but perhaps the first step to correcting it is, yes: don’t fall into the cool girl trap.

There is a first twist and turn halfway through the novel, and then another one a little before the end. Was this outline already built before you even started to write the novel?

I knew the first twist, but I had no idea what was going to happen after it. I’m an incredibly inefficient writer—I don’t outline at all. I scribble ideas on yellow legal pads and tape the pages to the walls of my office, and by the end of the book, that office was covered ceiling to floor with pieces of paper, on which I’d written notes that didn’t even make sense to me any more. It was the same way with my other two books: In Sharp Objects, the murderer wasn’t even in the first draft of the book, and in Dark Places, I waited until the end to really decide on my killer. Then I rewrite, a lot. But I’m always more interested in characters and themes in my novels than in the real hard plotting—so I sit back and see where the story heads, and then I go back and restructure the plot. Like I said, inefficient, but it’s the only way I know how to do it!

You offer two alternating narrations with a staggered chronology. Have you invented this literary method yourself?

I was nervous about the dueling first-person narrators, if it would feel too big, too much voice. But once I decided, I had so much fun with it, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I liked adding the “he-said, she-said” element to a mystery.

Isn’t your husband scared of you now? :-)

My husband, brave man, knew how twisted my brain was before he married me.