PhD to Hollywood sleaze

PhD thriller writer who loves true crime and sleazy Hollywood books

by Amy Sutherland


Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott’s new thriller “You Will Know Me,” gives an alternate, and far darker, view of the world of gymnastics than what you could catch on TV during the Summer Olympics. This is Abbott’s eighth novel. She lives in New York City.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

ABBOTT: I just finished Jeffrey Toobin’s Patty Hearst book, “American Heiress,” which was really compelling. I had read her memoir years ago, which I loved. Joan Didion also has a famous essay on her, which I read in college, when I read everything Didion wrote.

BOOKS: Any other famous people you are drawn to in your reading?

ABBOTT: Anything with outlaws. There was a great biography of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn, “Go Down Together.” He did one on Charles Manson recently, which was terrifying but really good. I also read a lot of entertainment biographies. I just read the third volume in Simon Callow’s biography of Orson Welles, which covered the ’50s and ’60s.

BOOKS: What other kinds of books do you read?

ABBOTT: I read a lot of crime fiction except when I’m in the latter stages of writing a book. Then I’ll read general fiction or literary fiction. I also read history, but it has to be character driven. I won’t read a Civil War book, but I maybe would read one about Ulysses S. Grant. I also like sleazy books about Hollywood. I love Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon.” I don’t care whether it’s true or not.

BOOKS: What were you reading while you were writing your new book?

ABBOTT: I think I was reading Kate Atkinson’s “A God in Ruins.” She’s a big inspiration to me. I was also reading novels about prodigies and remember reading Lionel Shriver’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”

BOOKS: What is your favorite kind of true crime?

ABBOTT: In recent years there has been really great reported crime, such as “Lost Girls” by Robert Kolker. I read it twice, which I almost never do with true crime. “People Who Eat Darkness” by Richard Lloyd Parry is a very scary book. Those books also speak to larger issues in society. But I also like ripped-from-the-headlines true crime.

BOOKS: When did you start reading crime fiction?

ABBOTT: I wrote my dissertation on it. Before that I read some mysteries and James Ellroy. During graduate school I read the usual 20th-century authors, but when it came to my dissertation I wanted something that wasn’t a common subject. I started to read 1930s and 1940s crime fiction, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Now there’s no escaping.

BOOKS: Do you have pet peeves about crime writing?

‘Lately, I’ve been very intrigued by more gothic crime. We are having a resurgence of that.’

ABBOTT: I don’t like it when there are too many twists in the end. I also don’t generally like it when people from literary fiction write a crime novel and clearly have never read one. Martin Amis has a great one, “Night Train.” You could tell he loves the genre.

BOOKS: How would you characterize the crime fiction you like best?

ABBOTT: Lately, I’ve been very intrigued by more gothic crime. We are having a resurgence of that with Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” and Paula Hawkins’s “The Girl on the Train,’’ these books about violence in the home, in the family. I also love procedurals because I can’t do them, like Ace Atkins’s books.

BOOKS: What film adaptations of crime novels do you think have worked?

ABBOTT: I really liked “Gone Girl.” A lot of the Patricia Highsmith adaptations have been excellent, and the Elmore Leonard ones are wonderful. A bad example, though I love the book and the director, would be Brian De Palma’s film of “The Black Dahlia,” which has the wrong mix of energy.

BOOKS: What was the hardest book for you in grad school?

ABBOTT: I didn’t enjoy reading “Middlemarch,” which everyone says is the greatest book. I didn’t finish it, which was shameful. I did read Eliot’s shorter one, “The Mill on the Floss,’’ which I liked. I also finished “Moby-Dick” but I had a crush on the professor. That definitely helped.


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