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Megan Abbott on TV Adaptations, True Crime, and Helter Skelter
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
July 2018
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
July 2018

Megan Abbott is on fire. Her latest novel, released this month, is Give Me Your Hand - named one of the Most Anticipated Books of 2018 by Cosmopolitan, Book Riot, and Entertainment Weekly. Abbott has been a successful crime fiction writer for more than a decade, and is rapidly becoming known for her work on TV as a writer for David Simon’s The Wire and his new HBO drama The Deuce.  

On Writing for TV and Adaptations:

EW recently revealed that Abbott’s most two recent novels, her 2016 murder mystery You Will Know Me and 2018 psychological thriller Give Me Your Hand, are both currently optioned for adaptation. And like many novelists who’ve turned to TV, Abbott has learned that it’s a very different art form.

“You have to have more characters, you have to have a larger world, you have to have all these possible stories,” she notes. As she moves into development, Abbott is learning to “surrender” the quality of her books “right away,” figuring out how to expand them to fit a series of indefinite length.

As for now though, Abbott is just thrilled to be entering the world of television at a time when the medium feels so ripe for singular visions and experimentation. Indeed, it may be no coincidence that it’s at this moment that her work really seems to be striking a chord with Hollywood producers. Citing shows ranging from Atlanta to Mindhunter to The Leftovers, the brainchild of fellow novelist Tom Perrotta, Abbott sees an opportunity. “It feels like breaking rules is almost a given now on TV,” she says. That’s exhilarating.”

[The above excerpt was first featured on EW. Read the full interview here.]

On the Writing Process:

Abbott’s novels are masterworks of suspense. Here, she discusses her planning process when starting a new work.

I start with character and voice and a basic three-act idea. But I don’t plot out too much until I’m really underway. Then I tend to map out the beats just in front of me. It’s partially an organized process and partially intuitive. But it begins with nailing voice. Until I had Katie in You Will Know Me, I had nothing. I couldn’t have written the book if I didn’t come to the moment when I heard her voice in my head.”

“And the suspense, if I’m honest, comes in revision. Slicing and dicing my way to the right pacing. It’s the hardest part for me.”

In a recent interview with Electric Literature, Abbott was asked about her thoughts on how much characters' relationships with one another depend on their bodies’ relationships to each other.

I confess it’s a big preoccupation with me. I think a lot about the transition between a child’s body being partially their parents and then, often quite suddenly, their own. How complicated it all is. And gymnastics is particularly compelling because of its unique demands on a growing girl’s body. If started very young, it can (though doesn’t always) stall puberty, or affect it. What does it mean for parents to be so engaged, so involved in their daughter’s sport when its very nature means it may, in some way, arrest her female development? Also, what happens when, as a fifteen year old girl, your body and your head might be in such different places? You’re stalling physical puberty, but can you stall the desires that come with it?”

[The above excerpt was first featured on Electric Literature. Read the full interview here.]

On the True Crime Genre:

Abbott's expoure to literature early on set the foundation for her facination with all things dark and sinister.

I come from a family of readers. Our house smelled of book. I remember it now as a kind of gorgeous blur, from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series, The Great Brain, Archie comics and L. Frank Baum’s Oz books to Judy Blume, Norma Klein, and all those terrifying Lois Duncan novels about good girls and their dark doubles.

I also loved those marvelous Time-Life Our American Century books, a volume for each decade. I think I read the 1920s through 1950s ones a hundred times, each page filled with true crime and scandal and movie stars, the grand sweep of pop-culture history. At some point around 10 years old, they led me to Hollywood Babylon and Helter Skelter. I have this memory of standing in a used-book store, my mouth gaping at the photos in the middle. The whole dark, sad feel to both of them. I felt like I was uncovering all the secrets of the world.

[The above excerpt was first featured in the New York Times. Read the full interview here.]

While men are four times more likely to be homicide victims, women comprise 70% of victims killed by an intimate partner, twice the rate of men. (The majority of male homicides are drug- and gang-related.)

The statistic that most jumps out at me comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Nearly 44% of American women have experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime and reported some form of impact, ranging from injury and fearfulness to missing work or school or experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

These statistics refute any notion of true crime as escapist fare. As someone who reads the genre avidly, both “high” (Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls, Monica Hesse’s American Fire) and “low” (ripped-from-the-headlines mass-market books you used to find on the spin rack of your drugstore), I’ve always had a network of fellow devotees, mostly women, to whom I reach out regularly on the latest book, documentary, podcast like the L.A. Times’ “Dirty John” or the breaking news on an old case. Perhaps because it’s long been a “suspect” genre — at best a “guilty pleasure,” at worst a genre for ghouls, for rubberneckers — these exchanges often have a furtive, heated quality. A slightly dirty secret we keep.

But in the last few years, and especially in recent months as the Harvey Weinstein and associated scandals have dominated headlines, I’ve come to think of true crime books as performing much the same function as crime novels (also dominated by female readers): serving as the place women can go to read about the dark, messy stuff of their lives that they’re not supposed to talk about — domestic abuse, serial predation, sexual assault, troubled family lives, conflicted feelings about motherhood, the weight of trauma, partner violence and the myriad ways the justice system can fail, and silence, women.

[The above excerpt was first featured in the LA Times. Read the full article by Abbott here.]

(Photo Credit: LA Times)

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