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‘Gone Girl’ author Gillian Flynn wants to ‘open the door’ to more ‘off kilter’ books

Flynn said she never thought "Gone Girl" would be a bestseller. Now, she's publishing similarly "big-voiced, unique" books under her own imprint.
/ Source: TODAY

Gillian Flynn may be the ultimate bookish multi-hyphenate.

She's the author of three bestselling novels, as well as multiple adaptations and screenplays, and is also drafting her next book.

Now, she's adding another title to that list: publisher.

Flynn helms Gillian Flynn Books, an imprint of Zando, which she tells seeks to publish eccentric works of both fiction and nonfiction that can't be "explained in a sentence."

"Here's a way where I can really champion books that don't necessarily fit into one specific shape, that are as quirky and big-voiced and unique as I want," Flynn says. "Particularly first-time authors and people who traditionally have not been able to fit into a specific shape. That's been my whole goal — looking for these types of writers."

Zando is an indie publisher founded by former Crown publisher Molly Stern, who worked with Flynn for her three novels. Lena Waithe, Sarah Jessica Parker and Ayesha Curry have also partnered with Zando to curate picks.

Gillian Flynn is curating a new imprint so she can "champion books."
Gillian Flynn is curating a new imprint so she can "champion books."Nathan Congleton / TODAY

How her own books 'opened the door' to her publishing career

Flynn says her intention while picking out books for her imprint is influenced by her experiences publishing her own novels.

"It's harder and harder to break into the publishing industry," Flynn says. "Certainly when 'Sharp Objects' was around there weren't too many takers for it. I tend to write dark and off-kilter books and I didn't have a massive platform."

When she was shopping for a publisher for her 2012 novel "Gone Girl," she said it was Zando founder and CEO Stern, then at Crown Publishing, that supported her from the beginning, even though Flynn was writing what she calls a "slightly weird" book.

Flynn recalls turning in the manuscript and Stern saying, "I just wanted to talk to you because you've written a whodunnit, but you find out who done it in the middle of the book. And you have two narrators, but neither of them are likable, particularly, and you have an ending where there's not a traditional form of justice, and some people aren't going to like that. Do you know all that?"

After Flynn answered in the affirmative and that all of those things were her intention, she said Stern never had another question about "Gone Girl."

"When you think about it, nothing about it screams bestseller," Flynn says. "I certainly didn't necessarily think so at the time."

"Gone Girl" since went on to sell more than 8.3 million print and e-book copies since it was published in 2012, according to Bookscan, and was adapted into a film of the same name in 2014.

It also sparked a trend in the publishing industry of dark thrillers starring complicated women reaching the top of bestseller lists. Many notable novels after "Gone Girl" came out also had "girl" in the title (see "An Anonymous Girl," "The Girl on the Train," "The Second Girl," "All the Missing Girls," "Pretty Girls" and "Final Girls," all published between 2015 and 2019).

Flynn says she thinks "Gone Girl" and "Sharp Objects" have helped open the doors to show publishers that readers are interested in finding stories about women that aren't "aspirational for them, that don't have this big moral ending of them getting the guy or getting the job."

“People sometimes mention they think my work is misogynistic because I write about bad women. It’s like no, I write about women."

Gillian Flynn

"I do think it blasted the door open on that theory," she says. "It was this collective realization of, 'What do you know, women come in all varieties on the spectrum of good and bad, just like men do?' For a long time it felt it was a taboo idea, and it was very destructive that women have to be helpmates or good citizens, which is at best entrapping and misogynistic.

"People sometimes mention they think my work is misogynistic because I write about bad women," she continues. "It's like no, I write about women. Women of all different stripes, and women who are also struggling with dark depths, just like women do. So to me it's a very healthy thing and I'm really happy if that has opened the door for more books like that."

Choosing her first book for her imprint

Flynn's first book under her imprint is "Scorched Grace" by Margot Douaihy, a novel that follows a chain-smoking, tattooed nun named Sister Holiday as she investigates a series of arsons at the New Orleans school where she teaches.

Flynn says she wasn't sold on the idea of "Scorched Grace" at first, since she felt the stakes were so high.

"I was very picky about what was going to be the first book of my imprint, because I felt like that sort of sets the table for the type of book that you're looking for," she says. "First when it pitched to me, if you boil it down to the basics — a nun who's solving a crime — I thought, 'Oh, is this like a little cozy?' I wasn't sure, because I do tend to gravitate toward darker things."

After her editors urged her to read it, she said she found it had a lot of the same themes of her own novels.

"I think all my books are about people struggling with the idea of what it is to be human, except for Amazing Amy in 'Gone Girl,' who's totally fine being the delightful sociopath that she is," Flynn says while laughing.

"Scorched Grace" reminded her of her debut novel, "Sharp Objects," which follows a "troubled, alcoholic woman" who is trying to solve a mystery that "inherently reflects who she is," Flynn says.

For those who also might share Flynn's initial hesitations about "Scorched Grace," she gives her full endorsement: "It's a dark, sneaky thriller that's also a character study hidden in this freight train murder mystery. You're getting a very rich character study while also enjoying this thrilling mystery."

Flynn's next picks for her imprint include "The Centre" by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi and "One of the Good Guys" by Araminta Hall.

A new book is in the works, Flynn says

Flynn tells she has started working on a new book, which will be her first since "Gone Girl" was published in 2012.

She added she had been meaning to start it sooner, but once she got the chance to write the screenplay for "Gone Girl" and develop the adaptation of "Sharp Objects," she says the opportunities were "just too juicy to pass up," she says while laughing.

She then started homeschooling her children during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she said helped her brain "calm down" and get to a place where she could "really write the next novel."

"You're just alone with your brain, which for me can sometimes be dangerous and a little frightening, but I felt like I was finally able to tackle that and really enjoy it," she says.

While she didn't give any details of the novel, she shared she thinks her books will always be psychologically involved, even if they're not thrillers.

"That's how I started writing thrillers — it was not to necessarily write a thriller, but to be able to say something and attach it to a freight train of a thriller," she says. "I found that a very useful way, personally for me as a storyteller, to write about larger things like gender within marriage and power struggle within marriage."

"Or with 'Sharp Objects,' what aggression among women looks like, for change, and generational violence," she continues. "But attach it to a thriller that helps pull you through these different ideas and character studies. For people who want to just access the thriller, which is fine, that's there, but there's other stuff to dig into."

Flynn hinted that she's open to writing other genres in the future, but it would be a test for her.

"I love the idea of not being necessarily hemmed in by one particular way of writing, but it will be a test when I do that ... it'd be nice challenge," she says.