Gone Girls, Found | Talking with Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed

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CHICAGO — The pairing of Gillian Flynn and Cheryl Strayed seems at once too obvious and not obvious enough.

Too obvious because both are female writers who happen to have had best-selling books optioned by Reese Witherspoon and made into high-octane, swinging-for-the-fences films.

And not obvious enough because Ms. Flynn specializes in probing dark, unsavory recesses of the human psyche, like her antiheroine Amy in the 2012 novel “Gone Girl.” Ms. Strayed rocketed to fame the same year with her memoir “Wild,” about her redemptive 1,100-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail as a brokenhearted divorced 26-year-old grieving the early death of her mother.

Yet the authors share similarities that run deep. Feminists both, they create bluntly authentic, deeply engaging stories through characters that defy stereotypes.

They have also forged roads to Hollywood gold. Directed by David Fincher and adapted by Ms. Flynn herself, the film “Gone Girl” has earned more than $300 million globally. “Wild,” directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, adapted by Nick Hornby and starring Ms. Witherspoon, is one of the season’s most anticipated films.

The first and last time Ms. Flynn and Ms. Strayed met was two years ago at a literary event in St. Paul, and they reconvened on a wintry Halloween here, greeting each other happily with hugs. Ms. Flynn, 43, has a newborn, her second child, and lives with her family in Chicago, and Ms. Strayed, 46, happened to be in town with her husband and two children.

Here are excerpts from their conversation.

Q. Tell me about when you first met, in St. Paul.

A. Cheryl Strayed It was freezing. We went on a hike, and I didn’t have a jacket. It was like “Wild” all over again, with the elements for which I was unprepared. And I remember I was talking about how our books are so different, readers have a different relationship to them. People who read “Wild,” they’re like, “You don’t realize it, but you’re my best friend.”

Gillian Flynn [Deadpan] They don’t feel that way about Amy?

Strayed Maybe it’s a little more like they’re fascinated to know who you are. Who’s the person behind that crazy story?

This question is from a Times reader: “Witherspoon wanted to create better roles for women, but has ‘Gone Girl’ shown women in a better role? Is it empowering or continuing stereotypes?”

Flynn I’ve been asked that a lot, and to me the answer is always: “Of course, it’s not misogynistic.” Women shouldn’t be expected to only play nurturing, kind caretakers.

That’s always been part of my goal — to show the dark side of women. Men write about bad men all the time, and they’re called antiheroes.

Were you surprised that that was the reaction you got?

Flynn I had about 24 hours where I hovered under my covers and was like: “I killed feminism. Why did I do that? Rats. I did not mean to do that.” And then I very quickly kind of felt comfortable with what I had written.

Cheryl, it’s your story, but did you get blowback from people, or was it just more relief at having told an honest story?

Strayed It never occurred to me, not once, that the book would be read as an inspirational tale. I really have no interest in likability when it comes to characters. It’s always about credibility, and to be credible you have to seem human. One of the most difficult things reading about the movie “Wild” was when people started writing about it and me in this shorthand way. I knew they hadn’t read the book, because the things they would say about me were just patently untrue.

What kind of stuff were you getting?

Strayed Often, they’ll say my problems were self-inflicted. And really the two biggest problems I began the trail with were the opposite of self-inflicted: the dead mother and the abusive father who wasn’t in my life. Those were my two most significant wounds, neither of which I inflicted upon myself, both of which I had to heal in myself.

It’s interesting what Gillian is saying. I think the lazy interpretation of Amy is she’s this evil psychopath and she’s all darkness. I think so much of the reason “Gone Girl” is so successful is that all of those very winning passages where Amy writes about her romantic life, falling in love with her husband, the way she constructs herself as a woman in the world. Those are very recognizable to us.

Flynn I think we wouldn’t have heard as much anger about it if she was more dismissible. She’s understandable, and that makes her a little harder to just write off. She’s not Norman Bates’s mom just sitting there in a rocking chair being evil.

Is there a double standard, where male characters don’t get that level of scrutiny?

Flynn The likability thing, especially in Hollywood, is a constant conversation, and they’re really underrating their audience when they have that conversation. What I read and what I go to the movies for is not to find a best friend, not to find inspirations, not necessarily for a hero’s journey. It’s to be involved with characters that are maybe incredibly different from me, that may be incredibly bad but that feel authentic.

When you were writing the books, did you think, “I’m breaking the mold and pushing the edges of these women characters?”

Flynn A theme that has always interested me is how women express anger, how women express violence. That is very much part of who women are, and it’s so unaddressed. A vast amount of literature deals with cycles of violence about men, antiheroes. Women lack that vocabulary.

Strayed The story I wrote has an ancient tradition in literature, man against nature, the hero’s journey. I was conscious of the narratives that I was both taking part in and also countering because the variation on the theme is: It was a woman, and it wasn’t “versus.” I say the wild felt like home to me. It wasn’t me trying to conquer it; it was me living in it. So much about “Wild” is about acceptance and surrender and vulnerability. To me that’s the greatest strength, not this conquering kind of narrative that we have embedded in our bones.

[To Ms. Flynn:] Is “Gone Girl” the movie being talked about as a feminist film or an anti-feminist film, or is the jury out on that?

Flynn The jury is still out. That’s what’s been interesting: Is it anti-woman? Is it anti-man?

Strayed What do you think it is?

Flynn To me, it’s neither. It’s about two specific people who are battling and who happen to be a man and a woman. I certainly enjoyed playing with those gender roles. Amy is certainly a character who understands every single female stereotype — and uses it. So when people say she’s embodying awful stereotypes about women, I say, “Yes, exactly, and that’s kind of the point.” She knows every trope there is. She’s a storyteller, she’s a studier, and she has absolutely no compunction about using the female victim role, using the femme fatale role, using the girl-next-door role.

Strayed I was so mindful that I had not written a book for women. I think the death of us would be if our films or our books were interpreted in this kind of “You go, girl” thing. And I think the last frontier for women is to say we are fully human, which means that our stories are as relevant to men as they are to women.

Flynn I would love it if I could do an event without a very well-meaning man telling me, “I don’t normally read books by women.” Do you get that?

Strayed All the time. One of the first experiences I had when “Wild” came out was this male radio host interviewed me, and right before we went live, he said, “I picked your book up and I couldn’t stop.” And then we’d go live and he’d go, “Cheryl Strayed has written a great book for women.”

Where does the twisted girl come from?

Strayed I remember, at our event we did together, you told some funny story about being a kid, it was about some early indicator.

Flynn I had a bunch of cousins, all girls, we’d play dress-up, and they’d always go for the princess costumes, and I was like, “I’ll be the witch” And we had this game called Mean Aunt Rosie, where I was basically their evil caretaker aunt.

Strayed I do think those things are like early indicators of what our obsessions are going to be as writers. When I was 6 and 7, when my mom’s friends were going to come over, she’d say “O.K., you’re only allowed to ask three questions.” Because otherwise I would get them in a corner and just grill them about things that were kind of shocking to them.

I wanted to hear from other people what they thought about their wounds, and I was trying to find out in ways that made adults very uncomfortable. I’ve always been the one to ask a question beyond the one that’s appropriate.

I want to talk about that move from book to screen. Cheryl, were you O.K. with Nick Hornby and was that difficult for you, turning it over?

Strayed He read “Wild” the first week it was out. I didn’t know him, and he wasn’t being considered as the screenwriter at that point. He just wrote me the world’s nicest fan email. So when Nick came on the project, I felt he understood the book on a deep level. It was always clear that I would read the screenplay, I would weigh in on it, I would be listened to, and I was.

Flynn Which is huge. You and I both talked about the stories you know about the author going to Hollywood are full of heartbreak. We both ended up with Reese, who is a woman of her word and does really care about writing, loves telling a story right.

You were working with David Fincher, who is known to be thorough.

Flynn I was on the set, but the script was locked by then. We just had a great back and forth, a lot of it by phone, since I’m in Chicago. When you hear David Fincher is going to direct your movie it’s, “Oh my God, I’ve got to step up my game.” But I wanted a David Fincher version of “Gone Girl,” so I was very much inclined to step back.

Strayed With Jean-Marc, I told him: “I give you my book. The only thing I ask is that you make a perfect film.” And he laughed. I gave him my opinions only when he asked for them.

And I told Reese the first time we talked, “You need to make this your story, not mine.”

Now, because I was so much a part of this, I would totally adapt my own book. I would do what Gillian did.

Via: https://nytimes.com/talking-with-the-authors-of-gone-girl-and-wild

Writing Prompts | Travel

Travel

Whether you’ve got an existing protagonist, or you’re about to create something new, keep this in mind: Travel changes a person. Today, we’re not just talking about the commute to work, we’re talking big travel. Think about your protagonist and their experiences, where have they been? Have they been anywhere at all? It’s time to explore these possibilities.

You don’t have to make them travel, but it now’s the moment to be asking yourself, and them – why not? And if they have travelled – where? Why? Who with? What was different when they came back? One of the oldest notions about travel is that you feel as though everything has changed when you return, when in fact, it’s you who’s changed.

One of the reasons we fall in love with characters is because they go through different stages of development and growth… Do the choices your character has made about travel, tell us something deeper about them?

Happy writing!

Via: http://writersedit.com/weekly-writing-prompts-8/

Writing Prompts | Inspiration for Writers

Inspiration

Writing prompts are a great way to get your creative juices going, particularly if you find yourself in a bit of a writing slump. Don’t worry, every writer’s been there. Whether you’re lacking motivation, ideas or time, writing prompts can provide that little push you need to scribble something down, and keep you in your writing routine.

The Senses

This week, we’re thinking about the senses. Writers often get so caught up in getting their story and their characters on paper (or screen), that they forget to keep their writing 3D by using all five of the senses: sight, smell, sound, touch and taste. If you’re working on a story currently, take a paragraph and explore something with one of the senses that you haven’t used before. Add another sense. By doing this, you’re creating a more well-rounded world for your reader to experience and empathise with, the more senses you use well, the more the reader will become immersed in your story.

Pick a Memory

If you’re looking at a blank sheet of paper, pick a recent memory. Write a paragraph or two, exploring this memory with two or three of the senses. Does the story become longer? More in depth? Could you continue to write this way?

Happy writing!

Via: http://writersedit.com/weekly-writing-prompts-7/

52 Things | Ideas for Writers

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A couple years ago my friends and I made a list of 52 goals we wanted to accomplish, the equivalent of a bucket list for a year’s worth of achievable things. Most of them were simple goals, but measurable. For instance, you couldn’t just write “read more” as a goal. It had to be quantifiable, like “Read a book a month.” It was fun, but also challenging, both to put the list together and to accomplish all the things I came up with.

So if you want to create a 52 Things list this year, and you’re looking to add some writing goals to your list, here are 52 ideas:

1. Start or join a writing group.

2. Go see three movies based on books you love.

3. Guest post for a blog you read/admire.

4. Get your name in print.

5. Read a banned book during Banned Book Week.

6. Submit a story to a call for submissions for an anthology.

7. Become a blogger.

8. Buy a book for a child or teenager in your life for no reason at all

9. Join an online writing community or a private Facebook group dedicated to a specific genre.

10. Commit to writing a certain number of words per week, or per month.

11. Become a regular content contributor to a website you follow or admire.

12. Attend a local author reading, or two or five or ten.

13. Support your local independent bookstore with a new purchase.

14. Write a book review and put it on your blog. If you don’t have a blog, post it on Facebook.

15. Do one thing that truly champions another writer.

16. Read a book that falls way outside your general area of interest.

17. Post a comment on social media in support of someone you admire.

18. Go to a writers’ conference.

19. Participate in online pitch conferences (like pitch fests on Twitter).

20. Participate in NaNoWriMo in November.

21. Join a literary association.

22. Go on a writing retreat.

23. Get an op-ed placed, or learn how to do it by taking an Op-Ed Project class.

24. Do a 500 Words challenge, where you write 500 words a day for a set number of days, a month or longer. Give it a whirl!

25. Listen to an audio book of a recently published book.

26. Map a book you love. It will teach you a lot to outline a book you’ve read more than once to see how another author thinks about structure, scenes, and narrative arc.

27. Read your work out loud, either at an open mic night or at a literary event.

28. Take an online class.

29. Find a number of authors you love on Facebook or Twitter and follow them.

30. Follow literary agents on Facebook and Twitter if you’re interested in developing agent relationships.

31. Gift yourself a weekend away somewhere nice to brainstorm or write, or to just be with your own thoughts.

32. Do a literary pilgrimage to see a site where a favourite author lived or wrote about, or, if you’re a memoirist, perhaps take a pilgrimage into your own past – to your childhood home, or the setting of your memoir.

33. Visit a printing press.

34. Write and publish an e-book. These can be as short as 25 or 30 pages (single stories or essays) and they can get your work on the map.

35. Enter your work into a contest. You have nothing to lose!

36. Tell your friends and family about your literary ambitions. It’s okay to dream big!

37. Set up a separate bank account for your writing pursuits. Pay yourself a small sum a month for your writing, or when you get paid to publish. Start to think of your writing as a business.

38. Attend an in-person writing class.

39. Map out a timeline for your book, or for your next book. Consider when would be a reasonable publication date for your book and write it down. Post it somewhere where you can see it to hold that date as a goal.

40. Create a book cover for your book-in-progress. Nothing brings a book to life like making it real, even if it’s just a collage or a vision that serves as the basis of what you want the book to look like some day.

41. Commit to a certain number of blog posts a month — one, two, four — and stick to it for the whole year.

42. If you don’t already have a website, start one. If you have a website you know needs a facelift, commit to giving it one.

43. Write a fan letter to your favourite author. These letters are amazing displays of gratitude and appreciation. It’s also good karma.

44. Create a vision board for your book. This is different than a book cover concept. It’s a collage of images and/or words that inspire you, and that can keep you motivated and disciplined with your writing goals.

45. Memorise a poem.

46. Get involved with a local library event.

47. Create a family reading night once a week.

48. Set up a book donation site at your workplace during the holidays.

49. Make a list of your top 10 favourite books in your own genre and reread two of them.

50. Get a logo made. Yes, the brand of you — as a writer — needs a logo.

51. Write an affirmation statement that expresses all your strengths as a writer. Remind yourself why you write and allow yourself an opportunity to truly give yourself a compliment.

52. Do something that shows your commitment to writing – plant something or buy yourself a house plant; get a piece of “writing” jewelry; or create or purchase something that’s meaningful to you that you see every day as a reminder to yourself about the meaning writing holds in your life.

Via: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/6396948

Writing Prompts: Write a Movie Scene

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When I’m on a roll, writing is like watching a movie in my mind’s eye and all I have to do is jot down the details. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I have to try and make it last as long as I can. It’s easy because it’s all right there in front of me: the setting, characters, dialogue, imagery.

This writing prompt takes this amazing writing sensation literally. Instead of writing from your imagination you’ll be writing from something that’s already been created. This exercise plays with the idea of interpretation and representation, getting you to approach writing in a new way.

Write from a movie

Think of one of your favourite movies and pick a scene that you love. It can be a moment that’s very quiet but loaded with emotion, something that’s action packed – anything that takes your fancy. You don’t have to watch the scene again, but you can if you want to.Now write the scene as if it were a piece of prose. Don’t worry about the fact that the scene and characters you’re writing aren’t ‘yours’ – this is just exploration and fun for yourself, not for overt plagiarism or publication. Here are some things to take into account:

  • Creative descriptions of the visual surroundings and characters.
  • Translating dialogue from the aural to the written word.
  • Characters internal thoughts (this is where you can get imaginative).

When you’re done turning your movie scene into a prose piece, try turning it into a poem. Take the narrative and the descriptions and cut them down to their barest forms (yes, this means killing your darlings) and play with line breaks and structure. Even if you’re ‘not a poet’, have a go anyway; broadening your writing horizons is great for keeping your creativity fresh.

This writing prompt is a bit of fun to get you thinking about texts in new ways, considering how to manipulate them into different forms and seeing how you can accurately write what you see (whether you’re seeing it in real life, in a play or film, or in your mind).

Happy writing!