A year ago this time, Gillian Flynn was just another former Entertainment Weekly TV critic turned Chicago author of murder-mysteries who lived in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood and had already sold film rights to her first two novels ("Dark Places" and "Sharp Objects"). You know? C'mon, do something with yourself, sister! Then June arrived, and so did Flynn's blockbuster novel "Gone Girl."
Flynn, 41, not only became the literary story of Chicago, she became the literary breakout of the year.
Know how you can tell?
She lives just two miles from where the story you're reading was to be typed up in early December. But, with her screenplay adaptation of "Gone Girl" — about a bad marriage turned twisted (then turned demented) — expected in less than 48 hours by Twentieth Century Fox (which paid a reported $1.5 million for the film rights), and her publisher expecting her to keep up the publicity push for "Gone Girl" (which spent eight weeks at No. 1 on The New York Times best-sellers list), she sent a flurry of emails that read, frankly, frantic.
She answered her phone on the first ring: "Hi! Thought you were a telemarketer! Then I was like, no, wait!"
"So, Gillian," I said, "how'd your year go?"
"Pret-ty, pret-ty good! Started off quiet and wintry. 'Gone Girl' was done, and there was that strange space between a book being turned in and (it) meeting the world, and then, yeah — freight train ever since."
Indeed, book aside: Reese Witherspoon signed on to produce and maybe star in a movie adaptation. Amy Adams agreed to star in "Dark Places"; Jason Blum, creator of the "Paranormal Activity" series, decided to make "Sharp Objects."
"How's the screenplay going?" I asked.
"So close to being sent to the studio. They want it in high gear. I am the only thing holding up progress."
"Actually, this is."
"The world would have gotten a 'Gone Girl' movie an hour sooner were it not for this conversation!"
"Not touching that," she said.
"How many copies sold?"
"E-book and print: 2 million."
"More e-book than print?"
"How do you feel about that?"
"Not touching that," she said.
"Diplomatically — at least people are buying books."
"Any 'Gone Girl' ancillary products?"
"Action figures? No."
"A line of diaries for sociopaths?"
"We should get that started!"
Flynn is pragmatic. She wrote for a human-resources trade magazine for a while ("I know a weird amount about work-life balance and the Family and Medical Leave Act," she said). She wanted to be a writer and came to Northwestern University in 1996 to study journalism, left for New York, then moved back to Chicago in 2006. She had just returned home from making appearances for her book, she said. She had agreed to a lot of library visits.
"What could people still possibly want to know about you?" I asked.
"I have things to say, man! I get why authors lose themselves in the speaking circuit. It's a great feeling to talk to people who like books. But I've also had people wait in line a half hour (to get) a book signed, then say: 'I hated the ending.' Do I sign an apology? Actually, I have done that."
"A friend of mine hated the ending," I said.
"They're in good company. I didn't write the ending thinking it would be divisive."
"Does that bother you?"
"I would rather they love it all. The worst is people who say they hated the ending and it colored how they felt about the entire thing. But then there are the people who say they hated the ending because it didn't give them what they wanted to see. I love that. I love 'Rosemary's Baby' — endings that go 'And then Satan was born into the world. The end.' Bye! Mic drop! Boom! I like being denied the easy treat, the obvious finish."
"Are you going to stay in Chicago?"
"People say that, but then, how many times can you run into John Cusack before you get restless?"
"I hope a lot!" she said. "No, my husband (attorney Brett Nolan) is a Chicagoan. We've planted roots here. (They have a 2-year-old son.) Chicago was the first big city I saw as a kid. I remember driving here on a family vacation, seeing the skyline, having a weird thrill and unease. I had never seen a place like it. I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert. I was never the kid who dreamed of LA. Chicago was the making-it-big city."
"Honored to be a Chicagoan of the Year?"
"Incredibly. Makes me feel officially Chicago," Flynn said. "It's nice to feel claimed."