Gillian Flynn talks Dark Places, Satanism and heavy metal
Dark Places. Image via Entertainment One
Reader's Digest: Can you begin by telling us a little bit about Dark Places which is out now on DVD?
Gillian Flynn: Dark Places is about Libby Day who is roughly 31-years-old and hasn’t done anything in her life, and yet she is notorious.
When she was seven-years-old, she was the survivor of a massacre. Her entire family was murdered one night at their Kansas farmhouse. Not only did she escape but she also accused her eldest brother, Ben, of being a devil-worshipping crazy guy who killed the family.
For years since then, all she’s been doing is sleeping and eating and living off the dregs of a trust fund that had been set up for her after the murders.
An underground society investigating unsolved murders or mysteries become very interested in this case—the murder of the Day family—and she finds herself joining forces with them.
"The idea I’m playing with throughout the entire story is: did this guy really do it?"
RD: It strikes me that the society—called 'The Kill Club'—bears resemblence to a lot of online societies with obsessions about murder, mysteries and conspiracies.
GF: It is based on fact. Groups exist, from people obsessed with JonBenét Ramsey and other bizarre killings. I’m a true crime junkie and I wish I weren’t! I don’t find it a particularly admirable trait in myself that I do get personally involved and interested in murder stories.
The idea for the Kill Club came from wondering what these people would be like if they were actually together at a convention, which is how Libby is introduced to them. It’s like a big underground carnival where they meet, network and swap souvenirs or collectible items.
I sometimes come across murder ballads that were written back in the ‘30s or ‘40s about famous murders. You can buy song sheets that were dedicated to chopped up little girls so this idea’s been around forever.
Watch the trailer for the film adaptation
RD: Tell us about Libby Day’s brother, Ben, who she has accused of murdering their family.
GF: Ben Day gets sold down the river for these murders and Satanism. You don’t know if he’s guilty or not. He had a bad trial but that doesn’t necessarily mean he was an innocent kid.
Ben is really an angry kid. He’s a poor kid, he never has enough to eat. He’s constantly trying to figure out how to survive and get through his day and this anger’s building up in him. The idea of worshipping the devil is really a sense of power and he sees it as an outlet to get a sense of control over his life.
The idea I’m playing with throughout the entire story is: did this guy really do it?
"There was this belief that Satanism and devil worship was commonplace. That your next door neighbour could be a devil worshipper."
RD: While dabbling in satanic ritual, Ben and his friends enjoy listening to metal music. Were you a heavy metal fan before you started writing?
GF: Iron Maiden and Slayer and Venom! I love them. I grew up really into this kind of hard rock. That pounding music and the lyrics were always so scary and violent and I loved it.
Writing the story was actually really fun because I got to pull out some of my old albums and download tracks onto my iPod. This conjured up good memories of sitting around in someone’s basement and just head rocking. Iron Maiden's 'Run to the Hills' is one I can listen to over and over again to relax in the evening or when I’m jogging.
Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult in Dark Places. Image via Entertainment One
RD: We meet lots of different characters in Dark Places and although they’re all fascinating and engrossing, they’re also quite difficult to warm to.
GF: I’m really drawn to characters that are not likeable. I’m not sure why but perhaps I have a lot of people that are likeable in my life so when I read I’m always more interested in darker characters.
I’ve also never been interested in the person who’s at the centre of a situation but I’m drawn to the person a little bit off or struggling.
I started writing Libby, my main character, trying to make her a really nice person. I got about a halfway through my first draft and I didn’t actually like this likeable person!
I started thinking about what a person would do to survive—having seen their family killed, believing that their brother did it. She’s also had a life of never having enough money, never quite able to make ends meet, living constantly on the edge and being completely exhausted by that.
She’s become a kleptomaniac. I say in the book that she likes taking other people’s things because it comes with other people’s history and I really think that she doesn’t do it just to be mean. She does it because, well, that’s someone’s grandma’s set of pearls. I wish I had a grandma who…
The opening sentence of the book is, “I have a meanness inside me” and I think she really does struggle with that knowing and kind of believing she has some bad blood in her. And to me the struggle to be good is much more interesting than the goodness itself.
"When I read I’m always more interested in darker characters."
RD: The novel paints a very specific picture of Kansas in the 1980s. How did your experiences growing up influence Dark Places?
GF: I grew up in Kansas, right in the 1980s. The farm bust was happening all over the United States and Kansas, being an agricultural state, was hard hit and that always loomed very large in my mind as a child.
The other thing that interested me, growing up in the 80s, was the ‘Satanic Panic’. There was this belief that Satanism and devil worship was commonplace. That your next door neighbour could be a devil worshipper, your pre-school teachers might be involved in some sort of ritualistic abuse.
People were put on trial and going to jail just because they had said something. It really was a sort of witch-hunt. There was always some warehouse on the edge of town where everyone believed Satan worship was happening and sacrifices were being made and that sort of thing. That has always fascinated me.
Charlize Theron. Image via Entertainment One
"It’s great fun trying to work out how to adapt the book into a movie… It’s like working on a jigsaw puzzle!"
RD: You mention the witch-hunt in the novel, why did you want to include this?
GF: I became engrossed with the idea that Ben really was a devil worshipper or was at least accused devil worshipping. The idea of devil worship has always been interesting because you hear so much about it and you wonder if people really believe this?
Growing up in the 80s it was very pervasive. The media caught on to it. There were stories about day-care nightmares and to me, it was the fact that anyone you knew could be a secret devil worshipper really fascinated me.
Growing up, what we did as children was scare each other by pointing to houses where devil worship happens, where the boogeyman lived.
Children were much more on their own then so there was a guilt attached to two parents working at the same time. A parent’s worst nightmare then was that their child’s pre-school teacher or babysitter was not taking good care of them. I think that led to this ‘Satanic Panic’.
When I was growing up everyone had the devil kid story or knew of a house where devil worship happened.
GF: The film rights to Sharp Objects have been sold to Pathé and I am working on the screenplay. It’s great fun trying to work out how to adapt the book into a movie. The actual story is very internalised which is a challenge to shape for the screen. It’s like working on a jigsaw puzzle!
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