Gillian Flynn Talks ‘Sharp Objects’ and Trusting Marti Noxon to Do Justice to Her Novel

Sharp Objects Patricia Clarkson and Amy Adams
Patricia Clarkson, Eliza Scanlen, and Amy Adams in a scene from ‘Sharp Objects’ episode 5 (Photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO)

Author Gillian Flynn was on the Television Critics Association panel for her HBO series Sharp Objects, based on her book and on which she is an executive producer. Flynn credited showrunner Marti Noxon with giving her the faith to trust HBO’s adaptation.

“It was getting involved with Marti,” Flynn said. “I wrote or co-wrote three of the episodes and was in the writer’s room every day. So it wasn’t just handing over my baby. It was making sure it was the absolute right group of circumstances to have it come to life.”

HBO was also willing to focus as much or more on the psychological traumas of characters like Camille (Amy Adams) and the murder victims she’s investigating, as they were in the gruesome crime story.

“Landing it at HBO who completely understood it, too, and having those decadent eight episodes,” Flynn continued. “Because what I was getting early on with Sharp Objects was a lot of people who were interested in just the scare element or just the exploitative element and not interested in Camille. I wrote Sharp Objects because I loved Camille and because I wanted to tell the story about generational violence among women and what that looked like and what that felt like. That story, I didn’t feel, had been out there enough. I put that inside the wrapping of this town and of these murders, but I didn’t want Camille and her family and her half-sister and her mom and what these three women meant to each other – for good and for bad – to get lost in there. HBO got that.”

Flynn’s blockbuster novel Gone Girl got the cinematic treatment, as did her novel Dark Places. She knew Sharp Objects would need more time.

“Just to make sure that Camille and her story and that character study didn’t get lost within the mystery itself,” Flynn said. “That there was the mystery, but there was also the unpacking of Camille. As you saw, we don’t even get to even really get to what Camille’s particular issue is, or one of them, until the end of the first episode. So we really let ourselves have the decadence to really take the time with that. In Episode 3, we have the time to give her her backstory, her proper backstory and her proper story at this length, that I think is really appropriate and that feels correct to me for this particular story.”

Even with eight hours of commercial-free television, no adaptation is 100% the book. Flynn is happy that Sharp Objects is close though.

“I was really lucky,” Flynn said. “I had a writer’s room that was full of writers who were really, really dedicated, and loyal to the book. We had eight episodes so there weren’t these moments of like, oh, we’re going to have to make this tough decision. Or, we’re going to have to throw out these darlings here.”

In come cases, the miniseries added new scenes to Sharp Objects.

“You’ll see an episode there’s a mention of where Camille talks about something, a small character called Calhoun who was a Confederate soldier, that gets blown up to a bigger proportion,” Flynn revealed. “I don’t want to give anything more than that away, that we got to have some fun with. So, certain smaller moments, where you get to see more of Curry, who I’ve always loved for his love of Camille. Or of Camille’s editor, who we get to see more of his home life. It’s actually been an embarrassment of riches in that way.”

Sitting on a TCA panel puts Flynn on the other side of her earlier career as a journalist. Asked what advice she would give other reporters hoping to transition into fiction writing, Flynn was modest.

“Well, you work very hard,” Flynn said. “I wrote Sharp Objects and my second book when I had my day job as an Entertainment Weekly reporter and writer. So it clearly is good luck, I’ll tell you that much. I always say I would never have been a novelist ever and I also don’t think a screenwriter had I not had that training. That training came and demystified for me, the training of writing, because you have to sit down every day whether or not you’re in the mood for it. You learn that there’s no sort of goddess of gorgeous writing is going to come from on high. You just have to sit down with your coffee and your egg salad and get the work down.”

The journalism experience also gave Flynn valuable critical skills.

“Having spent all those years on the other side, getting paid to look at something and like, ‘Why is this so good?’ and getting paid for that was an invaluable lesson for me. So for me, I felt like I got a lot of years of that great training, of really looking and getting paid to look at TV and movies and I loved every day of my job. I was really lucky that I really loved my job and, being a pragmatic mid-Westerner, I’d probably still be there. They laid me off, actually. But I was always grateful for my time there.”

Sharp Objects airs Sundays on HBO.