Author One-on-One: Gillian Flynn and John Searles
Gillian Flynn: Writers imbue their characters with a little bit of themselves. Obviously, Sylvie Mason is very different from you. How did you find a window into Sylvie?
John Searles: I joke that, deep down, I’m really a teenage girl. Growing up, my dad worked as a cross-country truck-driver and my brother was usually off with his friends, so my mom, my sisters and I spent were always together. As an adult, I become an editor at a women’s magazine. So in a weird way, it was almost easier for me to write from a female perspective.
GF: You’ve talked before about how your sister’s death affected your writing. How so in this book?
JS: After my sister, Shannon, died, my parents divorced and I left for New York to try and become a writer. Our youngest sister, Keri, was left behind. Keri was around the age of Sylvie, and I realized while writing the book that I was channeling her emotions from that time. She was so young to be faced with tragedy, but like Sylvie, had a resilient spirit.
GF: Help for the Haunted has some seriously scary moments and delves into the subculture of haunted souls and paranormalists. What inspired you?
JS: As a kid, I was obsessed with scary things. I made haunted houses in our garage, and when I got my license, I used to load my friends into my station wagon and drive us down a dirt road at night, where I’d try to scare the hell out of them.
Also, I grew up in the same town as the couple who inspired “The Conjuring.” Seeing them in church used to frighten me! Years later, I saw the woman at library event, and I wondered what it would be like if Sylvie’s parents dealt with the paranormal too.
GF: Do you believe in the supernatural?
JS:In Help For the Haunted, Sylvie says, “I do and I don’t believe.” Her mix of feelings is like my own. Logically, I know better, but then life serves up something unexplainable and I can’t help but believe again.
GF: How do you think you’ve grown as a writer over the course of your career?
JS:I’ve always tried to take risks with my writing, but in Help for the Haunted, I took more: writing from a girl’s perspective, combining a murder mystery with a coming of age tale, playing with time and the supernatural. I used to ask my editor, “Is this story too weird?” Thankfully, she always told me to keep going.
GF: Did you begin Help for the Haunted knowing what was going to happen?
JS: All I had was the voice of a girl left in the care of her tough older sister. The rest came in pieces. The old Tudor where the family lives was inspired by an old Tudor where I stayed at Yaddo. The sisters’ job doing surveys was one I had in high school. The doll came when I discovered Raggedy Ann dolls in my mother’s attic. I forgot she once made them until they were staring me in the face—and scaring me!— once more.
GF: Lots of writers have quirky writing habits. What are yours?
JS: Lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling. Push-ups. Runs. Baths. When I go into a writing jag, I don’t change my clothes, shower or shave. While revising Help for the Haunted, I took a break and stumbled into a restaurant. All of New York City and who sits down next to me, but Jay McInerney. He looked at me with my greasy bedhead and rumpled clothes, and I swear he was about to say, “The soup kitchen is down the street.”