November 30, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST

Nice guys always finish last. That’s what they say, right? But what about nice girls? How do they fare in the rat race of life?

I found out the answer this summer.

There I was in a little bookstore in Atlanta, where I was shooting a film, and I was looking for a copy of Gone Girl, the incredible new novel by Gillian Flynn. I had read the book months before and I was completely mesmerized by the story of the perfect couple Amy and Nick Dunne, the tale of their marriage gone cold, and Amy’s disappearance at the center of it all. Not to mention the second half of the book, where the real truth of Amy’s character is revealed. It was one of those books that unfolded in such an addictive way that you knew you were gonna regret the lack of sleep the next day, but it was just too good to stop. Where your partner turns to you in the middle of the night and says, ”What the hell are you reading?”

When I woke up in the morning, I realized the author was Gillian Flynn, who had written another insanely addictive book about a crime in middle America called Dark Places. The lead character of that novel, Libby Day, has the most mesmerizing narration I have read in some time. It brought to mind the female narrators of early Terrence Malick films.

I thought for sure this Gillian Flynn person must be a pretty dark character herself to plumb the depths of humanity with such skill. Curious to find out, I invited her to lunch. I was hoping to meet a dark, complicated, brooding crime novelist who would talk with me about the ins and outs of every episode of 48 Hours and every unsolved crime in American history. I was terribly disappointed. Turns out she is no dark goth goddess from the bayous of Louisiana, nor is she a hard-edged Swedish academic. In fact, she is from Kansas City, Mo., and she is a lovely, intelligent mother of an adorable 2-year-old with a supportive, loving lawyer husband. She does, however, love to discuss unsolved crimes. (I knew it!) Then it occurred to me that this is precisely what makes her heroine Amy Dunne so mesmerizing in the book. Amy seems so nice and normal at first glance, but when you pull back the surface layers, her darkness is revealed. You see the kind of subversive thoughts a seemingly nice girl from a nice family would never have.

Anyway, I was on set in Atlanta and I wandered to a local bookstore so I could have a copy (or two) to give to friends. And I could not find it anywhere. I looked on all the tables. Nothing. So I grabbed another book I had been stalking and got in line. As I was standing there, I started to look and see what other people were buying and there were three people in line holding Gone Girl! I immediately went to the counter and asked the clerk where to find it. This lovely Southern salesperson led me to a shelf labeled ”Bestsellers,” and I saw it there. At the top. Under a sign that said ”#1 New York Times Bestseller.” Not bad for a nice girl from Kansas City. —Reese Witherspoon
(Witherspoon is a producer on the planned film adaptation of Gone Girl.)

Flynn on
Her favorite album of the year
”The Fiona Apple album [The Idler Wheel …]. That was the one I kept returning to. I think she’s just so smart and often unsettling and occasionally surprisingly funny. You can listen to those songs 20 times and you’re still catching new nuances and layers and tricks that she’s doing. I always do playlists for my characters, and Amy had a lot of Fiona Apple on her playlist. I pictured her getting very worked up over some Fiona song.”

Her must-see movie of 2012
Beasts of the Southern Wild was probably my favorite movie this year. It reminded me of what we’re losing when we only do movies that are superheroes and bromances. Should I have a daughter, Hushpuppy might be a name in the running.”

The show she’s obsessed with
Game of Thrones, man. I have the Game of Thrones board game. I played it all through winter with mounds of homemade chili.”

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