Is Megan Abbott Hollywood's next big novelist?
To best-selling and award-winning effect, Megan Abbott has been a successful crime fiction writer for more than a decade, flipping gender and genre tropes on their head with smarts and flair. Now, it seems Hollywood is finally catching up.
EW can exclusively reveal that Abbott’s most two recent novels have near-simultaneously been optioned for adaptation: You Will Know Me, her 2016 murder mystery set at a gymnastics tournament, and her anticipated 2018 title Give Me Your Hand, which explores the brutal science-academic community. Give Me has been optioned directly by AMC, the home behind such recent adaptations as Dietland and The Terror, while You Will Know is going into the hands of Skydance Media and TV-megaproducer Marti Noxon — who this year alone is behind the aforementioned Dietland as well as HBO’s star-studded Sharp Objects. (Maria Grasso will executive-produce with Noxon under Tiny Pyro Productions.)
This brings the number of Abbott projects in the works at Hollywood up to three: A pilot based on Abbott’s popular novel Dare Me is currently in production at USA, being helmed by director Steph Green (The Americans). “I couldn’t be more thrilled than to have these novels in such masterful hands,” Abbott tells EW. “As a fan and ardent admirer of Marti Noxon’s work since her Buffy days and through UnREAL and Dietland, and as an avid AMC viewer — and Mad Men and Breaking Bad obsessive — I’m over the moon.”
Abbott’s sudden break into Hollywood arguably began last fall, when she was hired as part of The Wire mastermind David Simon’s writing staff for his new HBO drama The Deuce: Abbott’s first on-screen credit. “David Simon has a real ideology; he wants to tell these stories because of his fervently held political beliefs … The thing I took away most from him, in trying to figure out what I’d do this for my own pilot, is how passionately he fights for the storytelling he believes in,” Abbott says. “I’m not sure I can get there [laughs], but it was certainly something to see in action.”
A decade ago, Abbott won the Edgar Award for Best Novel for Queenpin, which gives a feminist spin to a story of nightclub and mob intrigue. To fans, she’s known for the brutally familiar worlds she sets out to explore: the academic community of Give Me Your Hand, the competitive cheerleading milieu of Dare Me. Abbott finds that the latter novel, at least, is finally becoming the adaptation she wanted it to be. “It has been in development for a long time, it’s gone through many permutations, including starting as a feature, but it’s also crystallizing to what [I] really want this thing to be about,” she explains. “Because you have to keep articulating it, and you have to take in new people’s ideas, and deciding which ones make it better to you, and which ones don’t, and you have to keep defending your choices.”
Abbott’s describing here what many novelists who’ve turned TV have learned: It’s a very different art-form, collaborative and visual and with many swirling economic and political parts. “You have to have more characters, you have to have a larger world, you have to have all these possible stories,” she notes. As she moves into development, Abbott is learning to “surrender” the quality of her books “right away,” figuring out how to expand them to fit a series of indefinite length.
As for now though, Abbott is just thrilled to be entering the world of television at a time when the medium feels so ripe for singular visions and experimentation. Indeed, it may be no coincidence that it’s at this moment that her work really seems to be striking a chord with Hollywood producers. Citing shows ranging from Atlanta to Mindhunter to The Leftovers, the brainchild of fellow novelist Tom Perrotta, Abbott sees an opportunity. “It feels like breaking rules is almost a given now on TV,” she says. That’s exhilarating.”
Give Me Your Hand will publish July 17. Pre-order it here.