Monday, June 30, 2008

Digging Bones and Dishing Flicks

"Starts scary and only gets better."
...John Lescroart on Michelle Gagnon's "Boneyard"
Our guest today is Michelle Gagnon, a fresh voice in crime fiction. She mines our darkest fears, and a critic called "The Tunnels," her bestselling first novel: "'Silence of the Lambs' meets 'Wicker Man.'" It tells a tale of ritualized murder set in an abandoned network of tunnels underneath a university. Creepy, creepy, creepy.

In her new novel, "Boneyard," a mass gravesite is unearthed on the bucolic Appalachian Trail, and FBI Agent Kelly Jones finds herself trying to track down dueling serial killers.

This former dogwalker and modern dancer comes to us from San Francisco where she's in the middle of a slam-bang book tour for "Boneyard."

(Tune in tomorrow for Roberta Isleib and our take on the names that burden (and unburden) us; then guest blogger the talented and smart writer and editor Elizabeth Lyon on Wednesday.)

Michelle Gagnon

Sure, writing crime fiction is a gas, but what I really want to do is direct.

Kidding. Actually, my dream job would be film critic. I would love to take over Ebert's seat for a day. I guest blogged on First Offender's last week about what I consider to be the biggest blockbuster flops I've ever seen (if you missed it, the comments were hilarious). Today, we turn to happier things: films I've recently enjoyed.

This is a much shorter list, partly due to the fact that sadly, I don't get out much these days, and partly due to my glass-half-full world view. I'm a vicious critic when it comes to film just ask M. Night Shyamalan), so for a movie to pass my muster is rare. But these lucky few made the cut:

This film officially kicked off the summer blockbuster season and man, it did not disappoint. Great special effects, a decent (if somewhat predictable) comic book storyline, directed with a light touch by Jon Favreau. There were some real gems in here. The casting of Robert Downey Jr. was a master stroke--who ever would have figured him for an action hero?--but the success of Ironman should salvage him from a lifetime of roles as a junkie (if he can stay sober, that is). He was brilliant here: witty, charming, likeable and completely believable. I absolutely loved the little touches, like the scene in his workroom with the robot and the fire extinguisher. In my opinion, the best superhero flick to hit the screens in years. (note: stay through the credits, they're long but there's a brief bonus scene at the end).

Sex in the City:
I loved the show, and went to see this warily, especially since the trailer appeared to give away most of the storyline. But whoa, Nelly--not in the least. The movie version manages to recapture the sleek look of the series, set in a largely idealized version of New York City.

I lived in Manhattan for four years, but for some odd reason never possessed fabulous clothes and accessories, or went to any bars or nightclubs like the ones these four ladies treat as their personal playground. In fact, my memory of New York City bars at night elicits the odor of stale vomit, cigarette smoke, and the close press of bodies (not in a good way). And none of ladies, not even the struggling writer, lived in a fifth floor walkup with a loft bed, which is odd to say the least. Ah well, I bought into the fantasy regardless.

But I digress. What I really enjoyed about the film is that it presented Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha all grappling with the issues women face in the forties (and earlier), namely: Is this really it, in terms of what life has to offer? Who can you trust? And how much of yourself do you sacrifice to share a life with another person? Interesting questions all, especially the last one. And for three of the women, I found the portrayal realistic and satisfying. But the grand finale really let me down. It felt contrived, hokey, and contrary to how any sane person would behave. But then, they were never all that sane, were they? I still had a lot of fun watching.

The Incredible Hulk:
It wasn't as good as "Ironman," but compared to the Ang Lee film of a few years ago, this was Citizen Kane. Again, brilliant casting of Edward Norton. He's not as hunky as Eric Bana, but in some ways that's a good thing (who among us believed that Bana could ever be considered an unlucky-in-love nerd?) Liv Tyler is no Jennifer Connelly, but she was sufficient in her role as love interest. Honestly, if this was the only Hulk film ever made, I would probably have been disappointed by it. But after viewing the first one (and I'm generally a huge Ang Lee fan, Ice Storm was one of my absolute favorites) it was great to see the story handled onscreen the way it was meant to be. Comic book heroes do not lend themselves to arty drama. The trick is to have some fun with the story, not try to turn it into Shakespeare, and director Louis Leterrier succeeded in that.

On the horizon I'm eagerly anticipating the next Batman film (especially since it will be Katie Holmes-free; she almost managed to sink the last one, in my opinion). Hancock also looks like a lot of fun, I always find Will Smith entertaining even when the rest of the movie disappoints. I'm also feeling cautiously optimistic about the new X files and the Mummy (but then, I'm admittedly biased, being a member of "The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to David Duchovny.")

Ah, the promise of early summer. All of those appealing trailers, whose final product so frequently disappoints. So what have you seen lately that you enjoyed? Let's hear it, the good, the bad, and the ugly--best comment garners a signed first edition of "The Tunnels" (not yet a film, sadly). And if you don't win, console yourself by signing up for my newsletter at, which will get you entered in a drawing for fabulous prizes such as an Amazon Kindle, iPod shuffle, Starbucks gift certificates.many wonderful things.

JRW: Thanks, Michelle! Now, just a few questions from us at JRW, because curious minds need to know… How did you learn about Quantico--parts of the novel take place there?

MG: Honestly, mostly online via the FBI website, and also by reading some non-fiction by former agents. I also double-checked the descriptions with an FBI agent who once worked in that building.

JRW: Your books deal with dark subject matter, but you seem pretty upbeat. How do you "go there" in order to write?

MG: I have no idea. My mother insists that when I'm asked this question I seize the opportunity to state that I had a happy, relatively uneventful childhood. But I've always been one of those worst case scenario people-my husband knows better than to book a romantic weekend at a cabin in the woods, because I'll spend the whole night wide awake wondering if there's an ax murderer outside the window.

JRW: You were a modern dancer, bartender, model, and Russian supper club performer? Come on, tell more, especially about the Russian supper club.

MG: Ah, Club Versailles. The funny thing is, in the end that turned out to be the most fun I ever had onstage. Up until that point I'd worked with a lot of very dramatic modern dance companies, and most of my performances involved rolling around the stage in a black leotard in what was supposed to be a portrayal of the situation in Rwanda. But the Russian supper club was pure fun. There was a spaceship coming out of the ceiling, lots of fake smoke, foot-high powdered wigs, and at the end we gathered up mobsters from the audience to do the Macarena with us. Someday I'm going to have to write up the full story.

JRW: When people as you now what you do for a living, what do you say?

MG: I say writer, and if I'm feeling particularly cheeky I tell them I lie for a living.

JRW: How does this second book feel different from your first?

MG: I feel like in many ways writing The Tunnels was a learning process for me, especially since I had never written any crime fiction before and initially had no idea what I was doing. With Boneyard, I'm hoping I managed to take a leap forward as a writer. In my opinion that's all any of us can hope for, really, to improve with each book.

JRW: And finally our JRW quiz... Stephanie Plum or Kay Scarpetta?

MG: Stephanie, definitely.

JRW: Sex or violence?

MG: What, not both? Ok, if I must, I choose sex.

JRW. Pizza or chocolate?

MG: Oh god, chocolate, no question.

JRW: Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan?

MG: If Sean's not an option, then Daniel (when is the next Bond film coming out? I loved Casino Royale).

JRW: First person or Third Person?

MG: I prefer third, personally. I don't enjoy getting too bogged down in the mind of a single character. JRW: Prologue or no prologue? MG: That's a good one. I have prologues in both of my books, but not intentionally. My editor changed my first chapter to "prologue" in each, I still have no idea why.


  1. Welcome to JRW Michelle! I REALLY must not get out because I haven't seen any of those movies! I insisted that my husband go along to AND THEN SHE FOUND ME, based on a book by Elinor Lipman and directed by Helen Hunt, who also starred. I figured with that combination, the naysaying critics must just be wrong. They weren't. The movie was sappy and histrionic and Helen looked like death warmed over. I did love Bette Midler.

  2. Hey Michele,
    Welcome. Haven't read The Boneyard yet but LOVED The Tunnels. Interesting about the prologue versus first chapter thing - just reread the prologue for Tunnels. I didn't pay much attention (to what it was called) the first time I read the book but can see how it seems to deliver more as a prologue instead of the first chapter. Your editor was right on the money!
    All right, movie diva...two questions..all-time favorite movie...and who would you cast as your heroine FBI agent Kelly Jones?

  3. Was Colin Firth cute? I'd pay ten bucks to see him any day.

  4. OH, Wicker Man. What a creepy movie. You know what the creepiest was? The Vanishing. Not the Keifer Sutherland one, the real one. I think directed by Paul Verhoeven. Did you see that? I can't even think about it, and sometimes I wish I hadn't seen it.

    Summer blockbusters? I wish! I'm so netflixed these days...if I go to a real movie--sigh,with popcorn, and a HUGE diet coke--it feels like I'm losing two hours of writing.

    But does "Enchanted" count? I loved it. "Flawless"? Really good caper flick, very sixties. "Untraceable"? THE WORST MOVIE I HAVE EVER SEEN.

    Well, maybe not ever. But close.

    Michele--can't wait to read The Boneyard. And thanks for stopping by.

  5. Hi Michelle,
    I especially appreciate your review of Sex in the City because my daughter and I are determined to see it despite some of the bad reviews. What is it about grand finales to TV series that are so dissappointing? (Seinfield, yikes!) But I can put up with a disappointing grand finale, since I'm usually in it for the insight anyway.
    Welcome to JungleRed!

  6. Club Versailles is Russian? Um.... I must be getting really muddle-aged. Or maybe we need to know more.

  7. Thanks for the kind words about Boneyard, everyone!
    I know, I found Club Versailles to be an odd title for a Russian supper club too, I think they had delusions of grandeur.
    Let's see: favorite movie of all time would have to be sentimental favorite Star Wars, since it was the first non-animated one my parents took me to see. And as for casting Kelly, I've always had either a red-headed Cameron Diaz or Charlize Theron in mind.

  8. Hi Michelle -

    I'm a little late to the posting here, but I read your post several days ago, and did not have time to comment.

    Very interesting history! But, then I figure it takes what it takes to get to where we are. As I unfold my future from my "lifestream" sometimes what is revealed is both surprising and fun! Sounds like you are having both as well.

    As far as movies - I just saw "Stranger Than Fiction" with a host of notable stars and Will Farrell. Interesting idea of a "character" that physically comes to life and reports back to the writer. Of course he decides he does not like where the plot is going. While it's not the most ingenious plot - what is impressive is the acting. With veterans like Dustin Hoffman, and Emma Thompson, Will Farrell carries off a wonderfull performance. It is both philosophical and entertaining - definitely in my genre of writing and creativity. Zack Helm wrote the script.

    I don't watch movies to watch movies. Each movie for me is a learning experience. So, I am very selective about what I watch. Something about it must catch my interest. Actors, story, reviews and buzz all play a role in what I watch. In this case my son recommended it. And, except for "Fight Club" :-)! he is usually right on!!!

    As writers I thought I'd share this one. Especially since the Will Farrell character is upset by the fact that he does not want to be killed off by the author!

    As mystery writers it would be interesting to see how you would feel about one of your characters actually discussing with you how the plot should go. In fact, I'm not sure that doesn't happen in many cases already!

    Great to meet you!


  9. Better late than never...Mike (aka mtv) is the lucky winner of a signed edition of The Tunnels! Thanks so much for having me, and hope to come back and visit someday soon...