By Joe Passanisi
The sign outside of Books Are Magic read, “Tonight! Come get steamy and mysterious with Megan Abbott!” It was the end of another sultry midsummer day in Brooklyn but the beginning of something special. It was a party for book lovers, writers, and friends celebrating the release of Megan Abbott’s ninth novel, Give Me Your Hand. While the crowd was certainly big enough to make the place feel steamy, it was a pretty cool place to be in New York City.
Books Are Magic, which opened in May 2017, is an independent bookstore that sits on a corner in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. It has a homey feel, as if you had a bookstore on the first floor of your apartment building. It was also the perfect setting to discuss Megan’s new book.
Attendees filled the store from its entrance up to the front row seats where Sarah Weinman, author, editor, journalist, and go-to source for all things true crime and crime fiction, sat with Megan for their conversation. They discussed the novel’s original inspiration, a true crime story that appeared in Texas Monthly about two teenage girls, where one of the girls confessed something to the other one and the other one became haunted by it. They also talked about the differences in the new novel compared to Megan’s most recent books, including a flash forward to present day where the two main characters, Kit and Diane, are in their late twenties working as scientists. Megan said, “There was something kind of great about moving it forward into women in professional settings.”
In addition to the competitive relationship between the characters, Sarah and Megan discussed the mentorship that exists in the book through the character Doctor Severin. Megan elaborated on her saying, “Doctor Severin became more and more important. She’s sort of this glamorous mentor. To me, in my head, she was like Marlene Dietrich... She’s a slightly different generation than the young women and she has a very practical view about all this. She has made it her effort to get funding for this PMDD project that is hard to get funding for. But she knows how to be smart about it and she also knows how to use the moment she’s got to hire women if she can and to use this and to make the money matter. I had not intended that to be as timely as it’s become but now we’re in this moment where helping or not helping other women is sort of all we’re talking about.”
Among the answers to audience questions, Megan offered advice on the craft of writing, “When I started my first book I had a full-time job and all these other commitments but I had this thing,” she said. “I was going to write five pages a week and I had to check it off in a box. That was the only way I would’ve ever written a novel. So give yourself the gift of saying this actually is maybe the most important half hour of the day.” Regarding when she chooses the titles to her novels, Megan said, “Mostly it comes very late. One of the few exceptions was The Fever, which my agent gave me. This one came late. I was watching the movie version of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. I started to imagine that she’s actually the hero of that play... Lady Macbeth says at one point, ‘give me your hand,’ and I just knew. Also it sounded creepy out of context and in context.”
The final question from the audience. Someone asked where Sarah and Megan saw the future of crime fiction heading. They talked about the reinvention of the detective series in both true crime and crime fiction, and Megan highlighted three books as examples. Two of the novels, in the true crime genre, were Sarah Weinman’s The Real Lolita (Sept. 2018) and Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (released Feb. 2018), which feature authors investigating a topic they're passionate about. Jonathan Lethem’s The Feral Detective (Nov. 2018) was the last book highlighted for its reinvention of the private detective in crime fiction.
What stood out most during the entire conversation was how the room felt alive. You could hear the interest buzzing among the crowd, and the laughter. There were plenty of laughs. That was the most memorable part of the night, the joy.
It was a book lover and writer’s dream being in that crowd among many great authors. The inspiration from Sarah and Megan’s conversation carried over while Megan signed copies of her new book. Attendees mingled, some meeting for the first time and some catching up as old friends. The room was still alive until the last person left.
Books truly are magic, if you’d excuse the pun. How else does one author, who sits alone in a world she creates in her own mind, writing and rewriting until the work is done, bring together so many people? That was something special to witness. A night in my early writing career that I’ll always remember. It’s the reason why you're hearing Megan Abbott’s name more and more in the news. It’s because, I believe, among all the success, what would makes Megan genuinely content is knowing the night we celebrated the release of Give Me Your Hand, everyone in attendance was truly happy, talking about the labor of love that is writing, and the joy of reading that comes with it.