Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin Discuss Normandy Gold

When her younger sister is found at the center of a brutal murder investigation, tough-as-nails Sheriff Normandy Gold is forced to dive headfirst into the seedy world of 1970s prostitution and soon discovers a twisted conspiracy leading right to the White House.

Sex, violence and corruption collide in Normandy Gold, a gritty vigilante thriller from best-selling crime authors Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin, with artwork by Steve Scott.

I got a chance to ask Megan and Alison about the series which is a must for fans of gritty 70s revenge films and crime fiction.

Graphic Policy: Where did the concept of Normandy Gold come from?

Megan Abbott: Alison and I were on a train back from a crime fiction convention in Baltimore and we talked about wanting to write something based on our mutual love of 70s movies. And, most of all, we’ve always loved those cool, stoic, damaged male characters played by Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, etc. We were both frustrated with how few of those characters are women. And so came Normandy.

Alison Gaylin:  It was really one of those situations where we were both on the exact same page. Talking about those movies so quickly led to the idea, and then the execution of that idea. It was exhilarating.

GP: You’ve both written numerous books, how has that differed from writing comics? Was there something particular about this story that you wanted it to be a comic instead of a prose novel?

MA: Writing novels and writing comics are pretty different, but in some sense we approach them the same way, with a commitment to character and story. That said, the excitement and freedom here was to draw on our love of movies, and to take advantage of the visual storytelling. We kept thinking about how we would tell Normandy’s story visually, as if a lost 70s movie was unspooling before our eyes.

AG: Exactly! The limitations of a graphic novel script were actually very freeing in this case. Whereas in a novel, you describe scenes using all five senses, a graphic novel script requires you to convey everything through visuals. It was the perfect medium, we thought, for such a cinematic idea.

GP: The story takes place in Washington, DC in the 1970s. Why that era and why that city?

MA: We both really love 1970s movies set in and around DC—All the President’s Men, The Exorcist—and in a specific paranoid vibe that you see in other 70s movies like The Parallax View, Klute. We wanted to enter that world.

AG: Yes, the story is both cynical and paranoid, with a real sense of corruption lurking in every corner. What better place to set that mood than Watergate-era DC?

GP: When working on a project such as this with a complicated conspiracy and crime, how do you plan it out? Are there specific tools you use to keep things straight?

MA: Mostly we relied on each other! We had a general plan, but things definitely changed. We helped each other keep track as we went—and then sometimes we’d get lost in our own conspiracy!

AG: It was amazing how well we were able to communicate via email. But when we got tripped up on an idea, we’d call each other and hash things out over the phone. The final series of scenes, we wrote together at Megan’s apartment over a few glasses of wine.

GP: The comic has a lot of personality in its location and look. How closely did you work with the artist to make sure the comic looked like DC and the fashion seemed appropriate for the time?

MA: We’d always inserted a lot of visual references—screenshots, etc.—in the script as we went, be it actors or specific scenes. They were a way of cataloging our inspiration. That said, Steve Scott just got it from the very beginning. And Charles Ardai at Hard Case understood it from the start.

AG: We were so pleased with the way the artwork turned out. From the beginning of the project, we envisioned it as having the same gritty look as a 70s movie. It was very important to us that it didn’t look jokey or cartoonish. And Steve’s panels were more than we even hoped for.

GP: What type of research did you do when putting together this series?

MA: Well, I do remember doing a lot of weaponry research!

AG: Yes! I think it was you, Megan, who found Normandy’s knife. Also, looking up photos from the era really helped in terms of setting the mood. We found a very memorable one of Plato’s Retreat that was pretty much recreated in one of the panels.

GP: Was there any influences on the series? It feels like there’s really good timing as it involves prostitution in DC and politicians, something that’s in the news today.

MA: Other than the movies we’ve already mentioned, we definitely thought a lot about the big scandals and crimes from the 70s (foremost, Watergate), though when we began this, several years ago now, we couldn’t have anticipated how prescient those elements would become…

AG: It’s shocking – and a little frightening — how relevant the story is now.

GP: One thing that really stood out is the flaws in everything from the lead to the smallest character. There’s the sexism, the trauma on display, even a random character displays anti-Semitism. When creating all of these characters, do you write out those flaws or does it come during the writing process?

MA: It comes naturally from the way we approach character, I think—don’t you, Alison? We wanted to be true to the era, so you do see its mores laid bare. But we also both came at character from a place that acknowledges none of us is all good or all bad. We all have our demons.

AG: Yes, we both feel that flaws are what make a character both interesting and real – and they seem to come out quite naturally during the writing process. I think if we had written out those flaws in advance, they might feel forced. The anti-Semitic comment you mention, which involves a Martha Mitchell-like character, is a good example. It seemed a natural thing for her to say, given the world she grew up in and lives in and the way she looks at things.

GP: You both seem to be drawn to crime/noir and thrillers. What do you enjoy about those genres?

MA: For me, they’re a way of exploring big issues—gender, power, trauma, desire, resilience—and the crime becomes the engine to power the story through those other realms.

AG: I agree! I’d add that I’ve always loved to write about the things that scare me most, and in crime fiction, particularly noir, those things are often found within oneself.

GP: What else do you have coming out soon? Any more comics in your futures?

MA: As for comics, I for one would love to collaborate with Alison again! My next novel, Give Me Your Hand, comes out in July. It’s about two female scientists who share a very troubling secret from their past and then find themselves caught in a ruthless competition. They share a secret and, well, bad stuff happens. I’m also working on TV projects including adapting my novel Dare Me as a network series.

AG: I’d love to collaborate with Megan too! My newest novel If I Die Tonight, is currently out from William Morrow. It involves a carjacking/hit and run in a small Hudson Valley Town – and the lives it destroys when a teenage outcast becomes the primary suspect. I’m also working on another standalone crime novel, due out from William Morrow next year.