By Marion Filler
As writing phenom A.J. Finn tells it, he was at an airport not too long ago when his agent called with an offer from Fox.
“It’s one million, do you want it or not?” the agent asked.
Finn put the agent on hold. Nobody was nearby except a Japanese family who he thought could not speak English. Still, he asked for their advice. Much to his surprise, they gave him a double thumbs up. He accepted the offer.
The Woman in the Window, Finn’s best-selling debut novel, is scheduled to hit theaters a year from now. Directed by Joe Wright, it stars Amy Adams, Julianne Moore and Gary Oldman.
The book is influenced by film noir classics– and that’s what Finn and Megan Abbott, whose nine novels include Give Me Your Hand, talked about at Saturday’s fifth annual Morristown Festival of Books.
After they dispensed with some giddy repartee, that is.
“The A.J. stands for Alice Johnson, a favorite cousin, it’s a pseudonym,” explained Finn. “I didn’t want to use my real name.” (It’s Daniel Mallory).
Referring to Abbott, he continued: “We only met 15 minutes ago and we may get married. But not really. She’s got a boyfriend and I’m gay.”
So just what is film noir? Abbott described it an aura of paranoia and darkness.
“The story is saturated with doom and you know it’s not going to end well for the hero. Hard to describe but it’s like pornography – you know it when you see it,” she said.
Give Me Your Hand is about two women scientists who are competitors in a chemistry lab. One knows a dark secret about the other and so the conflict begins.
“I loved the Roaring ’20s, I loved the spirit of film noir. I wanted to be a protagonist myself to enter my fantasy,” said Abbott.
Finn’s The Woman in the Window is the story of an agoraphobic woman with drinking problems. The title hearkens to a 1944 Fritz Lang film and it’s peppered with references to Alfred Hitchcock classics. Finn has told interviewers the book was inspired partly by his battles with depression before he was diagnosed and treated for Type II Bipolar disorder.
For a first novel to go straight to Hollywood is a stroke of great good luck. Finn, 38, has been an editor at Morrow for a decade.
In a New Yorker review, Joyce Carol Oates compared his book favorably to such bestsellers as Girl on a Train, Gone Girl and The Woman in Cabin 10.
In yet another stroke of luck, Oates was in the audience Saturday, waiting to be the next speaker at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
Books that become movies never cease to amaze their creators.
“It’s very surreal to see actors saying things that I just made up,” said Abbott, 47. “People take the characters very seriously and discuss them.”
Finn agreed. The first time he saw his protagonist on the screen, he thought: “I made you. I am your God.”