Megan Abbott knows perhaps more than most of what evil lurks in the hearts of men (and women, too). This explains Ms. Abbott’s ability to conjure up the perfect villain – ahem, a contractor – in her latest detective novel, the ballet-centric thriller “The Turnout,” due out August 3rd.
Let the records show that Ms. Abbott, 49, also the author of Dare Me, You Will Know Me, and Take My Hand, did not write from personal experience.
When she and her then-husband Josh Gaylord, also a writer, bought a Junior Four in Forest Hills, Queens seventeen years ago, they earned their PhD. Programs and had the anemic bank accounts to prove it. The kitchen, which had long since been renovated cheaply, would have benefited greatly from an intervention, and the floors had to be replaced. But serious home improvement work had to wait. (It’s still waiting.)
“We were young and stupid, and what we did was mostly cosmetics,” said Ms. Abbott. You and Mr. Gaylord replaced a cigarette smoke-soaked brocade wallpaper with gold thread with a much calmer silver stripe and painted. But they avoided anything that the presence of a contractor would have required.
“They tell you, ‘Write what you’re afraid of,’” said Ms. Abbott with a smile.
Megan Abbott, 49 years old
It’s a bargain: “In the 1990s, it was very common for someone to break into your home. In Hell’s Kitchen, the lock on the door to my building never worked. This is the first place I’ve lived in New York that hasn’t been broken into. “
“For a crime writer, the contractor-client relationship is full of possibilities,” she said. “I’ve known people who took a year or more to renovate; the contractor has disappeared. And I know contractors who couldn’t get people to pay them. That’s the other side. “
“Oddly enough,” she added, “one of my favorite guilty pleasures is watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey, and there are a few contractors on that show and they never seem to quit their jobs. It’s a bit of a fairy tale or a vampire thing. As soon as you let the contractor in … “
Ms. Abbott moved from the Detroit area in 1994 to graduate school at New York University and rented first in Park Slope, Brooklyn, then in Hell’s Kitchen, where there were holes in the floor and tramps in the lobby.
“I kind of loved it,” she said. “I came from Grosse Pointe, so it had a great bohemian feel to it. But there comes a certain point in your life where you think it would be nice to live in a place where you don’t have to step over broken 40 ounce beer bottles. “
Buying an apartment in Forest Hills was a mixture of the random and counter-intuitive. Friends of Mr. Gaylord had grown up there and the couple decided to look around. “Nobody was driving from Manhattan to Queens at the time. It was going in the opposite direction so it was a good moment to get into this market and that was good business, ”Ms. Abbott said of the 1,000-square-foot L-shaped room.
Good deal, perhaps, because it overlooked Long Island Rail Road. Double-glazed windows were a must.
Still, the apartment was lovely, full of built-in mahogany bookcases, courtesy of the previous owner, a woodworker. And Ms. Abbott was charmed by the original 1950s bathroom. “I’m probably the only person in the building who hasn’t ripped it out,” she said. “I love the old-fashioned quality.”
She was a bit ahead of the curve when it came to turning the apartment into a mid-century modern celebration. “Not Eames,” Ms. Abbott clarified, “but normal mid-century modern.”
A year after she moved into the apartment, her grandparents began downsizing, and Ms. Abbott inherited a classic 1950s coffee table and two-story end table, both with tile inlay. This furniture went exactly with the Russel Wright dishes (a wedding present from Mrs. Abbott’s parents) and the chalk items – plaster of paris figurines and wall hangings that were given out at Carnival prizes and became a popular decoration in the postwar era. For their worth, they’re heavy enough to be murder weapons.
“My father collected them, so I started collecting them and we gave them to each other. He died a few years ago, so I took some of the pieces I gave him, ”said Ms. Abbot, whose holdings include a Shirley Temple, Snow White, a cowboy, and a cornucopia of colorful fruits.
Vintage mid-century modern flamenco and ballet dancer figures hang on a wall in the living room. “I see it as kind of bohemian artistic energy for a family on Long Island in the 1950s,” she said. “I’ve always loved the ballerina fantasy in pop culture – that perfect, flawless thing – so I often end up with tchotchkes who have the ballerina vibe. Obviously ‘The Turnout’ was a long time coming. “
A common topic of discussion during psychotherapy sessions, Ms. Abbott said, was her financial reluctance. She was a staff writer and story editor on the HBO series “The Deuce”; a creator of the USA Network series “Dare Me,” a 2012 adaptation of her mystery about a ruthless cheerleading troupe; and she is developing “The Turnout” as a limited series. But the success didn’t go to her head – or in her apartment.
“I’ve never been the one to say, ‘Oh, there’s this fabulous $ 5,000 couch that I want.’ I never really cared about that, ”she said. “But I’m an addicted collector. And after a couple of TV shows, I felt freer to place a high bid and get some special books. “
These include first editions of “The Moth” and “The Butterfly” by James M. Cain; a first edition of Daphne du Maurier’s underrated thriller “My Cousin Rachel” and tons of first editions like Mickey Spillane’s “I, the Jury”.
“Some of them are pretty obscure,” said Ms. Abbott. “But if you have an interesting cover or a great title like ‘The Rat Began to Naw the Rope’ …”
An original Spanish-language poster for “Some Like It Hot”, one of her favorite films, was something of a treat too. It hangs over her desk. Make it what you want.
The crowded shelves above the computer often change their payload. “It’s a material that I have to look at to stimulate my imagination,” she said.
Right now there are a couple of mannequin hands (maybe the start of another collection), tarot cards, bone dice, a couple of ballerina figures, a “nutcracker” soldier, a Victorian eye and side by side statues of Saint Francis of Assisi and Sigmund Freud.
“The patron saint of writing,” said Ms. Abbott. “DR. Freud.”
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