The book I am currently reading
I’m rereading Columbine by Dave Cullen. In the light of the recent high school shootings here, it felt like a book I should revisit. There are so many shooters who pay homage to those two kids – that’s the incident that started it all. I remember thinking: “What an odd and horrible tragedy. I’m glad it’s over; I’m sure that won’t happen again.” It seemed so completely alien and so strange. The fact that we’re still grappling with it, that there have been so many shootings – this year alone there has been the horrific Parkland shooting which reignited a movement that is now … making no change at all in Congress, because the [National Rifle Association] owns our country. It makes me want to cry.

The book that changed my life
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie when I was very young – she was the first author that I read from the grown-up section in the library. The realisation that every character in that book was evil slowly dawned on my 12-year-old brain. I realised there were different gradations of evil and it blew my mind. I gobbled her up. It made me want to be a mystery writer, the idea that you can be entranced by bad characters.

The book I wish I’d written
The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams is one of my my all-time favourite books, and she’s one of my favourite writers. Three teenage girls, the desert, the end of the natural world, hilarious ghosts, experimental lab monkeys – it’s a far-out freaky book that’s so beautifully written it’s unbelievable.

The book that most influenced my writing
I read Joyce Carol Oates’s short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” at college. I’d never had that experience where my blood changed temperature in my veins. I’ve probably reread it 100 times since then and still can’t figure out how it’s done.

The book that is most underrated
I’m going out on a limb here, but Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews. This great potboiler was the book that all junior high and teenage girls read and reread and passed around and hid from their mothers. It’s about a woman – and her four children – who is forced to go to live with her evil, rich mother and hides the kids from her father in the attic because she’s not supposed to have got married. It’s supposed to be for a couple of weeks, but it goes on for a year. [The children] slowly realise their mother is actually having a great time going back into her rich southern society and dating while they are stowed away making paper flowers. I dare you to start reading that book and put it down because the story is constructed so well. I refuse to call it a guilty pleasure because I don’t feel guilty about it. It’s entirely delightful.

Tommy Lee Jones in a still from The Executioner’s Song.

Tommy Lee Jones in a still from
The Executioner’s Song. Photograph: Ronald Grant

The book that changed my mind
I remember reading Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song at a pretty young age. It’s about one of the last men who was executed in Utah and Mailer turned it into this beautiful, elegiac story of life and death, love and violence. Gary Gilmore has been in and out of prison all his life and you’re rooting for him to do the right thing. He falls in love and he doesn’t know what to do with that emotion, how to handle a relationship, and he handles it by finally blowing up and killing some people. It changed my mind because I didn’t know you could empathise so much with someone who could make such a cold-blooded and completely wrong decision.

The last book that made me cry
It’s hard to make me cry, but the characters in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and A God in Ruins are so real that when bad things happen you ache for them. I cry because it’s so true.

The last book that made me laugh
Those two books made me laugh out loud, too. She can do both within the space of a page. It would make me insane with jealousy if I had any chance of even being close to being that good, but I don’t so I can just sit back and enjoy it, let it flow over me.

The book I couldn’t finish
I’ve been on a quest to read every Pulitzer fiction prizewinner and so I marched through the years dutifully until I got stalled on Honey in the Horn by Harold L Davis. I’m sure it’s a perfectly good book – possibly I was Pulitzered out – but I couldn’t make it happen any more. I was a little sceptical because Honey in the Horn is apparently a square-dancing term, so from the very beginning I had this sense of dread. I made a rule that I wasn’t allowed to skip, so now I’m stalled. I’ve got to get back in.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
I’m going to get into trouble for this: The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. I don’t know why. I’m hoping now that the public shame will cause me to finally read it.

The book I give as a gift
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
Gone Girl, because that one got so many people talking. It offered a way through for a kind of character you now see everywhere – the female antihero, the villain. It paved the way for awful women everywhere and I’m very proud of that.

My earliest reading memory
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin is a YA novel that stars a young girl named Tabitha-Ruth Wexler who I loved from the beginning. I loved any great little girl who went around kicking everyone in the shins and is underestimated but turns out to be a little bit smarter than everyone else.

My comfort read
This is going to sound weird, but it’s Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – I wish I could tell you why. My husband knows that I’m in a weird place if I’ve got a copy of that in the bath. I have no idea why I’d find comfort in a sociopath leading a queen to her death, but I guess part of it is that it doesn’t sound like my writing – it’s beautiful but it’s so different that I can escape from my brain.

Sharp Objects is out in paperback. The TV adaptation is on Sky Atlantic from 9 July.