Kim Krizan is an Academy Award–nominated screenwriter (with Richard Linklater, for Before Sunset), a popular graphic novel writer (Zombie Tales: 2061), and an actress who has appeared in three Linklater films: Dazed and Confused, Slacker, and Waking Life. In addition to all the Hollywood glitter, Krizan’s got literary/academic chops as well: she’s an Anaïs Nin expert with a master’s degree in literature (her thesis examined the psychology of creativity).
Despite hard-won success in Hollywood as both an actress and a writer, Krizan has decided not only to self-publish her first book, Original Sins: Trade Secrets of the Femme Fatale, a seriously researched, delightfully tongue-in-cheek history of “dangerous women,” through the ages, but she’s also decided to use Kickstarter, the popular crowdfunding site, to raise $10,000—the campaign starts October 1—to fund the book’s publication. What’s going on here?
“I’m kicking Hollywood to the curb with my stiletto heels,” she tells PW, laughing at the question and alternating between her two active (and entertaining) personas, the seductive “femme fatale”—yes, that’s her on the book’s cover—and the wisecracking cultural critic, during a phone interview. “I was lucky to be a Hollywood writer and to get two films made,” she says. “I’m very proud of them. But I want to work on my own, and books are my first true love. I’m always writing, but writing for Hollywood is difficult. You write a screenplay, give it to someone, and wait and wait.”
Original Sins: Trade Secrets of the Femme Fatale is a look at dangerous women, be they mythological or literary characters, or real historical figures, beginning with Eve in the garden of Eden, “the original femme fatale. She got all the blame for bringing us down by sinning, so she’s first,” Krizan says, emphasizing that “a femme fatale lives her life on her own terms.” As she notes in the introduction to Original Sins, “throughout history, hot chicks have scared the pants off men,” and she analyzes the femme fatale’s history, habits, and attempts by men to control her. Krizan celebrates a long legacy of “evil seductresses,” from the biblical Jezebel and Salome through winsome-but-deadly historical figures like Cleopatra (“she had no problem with wanting to rule the world”) and fictional fatales like Lady Macbeth and Scarlet O’Hara on to such classic “bad girl” movie stars as Theda Bara, Anna Mae Wong, Rita Heyworth, Lana Turner, and Sharon Stone.
It’s a serious book that “looks at women’s relationship to power and the journey they’ve taken to get it,” says Krizan, who emphasized that the book is also written with a sense of fun. “It looks at what the femme fatale thinks, what she drinks, what she drives, as well as practical issues, like what do you wear when you’re about to kill your husband? It’s a tongue-in-cheek history, and I had so much fun writing it.”
“Femme fatales are always on the run,” she jokes, “[so] I talk about travel on trains and planes; I even went to a car museum to see what kind of cars the femme fatale would drive—of course she would also hitch a ride if she needed to.” Chapters include “The Raw Materials: How to Look Dangerous,” “Man-Eating Made Simple: The Femme Fatale’s Purpose Driven Life,” and “Warpaint: Cosmetics as Weapons of Mass Seduction,” along with a list of Hollywood movies that have made the femme fatale a film culture icon.
The book is beautifully designed by Michael Kellner Book Design and richly illustrated with a roguettes gallery of man-eaters. But with Krizan’s background and reputation, why go through all the work required to self-publish? The author admits she hasn’t approached a conventional publisher: “I wanted to do something different, and I wanted to write something and get it out into the world in a flash. Kickstarter gives a lot of power to the people, and I think I can get my work directly to readers. Now, if a publisher comes around, I would love it.”
She adds, “Let the audience decide yea or nay if the book should be published. I like that, it’s like the punk ethos, not waiting for permission, just like the femme fatale.” And since Krizan is a filmmaker as well, getting to produce the Kickstarter video—Kickstarter encourages creators to produce a short video that explains what their project is about—was also irresistible. Krizan stars as, what else, a classic noir femme fatale, a blonde bombshell in blood-red lipstick, dressed to kill in black, opaque shades, and heels, in a short video she shot in L.A.’s Chinatown that parodies the femme fatale concept. “I watched every film noir there is to write this book, so I thought it would be fun to play with the tone of film noir and play the jaded character,” she says. “She’s got a goal, she’s running from something, and she’s got stuff to confess.”
Her Kickstarter promotional prizes—the premiums offered to donors based on how much money they pledge to a project—include a Basic Vamp Level for $10 (you get a .pdf of the book); Straight Up Siren Level for $25 (print book mailed to your home); and Original Sinner Level for $100 (a signed and numbered copy of the print book, with your name on the thank you page) among others. For $2,000 or more, the Trouble Girl Tour Level, you get the signed and numbered book, and Krizan will also take the donor on a personal tour of femme fatale hot spots and locales around L.A. that are discussed in the book. “I wanted to be creative and to offer surprise gifts,” she says, “so for big pledges, donors can meet me at L.A.’s Union Station—train stations are the scene of so many noir films—and we can walk around and listen to me talk about life and love and riding on a train with a beautiful stranger.”
Indeed, Krizan can be as romantic about Kickstarter and self-publishing as she is about the cultural power of the dangerous women she writes about. “The point of art is to connect, and to have that direct connection to readers that self-publishing offers feels so good,” she says. “It’s empowering to the audience. They get to decide whether they want to read your book. It’s elemental, and there’s no middleman to interrupt it.”