Posts Tagged Hallie Ephron

STEELE INTERVIEWS: Hallie Ephron

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“Vanessa looked back and forth between the photograph and the doll. The doll in Janey’s arms was the right size. It had on a similar long while dress and what was left of its blond hair was tied with a thin ribbon. But the resolution was nowhere near sharp enough to see whether the doll in the picture had a dimple like the one on the mantle, and the wig on the real doll was too threadbare to make a comparison.”

While playing in the yard forty years ago, Lissie’s younger sister Janey went missing. Lis feels guilty and responsible. They’ve never found out what happened to Janey that day. Every year on the anniversary of the sister’s disappearance, their mother, Miss Sorrel, places an ad in the local paper with a picture of the one-of-a-kind porcelain doll Janey had with her when she went missing in hopes that she’ll find answers. This year, the doll returns and it sets off new theories and a few leads into Janey’s disappearance. Someone must know what happened to Janey decades ago.

Set in a fictional South Carolina town, Hallie Ephron’s latest novel–You’ll Never Know, Dear— explores three generations of women and the aftermath of a devastating event. Miss Sorrel makes dolls which look like the little girls who own them. There’s a certain creepiness to porcelain dolls. Her daughter Lis moved home after getting divorced. Lis’s daughter, Vanessa, conducts research on dreams and PTSD in graduate school.

I spoke with Hallie Ephron last month by phone.

HallieEphron1PhotobyLynnWayne062014

Amy Steele: As the book’s set in the south, what kind of research did you do?

Hallie Ephron: I’d been in the south very little. In South Carolina you find a lot of wealthy northerners there for the warmth of the winter season. I‘d been to Beaufort– a beautiful riverfront southern town– it’s where they filmed Forrest Gump. It’s a very colorful and beautiful place. I wrote half of it coasting on my memories and then realized I needed to go down and spend a few days with my camera and tape recorder. I spent four days absorbing it. The way that the marsh grass is a matted surface on the water, pecan trees … all the details went into the book. I’d already created my characters and I added details. The big thing I learned is that Beaufort has its own storied past. I fictionalized it so I wouldn’t be tethered to the true history of the place.

Amy Steele: Your parents being screenwriters, how did that influence your writing?

Hallie Ephron: I spent a lot of time not writing. I have three writing sisters and I was going to be the one who wouldn’t write. It took a long time to cave and I don’t think I would have if I didn’t have the genes. It’s a hard slog getting good enough to be published. I think my books are fairly cinematic. That’s from a kid growing up in Hollywood in a house that was movie-oriented. I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough and I had to be old enough not to care. It took me a lot of time to get confident. There is a story in being a sister and a mother, in the everyday.

Amy Steele: You wrote about three generations of women. What did you like about that?

Hallie Ephron: I like writing about family and generations. I think we’re each so formed by our generation but you’re also formed by your relationship to your family. I particularly like writing older women. I think they’re often caricatured. Especially women over 60 or 70. I take a special pleasure in writing them as human beings with weaknesses. I liked writing Miss Sorrell. She’s kind of a tart individual.

Amy Steele: What do you like about writing in the mystery/thriller genre?

Hallie Ephron: I like figuring it out. I like the click when I figure it out. I usually don’t know the ending when I begin.I just know the set-up. Then I write all the complications, setbacks and challenges and all the while I try to think what does it look like is going on and what do I think is going on. I think in this book the mystery isn’t so much whodunit. I think the reader will realize halfway through who the villain is. But what are the motivations? What are the secrets they’re hiding? That’s what I try to figure out as I work my way to the end.

Amy Steele: How do you organize the novel or your writing?

Hallie Ephron: I have multiple time lines. I think of each character as having a life before the book began and after the book ends. I make a table where each character has a column and the rows are years. I plot the characters in their slots– when they were born and where they went to school– and see where the characters are as their lives progress as well as as the novel progresses. This novel I think takes place over three or four weeks so I do a drilled down version so that I know where the characters are. Even if the reader doesn’t know, I know.

Amy Steele: Do you come up with the characters first or the plot idea?

Hallie Ephron: The first thing I knew is that there would be doll parts. What does that mean? If there were doll parts there would be a doll maker. And who would she be. The story and the character go back and forth as I go along.

Amy Steele: What was the greatest challenge in writing this novel?

Hallie Ephron: I started with two narrators: Lis and Vanessa. I knew I couldn’t be in Miss Sorrel’s head because she knows too much. That was the 20someting and the 40something. I started to ask myself who’s story is this, who’s the protagonist and the answer can’t be both of them. I realized it had to be Lis. She’s the one who lost her sister. She’s the one who had to find her. Lis is the hero. It worked.

Amy Steele: What kind of books do you read?

Hallie Ephron: I read lots of books. I’m reading The Mothers. I just finished Joe Finder’s book. I read lots of books on South Carolina. I powered my way through Pat Conroy’s books. I don’t like horror. I don’t like romance.

You can catch Hallie Ephron speaking about You’ll Never Know, Dear at these events [for more events see her website]:

July 9, 2017
Rockport Public Library
Rockport, Mass.

July 11, 2017
Ferguson Library
Annual Women’s Fiction Night
Stamford, Conn.

July 27, 2017
Maynard Public Library
Maynard, Mass.

August 22, 2017
Bacon Free Library
Natick, Mass.

 
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November Boston-area Book Readings of Note

the muralist

B.A. Shapiro
The Muralist
Concord Bookshop
Thursday, November 5 at 7pm

the horse

Wendy Williams
The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion
Harvard Book Store
Monday, November 9 at 7pm

japanese lover

Isabel Allende
The Japanese Lover
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, November 11 at 7pm

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Ethan Hawke
Rules for a Knight
Harvard Book Store
at Brattle Theatre
Thursday, November 12 at 6pm

extraordinary rendition

Claire Messud, Askold Melnyczuk, Adam Stumacher
Extraordinary Rendition
Brookline Booksmith
Monday, November 16 at 7pm

me my hair and i

Elizabeth Benedict
Elizabeth Searle
Hallie Ephron

Me, My Hair & I: Twenty-Seven Women Untangle an Obsession
Newtonville Books
Monday, November 16 at 7pm

Jesse Eisenberg
Bream Gives Me Hiccups
Harvard Book Store
at Brattle Theatre
Thursday, November 19 at 6pm

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Hanya Yanagihara
A Little Life
Cambridge Public Library
Monday, November 30 at 7pm

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book review: Me, My Hair, and I

me my hair and i<em>Me, My Hair and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession</em> edited by Elizabeth Benedict. Algonquin| September 2015| 336 pages | $16.95| ISBN: 978-1-61620-411-2

<strong>RATING: 3.5/5*</strong>

I’m somewhat amused by hashtags such as #bighairdontcare #messyhairdontcare because women care a lot about hair. One #badhairday can set the tone for one excruciating day because when our hair doesn’t look good we feel less confident. Hair is generally one of the first things someone notices. Women spend a lot of time on coloring and weaving and treating and styling. In August I colored my hair bright red. I got many compliments from a surly teen on the streets of Boston to a gray haired man in the office building where I see my therapist. Now it’s a bit less bright as I used a color lift on it but it’s a kaleidoscope of reds and blondes. I think it’s cool for now but will go back to the deep burgundy I generally color my hair. I’m a natural blonde. I had blonde hair all through grad school. It’s not me. It does not suit me. My hair is also naturally wavy which I fought throughout high school and college. Now I embrace my semi-wild rocker hair. Although EVERY time I get my hair cut, the stylist wants to blow dry my hair straight which just doesn’t work and doesn’t suit my personality. I think my hair is one of my best features. My minimalist style approach works for me which doesn’t mean I don’t want my hair to look good. I just don’t want perfect hair.

In the introduction, editor Elizabeth Benedict writes: “While it’s easy to make light of our obsession with our hair, very few of the writers in these pages do that. We get that hair is serious. It’s our glory, our nemesis, our history, our sexuality, our religion, our vanity, our joy, and our mortality. It’s true that there are many things in life that matter more than hair, but few that matter in quite these complicated, energizing, and interconnected ways. As near as I can tell, that’s the long and short of it.”

Benedict asked 27 women to contribute to this anthology. Writers include: Anne Lamott; Adriana Trigiani; Myra Goldberg; Jane Smiley; Hallie Ephron; Suleika Jaouad; Patricia Volk; Siri Hustvedt and more. There’s a mix of races and cultures represented. There isn’t a wide age range or economical range represented. Most of these writers are in their 50s and 60s and well off that they can afford to spend much money on their hair.

Suleika Jaouad writes about losing her hair to chemotherapy treatments in “Hair, Interrupted:” “My disease has taught me that I can far more effectively take control of my look by embracing it and having fun with it, rather than forcibly trying to make something it is not.” In “My Black Hair,” Marita Golden writes: “I feel narrow minded and judgmental when all I really want is a world where Black women are healthy and have healthy hair that does not put them in the poorhouse, cause health problems, or reinforce the idea that they have to look White to be valued. And this does not mean that I want a world of Black women who have hair that only looks like mine.” Anne Lamott writes a wonderful essay that describes the moment she decides to get dreadlocks. Of her look she writes: “Dreadlocks make people wonder if you’re trying to be rebellious. It’s not as garbling and stapled as a tongue stud, say or as snaky as tattoos, but dreadlocks make you look a little like Medusa, because they writhe and appear to have a life of their own, and that’s scary.” Then she writes: “Dreadlocks would be a way of saying I was no longer going to play with the rules of mainstream white beauty.” Patricia Volk shares the list of expensive products she uses in “Frizzball” including a Moroccan oil intense curl cream ($45) and Coppola color care shampoo ($15). She writes: “I am one miniscule reason why the hair care industry, according to Goldman Sachs, is worth $38 billion a year in products alone.”

In quite an amusing essay “And Be Sure to Tell Your Mother,” Alex Kuczynski gets a full wax to her vaginal area in Turkey. “I arrived back at the hotel, and my boyfriend remarked that I looked like an enormous eight-year-old,” she writes. Good boyfriend. Many guys seem to like “no hair down there.” She notes: “I would learn that in Islam, pubic and underarm hair is considered unclean for both sexes and is routinely shaved or waxed.” Bharati Mukherjee explains Hindu hair rituals in “Romance and Ritual.” She writes: “Unmarried girls and wives take guiltless pride in their long lustrous hair. But Hindu Bengali tradition requires widows to keep their heads permanently shaved as one of many gestures of penance.” Adriana Trigiani beautifully explains what we all know—society prefers straight hair to curly or wavy. In “Oh Capello” she writes: “I realize that this straight-hair-over-curly thing is real; they want curls banned. I’m a rebel—well, not exactly. I just do what’s easy—and easy translated from the Italian means curly (and if it doesn’t it should).” In “Much Ado about Hairdos,” Suri Hustvedt explains: “A never-combed head of hair may announce that its owner lives outside human society altogether—is a wild child, a hermit, or an insane person. It may also signify beliefs and political or cultural marginality.”

The essays are humorous, contemplative, provocative and honest. These women write about embracing the hair on their head. They develop styles to empower them. They generally do what makes them happy and do not conform to societal standards. Perhaps that’s why there are no twentysomething writers in this group. Twentysomethings are still figuring themselves out. Not that anyone figures everything out by any particular age; we just become a bit more comfortable in our skin and with our hair.

<em>FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Algonquin. </em>

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purchase at Amazon: Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Hallie Ephron

night night

When she discovers her screenwriter father dead in his swimming pool, Deirdre Unger finds herself at the center of the suspicious death. It’s 1985 and old Hollywood secrets resurface. Decades ago Deirdre’s best friend killed her mom’s boyfriend and a terrible accident left Unger walking with a limp and crutch. Deirdre now lives in San Diego and runs an art gallery. She and her brother drifted apart years ago. He dropped out of school, lives at the family estate and runs a motorcycle dealership. Their mother took off to join a cultish monastic life. When Deirdre begins sorting through her father’s papers the past swings back in full force. Hallie Ephron’s newest novel Night Night Sleep Tight weaves together present day-1985 with the 60s with fierce suspense and superb details. She delves into the anachronisms of Hollywood celebrity and the fame that many want and few realize. Ephron grew up in Beverly Hills with screenwriter parents so this covers familiar territory. A New York Times bestselling author, Ephron also wrote Never Tell a Lie, Find Me and There Was an Old Woman.

Night Night Sleep Tight By Hallie Ephron.
William Morrow| March 24, 2015.|287 pages |$26.99| ISBN: 978-0-0062117632.

Hallie Ephron took the time to answer a few questions.

author Hallie Ephron; photo by Lynn Wayne

author Hallie Ephron; photo by Lynn Wayne

Amy Steele: I really enjoyed the new novel Night Night, Sleep Tight. How did you come up with the characters?

Hallie Ephron: The book is a hybrid, one part based on my own experiences growing up in Beverly Hills, and another part riffing on the Lana Turner/Johnny Stompanato murder scandal. So, for instance, Deirdre Unger’s screenwriter father (Arthur) who gets murdered in the opening chapter is inspired by my dad; Deirdre’s old friend Joelen Nichol who turns up is based on my best friend in junior high, but her situation (her mother, mother’s Latin gangster boyfriend) is, as they say, ripped form some very old headlines.

Amy Steele: Why did you want to focus on a brother-sister relationship?

Hallie Ephron: Good question. I don’t have a brother, so I guess giving Deirdre a brother freed me to make stuff up. And I’m interested in how two people who grow up in the same family end up feeling as if they grew up in alternate universes.

Amy Steele: Do you generally start with characters or a story idea?

Hallie Ephron: It’s really both. Which is why my process is so messy. As I write the story the characters shift under me.

Amy Steele: You said that you used Lana Turner’s boyfriend’s murder by her daughter as a jump-off point. What appeals to you about that case?

Hallie Ephron: It happened when I was 10 years old (Cheryl Crane was 14) and the house was around the corner from where I lived. I pored over the pictures in the paper. I identified with Cheryl, sympathized with her enormously.

Amy Steele: What do you like best about your central character Deirdre?

Hallie Ephron: She’s a survivor. She had a terrible accident that left her crippled but she hasn’t an ounce (well, maybe an ounce) of self pity. And more than anything she wants to know the truth.

Amy Steele: Why did you decide to set this novel in 1985 and the 60s? Was it challenging to go back and forth time-wise?

Hallie Ephron: I was interested in writing about what was happening in Hollywood in the ‘60s – the studio my screenwriter parents worked at nearly went bankrupt and writers who had been on contract for decades were suddenly out on the street. I wanted the characters to be teenagers in the ‘60s, as I was, and then revisit the place twenty years later to see how it had changed. To keep myself sane, I had kept separate timelines for past and present for each of the characters. The writing itself was the easy part.

Amy Steele: What do you think is the best part of the earlier days of the entertainment industry versus today? Why do believe people like to read about it?

Hallie Ephron: So much glamour! It was before Facebook. The tabloids had barely gotten started. So it was a kinder, gentler time and the stars were protected by the studio system. So as far as the world at large was concerned, they lived a sort of fantasy existence.

Amy Steele: How did growing up in Beverly Hills with screenwriter parents influence your writing career?

Hallie Ephron: I’m a child of the movies, and though I don’t write screenplays my novels are very cinematic. When I write a scene, I imagine I’m writing from the viewpoint of a camera anchored in one of the character’s heads, but with access to that character’s thoughts and feelings and senses.

Amy Steele: How did you start writing?

Hallie Ephron: My first attempts were memoir. In fact, chunks of an early unfinished manuscript (full of lovely little episodes but no overarching story arc) found their way into Night Night, Sleep Tight. I always tell writers: Never throw anything away!

Amy Steele: Why do you like the mystery/thriller/suspense genre?

Hallie Ephron: I love reading the genre and it plays to my strengths as a writer. I’m good at creating a sense of place, building tension, and suggesting what’s going on with subtext. I love the intricacies of plotting out a mystery.

Amy Steele: What kind of research did you have to do?

Hallie Ephron: Hollywood and Beverly Hills in the 60s and 80s are so well documented – so many old pictures are found on the Internet and there are the movies that defined the styles of the times (Sandra Dee Gidget hair in the ‘60s; Jennifer Beals Flashdance hair in the ‘80s.) Between that and newspaper archives and my own memory, it was one of the easiest novels I’ve ever researched.

Amy Steele: Do you have any particular writing habits—time you write, place, outlines etc.—that you could share?

Hallie Ephron: I write every day, in my home office, on the computer, and I do create an outline though I never follow it. The outline is like training wheels that give me permission to write. As I write I revise the outline and make a feeble attempt to get ahead of myself, planning-wise. But it usually turns out to be hopeless and I constantly find myself second guessing myself and circling back. Along the way it’s a mess, but I’ve surrendered to the chaos. I’ve learned that if I keep at it long enough, eventually it comes together.

Amy Steele: Thank you so much Hallie! Tell Delia and Amy I send my regards.

Shop Indie Bookstores

purchase at Amazon: Night Night, Sleep Tight: A Novel of Suspense

BOOK EVENTS

Tuesday, March 24 at 7pm
Brookline Booksmith
Launch event

Wednesday, March 25 at pm
Milton Public Library

Thursday, March 26 at 7pm
Wellesley Books

Saturday, March 28 at 2pm
Newport Public Library
Newport, RI

Tuesday, March 31 at 7:30 pm
Melrose Public Library
Melrose, Mass.

Thursday, April 2 at 7pm
BOOKENDS
Winchester, Mass.

Saturday, April 4 at 2pm
Brookline Public Library
Brookline, Mass.

Monday, April 6 at 7pm
Tufts Library
Weymouth, Mass.

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March Boston-area Book Readings of Note

vagina

Karen Harris and Lori Caskey Sigety
The Medieval Vagina
Trident Booksellers and Café
Wednesday, March 4 at 7pm

om thing

Rebecca Pacheco
Do Your Om Thing
Brookline Booksmith
Wednesday, March 4 at 7pm
Trident Booksellers and Café
Monday, March 9 at 7pm

graham

Jorie Graham
From the New World: Poems 1976-2014
Harvard Book Store
Tuesday, March 10 at 7pm

amherst

William Nicholson
Amherst: A Novel
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, March 11 at 7pm

ongoingness

Sarch Manguso
Ongoingness: The End of a Diary
Harvard Book Store
Saturday, March 14 at 7pm

buried giant

Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buried Giant: a novel
Harvard Book Store
Saturday, March 21 at 4pm

night night

Hallie Ephron
Night Night, Sleep Tight
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, March 24 at 7pm

9780374280307

Barney Frank
Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage
Harvard Book Store
Tuesday, March 24 at 7pm

download

Smith Henderson
Fourth of July Creek
Porter Square Books
Thursday, March 26 at 7pm

half brother

Holly LeCraw
The Half Brother
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, March 31 at 7pm

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IN THE REALM: 13 Book Suggestions for Halloween

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Each scary in their own way. some thrillers, some nonfiction, some memoirs and a few classics that totally creep me out. I read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary one summer and was afraid of things jumping out of bushes for a long while after finishing it.

fearful symmetry

1. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

pet sematary

2. Pet Sematary by Stephen King

montana

3. Montana by Gwen Florio

biohazard

4. Biohazard by Ken Alibek

lost in the forest

5. Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller

old woman

6. There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron

street lawyer

7. The Street Lawyer by John Grisham

lord of the flies

8. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

drivers seat

9. The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

black water

10. Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates

stiff

11. Stiff: the curious lives of cadavers by Mary Roach

threats

12. Threats by Amelia Gray

working stiff

13. Working Stiff by Judy Melinek

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There Was an Old Woman: book review

there was an old woman

There Was An Old Woman by Hallie Ephron. Publisher: William Morrow (2013). Suspense/Thriller. Hardcover. 304 pages. ISBN 9780062117601.

I’ve been aching for a real thriller in recent months– a page-turner that I don’t want to put down and can’t wait to pick back up again, one which avoids slasher gore and serial killing. There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron draws you in with equal parts creepiness, cleverness and colorful characters. Ephron manages to include fear of aging, alcoholism, family dynamics, aggressive developers and historical preservation in her twisty-turny suspenseful novel about a young woman who returns to her Bronx neighborhood when her alcoholic mother ends up hospitalized. Evie knew her mom wasn’t doing very well but didn’t realize how far she’d declined in recent months. The more she investigates and befriends sassy 91-year-old neighbor Mina, who shares her own conspiracy theories about the neighborhood’s demise, the stranger everything seems. Is it all in her elderly neighbor’s mind or is someone trying to make fools of them all?

RATING: ****/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from William Morrow.

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