Creatively Speaking: Hallie Ephron

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Creatively Speaking continues today with author and journalist Hallie Ephron. You've probably heard of her sister, Nora, and we've written here on this blog before about another Ephron sister, Amy, but would you believe all four Ephron girls are accomplished writers? And if that wasn't enough, how about this: Mom and Dad Ephron were also successful writers! (playwrights and screenwriters) Hallie has a new novel out called Never Tell a Lie, a wonderful mystery set in and around New England. In the below interview, she talks candidly about growing up in a household of writers, her work as a book reviewer, the process of writing a mystery, as well as her experience penning her own books, including her latest.

Tune back in tomorrow for a chance to win one of TWO copies of
Never Tell a Lie. As always, you'll need to answer some questions that tie back into today's interview. So if you want to better your chances, be sure to click through and read the whole interview.

DI: Let's start with some family history. Both your parents were
accomplished writers; likewise all three of your sisters are. What on
earth was in the water in your neck of the woods?

HE: I don't know about the water, but the house had wall-to-wall books.
I grew up being read to, reading, reciting poetry, and generally
cherishing the written word. Knowing that I come from that amazing gene
pool gave me the courage to write.

DI: You've published other books before, but never fiction. Was there
some hesitation due to the success of your sisters in that genre? Or
were you just saving it all up for this debut?

HE: This is my first solo novel - I published five mysteries with a
co-author writing under the pseudonym G. H. Ephron - but even those I
didn't start writing until I was forty. Of course there was hesitation,
worry that I'd be compared (unfavorably) to them. Finally I decided that
it was okay to try and fail, not okay to fail to try. So I jumped in.

DI: You've been reviewing mystery novels for the Boston Globe for many
moons. Clearly you know what works and what doesn't. Did that make
writing your mystery any easier?

HE: Being a book reviewer makes the writing harder and easier. Harder
because it's nearly impossible to shut down that inner critic and get a
lousy first draft written. Easier because I've seen what works and what
doesn't, I know a cliche when I see it, and I'm aware of the wide range
of crime fiction sub-genres that are happily thriving so I don't feel
constrained by "rules."

DI: What's the hardest thing about writing a mystery?

HE: Making the ending surprising AND credible at the same time. You want
the reader to say, "Of course, I should have seen that coming." You want
it to be like the ending of "The Sixth Sense" when you realize the main
character is dead and you want to watch that movie again to find the
clues that you missed the first time around.

DI: Never Tell a Lie starts with a newspaper clipping from the missing
persons page. In a way, this little teaser borrows from the in medias
res
technique, which I just blogged about on this site a couple weeks ago.
Of course, lots of mysteries make great use of the device to ensure the
reader is hooked from the beginning. Did you always know you'd start the
story with the newspaper announcement that Melinda White had gone
missing, and then double back to the time when she disappears? Or was
the teaser added later, after the novel was finished?

HE: Great question! That newspaper article is the last thing I wrote,
and full credit for it goes to my daughter Naomi. She read Chapter 1 and
said to me that she'd loved it, but it was so much more compelling and
suspenseful **because** she knew that Melinda, the woman who comes to the yard sale,
was going to disappear. A light bulb went off in my head, and I added
the newspaper clipping to give readers that same insight. It adds a
layer of suspense to what might seem like a safe suburban opening scene.

DI: What was the process like for this book? How long did it take to
crank out the first draft? How long did you revise? Who were your
readers and how much revising did you do based on their suggestions?

HE: It felt like this book took me forever -- about three years, from
inspiration at that yard sale until final-final draft. The first two
years were writing (I was also working on "1001 Books for Every Mood")
and a year to revise. I have a wonderful writing group and they are my
first readers.

Then I have a few other writer friends who read the various finished
drafts and I revise some more. My agent is a fantastic reader, too, and
after I'm satisfied with it, I send it to her and we go back and forth a
few more times. Every time I make a major change to the manuscript, I do
a "SAVE AS" and increment the version number--the final file name for the novel was
NTAL32.

DI: With all your siblings' Hollywood connections, are there any plans
to turn the novel into a movie?

HE: There's a lot of interest in it right now but nothing definite.
Fingers crossed!

DI: What are some of your favorite mysteries?

HE: There are so many! I was hooked early on by one of the classics,
Wilkie Collins's "Woman in White." Some more recent favorites: Michael
Connelly's "Lincoln Lawyer" and Leonie Swann's "Three Bags Full" and
Jess Walter's "Citizen Vince" and Nancy Pickard's "The Virgin of Small
Plains."

DI: What advice do you have for aspiring mystery writers?

HE: Actually, I have a whole book full of advice in my "Writing and
Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock 'Em Dead with Style." Bottom
line, you'll need dogged determination and intestinal fortitude to stick
with it, through first draft and endless revisions, until your words are
polished to lapidary perfection. It doesn't hurt, either, to have the
hide of a rhinoceros to withstand the inevitable rejections. Talent
being equal, what separates many a published mystery writer from an
unpublished one is sheer stamina and blind luck. Only gluttons for
punishment need apply.

Browse through past Creatively Speaking posts here >>

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January 21, 2009 - 1:58am
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