Interview by: John Wisniewski
New York Times best selling author Hallie Ephron grew up in a family of writers and a household filled with books. Her parents were Henry and Phoebe Ephron who wrote screenplays for classic movies like Carousel and Daddy Long Legs. Hallie was the last of their four daughters (Nora, Delia, Hallie, Amy) to start writing or, as she calls it, succumb to her genes. Now Hallie writes suspense novels she hopes keep readers up nights.
An Edgar Award finalist and a four-time finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, Hallie grew up in Beverly Hills where her new suspense novel, Night Night, Sleep Tight, is set. The story is inspired by Hallie’s experiences growing up there in a Hollywood family, and by an infamous Hollywood murder.
AMFM: Your parents Hallie were Hollywood screenwriters, how did it feel to grow up among other writers? Did this inspire you to write?
HALLIE EPHRON: Laughing, because it inspired me NOT to write. Especially when all my sisters came out of the chute writing. And publishing. For the longest time I was the sister who didn’t write.
AMFM: Who are some of your favorite authors?
HALLIE EPHRON: Growing up, our house was filled with wonderful books, so my early favorites were Mary Maud Montgomery, E. B. White, Louis May Alcott, the Brontë sisters, Shirley Jackson, and of course Jane Austen.
Now? I’ll read you just a few authors whose books I’ve set aside in my towering TBR pile: Elizabeth George, Elmore Leonard, Joseph Finder, Sue Miller, Elizabeth Strout, Linwood Barclay, Jess Walter… I especially like discovering an author with their first book. Recent “finds” for me would be Julia Dahl and Shannon Kirk.
AMFM: What attracted you to the Lana Turner Hollywood murder story?
HALLIE EPHRON: I felt as if I had a personal connection. I was ten years old when the story of the murder broke. I was mesmerized by the idea that a girl just four years older than me had confessed to killing her movie star mother’s gangster boyfriend. Even more compelling to me was that the Beverly Hills house where the murder took place was just two blocks from where my family lived. I used to ride my bike over there after school and just stare at the windows of what I imagined to be the scene of the crime — the “pink bedroom” I’d read about in newspaper articles. I tried to imagine what kind of courage and terror it must have taken for that little girl to do what she did. Night Night, Sleep Tight doesn’t attempt to unravel what happened that night; the characters in it are not Lana Turner or Cheryl Crane of Johnny Stompanato. But my fascination with the murder and its aftermath inspired the fiction.
AMFM: How did you research to write the book? Did you interview anyone?
HALLIE EPHRON:The book takes place in Beverly Hills in the ’60s and ’80s, and for the details of place I had to rely on my own memory and of photographs from those time periods because Beverly Hills is so transformed. About the murder of Johnny Stompanato, I deliberately limited myself to reading newspaper articles that came out in the days surrounding the murder and the trial. I wanted the characters in the novel to be completely fictional, only the situation based on a true crime.
AMFM: What has been the critical reaction to your book?
HALLIE EPHRON: It’s been scarey-good. And the best part was getting picked by both InStyle Magazine’s book club and Ladies Home Journal as a top page turning read. My favorite quote is from the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Hooray for Hollywood, hooray for homicide, and hooray for Hallie Ephron who begins with a seed of truth and grows it into a bumper crop of crime and cynicism.” And from Bookreporter: “The plotting and character development read as if they could have been transplanted from an unpublished Raymond Chandler novel.” Trying not to let it go to my head.
AMFM: Are there plans to develop the book into a screenplay?
HALLIE EPHRON: I wish. Do you have any connections? Because the one thing I know is not in my wheelhouse is screenwriting. I do best the stuff that screenplays leave out (internal dialogue, setting, building suspense… the stuff between the lines of dialogue that movies leave to the camera and director and actors.)
AMFM: What do you enjoy most about writing?
HALLIE EPHRON: That’s easy. What I enjoy most about writing is having written. The blank page scares me. I hate writing first draft. But if I have something written, even if it’s not very good, I’m happily in the zone taking it the rest of the way. That’s why my motto is “Just hold your nose and write.”
AMFM: What will your next book be about, Hallie? Could you tell us?
HALLIE EPHRON: Next book – All I can tell you is what inspired it. Doll parts. A friend was helping her mother clean out her house, and under the beds were boxes and boxes of doll parts. Arms. Eyes. Legs. So creepy. I’m not sure where I’m going with it but it’s about a woman who repairs dolls.