Delia Ephron: Deelia EF-ruhn
An Interview with Diana Ephron
What inspired you to write this novel?
The Log column in the local East Hampton newspaper. I visited friends in the Hamptons and got hooked on it. This column lists incidents that have been reported to the police--things like "three geraniums disappeared off my porch." I loved the innocence of the crimes, and the idea that crimes could be innocent. I began to think: suppose a woman is a crime reporter in a place where there are no serious crimes. Then something big happens. Would people believe it? This was the germ of the idea for this book. I also began to think of all of the things that I'm interested in. Divorce and its effect on children is one of them. I like to write about things that people find terribly sad, find the humor in it, and make people laugh and cry.
Lily argues, "Divorce is the destruction of childhood." Is she speaking in your voice?
Well, I am not Lily, but she has concerns and interests that I share. I am a stepmother, not a single mother. However, I have seen how my stepchildren have been affected by divorce. I have written nonfiction about divorced kids and have interviewed a lot of these kids. I have seen the anger and hurt. Parents have to get divorced with blinders on to some extent; they don't always want to acknowledge what their decision means for their children. It can lead to years of grief. This is what happened to Lily's son. For Sam, divorce was the end of his innocence--the first time he realized the world was not a safe place. It is a dramatic moment, a terribly big moment. I wanted to write about the long-term effect of this on Lily and Sam's life.
Lily faces a huge moral dilemma in this novel. Suppose the man you fall in love with is married with children? Do you want him to leave his family knowing what it will do to them? Lily knows first-hand what it will do to his children.
What kind of research did you do?
I went to the Hamptons alone in the winter. I hung out with the cops, who were unbelievably generous, especially Sergeant Mike Tracey. They let me ride around with them. We once rescued a man who had had too many martinis. This was the first time I had lived in a place where the animals weren't on leashes. I grew up in Los Angeles where there is no natural vegetation, so I was terrified. I didn't recognize the sounds at night, and had never lived in a place that got truly dark. I became so anxious that I had a car accident in the police department parking lot and ended up in the police log myself.
Originally I had thought my main character would be a Sakonnet Bay native. Then I began to think, maybe she would move there from the city. It helped me as a writer because I don't know the names of plants and animals-- writing vegetation is not my favorite thing. It enriched the story to have Lily discover in the course of the novel how a small, rural town worked. I also spent time in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and visited all my friends in Maine who live in small towns. I always do a lot of research for my writing.
Lily's terror of the great outdoors provides some of the funniest moments in this novel. Would you agree that this novel is, among other things, a celebration of urban life?
Absolutely. Lily is confused and trying to cope with life in the country, but she cannot forget about life in the city--the pleasure of walking the streets of Manhattan and having nobody recognize you. She misses anonymity. And the smells of pizza and garbage--and everything else--that come at you. In her loneliness and alienation, she romanticizes city life, fondly remembering Sixth Avenue being shut down because Yassir Arafat was in town. It is interesting what people think is lonely. For Lily, living in an apartment building stacked and sandwiched with other people is not lonely at all.
This novel includes so many elements--comedy, mystery, coming-of-age, family drama--that it defies easy pigeon-holing. How would you describe it to your readers?
This is a story about different kinds of love and the sacrifices we make--Lily's love for her son, her passion for Tom McKee, her loyalty to her best friend Jane. I threw a murder into the mix, and that is also about love. And let us not forget Sam's romance with Deidre, the Klingon. There is such a focus on genre in publishing nowadays, but I find it more fulfilling and fun to mix things up. Lily writes the column for the weekly newspaper and this column appears periodically throughout the novel. She uses the column to communicate secretly, and accidentally, she reveals secrets about herself. The whole town begins speculating about her. Lily is a writer. Writers have experiences and they make them into essays or stories. Lily writes about the murder, but she also writes about getting a bad haircut, losing her mind at a roadside stand, and being the subject of gossip.
Lily declares, "I was doomed to spend my life out-of-step and over my head." Does this apply to any of the other characters in this novel?
Not really. Tom McKee has the opposite problem. He did exactly what was expected of him. He married his high school sweetheart and became a cop like his other relatives. Lily brings out his passionate, adventurous side. She represents the path not taken.
Was Sam, who is so nonverbal, a difficult character to write?
No, I love writing kids of all ages. Writers have things they are comfortable with and, for me, that's kids.
Where did the character of Deidre, Sam's Klingon-speaking girlfriend, come from?
I was browsing in a bookstore one day and came across the The Complete Klingon Dictionary. That someone had taken and translated this language struck me as divine and insane. All I could think of was "his poor mother." Obviously the author is a complete Trekkie who grew up and decided to write this book. I had heard that there were such things as Trekkie camps where kids go and learn to speak Klingon. I thought it would be great to create a teenager that spoke this language. How frustrating would that be for a parent?
Lily thought she would take Sam out of the city and save him, but what does he do? He meets the only person in town who is as odd as he is. In the end, I think Sam saves Deidre. She is meant for the city. When Sam arrives, he really opens the world up for her.
Lily's internal dialogue about Sam's increasingly disturbing behavior is hilarious, especially the not in the normal range scale (NNR). How would Sam rate his mother's behavior?
He would rate it DMC--driving me crazy. Mothers have told me again and again that they really identify with this normal range business. It's confusing to raise a teenager. We are constantly reading about teenagers that go off the track. So at some time or another we find ourselves wondering: Have I got one of those kids? And lying is what teenagers do best. We all lied when we were teenagers, yet still it's shocking to think that your child is lying to you. Sam and Lily have to learn to trust each other again.
What are readers to make of Tom McKee? Is he ultimately trustworthy?
First of all, he is a cop and a complicated guy. He is genuinely mad about Lily, but he is not a simple man. If you think a good guy is a guy who is faithful and a bad guy is a guy who is not, then you would judge him harshly. But I would not.
This novel is populated with an appealing supporting cast of characters. Do you have a favorite among them?
No, I don't. I love them all, but I did especially enjoy writing Deidre and Bernadette. Lily has a powerful effect upon Bernadette, who is a cub reporter. Bernadette is a person who notices everything and never understands the significance of anything.
What came first to your mind--the murder mystery or the emotional relationships--in terms of structuring this novel? Was it difficult to set up the murder mystery?
I knew the murder mystery would be secondary to the love stories, but it would be the motor that drove the book. I am a fan of murder mysteries and was looking forward to writing one, but I am interested in emotional relationships, not autopsies. I needed to keep focused on my characters' emotional lives.
Did you always know how this novel would end? Did you ever consider a different ending?
I knew that Lily would make a sacrifice. She was willing to sacrifice two years of her life to get Sam through high school. But she ends up making another, much bigger sacrifice that she did not anticipate. I didn't know about this sacrifice at first. This novel is about the sacrifices we can and cannot make.
What writers have influenced you?
I love to read--and write--a good story, which is why I so admire many English writers--George Eliot, Graham Greene, Jane Austen, John LeCarre. I also love Anne Tyler's stories. I just love great storytellers. When I was a child I remember sitting in a chair with a plate of chocolate-chip cookies and reading Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I was swept away. As an adult, I want to pass on that feeling--of spending an afternoon someplace else. I want to keep you in the chair eating chocolate-chip cookies.
How do you structure a day of writing?
I sit down after breakfast, work until lunch, and begin again after lunch. I write a lot, but don't have a really rigid schedule. I just don't have a problem with writing. I used to get up and move around more during the day, but now the computer is so much fun. I spend a lot more time at my desk going online and writing e-mails.
Your body of work is wide-ranging, from nonfiction to humor to novels to screenplays to children's books. Do you have a favorite genre?
No. Each offers something different. With scripts, a certain number of them don't get made, and some of the ones that do may not resemble what you actually wrote. Writing a book is pure because it is just me.
You have also produced several movies. Has this work affected your writing in any way?
No, producing is completely different. I love the isolation of writing--of being alone in a room each day. But once a movie is being made and you are producing it, you are running around to meetings and doing all kinds of things. It is a very different experience from writing.
What is up next for you?
I am working on a new novel, which is very different from anything I've written before. I am also working on some screenplays, but I am not sure which is going to be up next.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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