Mystery Lovers Bookshop Owner Mary Alice Gorman gave everyone a gold star on a wintry Saturday morning for venturing out to hear Hallie Ephron speak.
Hallie, one of the four talented writing Ephron sisters, made the effort to travel to the Oakmont store near Pittsburgh well worth it. The author of five previous mystery novels, she was there to launch her newest book, Never Tell a Lie. This is her sixth mystery novel and the first to deviate from her co-written series featuring Dr. Peter Zak, a forensic neuropsychologist.
Mary Alice Gorman, left, with Hallie Ephron
As the audience members enjoyed bagels and coffee as part of the store’s Coffee and Crime Series, Hallie talked about how -- in a family of writers including her parents who were screenwriters -- she never considered herself a writer until she received a phone call from a magazine writer requesting an interview. When Hallie asked why she wanted to interview her, the writer said “because you’re the only one of the Ephron sisters who doesn’t write.” That was the turning point for Hallie, she says, because “it was not OK to fail to try.”
And it wasn’t true that she hadn’t written before. Writing had been a big part of her careers as a teacher, educational consultant and high tech marketing copywriter through the years. Even though she might not have known it yet, she was honing her writing skills as she helped others to learn.
But stepping off the cliff to write fiction brought her to a whole ‘nother level of writing and one she has enjoyed. This is the first year she will not be doing corporate work to help pay the bills, and so she can spend her time writing, a glorious time for her. She writes about eight hours a day, but then, like the rest of us who don’t have our minds challenged by how to solve a mystery, she has to stop to eat, exercise and go to the market. But “writing is what I do,” she says. She chose to write mysteries because those are the books she loves best.
Like so many other writers, Hallie, who makes her home near Boston, is often asked where she gets her ideas. She admits she doesn’t like to answer this question in a traditional way because that would make it seem as if writing is something only the select few can do. Instead, she is a true believer that given the skills (which can be learned and which she deftly lays out in her book Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel), anyone can write, bringing their own stories, ideas and characters to the page.
This is what she has done so well in her newest book, infusing the story with her own life experiences. She told the audience how she was at a yard sale when the owners asked if she wanted to go inside and see their house. She did, and while touring the house, she had the thought: “What if I couldn’t get out of here?” Right then she decided to have one of the main characters in her book become locked in the attic, unable to leave the house. She then made the character pregnant, and allowed all of her own thoughts when she was having her first of her two daughters to come alive in the character Melinda. And the house where the woman becomes imprisoned is based on a house -- complete with a secret room -- she and her husband Jerry had looked at once upon a time.
Two of the themes she has weaved into this scary novel are that “secrets can be toxic” and that "reality is not as bad as we imagine,” both statements that Baby Boomers would agree with. You will have to pick up a copy of the book to learn how that turns out.
There are differences between writing novels and her two non-fiction books, Hallie says. With non-fiction, the narrative is there; you don’t have to create it. But with fiction, the sky’s the limit as they say, which can be terrifying. Fiction also requires a point of view as in who is going to speak in this story and when and where are they going to speak from.
A veteran of both types of writing, which does she like best? Non-fiction makes life simpler and easier for people, Hallie says, but “I am happiest writing fiction,” she admits, “because it moves people.”
Hallie says her three writing sisters Nora, Delia and Amy are happy with her growing success with this new book, and she is very much enjoying it, too. “I’ve been around long enough to appreciate it,” she says.
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Coffee and Crime
Hallie Ephron says that the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA is the “premier place to be for a new (and veteran) author.” As booksellers, Mary Alice Gorman and Richard Goldman are tuned into the writing business in a big way and slate a continual cast of new writers as well as veterans at the store to talk about their latest work.
According to Hallie, her book tour for Never Tell a Lie included California, Florida, Boston (where she lives), and Oakmont, the quaint town along the Allegheny River.
For more information on the store, visit www.MysteryLovers.com.
By Teresa K. Flatley