Hallie Ephron to discuss her latest novel, a combo of Marie Kondo and murder

by | Jul 27, 2021 | What’s Happening

Originally published in the May 10, 2021 issue. 

Thursday, May 13, 7:30 pm, Zoom, free

Robyn Sidersky

Hallie Ephron didn’t start writing until she was 40, and published her first book 10 years later.

Unlike the rest of her immediate family, she didn’t initially want to become a writer.

But when a reporter called to write a magazine piece on her precisely because of that, she changed her course.

Ephron thought, “that can’t be my story.” So, she started writing after teaching for years and working in management. She didn’t know if she could actually do it until she tried.

Now, Ephron is a New York Times bestselling author and will speak about her newest novel, Careful What You Wish For as part of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and Simon Family JCC’s Lee and Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival.

Her genre is what she calls “domestic suspense.” Crime and thriller fans will be familiar with her books, which include You’ll Never Know, Dear, Night, Night, Sleep Tight, There Was an Old Woman, and others.

“The books are fun,” Ephron says. “They’re a little scary, a little creepy, but never icky.”

The Chicago Review of Books called her novels “hyper-contemporary, engaging with our very of-the-moment-fears about family life and the modern world.” The publication called Careful What You Wish For a cross between Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up, Storage Wars, and murder.

Careful What You Wish For tells the story of Emily Harlow, a professional organizer who finds herself in a mess she can’t just declutter. It explores the relationships between declutter-ers and their clients and how the lines between professional and personal can be blurred.

Ephron says she drew inspiration from her own husband.

“When you’re an author, you’re always looking for conflict and I like to write stories set in houses, domestic suspense, and I’m married to a man who cannot pass a yard sale without stopping. So I’ve actually been writing about his collecting and my chagrin about it for the last 30 years. Marie Kondo wasn’t even born when I wrote my first essay about being married to a guy who collects everything.”

Thankfully, Ephron’s husband doesn’t take anything personally.

When Marie Kondo and organizing became trendy, it worked out for Ephron. She did a lot of research for the novel, connecting with people in the National Association for Professional Organizers. She researches the ickier parts too, talking to medical examiners, physicians, niche experts, and other mystery writers.

Ephron’s upbringing was unusual in that her parents, Phoebe and Henry Ephron, were both Hollywood screenwriters. They were nominated for an Oscar for their work on Captain Newman, M.D.

Her sisters, Nora, Delia, and Amy all became writers, too. Nora Ephron wrote the screenplays for movies such as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. Amy Ephron wrote children’s novels including Carnival for Magic and The Castle in the Mist. Delia was the screenwriter for You’ve Got Mail and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

“My mother was really the match that lit that bonfire,” Ephron says. “She was tough, she was brilliant and she was a writer and I don’t think my father would have been successful without her, but I also don’t think she would have been—she couldn’t have been—a writer without him because of the times. It wasn’t a time women were given opportunities in Hollywood.”

When the family gathered each night for a meal, it wasn’t like any other household.

“Growing up in that house, I always say competition at the dinner table was Darwinian. You really had to speak up to really make yourself heard, and everyone loved it if you made people laugh. We were all storytellers. That’s the one thing they really did right. Dinner every night at 6:30. You showed up and you behaved yourself and you contributed to the conversation.”

Ephron estimates 60 to 100 books between the four sisters.

“There was something magical about all the books on the shelves, about the expectations that they had of us that we would write, or at least express ourselves, you know, vehemently, forcefully as who we were, and I think that was unusual for four girls growing up in the 1950s and 60s,” she says.

Along with writing, Ephron teaches writing at conferences. Her best advice for anyone who wants to be a writer is that they should just hold their nose and do it.

“If you want to write, it’s because you’re a reader and you love the written word and you might have ideas. And because you’re a reader, you know what good prose sounds like. And there’s no question the first things you write will be terrible. So I say, just hold your nose and write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and just hang in there.”

To register to hear Ephron speak, and for more information about her appearance and the Book Festival, visit jewishva.org/bookfest or contact Jill Grossman, director of Arts + Ideas at jgrossman@ujft.org or 757-965-6137.