Saturday, September 10, 2005

“Somerville News Writers Festival featured author Hallie Ephron appears at the Wilderness House Literary Retreat.”

One of the readers on the bill at the Somerville News Writers Festival,” (Nov. 13 7PM at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Sq., Somerville, Mass.) is mystery novelist Hallie Ephron. Ephron, along with Donald Davidoff, a nueropsychologist at McLean Hospital, have created a fictional forensic neuropsychologist, Doctor Peter Zak, and investigator Annie Squires. Ephron and Davidoff have written five in a series of mystery/suspense novels featuring these characters.
On a cool, early September morning, poet Irene Koronas and I drove out to the “Wilderness House Literary Retreat” in Littleton, Mass., to attend a casual talk and lunch with the author.
The “Wilderness House Literary Retreat,” is situated high atop a hill in the midst of a scenic nature preserve, which makes for a picturesque setting for these gatherings.
Ephron, who exuded a friendly and unaffected air, said that for many years she denied she was a writer. She comes from a long line of writers. Her sister, the famous Nora Ephron, has been plying her trade for years, and has written many well-received novels and screenplays. Partly out of fear of being compared with her sisters, and partly because she was involved with other pursuits, she put her writing off. But as she put it: “The Genes came into play,” and her writing emerged. Her first project was the writing of “Exit Wound,” an unpublished piece that dealt with the death of a friend’s husband.
Ephron, like Lan Samantha Chang, another festival featured reader, and the new head of the “Iowa Writers Workshop,” took a course at the “Cambridge Center for Adult Education,” to jumpstart her writing. Ephron feels that every novice writer needs to get a bit of encouragement to see them through the slew of rejections they inevitably experience. Ephron got that in a big way when “NPR” broadcast an essay of hers. One thing lead to another and Ephron and Davidoff started to collaborate on the Peter Zak mystery series, that includes the titles: “Amnesia,” “Delusion,” and the most recent “Guilt.”
Ephron and Davidoff plan the book together, and Davidoff offers advice concerning the character, Peter Zak, that he is modeled after. But Ephron stated definitively, that she does the writing. Davidoff describes himself as a “pointy-head academic” more comfortable with research papers than with the treacherous shoals of fiction-writing, according to Ephron. Peter Zak, the wine -snob and antiques aficionado (like Davidoff himself), could not of been fully-fleshed if Ephron did not have Davidoff to consult with. Although Davidoff doesn’t write the book per se, he is an essential part of the process.
Ephron is an admirer of Robert Parker of “Spenser” fame and the well-regarded Boston -area mystery writer Linda Barnes. Ephron is a writer, who likes to schmooze and has numerous friends in the writing community. An activist, in a local writing group” Sisters in Crime,” she also receives a great deal of support from her biological sisters, and regularly frequents “Kate’s Mystery Books,” in Cambridge.
Ephron is a decidedly morning kind-of-writer. She cranks out her 250 words shortly after she wakes. Ephron said that although she cares about her work, she is not the type of writer who takes it too seriously, and is not prone to go off the deep end if things aren’t going well. She believes mystery writing has a “form”, but she doesn’t have a formula. She feels the dogma of a strict formula can make for a dead-on-arrival novel.
Ephron stays away from politics in her writing, but uses everything from her love of cooking to her intimate knowledge of having and being a “Jewish Mother” of sorts. Zak himself lives under the ying and yang of a loving matriarch. Ephron said she feels protective of all her characters...after all they are her “babies.”
Ephron told the group assembled at the retreat that she feels more comfortable writing nonfiction than fiction. Her most recent “How-To” book “Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel.” (Writers Digest Books), answers many common questions that mystery novelists have in the seminal stages of their career.
Make sure to catch Ephron and Davidoff read at the Writers festival this November!

Doug Holder * for more information about Hallie Ephron and “The Somerville News Writers Festival,” go to

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