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The Write Stuff

by Erica Bauwens

Writer Delia Ephron stops by the Katz JCC this month to discuss her new book and her life on paper.

One of four sisters raised by two writers, it was no surprise when Delia Ephron joined the family business, writing such famous screenplays as You’ve Got Mail and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, as well as a string of successful novels, including her newest book The Lion is In. She also collaborated with her sister, the late Nora Ephron, on films and their independent play Love, Loss and What I Wore, now performed internationally.

Ephron talked with South Jersey Magazine about the dream that inspired her newest novel, her family dynamic, and what drives her creativity shortly before her appearance on Nov. 12 at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, during the Bank of America Festival of Arts, Books and Culture.

SOUTH JERSEY MAGAZINE: You grew up in a family of writers. What was the atmosphere like in your household as a child?
DELIA EPHRON: All three of my sisters are writers, and I think my parents had something to do with that. My parents didn’t believe you should do anything else, I think. That was it. At the dinner table, if I said anything funny, my father would say, ‘That’s a great line, write it down.’ Nora always knew she was going to be a writer, but I put it off. Having such successful parents and a sister who was a writer put me off, but I finally got into it.

SJM: How did you keep your own writing style amid a family of writers?
DE: I think your job as a writer is to figure out what you have to say. It’s about finding what your voice is, and nobody can have your voice; it’s yours. So in that case, there is no overlap.

SJM: What’s it like to watch a move like You’ve Got Mail go from your words on paper to a modern-day love story adored across the globe?
DE: I love that. Movies reach so many more people. And when you write a script and it gets made, hundreds of people go to work. And then you’re on location and a whole town gets to participate. It evolves into something so much more. There’s a side that is very gratifying.

SJM: Your work has one very similar theme: love. Why do you choose to focus on love as such a strong primary presence?
DE: My novels are about women struggling to find themselves, and those are the most personal thing. In screenplays, if I set out to write a romantic comedy, it has to be about love. The most powerful thing about The Lion is In is that it’s about sisterhood. … In The Lion is In, the love is so different in all forms. It’s the love for each other, the love for their life. I don’t think love is just one thing. It’s not just romantic love, but there is love of all kinds.

SJM: What inspired the new book?
DE: It was so unexpected. I really needed that book. I needed it because the time in my life was so difficult and I needed a place that was going to make me happy. ... I went to sleep and had an amazing dream about these three women that were on the road with things they were running away from, and I knew that in this dream that’s what I was working with … they were all on the run and I knew that they were all running from things that they needed to run from but I didn’t know where they were going. I woke up and it was so powerful that I actually thought it would happen. And people say you never remember dreams, but this one was an imperative.

SJM: And how do you feel about the final outcome?
DE: I’m absolutely happy with it. It took a really long time to write this book. It was a long, long journey but I loved my characters and they came from such a deep place in my heart. ... I like things to be very funny and very sad. I think that if you’re dealing with reality, you can go very far into comedy and go deep into tragedy as well. It’s a perfect result of keeping it centered.

SJM: How does the novel-writing process differ from screenplays?
DE: The thing about books is that they are extremely personal. No one else lays a hand on them. In a movie, you’re getting notes every five seconds, and you’re really a duck for hire. It’s great fun to write a screenplay but, with a book, you can tell your story your way. The only question is, what story will you tell?

SJM: What was it like writing your internationally acclaimed play with your late sister, Nora?
DE: Theater is so collaborative. It was all women and almost everyone working on the show was a woman. The audience was so involved. ... It was such a total girl fest. It was a great experience. … Needless to say, she was a great sister, and those memories are so special.

SJM: What do you want to say to your readers at the Katz JCC?
DE: I’m really interested in talking about women at a crossroads: What you can run from and what you can’t. I talk about my own life and my own struggles, and it’s a very personal talk. It’s the most fun to share my own life with other people, and get really personal.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 8 (November, 2012).
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