Hallie Ephron on the pain and pleasure of standalones

Our guest today is Hallie Ephron, talking about the inspiration for her new book, Night Night, Sleep Tight.

Whenever I start writing a new book, I have the fleeting thought: If only I wrote a series. Then I Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 2.08.59 PMwouldn’t have to pick a new setting, invent a new cast of characters… start everything from scratch. But when people ask me if a novel will have a sequel, invariably the answer is NO WAY. Because by the time I’ve reached THE END I’ve put my main character so much grief and trauma that a sequel would cruel and inhuman punishment.

Just for instance, Mina Yetner went through trial by fire (several times) in There Was an Old Woman. I imagine her celebrating her 93rd and 94th birthdays without finding any bodies washed up in her marsh. I think of her as Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 1.57.59 PMgoing on without me, her life unfurling in messy episodes (not acts) blissfully free of story arcs and suspense.

Likewise, by the end of Night Night, Sleep Tight I’d put poor Deirdre Unger through multiple traumas, starting when she was crippled at fifteen years old in a car accident. Twenty years later, Deirdre finds her screenwriter father floating dead in his Beverly Hills swimming pool and Joelen turns up again. Of course it turns out to be murder, and Deirdre wonders if his death may be connected to what happened twenty years ago.

The plot was inspired by the real 1958 murder of gangster Johnny Stompanato by Lana Turner’s 14-year-old daughter Cheryl Crane. It happened around the block from where I grew up, and I remember poring over the stories and pictures in the newspaper. In the novel, I create a whole different cast of characters enmeshed in the same scenario, and imagined myself as the movie star’s daughter’s best friend.

The story allows me to mine my own memories of what it was like to grow up in Beverly Hills in the Headlines50s and 60s, the daughter of Hollywood screenwriters. We were all obsessed with the movies and the actors in them. Any shopping trip to Robinsons, walk down Beverly Drive, or dinner at Hamburger Hamlet was the chance that to spot a movie star, not all tarted up like they were on the pages of a movie magazine but looking like a real person. We were, all of us, obsessed with beauty. Obsessed with fame.

But it’s a narrow line between fame and infamy (think Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian, Charlie Sheen…), and who would want to be one of those stars whose talent ripens into stardom and then festers into notoriety? Sure celebrities want to be recognized, but they don’t want people to gawk.SnstBWhen I was finished writing Night Night, I imagine Deirdre and Joelen happily slinking off into anonymity. Getting on with their un-noteworthy lives while I dream up another story with new people to torture.
And, as you may have learned reading earlier posts this week, one lucky person who comments on a post this week will win a pair of these:
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15 Responses to Hallie Ephron on the pain and pleasure of standalones

  1. Hi Hallie: Great post! Thanks for sharing about your inspiration! I thought it was just us not-yet-published folks who agonized over story ideas. 🙂

  2. Hi, Hallie,
    Welcome to MCW. Keep on writing those standalones. You do it better than almost anyone I can think of. One thought,though–the backstory you created for Mina was very vivid. Ever think about setting a novel in the 1940s?


  3. Bonnie Finn says:

    Looking forward to reading “Night Night”

  4. Good morning Hallie!

    In my mind, you are the queen of the standalones. I’ve promised myself Night Night, Sleep Tight as a treat when I hit a certain word count in my current WIP. I expect that will occur this weekend. I am looking forward to reading this fascinating story.

  5. Edith says:

    What I find interesting about this Hallie, is learning about non-movie stars in Beverly Hills. From my vantage point growing up a few dozen miles east of there, we thought everybody in BH was a movie star!

    I read the book and LOVED it. I also think it’d be a great idea to write something set in the 40s.

  6. Linda: IF ONLY! It should get easier but in my experience, at any rate, it does not.
    Hi, Kaitlyn! Now that is something YOU could do in a hot minute… I like to write about eras I actually lived through. I can write a few pages about what I imagine the 40s were like but doing the kind of research I know you must of for your books feels beyond me.

  7. Hi, Bonnie – THANKS!
    Hey, Brenda – I reward myself like that, too. Four hundred more words an I can… fill in the blank.
    Hi, Edith – thought of you when I was at the Bubank Library and Vroman’s in Pasadena – parts of this town I never knew growing up and which are SO NICE… at least at this time of year when the weather is nearly perfect. I totally get why people love it here.

  8. Sandra says:

    I’m just glad you know when enough is enough. Sometimes one book is all that is needed, even if you’re not worried about putting your characters through too much. Besides, it gives you a chance to explore different times/places/people/events.

  9. Sandra: good point. Especially after we try to make it “personal” for the protagonist. It’s why a professional detective can have book after book… it’s his job! Still the writer has to make THIS case matter to THIS sleuth. Wiithout getting ridiculous.

  10. Love those library slip socks…

  11. Mary Anne Sullivan says:

    I love those socks. I remember when Lana Turner’s daughter killed that man. That’s a trip down memory lane. If I don’t win the socks, is there a way to buy a pair?

  12. MCWriTers says:

    Hallie…I once wrote a standalone suspense novel where I got so interested in the characters that for years now I’ve wanted to write a sequel–just a novel, not a suspense novel, to see what happened to them after the book ended.

    And everyone…since we can’t give you all these great socks, here’s the site where I found them:

  13. Barb Ross says:

    Hi Hallie-

    Chiming in late because I’ve been on jury duty, of all things. I have the book and cannot wait to read it, but Bill Carito made off with it first!

    Chomping at the bit—


  14. “Saved” reading the book for the endless sitting during jury duty this week, knowing “Night, Night” would make it all bearable. Then they canceled jury duty on me! Looking forward to it this weekend. I’m already hooked by Chapter One!

  15. I’m sure all of us yet-to-be-published novelists aspire to stay on the good side of fame!

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