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 wouldn’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 going 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 50s 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.