Sunday, January 25, 2009

"I hate scrabble": Q & A with Hallie Ephron

Hallie-Bricks-smaller Today The Kill Zone is delighted to welcome Hallie Ephron. NEVER TELL A LIE, her first solo thriller, has drawn wide acclaim. It received a PW starred review and was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as, "A book to be gobbled up whole, its pace never slackens." A renowned writer, book reviewer, and writing teacher, Hallie was kind enough to share how she feels about reviews of her own books, and why she doesn't play Scrabble.

Q: As a reviewer, how do you feel about reading reviews of your own work?

A: I hate it. Doesn’t everyone? Oh, the good ones are great, but every little jab and jibe goes right to the jugular.

Q: What influence do you feel reviews now have in an online world where everyone can blog/review a book?

A: I think the influence is still very significant. As I watch my Amazon numbers (a bad idea; don’t do it) I see a very significant bump when a good review comes out in the mainstream press. A nice blog review? Not so much.

Q: Along those lines, what’s happening to the book publishing industry, and where does book reviewing/reviewers fit into the picture? Can they help save it?

NeverTellALie_cover-smaller A: Like every other industry, the publishing business is shrinking. I think book reviewers have always, and I hope they will continue to guide readers to worthy books.

Q: NEVER TELL A LIE starts with a seemingly innocent yard sale. What’s the best yard sale purchase you’ve ever made? Ever had a bad experience? (hopefully not as bad as what happens in the book!)

A: BEST: A Stickley 2-door, glass-fronted oak bookcase with hammered copper pulls—the real deal—for $25!

WORST: Well, there was 1920’s bakelite “tombstone” radio I bought at a friend’s yard sale for $20. When I discovered it was worth over a thou, I returned it to her. Moral: Don’t shop at a friend’s yard sale.

Q: Do you believe that there is now gender equality in terms of the reviews and/or coverage mystery books get – particularly thrillers?

A: I’m not sure about equity, but I’d be surprised if differences are measurable. Publishers are very bottom-line oriented—they want to publicize what sells.

Q: Your previous novels were written with a writing partner, Donald Davidoff, under the pseudonym G.H. Ephron. How was it different for you to fly solo this time?

A: The writing was the same because I did the writing for the partnership. But plotting is a bear. Coming up with ideas, working my way out of plot-holes, coming up with credible surprises are so much easier when there’s someone else in the boat rowing. Brainstorming really requires at least two brains.

Q: What are your next plans? Another solo novel, one with your writing partner, or a non-fiction work?

A: I’m finishing “The Bibliophile’s Devotional” – a book for each of 365 days. And I’m in the middle of a solo novel.

Q: Do you think there is any self-published crime fiction out there worth reading?

A: Of course there is. But there’s too much crime fiction being well published by mainstream publishers for there to be time (for me) to look at self-published work.

Q: Why don’t more reviewers come to writers’ conferences or participate in panels?

A: One reason: it’s so darned expensive. And given that, a lot of them do, they just don’t advertise their presence. At the New England Crime Bake, we invite crime fiction book reviewers and ask them to speak or chair panels, and we try to comp their registration – as a result we’ve had quite a few come.

Q: What are the well-regarded review sources, and the ones to watch out for? (Not counting NYT, LAT, Boston Globe)

A: There are the trade publications like Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal that review in advance of publication. They can make a huge difference in terms of pre-orders from bookstores and library sales. Beyond that, there are just a few mainstream newspapers that regularly review crime fiction. You’ve mentioned some. The wonderful Oline Cogdill no longer works full time for the Sun Sentinel, but the silver lining is that her reviews now get picked up by papers nationwide. And then there are a gazillion self-anointed reviewers who write about books on the bookseller web sites, on blogs, on listservs, on FaceBook and other social networking web sites, and on it goes. So many! For an author that’s daunting and hard to know exactly how to crack.

Q: You come from a family of writers. I’m curious: do family Scrabble games get a little too intense?

A: I HATE Scrabble. I know that’s anathema. But I’m married to a lovely man who can beat me and everyone I know or am related to. I long ago gave up playing because, to put it bluntly, I hate to lose.

Q: And along those lines, Kathryn wanted to know: “Does Nora still hate her neck? I’ve been contemplating having a neck lift ever since reading her book.”

A: It’s not something I’ve asked her lately. She does have a movie coming out next summer. It’s based on Julie Powell’s wonderful book “Julie and Julia” – that delightful memoir about cooking all the recipes in Julia Childs’s cookbooks. Meryl Streep plays Julia (can’t wait to hear her do the voice) and Amy Adams plays Julie. Scuttlebutt on the movie: it’s going to be a blockbuster. Nice distraction from a saggy neck.

11 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for joining us, Hallie! Great responses. I'm curious: how many pages into a book will you read before deciding it's not for you?

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  2. Thanks for joining us Hallie! It's great to read your responses (even if I can't believe you don't love scrabble!) At the moment I have one plot twist that's driving me nuts and I really, really wish I had two heads/brains for it! In response to Michelle's question for you I think I give a book about ten pages before I know it's not for me but usually the first page is enough. Can you usually tell that quickly?

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  3. Nice post, Hallie. Thanks for dropping by the Zone today. It's great to hear from someone that's sat on both sides of the fence; writing and reviewing. Good luck with NEVER TELL A LIE.

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  4. Thanks for the great comments, Hallie. Welcome to Kill Zone.

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  5. I want to go to the yard sales in your neighborhood, Hallie. Down where I live, we're more likely to get good deals on used meth-processing equipment, mis-matched Tupperware, and the cast-off bedroom slippers of shut-ins.

    Terrific interview!

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  6. Personally I love used slippers, Laura. What's the problem?

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  7. Hi Hallie, great to see you at the Kill Zone! Here's an opening line for the story of the returned 1920’s bakelite “tombstone” radio: It was the best of buys, it was the worst of buys!

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  8. Hallie, I absolutely loved Never Tell a Lie and recommend it to all my friends. It is an amazing book--can't wait to read your next one! Have a fabulous time in Hawaii...Mary Kennedy

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  9. OH, Hallie. I get you about Scrabble. I thought I was hot stuff until I played it with my husband. He used parallel words, all that.
    I grabbed the board and yelled "earthquake, earthquake!"

    And we haven't played since. Maybe we should have a husband v. husband match. And make a video of it.

    I'd love to know the answer to Michelle's question, too..I kind of think I can tell in one page. But that can't be fair. If you read fifty pages of a marginal book, can it change and become wonderful after that?

    Again, my husband: will read the whole book. No matter what. Do you?

    Congratulations on your wild success.

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  10. I'm usually tempted to read 25 or 30 pages before passing judgement, but there have been a few where five pages in I said, "uh-uh." And not always because of the quality of the work, sometimes the story just doesn't grab me for what ever reason.

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  11. Hey, guys, thanks for having me!

    Can you hear me from wherever you are, laughing out loud? Best of buys/worst of buys! Used bedrooms slippers... now that's an ICK. Right up there with used hairnets.

    And Hank, YES, let's make our husband duke it out.

    Great question, Michelle - how many pages does it take before I stop reading. I try to give a book at least 20, because often what bothers me on page 3 I can get used to if the story is compelling enough. But with some books, it's pretty clear on page one that I can't hack it. I put one down recently because I couldn't keep track of who was talking. Super frustrating. Or another because the opening was over-the-top violent, explicit and ooky...I feel like you can get away with that in crime fiction, but the writers has to earn the reader's
    trust first.
    Mary Kennedy: THANKS SO MUCH for the kind words on the book.

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