Veteran diplomat Richard Haass turns from foreign affairs to threats from within. He argues Americans focus so much on rights we forget our obligations as citizens -- and the country is suffering because of it.
Guest Host: Frank Sesno
Two married couples, vacationing together in Italy, one with their beautiful young daughter along. They eat, and drink, and tour, and talk, and talk, and talk. Sounds like a nice trip, doesn’t it? But both marriages are under strain and as it happens, the wife of one couple and the husband of the other had a summer fling when they were both young and single. Now, this doesn’t sound like such a great trip any more, does it? This is the set-up for Delia Ephron’s new novel, Siracusa. The author joins guest host Frank Sesno to talk marriage, vacations, mistakes, and more.
- Delia Ephron Author and screenwriter
Read An Excerpt
Clip: Ephron's Advice For Young Writers
MR. FRANK SESNOAnd thanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno of the George Washington University sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is on vacation. Well, my very special guest this hour is the writer Delia Ephron. You may know that she is from a family of writers. She is an essayist, a novelist, a screenwriter whose film credits include "You've Got Mail," "Hanging Up," and other films written with her sister, the late author, Nora Ephron.
MR. FRANK SESNOHer latest book is a novel, "Siracusa," which is a Sicilian town that's the setting for a vacation trip that probably wasn't such a great idea to start with. Delia Ephron, it is a great pleasure to welcome you.
MS. DELIA EPHRONThank you. I'm so happy to be here.
SESNOWell, as I mentioned to you as we were getting ready, I was completely enthralled by this book. It's about two married couples. So tell us a little about these four characters.
EPHRONThere's Lizzie and Michael and Taylor and Finn and they are on vacation in Italy and they are heading towards Siracusa. All right. And Lizzie and Michael are a literary couple, New York. He won the Pulitzer in his early 20s and now, in his 40s, is worried that he will never again recapture his glory. Lizzie is a journalist who is having trouble getting work now, as many journalists we know are these days. And Taylor and Finn are from Portland, Maine. And Finn is a working class Irish guy, but he owns a very hip restaurant in Portland.
EPHRONAnd she is the Portland Tourist Bureau. She runs it, but she also has a daughter. They have a daughter named Snow. This is a very important character. And she is in love with her daughter more than her husband.
SESNOShe's in love with her husband, but...
EPHRONMore than her husband. It happens, you know.
SESNOYeah, in fact, when they travel...
EPHRONThe child is born and then they go off together. And Michael is having an affair, which Lizzie doesn't know. So the last thing he wants is to be on this vacation. The sexual expectations, the isolation. And Finn is feeling shut out of his marriage. And the complication in his life is that he and Lizzie had a summer fling years before, which is looking very rosy now in the context of the daily-ness of married life.
EPHRONSo they are off. That's where we begin. And they all have secrets and they are all -- it's about deceit and betrayal in marriage.
SESNOSo we have two couples here, neither of whom is in a happy marriage.
EPHRONNo. And yet, they are in stable marriage. I mean, what I think about marriage -- a long time ago, a psycho analyst said to me that what we think of as chemistry is really psychology.
EPHRONMeaning that two people falling in love across a crowded room is just one neurosis spotting its other perfect neurotic match. Okay. Now, I find that completely chilling and yet, don't we all look at marriage -- I mean, I had a very long, happy marriage, but I will just say there wasn't...
SESNOI really hope my wife is not listening right now.
EPHRON...a day -- no, but there's not a day that went by that I didn't know how perfectly neurotically matched we are. And I think marriage is a kind of a secret place. I don't think people know exactly what's going on in other people's marriages. And the most important line I wrote in Siracusa right in the beginning, which told me where I was going, was "couples collaborate, hiding even from themselves who is calling the shots and who is along for the ride."
SESNOWhat are they hiding?
EPHRONWell, of course, the -- well, some of which you find out because the shocks keep coming till the ultimate shock at the end. So I don't want to give anything away, but you do know from the beginning that there's an affair going on. And you know it, but Lizzie doesn't know it.
EPHRONYes, yes, with Cat. And the thing about Cat is that, well, she's another character, of course, but an innocent, younger woman. And the thing is -- and in the thrall of this sophisticated writer. So there is a -- who knows about this and who's going to find out about this, is part of what's going to be going on in this story, and who's going to suspect it. And there are five characters that can find out about this, including Snow.
SESNOAnd Siracusa is where?
EPHRONOh, yeah, let's talk about Siracusa.
SESNOOkay, 'cause you went there.
EPHRONI did. I was there in, like, 2007 or 2008 and I'm trying -- Siracusa is this falling down place on the Ionian Sea in Sicily. And I think I went there because I thought that Sicily invented ice cream. Okay. And I talked my husband into it because I heard that the...
SESNOThat's a long way to go for ice cream.
EPHRONI know, I know. The first gelato place was right near Siracusa. It turns out, everybody claims to have invented ice cream, like -- but anyway.
SESNOItalians do it quite well.
EPHRONRight, right. So the thing about Siracusa is the old section, which is an island connected to the rest of Siracusa by a very short bridge, in 212 B.C., the Romans knocked all the trees down and used it for lumber to build warships and they never replanted anything. So it's paved with stone. It's really a stone paradise. The ancient footprint of Siracusa still rules.
SESNOA stone paradise.
EPHRONIt is. And the first day, I thought, this is the most magical place that I have ever been. And the second day, I thought, if I spend one more minute here, I'll go mad.
EPHRONIt's no -- I mean, there's no green. There's probably less oxygen. Where does photosynthesis take place? I really don't know. But the fact is there's something about the stone that it gives nothing back and it reflects the heat. And, you know, I suddenly thought, this is where I'm setting my next book and this is where these couples end up, you know, where everything goes spinning in Siracusa.
SESNOSo Delia Ephron goes to Siracusa, says I got to write a book here. You put your two couples there. One of the -- the husband, Michael is having an affair with Cat. And Cat shows up.
SESNOOh, sorry. I won't say what happens, but just...
EPHRONDon't say what happens. No, no.
SESNOI won't say what happens. I promise.
EPHRONNo. The things keep happening, yeah.
SESNOLet's just say it gets interesting.
EPHRONIt gets interesting. It gets interesting, yes, it does.
SESNOAnd you -- this is -- the other interesting thing you do, which isn't a spoiler alert, we can talk about this, I promise, you won't be mad, is you tell this by -- through all four characters. So talk about how you do that.
EPHRONOh, yes, one of the really exciting things about writing this book was that I -- these are alternating voices in the book. I tell the story through Michael's voice, Lizzie's voice, Finn's and Taylor's. And they all -- and I switch all the way through. So you're constantly finding out what one person thought of the other, what happened that night that the other one doesn't know about and it was -- it's -- for the book, I mean, it keeps you in suspense, plus you just keep wanting to find out what the other one knows.
EPHRONSo it was a great device for me, but also, I got to write men, which I have to say I had so much fun doing. It was really just -- I just wrote...
SESNOYou haven't written men before?
EPHRONNot their voices. I mean, this is told in their voices. I mean, I...
SESNODid you have to do extra research to do that?
EPHRON...I know men. I've been married to men. I've dated men. You know, it's fine. But it was -- yes, I did do extra research. Finn is Irish and I know someone who's very connected to his Irish roots and he's very funny and I took him to lunch and I said, okay, this is Finn. Now, you just tell me everything I need to know about this guy. And, you know, he told he drank beer till he was 28, but then he started to get a pouch and then he switched to wine. And he told me the advice his father gave him for business.
EPHRONAnd he told me everything. I said, this guy has cheated in the past. How did he cheat? He told me exactly how that would work. He told me -- I mean...
SESNOWere you surprised by what you learned?
EPHRONI was thrilled. All I can say is I left the restaurant thinking I was Irish. And also, this friend of mine is really brilliant. You know, you're on a trip and you're eating and drinking a lot more than you normally would. I mean, that's part of the joy of traveling, isn't it? So I would call him up and I'd say, okay, what are they drinking? What are they drinking here? And this has been sold to films, "Siracusa." I sold it to the movies and I've been writing the script now.
EPHRONAnd I said -- I called him the other week and I said, what's everyone drinking in Rome? And he said -- 'cause that's where they start and they end up in Siracusa. He said, Aperol. I think that's what it's called. It's an apple aperitif. So if anyone's going to Rome, that is where you should be ordering.
SESNOThank you. Thank you for sharing. Now, but it seems to me that if this is a film, I'm closing my eyes and imagining the sheer amazing beauty of Rome and Siracusa against the backdrop of this difficult, dysfunctional, secretive series of relationships.
EPHRONOne of the great things about this old section of Siracusa, it's raised up 15 feet above sea level and there's this parade of ancient buildings. And on a beautiful day, it's so inviting and you just want to, you know, be there. And on a forbidding day, when you're in a bad mood or you're upset, it looks like Alcatraz.
SESNOOh, how interesting.
EPHRONYou know, so it flips on you. But when I did research, I had to go as my characters. So my idea of a vacation -- I don't know what yours is, but mine is just like I walk and eat. That's a vacation for me, okay?
EPHRONRight, right? But Taylor loves culture. So when I went back to Siracusa to seriously research, I went to the Greek ruins and I want to the Caravaggio and then Finn likes to cruise dive bars late at night all by himself, so...
SESNOSo were you doing that, too?
EPHRONYes. I mean, 2:00 in the morning, there I am at karaoke.
SESNODelia Ephron in a dive bar. All by yourself?
EPHRONI mean, yeah, no. No, no, no.
EPHRONNot by myself. I had made some Siracusan friends and my niece was with me. And actually, when we got there, I said to my niece, I said, you know, I'm going to sleep. And she said -- I said, I'll meet you in two hours. So when I come down in two hours, I say, where were you? And she said, oh, I had a bikini wax. And I said, the first thing you did in Sicily is get a bikini wax? That seemed so daring to me. I was shocked. But it went right into the book, right in immediately.
SESNOWill this be a movie?
EPHRONWell, it is sold to movies and...
SESNOWhen will it be a movie?
EPHRONWe don't know when. We have a director who's fantastic.
SESNOYou have ideas for who should be your actors, who should be Finn and Lizzie and...
EPHRONNot quite. I always -- my feeling about casting is that -- oh, god, I've always thought of casting. In fact, Nora and I always talk about casting this way, as food groups.
EPHRONYes, right. So each of these main characters has to be a different food group, but they all have to go well on the plate together.
SESNOWe're talking with Delia Ephron. Her new book, "Siracusa." We would welcome your calls, questions. Join the conversation, 1-800-433-8850. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno.
SESNOWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane today. And my guest this hour is Delia Ephron. She's author, screenwriter and remarkable writer in so many ways. Her new book, "Siracusa." We're talking about that. Join us in the conversation if you'd like at 1-800-433-8850. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a tweet or go to our Facebook page.
SESNONow before I get back to you, Delia, I do need to mention this because this is a big deal. Speaking of Facebook, we want to share that we just reached, here at "The Diane Rehm Show," 100,000 fans on "The Diane Rehm Show" Facebook page. So we want to thank everybody for joining us on that page. And if you haven't, please don't be hesitant now. Join us. You can always join the conversation, see behind-the-scenes photos and videos at Facebook.com/thedianerehmshow. And of course, Diane Rehm is spelled R-E-H-M, for Diane Rehm.
SESNODelia Ephron, we were talking a moment ago about these four characters and the way you write this book, each chapter is from that character's perspective. And it's fascinating because sometimes they agree on what they've seen and sometimes they don't. But I'm thinking, as you turn that into a movie, how you do that and does it make it easier or harder to write a screenplay?
EPHRONWhenever I write a screenplay, I just have to find the movie in the book. A book is not a movie. And this device of having four different characters tell their stories and having some in on things that others aren't is a literary idea. It's great for the read of a book. But it isn't necessarily what I would do in a film. I mean, because film has other ways of showing you what people think, by cutting, intercutting, or different kinds of scenes. And so I immediately have to look at the book and say, what do I want to keep? What do I want to let go?
SESNOAnd is that hard? I mean, I would think...
EPHRONNot for me because -- see, here's the thing. If I love a story, it's always a book. Because you cannot be fired off a book. And screenwriters are fired all the time. All right? So...
SESNOIt sort of goes with the territory.
EPHRONYeah. Yeah. Absolutely. It's the nature of the beast. So I know this book exists exactly -- this story is told exactly the way my heart and brain would tell this story, in my book "Siracusa." But in the film, I mean, it's going to be the director's movie as much as mine. It's going to be the actor's movie. There's going to be things. I'm going to have to be flexible. I'm going to have to collaborate. I'm going to, you know, assuming I write it all the way to the end. So it's just an entirely different thing. And let's face it, a screenplay isn't -- it's not something that gets published. It's a blueprint for a movie. It's something to fire the imaginations of other people.
SESNOAnd open to such interpretation as anybody directs it and acts it and all the rest.
SESNOSo this, you control.
SESNOThis, you control.
EPHRONYeah. Control, like (word?)
SESNOYou know, one of your couples, they're writers.
SESNOThis is about couples and about marriage. And we were talking during the break, you pointed out that you'd lost your husband, which I'm very sorry to hear and offer my condolences on that to you. But he was a collaborator of yours and had read this. What about your relationship? And tell us a little about that.
EPHRONYou know, people have said to me, because this is such a wicked book about marriage, that, you know, they say, did Jerry read it, because he died in October and the -- I've -- and he was very sick toward the end. And some of them are asking because they know he was just my biggest backer and he would have loved it so much. And other people, I can see, did he know what you -- what you're thinking about marriage, what you're writing? And he did read it and he did love it. And, you know, there -- well, there's language in the book that I'm not sure you can have on the radio. So -- but...
SESNOYeah, let's not do that.
EPHRONYeah, right. No, but what I mean is that one man calls another man and sometimes I didn't know what that language was. So I would run downstairs and say, okay, what would Michael -- what would Finn call Michael's girlfriend, you know? And then Jerry would tell me. And then I would run upstairs and put it in the book. So, you know, he was very helpful on the male, you know, keeping me accurate.
SESNOBut not autobiographical, I trust.
EPHRONOh, no, no. This isn't. You know, it's funny, my first novel, "Hanging Out," was about sisters dealing with the death of a difficult parent. And it really came out of my own -- the loss of my dad. And my first novel, I needed it to be close to the bone because I didn't know what in the world I was doing as a writer then, I didn't know how to write a novel. And now, I'm like six novels in and it's really about the imagination and I felt, you know, really confident on this book, that I knew what I was doing. And I -- these are all creations.
SESNOHow bad do you think people end up in such difficult relationships?
EPHRONI think most people do end up in difficult relationships, tricky relationships, complicated relationships. Because I think what that therapist said is right, that you're matching yourself up psychologically. I mean, I think it all starts with childhood really. I mean, I look at how dark this book is and I say, where did that come from? And my parents, when I was 11, I had a very sunny childhood. And I was the funny kid. And every time I said something funny, my dad shouted, oh, that's a great line. Write it down. So I was like -- and then when I was 11, my parents' marriage just blew up. They became like Virginia Woolf or something. I mean the rage in the house, it was scary to live there.
EPHRONSo I have these very sunny, funny years. And I have to say, this book is funny too. But then I had really dark years, living with dysfunctional parents. And I always thought that they just wanted to get divorced but my mother wouldn't let my father or, you know, I had all these child views of what was going on. And of course I sided with my dad because I was that daddy's girl. And I -- when I got older, I realized they never wanted to separate. They were absolutely locked in this dance. And when my mother died, my father never stopped talking about her.
SESNOIn which -- in what kind of way?
SESNOSo it was a...
EPHRONI mean, he...
SESNO...bad relationship that he looked back on...
EPHRONThey, yeah. Well, they were writers. They wrote together. But, yes. It was -- I don't think he even saw. I mean, he knew they both had drinking problems.
SESNOWell, you've spoken about it. You've spoken about that.
EPHRONYeah, I've written about it. My mother and my father both had drinking problems.
SESNOWhen you were 11, I think, is what you said, right, that that became a real problem
EPHRONYeah, exactly, when it started. But they were in it together. They were in this marriage together. And I think a lot of people -- I mean, don't you ever look at other people's marriages and, well, what in the world is going on there, you know?
SESNOOh, no. I would never do that.
EPHRONRight. I mean it happens. And you know...
SESNOI think everybody does, right?
EPHRONYou know, yes. And somebody came...
SESNOIn some way.
EPHRONOh, I think you do. And the truth is you don't -- unless somebody's about to get divorced and they just pour their heart out to you, basically you don't really know what's going on, I think, in a marriage. That's why I love writing about it. Because I think they're so full of deals and...
SESNOWell, your -- the thread through this book with marriage is secrets.
EPHRONYeah, that's right.
SESNOIs that we keep secrets from ourselves and from others.
SESNOAnd that's powerful.
EPHRONAnd Michael and Lizzie, who are a New York couple, in their -- I mean, well, were on this trip from Rome to Syracuse, that we always -- also find out about their past. And they're this couple that they make deals with each other all the time. Like, they go to parties and they make a bet about what might happen at the party. And there are sexual payoffs. And so they're -- within this little dinner party they're at, they're having their own little party. And actually, some -- this couple came over several years ago. You know, writers are cannibals and we just take whatever we want.
EPHRONIt's just awful.
SESNOSay it ain't so.
EPHRONBut, right. But, and they said to me, we made a bet about whether you would serve chicken or pasta. And I thought, what? They made a bet on me? And I didn't know what the payoff was, by the way. Michael and Lizzie, it's a sexual payoff. But I thought, first I got depressed. Because I thought, god, do I just serve chicken and pasta all the time? Is that the only two choices?
SESNOYeah. You're really walking in the fast lane there, right?
EPHRONRight. But then they said they bet all the time. They go out and they bet. And I just, I sole it.
EPHRONYou know, you talk about the secrets people keep and you've talked about your family. You've talked about this, too, I mean, what we know too is that your sister had a very big secret that she kept.
EPHRONOh, of course. I wasn't thinking about that. Hmm. That's true.
SESNOWhich was her illness.
SESNOShe did not want to be seen as a sick person.
EPHRONYeah. Well, I think how you want to be seen is an important thing. I mean, one of these -- Lizzie says to Finn in this book, she says, some people dump all their misery into marriage. And the best version of them lives outside that ugly place. And somebody else talks about how, you know, do you get married to be seen? Or do you get married to stay hidden? And I think, in marriage, people sometimes make those kinds of deals. They think, I'm not going to be known if I'm in this marriage and I'd rather not be known.
EPHRONI mean, the most obvious case would be is if you were gay and you married a woman and you didn't want -- if you were a guy, and you didn't -- that's obvious. But there are other sorts of ways you just psychologically don't really want that person to -- you're not interested in intimacy.
SESNOWe're talking to Delia Ephron, her new book, "Siracusa." And we want to go -- I want to go quickly to the phone here and Velma from Virginia. Velma, hi. Thanks so much for holding and go ahead with your comment or question to Delia Ephron.
VELMAI'm listening to you on the radio -- well, not now, my radio's off. But anyway, I am so excited about your book. I can't wait to get it.
EPHRONOh, thank you.
VELMAAnd I'm so looking forward to the movie because I have been to Siracusa. And when I mention it to people, when I was back here, they're like, where?
EPHRONI know. Yes.
VELMAYeah. And I lived in the south of Italy for several years, because I was stationed just outside of Napoli. And in 2010, when I did my last assignment there, at the end of my assignment I took two weeks and went to the island of Sicily. And Siracusa was one of those cities that my husband and I just literally fell in love with. And we can't wait -- I can't wait to see the movie, to see all the scenery, how it's going to be depicted and stuff like that. It is such a beautiful city. And I love the storyline from what you're saying. I can't wait. And I think you chose the perfect place to do.
EPHRONThank you very much. Have you been to Lo Scoglio ever?
EPHRONDid you know what that is? It's that big rock everyone suns and swims off. And I didn't know it had that name until I started writing the book. But...
VELMAWhere? In Siracusa or Napoli?
EPHRONYes. In Siracusa, in Ortigia, in the old section.
VELMAOh. Oh, oh, oh, oh, yes. Then I know where that is.
EPHRONThat's a very...
VELMAI didn't know that's what it was called.
EPHRONThat's a very -- yes, I didn't either till I was talking to a Siracusan.
SESNOI think we're going to have to send both of you on a trip together. I mean, you can be tour guides.
EPHRONOne of the things I loved...
EPHRONSure. Thank you for calling.
EPHRON...is all the wonderful fruits and...
VELMA...fresh fruits and, oh my goodness, peaches and pears and stuff. And I'm from the Caribbean. And I will tell you, I've had some of the best fruits in -- on the island of Sicily. And I love when Sicilians will tell you that I'm a Sicilian first and then I'm Italian.
EPHRONYes. Of course.
SESNOVelma, thank you very much. This is...
EPHRONThanks so much, Velma.
SESNO...such an intriguing place. You see what you've done? You've got everybody -- you're going to put the travel industry back on the map all by yourself. I want to ask you, this issue of writers, and we'll talk a little about it and then we'll come back. You've got two writers in the book. They're a couple.
SESNOYour family is all writers. Do writers surround themselves with writers? Does that happen?
EPHRONDo radio people surround themselves with radio people?
SESNOAs little as possible.
EPHRONIs that true? Is that true?
SESNONo. They do, of course, you know?
EPHRONYeah. I mean, it's -- I mean, I was married to a writer and my parents are writers. My -- all four of my sisters are writers. So I guess it's a -- it's -- you know, I notice the same thing with actors. They're happier being with actors because it's a tribe.
SESNOWell, they speak a language.
EPHRONYeah. It's a thing. And writers like to talk about it. But there's something very exciting about making your living with your imagination. And so the world is different to you. And I think that's helpful in a marriage, if someone else is doing that.
SESNOAre they success -- are your characters successful writers?
EPHRONWell, Lizzie is in trouble, and can she work herself out of it? And Michael is lying about the fact that he's blocked on his book. So you have to see what happens to them.
SESNOThere are some issues here.
SESNOSome issues here.
EPHRONVery big issues.
SESNOAll right. Well, if you would like to join the conversation with Delia Ephron, it's 1-800-433-8850. Or email us at email@example.com. Again, a reminder, if you want to join us and talk to us through Twitter or through our Facebook page, please feel free to do that. I am Frank Sesno and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
SESNOBack with Delia Ephron. Delia, you know, you've written so much, so many films and screenwriter and books. Is it fun? And I ask you this -- all right, true confession, a little admission -- I've just written my first book, or I'm trying. And there have been times when it's been fun and other times when it's been torture.
EPHRONYeah. I think the third quarter of a book is so hard. It's like being in the desert with no water and, you know, no golf cart.
EPHRONYou're just like crawling through the sand.
SESNOEven after you've written as much as you have?
EPHRONOh, yeah, yeah. I mean, I think I'm never going to get out. My friend, Sara, throws herself in the bathtub when she's in the third quarter of a book, over and over again. She just has to.
SESNOWhy? What's going on?
EPHRONShe just calms herself -- to calm herself down.
SESNOIs it -- is it...
EPHRONI'll never be able to -- first of all, you've got all -- in this particular story I had so many things going on that I would have to have maps on the walls of who knew what and what was going to happen. But there's something like, you just think, I'm never going to get to the end. And then the fourth quarter comes. And it's like the straightaway. You just like sail. But that is -- I can see from the face you're making here in this room that this. Well, it's your first book, right?
EPHRONWell, what was so hard about it?
SESNOJust getting the time and having the focus. I mean, you know?
EPHRONIs it discipline? Yeah, you...
SESNOTo some extent, right?
SESNOI mean, you're -- when you're a writer, it's -- you're -- it's you, right?
EPHRONYes. When I sold my first book, which was "How to Eat Like a Child," I blocked immediately and got involved with the really, the craziest guy you could find on the planet. And my shrink told me how to get rid of the guy. Very helpful. And then he told me how to become a writer. And he said, you sit down…
SESNOYour shrink told you how to become a writer?
EPHRONYeah. Yeah. He said, you sit down in the morning from 2:00 -- from 10:00 to 12:00, and you -- at your desk, and you don't have to write but you can't get up. Okay? You just can't do anything.
SESNOYou chain yourself to your chair.
EPHRONYou can't make tea. You can't pet your cat. You can't do anything, okay? Then at 2:00 to 4:00 you do the same thing. You know, you sit down in front of your computer and you do that. And it's like -- it's just sheer willpower. You don't get up and eventually you write. Then, it turns into habit. And then, it turns into love. Okay?
SESNOAw, that's great.
SESNOThat's great. Let me quickly go to Damian from Little Rock, Ark. Damian, go ahead.
DAMIANThis is fascinating. I'll just -- I have a technical question, but I'll just quickly say, I'm a carpenter. I write from 5:00 to 9:00 in the morning because I cannot stop myself from writing.
DAMIANI'm addicted to it. No, I'm calling for all the men and women who have that novel on their bedside table that is going to be found by their children when they die. And their children will sit there and cry and say, we had no idea.
SESNOWe had no idea how brilliant Damian was.
DAMIANOh, yeah. And their dad never got published. And this -- what's wrong with the world? And -- but it's funny. Now, I have my novel, it's all cast. You know, Cate Blanchett and Steve Carell and Bill Nighy are going to be starring in it.
DAMIANI mean, so I -- I'm utterly fascinated. My technical question is, I've been taking creative writing for five years. I'm three times divorced and getting into the writing class saved me. But the people in the class, some of them are very good writers. And they're adamant about point of view, POV, writing from one voice. And whenever I slip into writing what -- doing what you're doing, alternating voices and getting into the heads of two or three characters, I get lambasted.
SESNOSo you're interested in how she writes from four characters?
EPHRONOh, I write for -- but I do it in different chapters. Yeah, I'm writing four different characters from four points of view. But I -- I'm not switching it in the middle of a scene, even though, if you want to know the truth, George Eliot switched in a scene, Virginia Woolf switched in a scene, and I've done it before myself. I don't believe in rigid stuff like that.
SESNOSo you carry it out and you carry it through each...
EPHRONI mean, in my -- in this particular book, it's very clear. There are four different voices and you alternate. But I will say that what they're accusing you of, which is changing voices in a scene, really famous writers did it. Stendhal did it.
SESNOYou're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We'll be back with more with Delia Ephron.
SESNOWelcome back to the Diane Rehm Show. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Diane today. My guest, Delia Ephron, author of a new book "Siracusa,"and we've been talking about that at some great length, and we are taking your calls and asking -- and inviting you to join the conversation at 1-800-433-8850. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SESNODelia Ephron, we were talking, you were talking about these threads of secrecy and lying and marriage and neuroses and all that thread through the book, and there's a passage here that you write, and this is Michael, you've written this in the four voices of your four -- four of your main characters here. And Michael says the following. I enjoy concealing, lying less so. Some may claim otherwise. I did both, do both. A secret is something you can play with, to keep or give away, a gift or a poison dart, it can be either. Concealing may be merely letting other people draw conclusions. As for lying in this story, which is also my life, I will make a case for the charm of it. Wow. What are you saying? What's Michael saying?
EPHRONYeah, Michael, there's one other thing he says that I love. He says -- I'm fond of, I should say, spoken words are irretrievable, they can be bombs, which is, you know, the truth about you say something, you can never take it back. But yeah, I think Michael is someone who is making excuses for who he is all the time, that he's trying to romanticize himself. And after I wrote Michael, I was thinking about Brian Williams, actually, you know, because Brian Williams, it wasn't enough to be an anchor, he needed myth, right.
EPHRONSo he told stories that weren't true. He knew they weren't true. They were lies, actually. And Michael is someone who is constantly -- I mean, there's a lot of guilt in this book and who is guilty for the ultimate thing that happens in this story. And Michael, what guilt does Michael have? And so from the very beginning, he has an excuse for his bad behavior that he has turned into something that makes him more literary, more interesting, more -- but it's self-serving.
SESNOSelf -- are all your characters struggling or experiencing concealment and/or lies?
EPHRONYes, they are, but I didn't worry about whether you would like them. And occasionally somebody will come and say, well, I thought I really liked them, but then the next chapter that you wrote in his voice, you know, I thought oh my God, I really don't like this guy. And I wasn't worried about whether you liked them. I only wanted you to believe that they were real and to understand human -- their interactions.
SESNODo you have a hero?
EPHRONI'm -- I was very not into heroes in this book, absolutely not into heroes.
SESNOLet me go to the phones, and Anthony joins us from Charlotte, North Carolina. Hi Anthony.
ANTHONYHi, how are you doing today?
SESNOJust great. Thanks so much for calling.
ANTHONYWell, I wanted to make two quick comments. My father was from a little town right near there, Augusta, and we've been able to travel back to Sicily three times, and it's interesting because my father speaks the old dialect of Sicilian, which isn't spoken anymore, and so when we go back there, you know, they instantly know, oh, you went to America. And so it's been an incredible experience.
ANTHONYThe other is the incredible ruins that are there that -- all the Greek ruins. It's just incredible. And I just really look forward to reading the book.
SESNOThank you very much, Anthony.
SESNODid you -- you know, you couldn't have set this book in New Orleans?
EPHRONNo, I mean, my best friend is a writer, Julia Gregson, she's a novelist, and she went with me, my last trip to Siracusa was very difficult because my husband was sick, and I needed to go very quickly, and my best friend said I will go with you and get you through this. And she got there, and she said, oh, I am so jealous that you found this place first, you know, because it's so literary. It's such a perfect place.
EPHRONI mean, Siracusa, a place where catastrophe is going to happen, and you don't know, but it's a character in this story, and...
SESNOIt's ageless in its own way.
EPHRONYeah, it is, and it -- you know, there's a lot of stuff that's gone down in Siracusa, the Romans, the Moors, the Spaniards, whatever, you know, that's been conquered. And, you know, what blows up in these marriages, what -- it's a minor thing in the history of Siracusa, and yet it is big.
SESNOWell, what's -- you know, I was just in Europe myself and walking through some of these old Roman ruins and towns and an aqueduct that goes back 2,000 years, and you realize how miniscule you are and how inconsequential you are. And I'm wondering if, you know, putting yourself, your neuroses, into this perspective is part of what you were trying to do.
EPHRONYes, I was. I mean, I think that's what's so amazing, that in a way the explosion of this marriage wouldn't leave a mark on this place, but, you know, it was the defining -- and the guilt, we were talking about guilt earlier. You know, each one of these people ends up guilty in a different way for what happens there, and so I'm exploring guilt, and then at the same time it's happening in a place they're going to leave, and it's as if they were never there.
SESNORight, you know, these -- as somebody famous once said, little noted nor long remembered, right.
SESNOAnd yet when we live our lives, we are completely ensconced in them, and it is all, it is our universe.
SESNOOne of your characters is a mother, one of the women is a mother.
SESNOThe other is not. What about the role the children play, and what are you trying to convey in here about kids?
EPHRONWell, Snow is 10 years old and a mystery. Is she shy? Is she cunning? Is she manipulating or being manipulated? She is really -- she starts on the outskirts of my novel, and she moves to the center of the tale, and in the end you don't know whether you need to protect her or fear her. And what I was exploring here was that Lizzie does not have kids. I just want to say I'm a stepmom, and being a stepmom is not the same as a mom, okay.
EPHRONI mean, if you're a stepmom, get a dog because, you know, you need to have someone in the house that loves you, okay.
SESNOOh, come on.
EPHRONOh no, true. So Lizzie is not a mom, and Taylor is a mom writ large, all right. I mean, the lines between her and her daughter are completely blurred. She doesn't know where she starts, and the child ends. So Lizzie -- I mean, I think we have that a lot today distrust between women who don't have children and women who do because, I mean, Taylor thinks that Lizzie, who doesn't have kids, is stunted in some way, that she doesn't really know what it is to worry about a child and to feel this is your responsibility and to -- the depth of emotion she has because she has Snow.
SESNOHave you felt that directed at you?
EPHRONOh yeah, I think I have felt that, absolutely, totally. And then Lizzie feels, she looks at Taylor, and she's a neurotic mother. You know, this woman is -- you know, she's over the top.
SESNOWell, she may be a little bit, she may be.
EPHRONYeah, no, they're both right. I mean, I think they're both right that they don't understand, they don't have empathy for each other's situation.
SESNOLet me go back to the phones. Karen joins us from Dallas, Texas. Hi Karen.
KARENHi, how are you?
SESNOJust great, and thank you so much for calling.
KARENThank you for taking my call.
SESNOGo ahead with your question for Delia.
KARENWell, I love, and I'm fascinated by the collaboration or the asking people about different reactions, and I'm curious is -- hi, Delia.
KARENIf you ever collaborated with a sister or maybe what you added to her writing or what she added to your writing.
EPHRONWell, Nora and I were actual -- I mean, we really were collaborators. I mean, we collaborated on screenplays together. I mean, we have joint credit. So that was the purpose was to collaborate. It wasn't a secret.
SESNOSo how did you do it, one person write one word, and the other person writes the other word?
EPHRONNo, no, it doesn't work -- I mean, we wrote screenplays together, and we would sort of work out the -- different from how I write a book. I mean, we would work out the story pretty much and outline it.
SESNOJust sort of talk that through back and forth with drafts?
EPHRONYes, and outline it. And, you know, with email we could do it that way, as well.
SESNOYou have mail.
EPHRONYou've got mail, that is so true. And then, you know, it was -- Nora might write a scene, or I might write a scene, and then we would say, okay, well, you fix this because I don't have it right. And we would just trade things back and forth.
SESNOSpeaking of "You've Got Mail," I actually read that you're considering or working on something with Meg Ryan. Is that true?
EPHRONI am. Meg is directing a movie. It's a movie called "The Book," okay, and I'm writing the screenplay after I finish my "Siracusa" screenplay. It's based in the publishing business. It's a romantic comedy based in the publishing business.
SESNOI think my friends in publishing will be glad to know there's still romantic comedy left in the publishing business.
EPHRONYes, there is quite a bit. I've been doing a lot of research, actually.
SESNOSo when you were working with your sister, back to Karen's call, when you were working with your sister, this was a creative collaboration, as well as sort of an operational -- I mean, did you edit one another? Did you go into that level of detail?
EPHRONNot with -- I didn't with my books. I've never -- that was different. I mean, there are things -- if something is really personal, really personal, I don't think it's good for collaboration. And so the things that we did together were things that we loved, but they weren't -- it wasn't my story or her story. And the minute something's a book, it is, it's yours in some big way.
SESNOMark joins us from Cleveland, Ohio, now. Hi Mark.
MARKHi, how are you?
SESNOVery well, thanks, and thanks for calling. Go ahead.
MARKWell, I'm a painter, and so I was -- I was first relating to a lot of things which you guys were talking about as far as the creative process, both you and your novel and Ms. Ephron with her work. And also I just wanted to chime in on the Italian experience because when I was a young man, I spent three years in Italy as an artist, as an art student. And I've got to tell you, it changed my life entirely.
EPHRONYeah, I'm not surprised.
SESNOIn what way?
MARKYou see work, you see work on a scale that you just won't see anyplace else, and the landscape, of course, is magnificent.
EPHRONYeah, there's something about being outside in all that art and all that history all around you as you walk the streets that's pretty remarkable.
SESNOWell, it's interesting, too, Delia, that you said that when you went to Siracusa, you instantly knew, I have to do a book from this place.
EPHRONYes, yes, I did.
SESNOWas that a creative connection, or was there something visual? I mean what -- that's an interesting thing. What was that?
EPHRONIt was that thing of suddenly realizing it was the most beautiful place and then realizing I would go mad there, and it was exactly the literary idea I needed for this marriage.
SESNOAnother call from Jack. He's joining us from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Hi Jack.
JACKHi, how are you, and hi Delia.
JACKHey, big fan of your work and your sister's work. So two quick questions, one around inspiration. I tend to read a lot of -- as you know, screenplays are kind of out there now, widely posted. So I plow through a lot of them for inspiration. Do you have one or two that you've read and said wow, that's really kind of a great kind of work that I should at least maybe try to emulate or aspire to?
EPHRONActually, I've always thought that the only way to have a writing career is to work from your heart. So I never look outside for what's popular. I always just look to see what's personal. And I was never young and hip, so I don't really worry about going out of style. So that's basically my -- my thing is not to look out there but to look inside. What's circling in my head?
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And in the few minutes we have remaining, maybe we take a moment for a little inspiration, and we'll start with Thaddeus, who calls us from Pensacola, Florida. Hi Thaddeus.
THADDEUSHi, thank you all for having me on. I'm currently on a road trip back home, we're from Texas, and I have my 16-year-old daughter with me. And I did write a book, it's not published, but my daughter has a great voice, she's a great writer, and she's 16, and she's with me, and I was hoping that Delia could give her some inspiration on the radio about how to continue, what to do, and I think she'd be a fantastic writer. Thank you all very much.
SESNOThanks, Thaddeus, and good luck to your daughter, and Delia, you're inside the actor's studio now. So you can inspire the next generation.
EPHRONI'm very excited about this. Be driven. Don't let anyone ever stop you. Don't care what other people say. Believe in your work. Second of all, find your own voice, what you notice about the world, what -- it is your observations. You know, that's what you want to mine in finding what you want to write, what you want to write about.
EPHRONRemember every single person has their own fingerprint, and you have a fingerprint, and what is it.
SESNODelia, what about research? What about doing work going into even a work of fiction? Do you do that? Should Thaddeus' 16-year-old daughter do that?
EPHRONIf you're setting something in a place -- I had to go back to Siracusa. I had to go as my characters. I had to interview people about restaurants, about being Irish, about being -- I mean, I talked to journalists, even though I am -- also write magazine pieces. I always go and find the information I don't have. It's good to have friends. It's good to just have sources. People tend to be helpful.
EPHRONAnd when I was in Siracusa, I made a friend of a young woman who is an architect, and she went to Harvard the next year in the graduate program. And I would take all my photos up to her and spread them on the floor and say, okay, I want to set a scene here, and she would tell me all about that place in Siracusa. So I mean, the research you do is what makes your work rich.
SESNOAnd what do you tell that next generation of writers, these young folks, about discovering ideas? Do you tell them travel the world? Do you tell them talk to somebody you've never imagined you could talk to before? I mean, how do you -- how do you put yourself in that imaginary place?
EPHRONI believe it's all personal. You may be someone who never wants to leave your hometown and who wants to write about that place, and you may be an adventurer who likes to write about other places. And that may change over your lifetime. Listen to your heart.
SESNOLast question from Jane, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Hi Jane.
JANEHi, I wanted to tell you publicly, over the air, your sister helped start a magazine called Choice magazine, listening for visually impaired, blind people. It's still running. I just read it this weekend. And it's long articles from periodicals we couldn't have a way before computing and such to even get our hands on. No family member is going to sit and read you an hour-long, hour-and-a-half-long article from the New Yorker, et cetera. And I know she was one of the founders of the magazine. And I wondered if...
EPHRONWow, how wonderful, I didn't know that.
JANEWell, you could look it up or call -- you know, look them up on the Internet or something, but yeah, she was one of the founders, and my father was born in Sicily, too, Palermo.
SESNOJane, thanks so much, and thanks to your sister for helping to start something that can be so useful to so many people and make such a change in their lives.
EPHRONYeah, I'll say.
SESNOWhat do you want people to come away from your book thinking, reflecting on?
EPHRONOh, I want them to come away, one, shocked by what happens at the end.
SESNOJust a great story.
EPHRONAnd then -- no, no, then I really want them to talk about marriage and friendship because I also talk about the different in loyalty in marriage, and is the betrayal of a friendship greater than a betrayal in a marriage? I think there are all these things about marriage and friendship and travel and motherhood that are really provocative. And so I really want this to stimulate conversation.
EPHRONWell travel is a very intense thing. We all do it, and we never which our best vacations are going to be. And if you're with friends, I mean, it gets intense in a way that it never has before. I mean, usually you have dinner, and you go home, right, but this time you don't. You maybe stay longer. Maybe you have breakfast together the next day. And this can make for the greatest friendships in the world, or things can just blow up.
EPHRONSo I think there are all these things about life and the way we -- the ways we relate and what we think about marriage and friendship that I think this book raises. I tried in the context of a story that just keeps propelling you and gets more suspenseful to really develop ideas about marriage and friendship and loyalty and betrayal.
SESNOAnd will we come away morose, with tissues, with hope?
EPHRONWell I don't know. Most people call me and say they can't stop reading it.
SESNOI would say that's -- I would say that's true.
EPHRONYeah, yeah, so that's -- that's what I wish for, too, that you get glued to that couch.
SESNOSo, but this is what's great about being a great storyteller is you tell a compelling story with amazing characters, but there's something else that makes you think and that you come away with, and that's clearly what you went into this project trying to do.
EPHRONYes, I did.
SESNOFrom a great place.
SESNODelia Ephron, it has been an absolute delight talking with you. The book is "Siracusa." I recommend it, and I wish you a very great day, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.
EPHRONThank you very much.
SESNOI'm Frank Sesno. You've been listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Our guest today, Delia Ephron, her book, "Siracusa," which is out now, and makes for some very, very interesting reading. Have a good day. I'm Frank Sesno.
Most Recent Shows
Behind the lies of Congressman George Santos. Diane talks to the owner of the small weekly paper that first broke the story, and a Washington Post journalist who is following the money to see who financed Santos's political rise.
House GOP members launched a new committee this week to investigate the “weaponization” of the U.S. government. These lawmakers claim federal law enforcement and national security agencies have targeted and…
Veteran journalist Susan Page on what the battle to choose a speaker of the House says about the GOP and politics in America today.