Kerry Hammond and I were able to catch up with Hallie Ephron, the author of Night, Night, Sleep Tight, and the short story, Photoplay. Hallie answered all of our questions about fiction, real murders and movie stars...
You grew around the corner from the house where Lana Turner’s boyfriend Johnny Stompanato was murdered. What made you decide to write a story loosely based on those events?
I was ten years old when Lana Turner’s 14-year-old daughter confessed to the killing. I remember being riveted by the stories and pictures that ran in the news. I’d ride my bike over to that house and stare at the upstairs window where I thought it happened. Tried to imagine what it would be like to be that girl… or what if I’d been her friend? The idea percolated, and then a few years ago it attached itself to another story idea about growing up in Beverly Hills and the price of fame.
You tell the story through Deidre Unger's eyes, how did you choose her as your narrator?
Good question. I didn’t exactly choose her. She just is the narrator for the story I wanted to tell. If I analyze it, it’s because she’s the one with the most at stake, the one who is most in the dark about (and scarred by) a tragedy that changed her life.
What were some of the positive and negative aspects of setting the main part of the book in 1985?
No cell phones! No Internet! Are those positives or negatives? I’m not sure. I had to practically rewire my brain to remember what it was like living without.
I also had a lot of fun with the fashions and hairstyles of the time. Remember Jennifer Beals Flashdance torn-neck T-shirts, slouchy leg warmers, and big curly hair? Pantsuits worn with blouses with a big bow? Pantyhose? Appalling but fun to take a trip back.
"Photoplay" takes place at Bunny Nichol's party and is sort of a prequel to Night Night, Sleep Tight. Which did you write first?
I wrote NIGHT NIGHT first. Then "Photoplay" which tells what happened before NIGHT NIGHT.
The Lifetime Movie Network made a movie out of Never Tell a Lie. Given your background as a child of Hollywood, was it exciting to see something you had written portrayed on screen?
Very exciting, especially the first few minutes of the movie which contained dialogue lifted right from the book. And because the actors do a terrific job. But the their story goes off the rails and the plot becomes pretty unrecognizable. (They kill the dog, for goodness sake). I was completely prepared for that. It’s Hollywood. It’s what they do, and it’s why writers feel so powerless -- which is one of themes in NIGHT NIGHT.
When you finish a book and send it off to your publisher, how long to the characters and the story stay with you?
With this book, because it’s so personal, I think the characters will stay with me forever… or until I forget my name and where I parked the car.
You write about a lot of strong female characters and you need to get into their heads and create their world and their reactions to it. Which was harder to write, a reclusive ex-hacker or a 91 year-old woman from the Bronx.
Harder? That’s a tough one. Because both of those characters are near and dear to my heart.
I guess the ex-hacker was more challenging because I’ve never experienced grinding panic attacks and agorophobia. So I needed to talk to people who knew firsthand. It was a lot easier to imagine being a 91-year-old woman, since as you get older, I think you’re still essentially the same person you always were. What changes is the way people treat you. You slow down and have more aches and pains. And you’re more likely to come out and say what you really think. Particularly the last part is easy for me to imagine.
What motivated you to write Photoplay?
I realized that I’d left big part of the back story of NIGHT NIGHT untold. Even I didn’t know exactly what happened the night of the big party 20 years ago when movie star Bunny Nichol’s Argentine boyfriend was murdered. “Photoplay” takes the reader there. The narrator is celebrity photographer Duane Foley, a consummate Hollywood inside-outsider. His camera sees what happened, though he doesn’t exactly understand what it sees. What I love about “Photoplay” is you can read it before or after you read NIGHT NIGHT. It doesn’t give any of the novel’s plot twists, but it adds a revelation or two.