There were books in every room of Delia Ephron’s childhood house, with bookshelves stocked by her mother Phoebe (a screenwriter who worked on a number of films with her husband, Henry). “To her it was the most classy thing in the world,” her daughter says. And such an upbringing took root in the Ephron offspring. Delia is the writer of screenplays (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Bewitched), plays (Love, Loss, and What I Wore), and books (Hanging Up). Her sister and sometimes writing partner Nora is equally famous, though she passed away earlier this year.
Ephron will come to the Holy City this week to give a talk at the inaugural Jewish Bookfest, hosted by the Charleston Jewish Community Center. “I don’t think there’s another group that honors books like this,” Ephron says of the Jewish people. “To the extent that the Jewish community centers all over the country support the tradition of writing and reading and that authors are valuable and that they have something to say to us about life, that’s just fantastic.”
But despite the festival’s religious setting, Ephron sees the event, as any appearance she makes, as a chance to meet women — all women — and to hear their stories while she tells own. “I think the whole point is to share who you are with other women and to share back,” she says. When appearing at such engagements, Ephron often speaks about what it was like growing up in her talented family, the choices she’s had to make and the ones that she was scared to make in the process of becoming a writer. In Charleston, she’ll also touch on marriage, divorce, and how it all relates to her latest novel, The Lion is In.
The idea for the new book came to Ephron in a dream. She saw a young woman in a wedding dress (Tracee), another in ripped blue jeans (Lana), and a third, older one in her Sunday best (Rita). They were in a bar, and they were on the lam. And, of course, they were with a lion (Marcel). “Each of these women is running from something,” Ephron explains, whether it’s addiction (Lana, the blue-jeaned one), a soul-crushing marriage (Rita, the now former wife of a minister), or, for Tracee (in the white), the possibility of a soul-crushing marriage. “They’re not sure where they’re going, and how do they get where they need to go if they don’t actually know where it is?”
Ephron actually wrote the book without doing any research into the kings of the jungle. She’s a dog person — there is a page on her website dedicated to Honey Pansy Cornflower Bernice Mambo Kass, an eight-year-old fuzzy white thing — and Ephron transferred much of her affection for her pet onto Marcel. “It’s a love story between Rita and a lion,” Ephron says of her novel. “It’s both very whimsical and very deep for her, very emotional, as I think that’s what a relationship with a dog is.” It was only when it was in its final stages that she panicked and sent it to an expert. Fortunately, she wasn’t too far off in her assumptions.
Usually, Ephron isn’t grasping at concepts as foreign as large cats in her work; instead, she tackles some of her most personal issues, from dealing with a difficult and dying parent to coping with stepmotherhood. Therefore, it will be no surprise when Ephron picks up a pen and processes the loss of her sister. “How could it not?” she says. “I certainly process emotionally in my work. It’s how I understand, it’s how I move on. There have been a lot of things that I have written about in the course of my life.” But it may be a few years — Ephron admits she doesn’t write about life events when they’re really raw.
“The thing about fiction, writing novels, is that your entire subconscious is in your book,” she says. “If you want to know who a person is and they write fiction, just read their book.”