Authors@Google: Hallie Ephron, "Come and Find Me"

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 16.05.2012

>>Jonathan: Welcome to Authors at Google. It is my great pleasure to introduce my good
friend and award winning author Hallie Ephron to you all here at Cambridge today. Hallie
and I met when we worked at Digital more than a few years ago and I've always been a great
fan of her work. Hallie grew up in Hollywood in a family of writers. Her parents were Henry
and Phoebe Ephron who were screenwriters for Fox and wrote screenplays for movies such
as "Desk Set" with Hepburn and Tracy and "Carousel," the famous musical. She grew up in a house
filled with books and sisters. She's three of four sisters, all of whom are well-known
writers. Nora, Delia and Amy among others. She went on to become a teacher and writer.
She wrote her first novel "Amnesia" with a good friend, the neuropsychologist Donald
Davidoff who wrote under the joint pen name of G.H. Ephron, and published five novels
in the Dr. Peter Zak series which was really good, I edited one of the books. I would recommend
She made a big splash writing solo when she wrote the riveting psychological suspense
thriller "Never Tell A Lie" which was published in 2009. Publishers weekly called it "stunning"
and "a deliciously creepy tale of obsession," which I agree with. You kind of do write creepy
tales of obsession don't you for such a regular person.
It was translated into seven languages. It was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark
award of the mystery writers of America. It was actually adapted into a lifetime movie
"And Baby Will Fall." Her new novel which she'll be discussing today presumably is "Come
And Find Me" which is now in its third paperback edition. Yay. And it's the story of a recluse
who lives and works online in the cyber security industry who must brave the real world when
her sister goes missing. Booklist called it "a suspenseful tale of high-tech skullduggery
that even low-tech readers will appreciate." Certainly everybody in this room will do so
She loves to teach and she gives writing workshops. I keep emptying my bank account trying to
buy everything she's written because in addition to fiction she's written "Writing and Selling
Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock Them Dead with Style." And "The Everything Guide to
Writing Your First Novel." Plus "The Bibliophile's Devotional" and "1001 Books for Every Mood."
So please join me in welcoming Hallie Ephron.
>>Hallie: Thanks.
Just a reminder, if you don't have a copy of the book there were five there. There's
a sign-up sheet over there cause we didn't get quite enough. Amazon divided it into three
shipments and only one arrived. And I also put some cards over there so if, I have a
website and it's on here and there's the contact button. So if a question occurs to you either
about writing, your writing, my writing, life in Milton, Massachusetts whatever. You can
e-mail me after, I do read my e-mail and I'm happy to answer.
Jonathan is one of these people who when you send your published book which I always do
to. Or he's actually one of the great friends who knows that you come to book signings of
authors and buy a book. Thank you Jonathan. He will within 10 minutes have found a typo
that eluded you. Probably on the first page, possibly even in the title of the book.
But he's really a great editor and I thank him for helping me along the way. I worked
with Jonathan at Digital and he didn't say this but it was 30+ years ago. I know because
I was pregnant with my first, my second child and she's now 33.
So that was back when there was no UI. There was no user interface. It was just a black
screen with an operating system prompt. It said VMS angle bracket as I recall. And you
were expected to go from there. And we did. But amazingly we had e-mail. And we had a
dreadful application called "Phone." Or was it called telephone?
>>Jonathan: Phone.
>>Hallie: Phone. That everyone hated because it allowed you to interrupt people in the
middle of what they were doing in their life. How about that? Nowadays, it seems like people
are on their phones or on their computers and annoyed when life interrupts. I think
that's more. So the world was a little bit upside down then. The Internet was still being
invented. And I remember there was an MIT project then called Project Athena where they
were playing around with something called Boxer. Does anybody have any idea, well anyway
it was the first tinkering around with the idea of connecting one piece of information
with another. Which is really what the web is about. That's why it's called the web.
Yeah. Anyway, I had no idea I'd ever write fiction. And I was tired, getting tired of
explaining to everyone why I was only one in my family who didn't write.
But it took me about 10 more years. In the 1990s, actually in the late 80s I started
to write. And I can still remember, I wrote a book with a friend of mine whose brother
was murdered. He was shot to death in an insurance office where they both worked. They were partners.
And her client had come in angry about a settlement for a fire. And shot him, because she was
home with her son who'd hurt his ankle that morning. And so needless to say, she was guilt
ridden, grief stricken. And took years to basically come back out of the house and we
spent a long time writing a book which I never published.
But I do remember sitting at Digital and sending you know 30 pages to the printer because I
was too cheap and printers were huge back then. I mean you know it cost you a fortune
to have a printer in your house. And running to the printer to grab it before anybody could
see that I was not doing my work in my cubicle. I was writing my first novel.
But I did leave, well I don't think they had been bought by anybody by the time I left.
But you left long before me. Yeah and so it was in, I got my first book published in the
early 1990s. And as Jonathan said it was a serious novel that I wrote with a writing
partner. And it was great for me because my co-author was a psychiatrist, not a psychiatrist,
a psychologist, a neuropsychologist who still runs the unit at the McLean, which is the
great psychiatric hospital.
So we wrote stories about a character who runs a unit at the McLean, but we called it
something else and we put it in the Bermuda triangle between Belmont and Cambridge. And
they were all stories about things like memory and delusions and dementia and fear and shame.
Things that psychologists understand. And I didn't.
So I was, I was afraid my Don was gonna wanna write, he was afraid I was gonna make him
write. So it's really a great partnership and I learned that I could write and I could
write this kind of stuff. This kind of slightly creepy, scary but intricately plotted. You
know a mystery has to be intricately plotted. And so when we stopped writing together I
was afraid I wasn't ever gonna to have an idea for a book. Because all the ideas, many
of them had really been generated by Don. I had done all the writing but I hadn't really
come up with the premises.
Finally one day I found an idea at a yard sale. I love yard sales. I went to a yard
sale at a house near mine. My daughter had played at this house, it's a big, old, Victorian
beautiful on the outside, horrible on the inside. And they were taken down walls and
making it into a great house. And so I was chatting up the woman in the driveway. And
I said, you know did you change the ceiling in the kitchen. I mean I knew, I recognize
the toilet they were throwing away. I really knew that house.
So I, she said, finally, "Would I like to go inside and look around?" I said "Oh I'd
like to, yes very much." She said well go ahead there's no one inside just help yourself
you know your way.
So I went, there's something very creepy about going into someone else's empty house. I went
and I'm looking around, I go upstairs. Finally on the second floor the mystery writer in
me kicked in and I thought what if a woman goes to a yard sale, somehow she talks her
way into the house. She goes inside and she never comes out. And I went home, very quickly.
I didn't want to stay in that house any longer. And I started to write. I didn't know who
the woman was who came to the yard sale, but I knew she was nine months pregnant. I didn't
know what the connection was between her and the woman throwing the yard sale but I knew
that the woman throwing the yard sale was also nine months pregnant. And I proceeded
to write this book completely ignoring all the rules that I have set forth in my "Writing
and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock Them Dead with Style." Because I just wanted
to see who these characters were and where it took me. As a result the writing process
was very ugly. It took about two years whereas a serious novel usually took me a year. But
the result was something quite different than anything I had written before. I got a much
better contract. I got a much better agent. I saw, I finally stopped doing all the freelance
work that I had been doing up to that time in order to support my writing habit. And
I started to really feel like a writer. So that book was a really great experience. It
was sold to lifetime movie network and then of course I was paranoid that I was never
gonna come up with an idea for my next novel. As I am now having just turned in my third
novel, I don't know what I'm gonna write next. The trough between books is very difficult
place to be.
But, "Come And Find Me." You know ideas come from the weirdest places, and this one I think
it started, I blog with a bunch of other mystery writers on a blog called Jungle Red Writers.
And every once in a while we offer a book, a free book.
Fairly often actually. And when that happens, we get this deluge of commenters that we know
could care less about Jungle Red Writers. But it turns out that there are, but they're
real. It's not a bot or anything. And they're different because we actually try to contact
them and see if we're just getting the same e-mail from the same person over and over.
We're not. And it turns out there are these websites that tell people about contests.
And then people who go every day, and then they entered every contest. And that's what
they do. And at the same time I had a neighbor who never left her house. But she always got
these package deliveries. And I thought, well what if you know the neighbor is one of these.
Cause if you enter enough contests, you win a fair number of them. So these packages just
kept arriving. And you know, her only contact with the world seemed to be the UPS man.
So I started thinking about it, and I started coming up with the story of a woman. Who,
and this is Diana in "Come And Find Me," who is at home. And she's at home because she's
afraid to leave the house. But she runs, and this was where I had to figure out how could
you, was there a way that you could run a computer security business from your house
and never leave it? And could you actually live that way? And I started thinking about
the Internet and how it connects people. But also allows people to isolate themselves physically.
And also, allows people to get spoofed. You don't really know that an e-mail is coming
from the person that it says it's coming from. When I look at my pinhole camera in the frame
of my MacBook, I often wonder if someone's looking back at me. So it's also a place that
can generate a fair amount of paranoia and you just really don't want to think about
it too much, or you become a little bit crazy.
So I started to research, I've been a long time out of the computer business. And never
been a gamer. You know really, the mouse and the just completely slays me. I don't really
know what I'm doing with the mouse buttons. So I knew I needed to do some research. So
I got in touch with this guy named Jeff Bardin. Has anybody heard of him? He's a security
expert, and I wanted to find out from him first of all what were the greatest threats
on the Internet? I wanted there to be something at the core of this novel that was not a terrorism
and not robbing a bank. I have no interest in either of those things. I wanted something
that would be personally scary. High-stakes, but at a personal level.
And so I met with him and he told me. You know I said can somebody live in their house
and have a business. And he told me about Second Life. I'm sure most you know about
Second Life. Well in my book, it's called Otherworld cause I didn't want to get sued.
And he was telling me you know about the porn. About the cyber terrorism that you know people
are actually training terrorists in Second Life. As well as, just normal people wandering
around and you know, going from island to island and buying things in Second Life and
finding like-minded people.
And so it had this, it has the positive and the negative side that I wanted, cause that's
what I see in computers is both a very positive and a very scary side. So I of course figured,
well, nothing with computers scares me. I've been online for years and years and years
and it's just not a scary thing. So I went to and created an avatar and
that was fun. It was like my Betsy McCall doll, you know getting her dressed and figuring
out not so easy for me how to make her move forward and not bump into furniture. And then
flying which is very cool cause you kind of felt like, kind of felt like Harry Potter
on the back of Buckbeak, cause its first person you know you're watching and flying over and
it was very cool. And then I fell in the ocean. And I couldn't get her out, I mean I just
could not figure out how to get the character. And I was like breathless. You know gasping.
And I thought, you know you really do connect with your avatar.
And I also, I was three hours into this odyssey and realizing that there was not enough time
in the world for me to get as good as I needed to get to really learn about Second Life.
So back up and I started to call. You know I put out something on Facebook to all the
people that I had worked with you know from HP. I've listed a startup, I was in all kinds
of computer companies. Somebody must know somebody who plays in Second Life and works
in Second Life. I wanted both experiences.
So I connected with someone at Raytheon who conducts training. She creates training events
for them in Second Life. And so I went and sat next to her and rode
shotgun and watched her and took copious notes on how you do all the things that she did.
And while she was showing me a place where they were having training, this virtual metal
cylinder dropped over her avatar. And she explained to me that there were griefers,
these were people who had managed to get into this place cause there wasn't enough security.
And again, it was just so creepy, you know that this could happen. And she was telling
me that there was a lot of porn in Second Life.
My second guides to Otherworld were a couple who lived up in one of the northern suburbs
in the house that, I gotta put this house in this book one day. It was shag carpeting
and cigarette smoke. And coffee that smelled like they never started over with the coffee.
And the house; very nice people. But I was, sneezing and gasping for breath within 2 minutes.
A lot of dogs too. A lot of dogs and cats. But they kind of just hang out in Second Life.
And so again you know I sat next to the husband in this case and he showed me how he could
see which of his friends were online and how to go where they were and the coordinates.
Just tried to get enough information that I could make myself feel credible without
really learning Second Life which I really did not. I'm not, as I said it really did
not interest me to really experience it.
So I, so that was my adventure on Second Life. And you know I was able to see where it could
be both scary and fun. And also helpful. As I was talking to Jeff Bartin I mean I wanted
some way that there would be a danger here as well. One of the things that he started
telling me about was just how everything is on the network and therefore vulnerable in
its way. So just take a hospital for instance. The security cameras are networked. The machines
that monitor your vital signs are networked. All your data that your doctor has about you
is potentially on the network. The machine that administers morphine when you need a
hit is. DNA profiles. And on and on it goes. And you know you can start to get paranoid
and start to, what I did was start to spin a what if there were a hacker who could use
those vulnerabilities to hold hospitals and insurance companies for ransom.
And I mean that's really, the other person that I did a lot of research with, not a lot,
I spent a couple hours with him is a former hacker who now works for computer companies.
And he was telling me how in the early days of hacking, it was kind of cowboys. People
were doing it for fun. And to show that they could. And to one up each other. It was a
very kind of male and juvenile in its way. You know kind of showing off. And that now
things have changed quite a bit. That it's really much more a business. And people make
a lot of money. And there's a lot of dollars at stake.
So, I mean I wasn't really interested in the hacker in the Ukraine who's getting into computers
and getting people's credit card. To me that's got no juice as a mystery story. But I was
interested in the potential of getting in and getting DNA profiles and what you could
do with that. Getting in and monitoring people in the hospital when they didn't know they
were being monitored. That seemed like much more of a personal violation. And so that's
kind of what leads into the subplot.
I also got really interested in the idea of an avatar. That this is a person that you
create online. Your personality but in a way in a Halloween costume. You know you could
be whoever you wanted to be. A third apparently of the avatars in Second Life that are female
are really you know controlled and created by men. So you have no idea. So it's a great
opportunity to try on different personas, to try to be someone you're not, to fool people
or take advantage of them.
And my feeling was that for my character who was stuck in a house her avatar would be a
way for her to get out. For her to be person she used to be but online. Having said that,
and all that computer stuff, the other thing that always drives me, the creepy part is,
I come from a movie family, I always think very cinematically about the books that I'm
writing as if the narrator is a camera in one of the characters heads. And I always,
always am going for what I call the light bulb in the milk moment.
If you've ever seen Alfred Hitchcock, and Alfred Hitchcock is my idol, I mean if I could
write books the way, that make you feel the Way, Alfred Hitchcock does when you're at
the end of the second act moving into the third act and winding up. I always remember
the movie "Suspicion." And "Suspicion", some you will know. Joan Fontaine is the wife,
she's upstairs, an invalid in bed, awash in satin sheets. And she's sure that her husband
is trying to kill her. Her husband, Cary Grant is climbing the stairs at that moment carrying
a silver tray and on the tray is glass of milk. And Hitchcock does you know the famous
back and forth between them. You know we hear her, we see him, little closer to her, a little
closer to him, until we come right in on the milk. And he never has to say anything because
we know there's got to be poison in that milk. And the milk seems to glow. And of course
the trick was Hitchcock put a light bulb in the milk. I mean, he was not subtle.
But you don't realize that when you're watching it. And for me always when I'm writing, I'm
reaching for that kind of a moment. What I love about it is, milk is nourishing. Warm
milk is what puts you to sleep, relaxes you. It's this very nourishing thing, and yet he
twists it and makes it scary.
And so in my books I'm always going for that moment. In "Come And Find Me," Diana is home.
She's got her house surrounded with surveillance cameras and she can look at them anytime she
wants. And she checks in every once in a while. And there on her front fence is a cardinal
sitting. A little while later she checks, the cardinal is back. The third time she checks
and the cardinal is in the same place. That's a light bulb in the milk moment. Because she
realizes she's not seeing what's outside. Someone has replaced her video feed with a
continuous loop. And that's, she's not really, something else is going on out there and she
can't see. So inside becomes scarier than outside. And she finally leaves the house.
So that's just a little insight into where I, into where I'm thinking when I, cause I
do set them in the suburbs. I do set them in places that should be not scary places.
But I'm always trying to make them scary.
I thought I would read just a little bit from the book. This isn't anything about computers.
One of the other things I wanted to write about with this book was the relationship
between sisters. I have a lot of them. And so what drives Diana out of the house is that
her sister is missing. And this is a scene where she's talking to her mother. She's managed
to leave the house. She knows something is wrong. And she knows
that her sister should've called her mother, so she calls her mother.
"What's wrong?" her mother said the minute she heard Diana's voice on the phone.
"Why should there be something wrong?" "Because you never call me, I call you. Your
sister calls me, that's the way things work in this family."
"So has she?" "Why is it always a contest?"
Diana took a breath, "Let's start over. Hi Ma, how are you."
For the last five years her mother had lived in Jensen Beach Florida in a condo surrounded
by golf courses. "Men golfed" she explained to Diana, forever
hopeful that she'd find a better partner than Diana's father who disappeared from their
lives long before he'd taken off with the woman who Diana and Ashley referred to as
Tiffany, because that was her favorite place to shop. She had not long after been replaced
by Tiffany 2.
"Sorry, do I sound cranky?" her mother said. "I can't complain, a few creaky joints. I've
always thought that was a figure of speech. But it turns out they do creak and click.
It's unnerving. I mean I make a fist and the knuckles make a sound. And my back, my doctor
tells me to walk more, says it's normal for my age. Do you think he's just telling me
that because there's nothing for it? Like I said, I can't complain." Her mother snorted
a laugh, "Guess I can. Hah, in fact I'm really good at complaining. But actually, on the
whole and considering everything I'm good. Hey, I beat the big C. What else can he throw
at me? Carpe diem, that's what I say. Carpe diem every single goddamn day. How about you
sweetie pie?"
Her mother actually paused. Diana waited until she was certain that her mother wasn't going
to answer the question herself. "I'm good."
"Good, just good? That's nice I guess. You getting out of the"
"Some." "Good. I'm glad you're getting out. And if
you're not taking a vitamin D supplement, you should be. You don't want osteoporosis
to get you when you're my age."
There was a moment of silence.
"You know, all I want is for you to be happy. Your sister tells me"
"So did she call?" "Last week. She was supposed to call this
morning, Monday morning she always calls."
Monday morning. Ashley usually answered her messages and showed up at work too.
"Has something happened to your Sister?" her mother asked. "Because all weekend I felt
something was off. I thought it was me. Then today she doesn't call and you do. Is something
up?" "Nothing's up. I haven't actually talked to
her either." "Since?"
"Friday." "Ah, did you check her apartment?"
"She's not answering her phone." "Because she's not there, or"
The silence that followed felt laden with the accusation and an image of Ashley lying
on her kitchen floor paralyzed and unable to reach for the phone. Her mother went on.
"I'm sure she'll turn up hon, she always does. Try not to worry about it too much."
Two years ago Diana would've been the one trying to reassure her mother.
"Good advice." "I'm full of good advice, don't you know that?"
"Thanks mom, I'll call. I'll tell her to call. Bye."
"Shhh." her mother cut her off. From the day she'd been diagnosed with cancer
Diana's mother had insisted that they never end a conversation with any version of goodbye.
"Sorry. I meant talk to you soon", Diana said. "Knock wood."
So that's the character who is about to leave her house.
So I thought I would take questions at this point. Anybody working on a book? Anybody
interested in the writing process? The book? You name it. Yes.
>>Male #1: Do you outline?
>>Hallie: Do I outline? I do. I never follow it, but I do outline.
I have people say, people often ask you know do you know the ending before the beginning.
And I always say, "I think I do but I'm usually wrong." But that's the thing about an outline.
You know it's like any work process. You know you have enough colleagues that some people
never bother to make lists. Other people are compulsive list makers, even if they never
read them. So I do make an outline because I feel like it gives me training wheels. And
then I can start writing. And then I almost immediately go off. Because characters when
you put them on the page are never quite the way that you thought they would be. Which
is a good thing. Because I feel like if I can surprise myself, I can surprise the reader
and that's a great thing to be able to do in a mystery, is to create a character that
people think is going to go this way and then goes that way.
And then, well that's interesting. Why did they do that? So as a writer I'm constantly
having to change the outline. I change the outline as I go. So as I write, I rewrite
the outline. And by the time I'm done I have an outline that does reflect my book.
And I use it. It's a very useful thing.
But the other thing that happens as your character goes off the rails you have to change the
back story. Back story is the stuff that the writer knows about the character but the reader
doesn't. So when I put a character on a page, I know all kinds of things about her or him
that you don't know. I know where she grew up, I know if she went to college. I know
if she hates her father. I know she smokes. I know what kind of car she drives probably.
I know what kind of car she'd never drive. And so all that stuff and why, is in my head.
Sometimes I'll actually write it in a character bible they call it. Just a bunch of stray
notes about a character. But as a character surprises me, I have to go back and change
my assumptions about who that character is, to change the back story. So it's kind of
a shifting back and shifting forward always.
This, I just turned in a new book called, what is it called? It's called, "There Was
an Old Woman." And I got to page 125. And I had an outline for the whole book. But
I couldn't write another page. I just got stuck, I was bored. And I went back, I went
forward. I did everything I could think of. Everything everyone's ever told me about writer's
block I tried. And finally I just decided to throw away the first 125 pages. Of course
I didn't throw it away, I just put it in the out file which I start the minute I start
a book. And I realized I had started the book in the wrong place.
So I started over. And wrote my way up to where I had been and was able to use some
of what I had and then move forward. But it was, I think you just have to be fearless
as a writer. And though you have an outline, don't think that you can follow it. I mean
I think it's like many project plans. I mean every once in a while you'll hit a bump in
the road that you weren't expecting and you have to change all your assumptions and then
change your milestones on where you're going, it's kind of a similar thing.
Other questions? Yeah.
>>Male #2: You mentioned the Jungle Red Writers..
>>Hallie: Yep.
>>Male #2: Do you get together as a group and critique each other's work in the blog?
>>Hallie: No but that's a good question. He asked if the people that I blog with, I blog
with some really wonderful mystery writers. Deborah Crombie, Rhys Bowen, Julia Spencer
Fleming, Hank Phillippi Ryan. And I do ask Hank to read my work cause she's a good friend.
But for the most part, I don't ask anyone to read my work until I'm done. And that's
because I don't, I'm too ready to slash and burn. And I, the slightest, I mean I don't
own my words at all. I'm very easy with criticism, but a little over easy. Because sometimes
you throw away what you've got before you realize what you wanted to say.
So I feel like I at least have to get those first 300 pages out. And know where I'm going
before I give it to somebody to critique. Then I'll be happy to change anything, but
at least I know what I meant to say. Because otherwise you end up writing someone else's
book. And that's not a good thing. You don't even know what you wanted to say in the first
So I do have people read it, and I have a wonderful literary agent who always after
I've made what I think is the best book I can, she reads it and I usually get a lot
of notes they call it, from her and I revise it and then I send it to my editor. Fortunately
I'm under contract right now, so I have an editor and a deadline which is a wonderful
thing. And I'm just working my way through my notes now on the new manuscript. And it's
quite, it's quite a bit more than I thought I was gonna get I must say. But it's always
getting better. But at least I knew what I wanted say in the first place.
You know, you don't even know what your themes are, I never know what my themes are in my
book until I'm done writing. And then I look and I say, I mean, "Never Tell a Lie" was
about what it's like to be completely at that period of vulnerability when you have your
first child and you've been out in the working world the whole time. It's also about the
mess that your high school experience permanently leaves in your head. And "Come and Find Me"
is about trust. It's about knowing who you can trust and about how you deal with people
who betray you. Trust and betrayal. And you know, I just tell the stories and then realize
later what I'm writing about. I mean I just don't, you don't want to shortcut that process.
Did you have a question? Yeah.
>>Male #3: There are a lot of books that you probably would like to be reading. How do
you find the time? Do you read them all? Do you read the newest? Do you read the classics?
I mean what do you do for, how do you get the time?
>>Hallie: Yeah, one of the things. One of the things I do as a sideline is I review
crime fiction for the Boston Globe. I have a column that runs every other month in the
globe. And so I'm always chipping away at, it's only three books every other month, that
is not a lot of books. But I get about 60 books every two weeks delivered to my door.
So I have to sort through them and make a short pile of the ones I'm interested in reading.
And I start a lot of books that I don't finish. I hate to review a book I don't like because
I hate to read a book I don't like. What is more painful than reading a book you don't
like? So I would rather leave enough time to put
it aside.
>>Female #1: Why bother?
>>Hallie: Exactly. Exactly. And then also there so little ink for authors right now.
I mean there's so few newspapers being printed, there's so few real book reviews. Almost none.
It's such a fraction of what it used to be. So I really don't want to be putting negative
reviews out when I could be telling people about books to read, not books not to read.
What is the point?
So having said that, I start a lot of books but I also have my pile of, I mean I just
finished all the "Hunger Games."
Which I loved, I have to say, but I'm a big Harry Potter fan too you know, I love the
Harry Potter fans. All of the books, I read them all.
I just read the book, one of the books that was nominated for the Edgar this year which
I loved. It's called "The Devotion of Suspect X." Has anyone read that? Oh it's brilliant.
It's about a, it's about a mathematician. It's about a woman who killed; you know in
the first scene a woman kills her ex-husband. And her neighbor is going to work with her
to hide, you know, to figure out how she's gonna get away with it. He was awful in abusive
and the guy is a kind of Aspergersy mathematician. And his nemesis is a physicist that he went
to university with. And there's all, it's just, it's diabolical. And it's got a plot
twist I did not see coming. It's got a great plot twist. So I've also got my stack of books
you know that I want to read. I want to read Gilead. I got a lot of books, all kinds of
books that I just don't get to.
>>Male #4: The description you have of you know how people's lives are so networked and
you know we're so vulnerable with all this information. It reminded me of "The Net" you
know the Sandra Bullock movie.
>>Hallie: Yeah.
>>Male #4: I was wondering where that fits in and now it's been what, 17 years since
it came out?
>>Hallie: That's true. I had forgotten about that movie. Yeah.
>>Male #4: [Inaudible] things may have changed or how we've accepted things that.
>>Hallie: I think we've accepted a lot of things. One of the things that is key in this
book is a flash mob. And of course, when the net was written, flash mobs hadn't yet been
invented. But I think there's a playfulness about the Internet that was not. Because it's
just a part of your life. I mean it's just there. I think it was much newer then. And
I think, but I love the playfulness of it. I love Facebook, I love being able to connect
to people I don't know. I like trying to assess out which people are, are not real.
I don't know, I guess, I think it's possible to take it a lot less seriously than. But
I do love those.
Has anybody seen the new "Sherlock Holmes"? Yeah. On public television, there's a new
"Sherlock Holmes" with Cumberbatch, great name. It's the name of the. But what's cool
about it is it's set in the present and it's full of computery things. You know they're
like little butterflies that pop up every once in a while. And it's extremely cool that,
and weird because I always think of Sherlock Holmes as the perfect vehicle for steam punk.
Which in its way is sort of a twisted version, cause it's set in the old-time me. But this
is taking the same idea but setting it absolutely in modern day. I think it's very cool.
Anyway, I think it's become more playful. I think were less afraid. I think we know,
I think we've just stop worrying. Because how can you do otherwise? I mean,
you know. I mean you don't get those e-mails every other day. Oh my God, there's a virus.
And, all that stuff has really settled down. And I think people have gotten smarter about
protecting, I hope, our computers.
>>Female #2: Overloaded and turned it off.
>>Hallie: Yeah I think, I think you're right. I think you're right. Yes.
>>Male #5: So you wrote a book on how to write a mystery novel.
>>Hallie: I did yeah.
>>Male #5: And you decided that wasn't right thing to do?
>>Hallie: Oh no no. It's just that that process that I talked about in that book didn't work
for the book I was writing.
>>Male #5: So are you going to rewrite the book?
>>Hallie: No, because it's chaos. You cannot recommend chaos to people.
I mean, what I say in "Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel" is that writing a novel
is a very personal process. Everyone will do it differently because we're,
you have to take advantage of your strengths and we all have different strengths. And so,
on the other hand, it doesn't hurt to hear how other people do it and try some of those
techniques that they have and see if they work for you. So I kinda hedged my bets when
I wrote it. And I still believe that.
And I also think that different books write differently. This book for instance, "There
Was an Old Woman," I knew the ending. It's the first thing I knew. I absolutely knew
the ending, never gonna change. That's the ending. There's a huge plot twist at the end
and I had it from the beginning.
In "Come and Find Me" there's a final scene where she confronts the person who's been
jerking her around. And I knew she was going to one up him. She was gonna, she was gonna
get him. But I didn't know how. And so, I mean I just, I was afraid of writing up to
that point cause I was gonna have figure it out. And I did.
So it's just, it's very different everybody right. But I do think, I mean I remember when
I was first starting, the first writing conference I ever went to. And they're great to go to
if you're a writer cause you hear all kinds, you hear every writer tell their process and
it's so different. So you just give up of there being one way.
But I remember there was the keynote speaker was some very well published writer. You know
Pulitzer Prize winner, blah blah blah. And she said, somebody asked her, "What's your
writing process?" And she said, in all seriousness, "It's magic."
And you know, I thought that's like saying "I can do it and you can't." You know? It's
the ultimate auteur. And it really turned me off, that was before I wrote my book. I
thought that's bullshit. There's a million ways to write a book. So tell us what yours
is and we'll find out what some. And then you put it together for yourself. It's just
a process to an end. Yes.
>>Male #6: It sounds little bit like Nash, you know John Nash when he went crazy right?
It's like how come you didn't know that becoming the Emperor of Antarctica was weird. He said,
"Well it came to me the same way the mathematical ideas came to me."
>>Hallie: Yeah, yeah.
>>Male #6: Sorta the same way.
>>Hallie: Well see that's the problem with, the kind of books that I write really do have
a form. And that's one of the things that I write about in that writing book is what
is, what do people expect when they pick up a book that's been shelved with the mystery
books. You know, there's a certain expectation. And that's not to say you have to write a
book that conforms to those expectations but readers will not be happy if they pulled it
off the mystery shelf and it doesn't feel like a mystery. So what I was writing about
a lot was the structure of a mystery. It always always opens with a scene that throws a character
off-balance. Just like a movie actually. Movies always open with those, start noticing. I
mean they always open with, it doesn't have to be a dead body, it can be a guy parking
his Porsche at the apartment building, coming up the stairs walking down the hall. The door
to his apartment is ajar. He pushes it open all the furniture is gone. And there's a red
stiletto heel in the middle of the bare floor. That's a great opening. I mean I haven't written
that one yet.
But I will one day. That's a short story. So you know, it's a what's going on here moment.
And that's how you always want to always start a book it's with that. Then you move on. You
start the first act. And there's a twist, and there's a second act and there's a twist.
Third act, there's a confrontation, there's a mop up. So there's this rough structure
that like.
If you, you hear people talk about screenplays, they are much worse. Because in a mystery
novel, I have 300 pages to play with. A screenplay is like 100 and, it's not even 100 I think.
So it's, but it's a very demanding structure which is partly why I like to write them.
I always feel like, it's like I'm in a playground and there's only certain equipment. So I can
use all my imagination, but I've still got just a slide and a jungle. And you know it's
like certain things that I can play with. And it's kind of reassuring.
>>Female #3: So along with the whole class structure, there's also this introducing your
character, filling out the character. You know I've read some books where it's very
awkward and forced feeling. Like okay now we take a break to give you a little monologue
about this character.
>>Hallie: Published books?
>>Female #3: Yeah.
>>Hallie: Oh God.
>>Female #3: You know and then there's some books where you're reading them and really
the character naturally fills out and you learn things that you know doesn't feel stilted
>>Hallie: One of the chapters in writing and selling your mystery novel talks about avoiding
the back story dump.
>>Female #3: Yeah.
>>Hallie: And that's exactly what you're talking about. And I'm surprised we find it in out,
actually it's in the girl with the Dragon tattoo. The whole first 50 pages for me could
of gone right in the you know. Until Lizbeth Salander shows up on the, were not really
engaged with what's his name. And we have all, you see I don't remember his is name.
What is his name?
>>Audience: Mikael Blomkvist.
>>Hallie: Thank you, Blomkvist.
Her I remember, she's the reason people read that book. But that's a typical mistake that
you see in new writers is they feel like they have. Remember I said there's all this stuff
that you know about the character that the reader doesn't know. The challenge is to keep
it yourself. And let the characters show by what they wear, what they eat, what they do,
what they say. Let the reader put together the back story
through these details that you drop. And occasionally a bit of internal dialogue and revelation
through dialogue. But, you're right, that's deadly. And as I say, it's one of the biggest
problems for a new writer. Is figuring out how to introduce the character
without weighing down the front of the story. The reason it doesn't work is because readers
don't care about the character yet. They don't care about the situation. And so you have
to get the story moving.On the other hand, the writers say "well but they don't know
this and they don't know that." Well yeah, you have been led to. Yeah.
>>Male #7: So what's your discipline? Do you start 9-to-5 on Monday , I mean do you work
9-to-5 on Monday through Friday or how does that.
>>Hallie: I write every day that I can. Unless I, I've got, I have grown daughters and when
they're home all bets are off. I want to be wherever they are when they are
within striking distance. But I get up every morning. I start around seven at the computer.
And I work usually until about 10:30. And then I'll take a walk or go to the fitness
center. Have lunch. Take a nap. I need a nap. And then I come back to the computer around
three till about six. So I have a very set routine. I like to write first draft in the
morning. I like to revise my brain isn't. You've gotta be really clearheaded in the
morning. And I have to say one of the most fruitful times for me plotting, is lying in
bed before I get up. You know that, they call it, it's that almost dream state that you're
>>Male #8: Hypnagogic is one word.
>>Hallie: That it, hypnagogic, or have the hypnopompic, they're the other ends of the
day. And it's a very fruitful time for imagination. And so I will often walk through my plot wherever
I am at that point. And try to think about what could happen next that I wasn't thinking
was going to happen next. And so I, I like that. And then I have to get down to the computer
or I will forget.
What I was thinking before I got there. Other questions? Yes.
>>Female #4: It seems to me that with this latest book, you've taken people who like
to have colorful excitement in their inner lives while they're reading and you've given
them a heroine who is living in this little world. Can you see that telescoping into a
place where it's really hard to get out without someone coming to find you?
>>Hallie: Yeah. Well, I mean that was one of the challenges of the book. I mean here's
a character who lives in a little house. And she's closed herself off to the outside world.
I had to get her out. Because it's boring. You know, it's claustrophobic. I don't want
to write a book that stays there.
Did anybody read "Room?" Nobody read it? Oh you people have to read more. "Room" is a
fabulous book. It was last year's, or maybe the year before. It's the story, it opens,
its told from the, sorry, from the point of view of a five-year-old. Which is a tour de
force in and of itself. And gradually we come to realize that he is with his mother in what
amounts to an oversized packing crate. They are imprisoned there. There's a bed. They
have a, you know it's like what happened to Elizabeth Smart you know who was. Only it's
from the point of view of the five-year-old. And when I started reading that book I thought
oh my God, she's gonna stay, how long are we gonna be in this packing crate. Because,
you just can't sustain a story that long in, yeah. So fortunately, they do get out.
But she was in there longer than I would've, longer than I would've imagined. So no I don't
want to write. I like to write characters that are resilient because I think characters
that are too whiny and stay where they are. They're not interesting. You know I want a
character who. And that's why I keep getting nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark award.
I've never read a Mary Higgins Clark novel I must tell you. But I think what she writes
about are women who are kind of beset upon and then they save themselves. I think, and
so I, that's what I like to write as somebody who is not gonna whine, but she's gonna sock
somebody. Eventually.
>>Female #4: It sounds like you had to, she was in there so tightly that you had to pushing
her out of the house cause it was too scary to stay. And something pulling her out.
>>Hallie: She had to be pushed and pulled. That inside of the house had to be scarier
than the outside and she had to go out and save her sister. So she, yeah that's right
she had to be pushed and pulled. Yeah, the pulling didn't just do it cause she would've
just called the police. One of the biggest problems in writing a mystery novel, why doesn't
she just call the police.
Well thank you very much, be sure to sign up for a book, I hope you'll want one if you
didn't get one.
>>Jonathan: We're gonna go over to Chavin for lunch, anybody that would like to join
us you're more than welcome.
>>Hallie: Yay. Yeah. And I'm serious about if you have questions. The follow-up, just
e-mail me. I'm happy to help. Happy to reply. Thank you.