Monday, July 22, 2019

FINDING MY WAY TO CRIME FICTION: Guest post by Hallie Ephron

Hallie Ephron:
Finding My Way to Crime Fiction

When I’m asked what books inspired me to write mystery novels, sometimes I go on about how much I loved the Nancy Drew novels. I talk about graduating to the complete works of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and P.D. James. But those authors’ works inspired me to binge read mysteries, not to write them.

Instead, I found my way by first trying and failing to write true crime.

It was the story of a double murder. Two men who worked at an insurance company were shot dead by a disgruntled client. The killer had come in gunning for another employee, a woman who was the sister of one of the men killed. The sister was (and still is) a dear friend of mine, and I wrote a book based on many hours that she and I spent together, talking about what had happened in the aftermath of the murders.

I called the manuscript Exit Wound because the book was about the aftermath of murder—the devasting aftermath for the victim’s children, spouse, parents, siblings, co-workers, and friends. The killer’s capture, trial, and life sentence brought my friend only a small measure of relief. It turns out that justice served does little to assuage grief and loss.

I finished writing that book but never tried to publish it because I realized that the story wasn’t mine to tell. It most certainly was not my story to profit from. I’d have felt like a carrion crow going on book tour and dishing the gory details of those horrific murders and the devastation that grief left in its wake. There are true crime writers who manage to make this work; I could not.

Since then, my stories are purely made up and inspired by experiences far removed from murder. Going to a yard sale and getting invited in to see the renovations inspired me to write a book (Never Tell a Lie) about a pregnant woman who goes to a yard sale, gets invited into the house, and never comes out. Doll parts (heads, legs, eyeballs) that a friend had to clear out from under the beds in her elderly dollmaker mother’s house inspired You’ll Never Know, Dear.

My new book, Careful What You Wish For, is about a professional organizer who helps people declutter their lives; she’s married to man who can’t pass a yard sale without stopping. Yes, I’m married to collector. And yes, sometimes I’d like to murder him for the stuff he drags home.

Sometimes there’s a murder in my books. Sometimes not. I think of them as whatsgoingonhere stories rather than whodunnits—on a good day, Daphne du Maurier with a twist of Patricia Highsmith. My touchstones are classic movies like Gaslight and Suspicion and Dial M For Murder and Wait Until Dark—stories about ordinary women who become increasingly isolated and besieged by doubts. If she’s an unreliable narrator, she’s not intentionally so.

In those movies as in my books, doubt and betrayal drive the plots. The fundamental question is always: Whom can she trust? I want my readers to feel the situation in the novel is utterly believable, and think, this could happen to me--at the same time knowing that that the story is made up will end with the kind of clarity and satisfying wrap-up that you’d rarely have in true crime.

HALLIE EPHRON ( is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven suspense novels that reviewers call “deliciously creepy” and “Hitchcockian.” Her books are rooted in reality, and it’s no coincidence that her new novel, Careful What You Wish For, is about a professional organizer married to a man who can’t pass a yard sale without stopping. She is a five-time finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel (Writers Digest Books) was an Edgar Award finalist. For twelve years she wrote an award-winning crime-fiction book review column for the Boston Globe. Her Never Tell a Lie was made into a Lifetime movie. A popular speaker and writing teacher, Hallie lives near Boston with her husband. 

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