Today, Hartford Books Examiner is joined by literary luminary Hallie Ephron.
A writer, book reviewer, and teacher, Ephron launched her career as a solo suspense novelist with 2009’s Never Tell a Lie, which won the David Award for best mystery and was recently adapted for film (as “And Baby Will Fall”) by the Lifetime Movie Network. Prior to that time, she co-authored five “Dr. Peter Zak” mysteries with neuropsychologist Donald Davidoff under the pseudonym G.H. Ephron. Her non-fiction titles include the Edgar and Anthony Award-nominated Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock ‘Em Dead with Style (2005), 1001 Books for Every Mood (2008), The Bibliophile’s Devotional (2010) and The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel (2010). Ephron is also the award-winning book reviewer for the Boston Globe.
Ephron will present her newest novel, Come and Find Me (William Morrow, $24.99), at R.J. Julia in Madison this Wednesday, April 27th. (See event details below.) Store owner Roxanne Coady noted, “This book is so fun; I could not put it down – I was utterly surprised by Ephron’s writing ability…When you come to the end, you’ll be shocked.” Further, Mystery Scene praised the title as “Psychologically astute and emotionally gripping” while Booklist called it “A suspenseful tale of high-tech skullduggery that even low-tech readers will appreciate.”
From the publisher:
Computer security expert and reformed hacker Diana Highsmith has not ventured beyond her home for more than a year—not since that fateful climbing vacation in Switzerland took Daniel’s life. Haunted by the sound of Daniel’s cries echoing across the gorge as he fell, Diana cannot stop thinking about the life they’ll never have—grief that has transformed her into a recluse.
Diana doesn’t have to shut herself off completely from the world, though; she and Daniel’s best friend run a thriving Internet security company. From her home, in her pajamas, Diana assesses security breaches, both potential and real, and offers clients a way to protect themselves from hackers—the kind of disruptions Diana herself used to create. Once Diana has a game plan she is able to meet with clients in OtherWorld, an Internet-based platform, using Nadia, an avatar she created for herself. Diana knows she’ll have to rejoin the “real world” eventually, but right now a few steps from her door each morning is all she can handle.
When Diana’s sister goes missing, however, she is forced to do the impossible: brave both the outside world and her own personal demons to find her sister. As one step outside leads to another, Diana soon discovers that she is following a trail fraught with danger—and uncovering a web of deceit and betrayal, both online and real-life, that threatens not only her sister’s life, but her own.
Now, Hallie exposes the realities of Come and Find Me…
1) Your last novel, NEVER TELL A LIE, was a timeless tale of suspense while COME AND FIND ME is much more immediate in its scope. What inspired this new direction? How do you feel the book benefits from its ode to modernity?
What an interesting observation. Of course you’re right, NEVER TELL A LIE is about fear of losing a baby, and fear that you can’t trust the person you hold most dear. In suspense, I think authors are always writing about their deepest fears.
In COME AND FIND ME I come back to the theme of betrayal, the fear of discovering people you trust aren’t who they seem, compounded by paranoia that technology breeds. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wonders if every time I turn on my cell phone, someone is pinpointing my location. I also keep a Post-it stuck over little camera in my computer’s frame, just in case someone is staring back at me. Just browsing the Internet, the loss of privacy is pretty staggering if you think about it, which on day to day basis I try not to.
2) Your newest book explores aspects of modern technology (such as virtual reality and Internet security) and their potential for both good and evil. What kind of research was required of you to command the knowledge and then convey it in a compelling manner? Did you ever feel at a disadvantage in comparison to writers who have literally grown up with this kind of technology? (And if so, how did you overcome that?)
Researching virtual reality was something I really enjoyed. I knew I needed to create a virtual world on the Internet where Diana could conduct her business, meet with clients, buy food and clothing, hang out with friends, and even climb virtual Alps. I wasn’t sure if such a place existed, but it turns out that it does. It’s called Second Life, and companies like IBM own “islands” where they conduct corporate meetings and employee training. There’s also plenty of ‘just folks’ who go there to hang out and meet people. Of course, a big industry there, as elsewhere in cyberspace, is porn.
At first I thought, piece of cake–I’m reasonably technical, I’ll just go hang out in Second Life and become my own expert. So, armed with enough information to be dangerous, I created an account in Second Life. Then I created an avatar–shapely and young, of course.
So far so good. But I’m not a gamer, so I’m pathetically inept at using a mouse and arrow keys, so even though I knew my avatar could walk, run, fly, sit, and teleport, I couldn’t keep her from bumping into furniture. It was exhilarating when I finally got her aloft, watching like I was perched on her shoulders (think Harry Potter on riding Buckbeak the hippogriff) as she soared over the island at the entrance to Second Life. Not so exhilarating when I lost control and she plunged into the blue (very blue) ocean. I actually found myself gasping for breath, then panicking when I couldn’t figure out how to get her out. And that was after an hour of trying to get the hang of the place.
So I turned to experts, and most of what I know about Second Life (I call the version in the novel OtherWorld) was gleaned by riding shotgun beside a few generous souls who let me watch as they went about their business in virtual reality. I learned that even bucolic corners of the virtual world can be infested by “griefers,” mischief-makers who enjoy raining down toasters to annoy or dropping cages to trap avatars. It can turn from safe to scary in a heartbeat, which was perfect for the book. Even though you know it’s not ‘real’ and your avatar can’t “get hurt,” it feels harrowing.
And, of course, in a virtual world you never know who you’re dealing with. Just for example, it turns out that a good percentage of the female avatars in Second Life are created by men.
Which brings me back to that pinhole camera and whether someone is looking back at me.
3) Some of the action in COME AND FIND ME takes place in the world of cyberspace. As a writer, what challenges did this pose to creating an accessible backdrop for the story? Did your approach to character development differ, given the importance of reader connectivity?
Only a small part of COME AND FIND ME takes place in cyberspace, and unlike the movie “Avatar,” for instance, it’s always anchored in reality with the main character at the computer. Making OtherWorld accessible and easy to imagine (without 3-D cinema) was challenging. But once it’s set up — which I do in Chapter 1 — I think the whole notion OtherWorld and how it works has a gee-whiz kick to it. Especially when Diana goes shopping for clothes at Headless Barbie’s Clothing Store on Main Street in Second Life, or visits the cyberspace version of the permafrost covered crater of Mauna Kea by moonlight, or sits on a virtual beach only to be attacked by armored avatars and pelted with blue phalluses.
4) Seeing as you are a maven of suspense, can you give us a teaser as to what comes next?
Maven of suspense? Sounds good!
The new book is about a very old woman whose house is set on the only remaining salt marsh (waterfront that Robert Moses didn’t fill in) in the Bronx with a magnificent view of the Manhattan skyline. She’s befriended by a young woman who lives across the street, a curator at a Manhattan historical society where she’s mounting artifacts for a 9/11 retrospective.
The book is about personal objects–and how they embody meaning. And of course, I can’t seem to stay away from betrayal. In writing suspense, they say you should write your deepest fear. Obviously for me, betrayal is it.
5) What can readers anticipate for your visit to R.J. Julia, and do you have any personal expectations for the evening?
I am so excited about visiting R. J. Julia. Whenever I’m in Madison, which is often since my dear friend and fellow writer Roberta Isleib lives there, I go to RJ’s, if only to remember what a truly great independent bookstore smells like. I’ll be talking about COME AND FIND ME and all the research (computer security, mountain climbing…) I had to do in order to write it; I’ll also talk about the excitement of having NEVER TELL A LIE made into a movie for TV.
With thanks to Hallie Ephron for taking the time to rejoin HBE.
Ms. Ephron will be appearing at R.J. Julia on Wednesday, April 27th, at 7 PM. Tickets for the event are $5, which can be applied to the purchase price of the book, and can be bought online or by calling the store at 203-245-3959. R.J. Julia is located at 768 Boston Post Road in Madison.