The Lion Is In is a novel about three women on the lam and a lion who changes their lives. It’s about friendship, courage, love … and learning to salsa with the king of the jungle.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: “Three women walk into a bar”…kind of sounds like the beginning of a joke. But for the three women in THE LION IS IN, it’s the beginning of a journey. Delia Ephron’s new novel is—well, it’s novel. And original and fresh and hilarious and poignant and it stars—a lion. Named Marcel. As you will discover, Marcel is a force. And so, as you will also discover, is Delia. (If her last name sounds familiar, come on. You know why.)
HANK: Delia! You're amazing. With a whole list of novels and essays, movie screenplays like You've Got Mail (with so many lines that are iconic) and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a long-running play written with sister Nora, (Love, Loss and What I Wore), and now your brand new book THE LION IS IN that comes out this week. SO much to talk about! So, um, what was your sister Hallie like when she was a kid?
Delia Ephron: For some reason that question reminds me of Hat Day at Camp Tocaloma where Hallie, about 8 at the time, wore an upside-down straw bowl on her head.
HANK: Oh, she still wears that. We all wondered about it...but were afraid to ask. Anyway, I was thinking about You've Got Mail. (You're probably sighing, now, thinking, WHY is she asking about that? But here in book world, it's a true classic).
One reason I love it is that it reveals how some of us--and I include myself--find it so much easier and more successful to talk without really being in the same room with someone. Joe and Kathleen are articulate and clever and poignantly honest when they're anonymous. There's a question there, I promise. About writing, I guess. Are you more comfortable writing than talking? Are you enthusiastic when you sit down at the computer? Or anxious?
Delia Ephron: I love to write. It's total escape for me -- not that it isn't sometimes difficult or full of anxiety but basically I'm so happy writing. But I also love to talk. I love to talk about writing too -- to have really boring conversations with my writer friends about things like structure. But everyone in the world writes more. Email and texting and twitter are putting our voices out of business.
HANK: Oh, my husband would disagree...for my voice, at least. So. The Lion is In. Okay, I've gotta ask. Tell us about the first moment you thought: oh, of course. I could write a novel about three women who meet a lion. Yes, a lion. And how their lives are changed by the lion. Sure, yeah, that'll work. Why didn't I think of that sooner? (And I love the Thelma and Louise cover!)
DE: I dreamed it. I had a really powerful dream about three women in this huge strange roadhouse/bar built of materials hammered every which way. I knew two of the women were young, in their twenties, and their names were Lana and Tracee. And there was an older woman, around 50, that I named Rita when I woke up. Tracee was in a wedding dress. And there was a lion. A lion. In a large cage. The women were all on the lam.
The dream took place in North Carolina, a state I had never been to. When I woke up I really didn't know if what I dreamed had actually happened. It took me a few minutes to realize I was actually in NYC in my own bed. I knew it was my next book. I sat down that morning and started writing. The story contains all the themes of my life, so I'm not surprised in retrospect it came from a dream. But when I went down to N.C. after writing the first draft (not before), I found so many things that I had written were actually there.
And the lion ... I have a dog, so I believe that animals are remarkable and have the power to change our lives ... but a lion???? ... I sent the manuscript off to Katie Buess, at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and she said everything that I had imagined with Marcel (my lion) was right. She helped me, gave me some ideas and adjustments ... but basically I seemed to know it.
And re the cover: Thank you. I love it too.
HANK: Delia, that’s almost—incredible. A dream. Huh. And so interesting that it didn’t just evaporate when you woke up, as they often do. I want to talk about how your brain “understood” lion-ness, and what that was, but first-- You talked about the themes of your life..tell us about some of them…and how they translated into the book.
DE: Lana is struggling to stay sober ... and those were problems I grew up with, my parents had those problems ... and Rita is unhappily married, trapped in a joyless world -- her spirit is being crushed. I know that from my first marriage. I had to leave to save myself, and she does too. And Tracee, well I'm not a kleptomaniac, but I know what it's like to feel unloved.
When I began to write, I didn't know what the women wanted. I only knew what they didn't want: the lives they were leading. Their friendship -- a sisterhood -- is a major part of what helps them figure out where they are going and get there. The other part is Marcel.
HANK: So what was it about lions that you “got”? Why did you use a lion? How did you pick the name Marcel—or was that simply the lion’s name?
DE: Marcel -- I suppose it's like a baby where you look at it and you know its name. Oh this is ... Marcel. About lions, I understood their power, their silence, their essential social -ness, their love of scents (although I had to be told about their love of femur bones) and their whimsy.
HANK: Yikes. Scary. (But good to know about the femur thing.) What did your agent say when you—or your husband, or whoever you first told—explained what your book would be?
DE: I just sent it to my agent without an explanation. I'm not sure if I told her I was even writing it but she loved it. She pushed me ... I did two more drafts, but she always loved it. So did my husband. I strive/hope to write what I like to read: characters that you love to be with, and a story that keeps you turning the pages. The turning pages thing was always working. I hope the other does too.
HANK: In the end, all the women’s lives are changed by the lion. For some reason, it reminds me of Dumbo’s magic feather, where the feather has no power, except what Dumbo believes—and that’s the strongest power possible. It’s as if we all have lions, you know, we just have to be open to them. (Or, I could be wrong.)
DE: That's what I believe. Whether you have the help of a lion named Marcel -- friend, playmate, comforter, priest, rabbi, minister, higher power, shrink -- we all posses the imagination to change our lives.
HANK: Has this book changed your life, too?
DE: It's calmed me down. Marcel is a force.
HANK: So I have to ask. When you think--"Marcel"--if you do--what does that mean?
DE: First the whimsy, something I always try to be in touch with, and then the bravery. And the patience. And kindness. And the roar. Never forget to roar.
HANK: Never forget to roar. Fantastic. Thank you! The book is amazing…and I can’t wait to see what happens as a result.
So Reds, was there a moment for you? Or a force? Or a decision? A person, place, thing, event or animal--who changed the course of your life? (Mine might have been when the political candidate I worked for lost the election—and I lost my job. As a result, and because I didn’t know enough to be afraid, I walked into a radio station, and asked for a job as a reporter. And so it goes.)
And how about this—Delia’s giving an autographed copy of THE LION IS IN to one lucky commenter!
About the Author
Delia Ephron is a bestselling author and screenwriter. Her movies include The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, You’ve Got Mail, Hanging Up (based on her novel), and Michael. She has written novels for adults and teenagers, books of humor, including How to Eat Like a Child, and essays. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Vogue, More, and The Huffington Post. Recently, she collaborated with Nora Ephron on a play, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, which ran for two years off-Broadway and has been performed in cities around the world, including Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and Sydney.