Monday, September 15, 2014

Hallie walks the short story tightrope

HALLIE EPHRON: It's that time again! What We're Writing Week and I'm first up.

My new book, Night Night, Sleep Tight, comes out in March. It's

done, "in the can" as it were. Only galleys remain to be edited.

I'm so happy with the cover. You're seeing it first. Glamorous, yes? I may have to buy myself a strand of fat pink pearls to celebrate the launch. (Almost as much fun as the green-glass swan I scored off eBay to celebrate the publication of Never Tell a Lie.)

Now I'm wrestling with a short story that will come out just before. And can I just say, writing a short story -- any short story -- is excruciating. I mean, it's so short! So little time to futz around. No cover for flabby plotting.

And this one is doubly hard because it's also a lead-in to my novel. It tells some of the back story from the viewpoint of a Joelen (pronounced Joe-Ellen) Nichols, the daughter of glamorous movie star Elenor "Bunny" Nichols.

So, here's the setup. It's 1963 and two fifteen-year-old girls -- a movie star's daughter and her daughter's best friend -- get all dressed up and hang out at a glamorous Hollywood party, only to get caught up in its tragic aftermath. Anyone who reads the short story will be privy to insights that people who only read the novel won't. Tricky: to intrigue and tease without giving anything away that will spoil the novel, and at the same time to create a satisfying standalone reading experience.

I'm still struggling with the ending, so I'll just give you a taste of the beginning:



   Throwing a party was a production for Joelen Nichol's mother, actress Elenor Nichols, and getting dressed was its first act. Joelen and her best friend, Deirdre Unger, sat on the plush white carpet watching Bunny (Elenor liked everyone including her daughter and legions of fans, to call her that) eye her own reflection in the full-length mirrors mounted on the sliding closet doors in her dressing room.
    The wall behind Bunny was mirrored, too, so she was presented with an infinitely repeating version of herself, silky black hair skinned back and the porcelain skin on her famous face shiny with skin cream, flanked by a receding chorus line of sparkling crystal, wall-mounted sconces.
    With a grand gesture, Bunny swept her arm out and slid open one of the closet doors. Then she stood for a few moments, tapping a lacquered nail against her chin, assessing the row of gowns. She performed even when her audience was just a pair of fifteen-year-olds.
    "What to wear, what to wear? Not too glitzy. It's just a party." She smiled--just the mouth, no eye crinkle."Even if it is one of my famously fabulous parties." From downstairs came the clink of plates, or maybe silverware, as caterers prepared for the onslaught.
   In the mirror, Joelen saw Deirdre had her hand over her mouth as if she were trying not to crack up. Joelen caught Deirdre's eye and gave her a warning head shake. Bunny never did comedy.
    "What about this old thing?" Bunny reached into the closet and pulled out a blue chiffon dress. The skirt swirled and Chanel No. 5 wafted from it as she whipped around to face Joelen and Deirdre. "Too demure? Or -- "
    Bunny broke off, startled at what sounded like something small and solid smacking into a a pane of glass. Bunny's gaze traveled toward the partly open door to the adjoining bedroom where the sound came from. Her smile broadened, this time reaching her eyes, and her pale cheeks flushed.
    She turned her attention back to the dress."Or maybe a bit clich├ęd? Right?" She nodded, agreeing with herself. "We are not Princess Grace."
    Chaste and regal Bunny was not. Most often, she was compared to Ava Gardner--not surprising since Bunny had shot from chorus girl to rising star after she captured the attention of Gardner's ex, Howard Hughes, who liked his women dark, sultry, and shapely.
So am I the only one who finds short stories a challenge? We have so much less rope to hang ourselves with than in a novel.

34 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

The cover for “Night Night, Sleep Tight” is exquisite . . . .
The story excerpt is really intriguing; it certainly makes me want to read both it and the book.

I’ve heard others comment on the challenges of writing a short story, but this beginning seems perfect to me . . . .

Edith Maxwell said...

Definitely get the pink pearls. Love the cover.

They are a challenge, for sure, but I like writing them. One plot, start to finish, and it doesn't take months to complete!

Ellen Kozak said...

Rule #1 for English language writers: never give a character a name that ends in "S." Guaranteed to have at least a few apostrophe errors. In real life, you might be stuck with that "S" but in fiction, you are the God of Names, so use your power to make life easier for yourself.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

The cover is stunning Hallie, and I can't wait to read this--especially since I was there for the very, very beginning!

I can't write a short story unless I have a perfect little plot idea--then it's not so hard. but your assignment sounds even more difficult...

Hallie Ephron said...

Ha ha ha! Laughing, Ellen, because in the book her name is Elenor Nichol! I changed it from Nichols to Nichol for exactly that reason.

Thanks, Joan and Edith. Though Edith, "It doesn't take months" for YOU.

Lucy helped me out plotting what happens at a critical point in the novel... which also figures in this short story. Hank helped me out with stakes... All writers should have the kind of fabulous writing buddies that I do.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

I keep trying to scroll shown to read more...grrr!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

ANd the cover--just haunts me. It is SO perfect!

Kathy Lynn Emerson said...

Great cover, Hallie. Can't wait to read the book. As for short stories? Yes--a challenge to write. Most of the ones I've written have taken me months to get right, in some cases longer than it would have taken me to write an entire novel!

Kathy/Kaitlyn

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Fabulous cover!

I find short stories harder, too. It's a different beast entirely...

Michele Dorsey said...

Get yourself those pink pearls! That is one classy cover. Looking forward to the short story in full. I'd rather write an entire novel than a short story and admire those who can.2352

Mary Sutton said...

I love that cover - will definitely pre-order this one!

Love the short story opening, too. I agree, short stories can be hard, but like Edith, I like the telling of one story, front to back, and it doesn't take months of hair-pulling.

Kathy Reel said...

Hallie, that cover is perfection! You definitely need the pink pearls as a publication gift to yourself. I can't wait to read this new book! And short stories. I think most people have the misconception that they are easier to write.

My comments will probably be sporadic this week, already missed two days on Saturday and Sunday. Traveling. In Key Largo last night and this morning. Leaving for Key West in a bit. Roberta, if you're in Key West this week, I'd like to buy you a drink.

Nancy Allen said...

Hallie, can't wait to read Night Night. Speaking of 'can't wait'--I'm excited to see all the JR ladies at Bouchercon 14! Pleeeeez check out the Bouchercon blog; I'm the author of today's blogpost, and it's a fan letter for Jungle Red. I worshipfully mention you & Hank by name. Cuz I love ya.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Kathy Reel, not in Key West this week--darn, would have loved a chat! Hope you have a wonderful visit--keep me posted. xo

Karen in Ohio said...

Hallie, you're such a tease. :-)

Love the cover, and yes, definitely get some fat pink pearls. It's really hard to tell real ones from fake, so they don't have to cost a lot of money, either. Bonus!

So fun to see you and Hank over the weekend, too.

Hallie Ephron said...

Hi, Karen - I do feel as if, after Chicago, we are old friends now.

Thanks, Nancy Allen, for the shout out on Bouchercon. The Reds are cooking up something hilariously wonderful ad special. Shhh.

Deborah Crombie said...

Hallie, GET THE PEARLS! The cover is fabulous! And I love the beginning of the short story.

I find short stories absolutely excruciating to write. I cannot come up with a short story plot. So Hallie, I can't wait to see what you've done with this. What an interesting concept, to give back story to the novel, with things that only those who've read the short story will know. Brilliant!

FChurch said...

I have to agree with those who say a short story can be satisfying if you've got that tight plot in mind. But, really, Hallie, I can see this opening Chapter One of a novel as easily as the beginning of a short story.

Kristopher said...

Oh my, this just made my day. I love that cover so much and I am so looking forward to a new Hallie Ephron book.

I still think of There Was An Old Woman fairly regularly. LOVED that book.

Lisa Alber said...

I love the cover, Hallie! And the excerpt has perked my interest further.

Writing short stories is excruciating for me too. I have a hard time coming up with plots that don't run amuck. Sometimes my first draft short stories read more like novel treatments ...

Rhys Bowen said...

The cover is great, Hallie and so is the start of your story. And yes, I sweat more over short stories than any novel. It's like painting a miniature.

Lisa Alber said...

Love that analogy, Rhys! Exactly.

Hallie Ephron said...

Now I happen to know Rhys IS a painter... Plus she's written a ton of short stories and knows from whence she speaks.

Oh, Lisa, I know just what you mean. I have to keep telling myself: woule you just cut to the chase!

Thank you SO MUCH, Kristopher!

Hallie Ephron said...

But you see FCHURCH: "I can see this opening Chapter One of a novel" is not really good news. Because, well, yeah! Exactly.

Julia said...

Fabulous cover, Hallie, and I agree with everyone: you have to get yourself some matching pearls!

As Hank said, I really wish I could read the rest of the story. I am terrible at short stories - I can never get the setting/characters and plot to gel in less than, I don't know, 35-40 pages? Last time I tried to write a story I got to 17,000 words and it was just warming up. Oops.

Reine said...

Delicious taste of Night Night Sleep Tight! I can picture Bunny and the party very well. It's pink pearl perfect, Hallie.

Hallie Ephron said...

Oh, Reine: Hugs, kisses. Thanks.

Hallie Ephron said...

Julia, you'd look great in a triple strand of those pearls, too.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Let's ALL get pearls!

Hallie Ephron said...

Actually, Hank, the thought did occur to me... especially when I saw that on bridesmaids dress web sites you can get entire sets of pearls for however many you need. Maybe I'll give them away when the book launches. Or throw them from my Rose Parade float a la New Orleans. :-)

J.A. Hennrikus said...

I love the cover! And agree about short stories. Even harder to thread the needle as a teaser for your novel, but a wonderful idea. Very inspiring.

Sherry Harris said...

I love your cover! And I certainly haven't seen any flabby plotting in your books. But writing short stories is not for the meek of heart!

Kathy Reel said...

I agree with Kristopher about There Was an Old Woman. One of my favorite reads last year.

Jackie Jones said...

I really like the cover, Hallie, and I definitely want to read more of that short story. Keep Writing!

Jackie J. (: