Tuesday, March 24, 2015

NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT mixes memoir, fact, fiction

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HALLIE EPHRON: Today’s the day! Night Night, Sleep Tight goes on sale. Officially.

This is the book I feel as if I’ve spent the last 20 years gearing up to write. It’s intensely personal, because as much as it’s a murder mystery and a suspense novel, it’s also a story about growing up in Beverly Hills.


In the book, Deirdre Unger is me. Sort of. Born when I was. Like me, she’s the daughter of a pair of married screenwriters, though she has a brother and I had three sisters. As a teenager, Deirdre was tall and gawky, flat-chested, painfully self conscious, and a lot smarter than she was savvy. All me. She moved to San Diego; I moved to the east coast.


Parts of this book began life as a memoir that I never finished. About three years ago, I dug out that old manuscript. It began: “Living in Beverly Hills was all about shoes.” Not a bad opening line, but what followed were a series of episodes about me and my best friend when we were about fifteen. Nicely written episodes. But unfortunately there was no story arc. No stakes. No point, really, other than a bunch of reminiscences.


What it needed, I realized now, was a murder.


Inspiration came from the 1958 murder of movie star Lana Turner’s mafia-connected boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato. I was ten, four years younger than Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, who confessed to stabbing Stompanato to death. The house where the murder took place was two blocks away from where I grew up.


Maybe that proximity is the reason I remember the news stories about that murder so vividly. The photographs of the pink bedroom and Johnny Stompanato lying dead on the plush carpeting. Of Cheryl Crane being led away by the police, her scarf-wrapped head bent.


I imagined what it must have been like that night for Cheryl, growing more and more frightened as Stompanato beat and threatened her mother. I could visualize myself in her place, formulating a plan, going into the kitchen, pulling open a drawer and selecting the longest knife, then climbing the stairs to her mother’s bedroom, and screwing up her courage to act. She told the police that when she entered the bedroom, Stompanato rushed her and ran into the knife. It severed his aorta. It was an amazing story. A miracle, really.


After school I’d ride my bike over to that corner house and stare up at the second-floor windows where I imagined the murder had taken place. Later, I imagined what it must have been like for Cheryl to live with the burden of what she’d been through. Even though the killing was ruled justifiable homicide, for the rest of her life she’d be dodging paparazzi. Stared at by strangers. She’d never sought fame but she was forever saddled with it.
 

I took the broad outlines of the murder and the theme of fame festering into notoriety, and bent them into a fictional tale of two girls who are best friends. One is the daughter of a glamorous movie star, the other the daughter of screenwriters. A murder happens after a party at the movie star’s house when the best friend is sleeping over. Both girls’ lives are forever changed


Twenty years later they are reunited in the aftermath of a new murder. This time it’s someone in Deirdre’s life.

To find out more, find me! My schedule of events is on my web site. I'll be around and about in New England and in Southern California, where the story is set. Book launch at Brookline Booksmith TONIGHT!

Today's question: What were the sensational news stories that captured your imagination when you were growing up?

47 comments:

Edith Maxwell said...

I was so excited to see the book pop onto my Kindle this morning, Hallie! I grew up not far from you, and I suppose I should have heard of Cheryl Crane, but I don't remember it. My parents would talk about the Lindbergh kidnapping several decades in the past. I remember hearing about Charles Whitman, the guy who shot up a Texas campus from a tower, and the Manson murders a few years later. Congrats on release day!

Joan Emerson said...

Happy book birthday, Hallie . . . .
Sensational news stories? The one that instantly comes to mind is Sharon Tate.

Hallie Ephron said...

Oh, the Manson murders. I can't drive up into Benedict Canyon without summoning up Charles Manson. Talk about evil and the ghost of poor Sharon Tate and the 5 other victims.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

whoo-hoo Hallie! Hooray for the book birthday!

As for sensational stories, Mary Jo Kopechne (who died in a car accident in Martha's Vineyard) lived in my home town in New Jersey. I was in my teens--that was a shocking and tragic story. Weren't you clever to find this route into your novel Hallie!

Karen in Ohio said...

It's finally here! Happy book birthday, Hallie. You must be gnawing your fingernails about this. Stay calm, and carry on.

The Cincinnati Strangler was the terror of elderly women here, a cab driver named Posteal Laskey, who strangled seven women in their 80's. I lived in Hamilton, about 35 miles up the road, but that was close enough. When my college Police Science class made a field trip to Cincinnati, in addition to a morgue visit we also were shown file crime scene slides of many of his victims. One of the two things I'll never forget from that winter evening in 1969. The other is the smell of dead bodies at the morgue, overlaid with the not-very-effective masking attempts of ozone lamps.

Hallie Ephron said...

So sad, Mary Jo Kopechne. Can't hear "Chappaquiddick" without thinking of her.

Hallie Ephron said...

Wow. Karen. That's got to go in a book. Or short story.

I hadn't heard of the Cincinnati Strangler. Goes to show proximity is all.

Kristopher said...

Thanks for the additional background on Night Night Sleep Tight, Hallie.

I'm glad we have this suspense tale, but I for one would also have enjoyed the memoir.

I posted my review of Photoplay (the prequel) on the blog this morning:
http://wp.me/p2Rj7R-17H

Plan to have the review of the novel up later in the week. Enjoy Launch Week!

Deb Romano said...

Hallie, I remember vividly the Crane/Stompanato incident,although I've always lived in CT. I remember my parents talking about it; I think they were Lana Turner fans.

When I was in fourth grade, one of my classmates and friends was playing in the front yard at her grandparents' house, when a drunk driver went off the road, into the front yard and hit her, killing her instantly. That was in the headlines in my hometown for some time, and was my first experience of the death of someone I knew well.

The assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy shocked all of us forever.

Gram said...

The Rosenburg executions. Grisly minute by minute details in the newspapers. I am not now a fan of the death penalty.

Kay said...

My next read - after the one I'm on now. Really looking forward to it. I know when I read the synopsis, I thought of the Lana Turner/Cheryl Crane thing.

And what I remember - Patty Hearst. That whole kidnapping and her picture with the gun. Being from Texas, I vaguely knew about JFK being shot and the UT Tower shootings, but I was a little young to know much.

Mary Sutton said...

Congrats, Hallie. I'll have to pick this up stat. Sounds fantastic.

For me, I think the most sensational murder case was OJ Simpson. I was working in PR during the trial and every day, my co-workers from California talked about nothing but OJ and Nicole. Hours and hours (and I do mean hours) of Monday-morning quarterbacking. Kind of unreal.

Margaret Turkevich said...

the Kent State shootings, May 4, 1970.

Congrats on your new book!

Denise Ann said...

This was the story for me -- Cheryl was my hero. My alcoholic abusive father was also a devoted reader of the New York Daily News. That paper's Sunday edition always had a murder. I believe that was what originally interested me in crime.

Plus, I would have loved to eliminate my father.

The other story that really affected me was the Hearst kidnapping and subsequent SLA mess. I was living in northern California at the time.

I have two very vivid memories -- when "Tanya" sent her manifesto, the newsman on the radio did not know how to pronounce "ageist" nor could he figure out the meaning. (She said her boy friend was a "sexist ageist pig").

We were living in Martinez, CA and it was in that jail that Cinque was kept. I was often alone at home with my oldest daughter, and we would walk to the library, passing the jail. I could not get enough of that story.

Hallie, I know you are going to knock our socks off with this one!

Susan said...

Good luck with your new book, Hallie. I started reading it last night. I remember that murder involving Lana Turner and her daughter because I was a big movie fan. But I also remember Charles Manson's group and the Richard Speck murders. Speck lived in our town for a while. His murders in Chicago were the first mass killings I ever knew about.

Debi Huff said...

Happy Book Birthday, Hallie! I have been looking forward to this one and can't wait to get it started. I remember all the murdered that were mentioned (unfortunately). I, too, would love to read your memoir. Have fun on your book tour.

Karen Dodd said...

Wow, Hallie, I can't wait to get this newest book of yours! The background info you've provided is fascinating and brings back many memories of an era we share. Although I grew up in Eastern Canada, the incidents of your real life were great fodder for us ordinary folks!

Congratulations; I look forward to another great read from you, my friend!

Hallie Ephron said...

Thanks, Kristopher. Love BOLO Books - just posted a link in FB and Twitter.

Rhys said...

Hallie, I'm so excited for you. And what a tour schedule! Take plenty of protein bars, mini cheeses, dried fruit etc to keep up your energy and stamina.

I think it will be a huge success. I hope you have some radio coming up to talk about the book!

I'm cheering for you.

Hallie Ephron said...

Deb Romano, boy that's something that would be hard to forget.

Mark Baker said...

Congrats!!!

Hallie Ephron said...

OJ, Kent State, Patty Hearst... not a crime but I also remember Jayne Mansfield's horrific car crash. And one I wasn't even old enough to know about, James Dean's.

Hallie Ephron said...

Thanks, Rhys!
NUTS! As in that's the protein I like to bring with.

Hallie Ephron said...

Denise Ann -- I forgot about
"Tanya"...

Pat D said...

I guess the most sensational news story I remember happening when I was a kid was Marilyn Monroe's death. I felt so sorry for her; still do.
Can't wait to read your book, Hallie!

Deborah Crombie said...

Hallie, I'm so excited for you! And I loved hearing more of the inspiration for the novel, although I knew bits of it. (I do hope you write that memoir some day...)

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Congratulations, Hallie! Happy book birthday!

For me it's O.J. Simpson and the Columbine shootings.

Elizabeth Lyon said...

Congratulations, Hallie, can't wait to read your Night, Night...

I lived in Phoenix, AZ from age 9-21. I don't recall any murder, but what stuck with me was news of a religious cult that believed the "end of the world" would happen on a particular date; members sold all of their possessions. My mother laughed and said "That'll happen when Camelback Mountain stands up and walks away." Selling their worldly goods or the end of the world?

Fast forward many decades and as an editor I was contacted by a survivor of the Jonestown massacre who thought he'd write a book....

Kristopher said...

Thanks Hallie. Glad to do my small part to spread the word.

Tammy said...

Out here on the west coast, the sensational murders I remember from my childhood were those of the Nightstalker, Richard Ramirez. To this day I won't sleep with ground-floor windows unlatched.

Happy book birthday! I'll try to get to see you here in LA!

Kim said...

I am fascinated reading everyone's accounts of crimes they remember - this is also educational for me since my new novel takes place in 1971 and the main character is a woman debilitated by the news of these kinds of crimes. Your personal responses are all so enlightening.

And Hallie, huge congratulations! Wishing you a fabulous pub day and many many many sales!!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

HAPPPY BOOK DAY!! SO exciting!

I covered the missing and murdered children serial killer in Atlanta back in the 80's. SO terrifying.

And of course, riveted to THE JINX.

Susan said...

Congratulations on the new book, Hallie! Can't wait to read it.

When I was a teenager in Columbus, Ohio, there was a guy the media dubbed the West Side slasher because he abducted young women from the West side of town, cut all their clothes off, talked to them sometimes for hours, raped them, and then deposited them back in a safe place. When he was finally apprehended, it turned out to be a neighbor boy I had known for years. He planned to study either medicine or theology. He had been giving a pregnant friend of mine rides to and from night school. (Back in the dark days when that was how a pregnant girl had to finish high school.) It became apparent he suffered schizophrenia, and found himself powerless over the voices in his head. That one left a big impression on me because it struck so close to home.

S.W. Hubbard said...

Congratulations, Hallie! I can't wait to read it. You were born to write this book! I think the crime that sticks with me the most was the Etan Patz disappearance. It happened just before I moved to NYC as a young woman. His adorable little face stared down at me from every light post, every subway car, every deli window. Even the most cynical New Yorkers were transfixed by what happened to this child. Now, over 35 years later, a man who confessed is on trial for his murder. But I don't think he did it.

Anonymous said...

Hallie, congratulations! I look forward to reading the newest book next week, after I finish my book club read for next Monday. My memories of the UT Tower shootings were brought to the fore today. We lived in Austin and had both friends and family on campus when they happened. It was really scary, and huge news for some time. But I also remember the Cheryl Crane "situation" rather well. She was only a few weeks older than I, and I wondered at the time how those strange and horrible things in her life must have felt, and what would happen to her. Gail in Seguin

Brenda Buchanan said...

Congratulations, Hallie! I hope you are having a wonderful day celebrating this one!

Kaye Barley said...

I've been waiting for this - Yay!!!!!!

Will we see you at Bouchercon??

Pam Christie said...

Being a Jersey girl, the Son of Sam murders in the mid 70s gave me the creeps. Just before these stories broke my husband and I had a spider plant which we called Sam (yes, we named out plants :-) ). When we rooted one of the plants' "babies", we called it "Son of Sam". A little dark humor. Have a fun tour and I bet some of your childhood friends will show up at a couple of your signings.

storytellermary said...

My Shakespeare students talked me into turning on the radio for the O.J. verdict, after which we read Othello and recognized similarities between Othello's final lines and O.J.'s " I have nothing to do with Nicole's murder. I loved her; always have and always will. If we had a problem, it's because I loved her so much."
We had discussion of the Genovese murder and the lack of action by others.
. . . and I was in my own high school English class discussing Huck Finn when Kennedy was assassinated.
Congratulations on a new book, and on starting us all thinking. Hugs!

Deb Romano said...

So many of the replies today after my morning response have reminded me of incidents I haven't thought about in many years!

Because you shared parts of your novel with us over the past months I have been eagerly looking forward to the publication date. You can be sure I'll get to the bookstore as soon as I can, Hallie, and I wish you the best with it.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Congratulations on the new book, Hallie! I love hearing the story behind the story.

I still think occasionally about an incident, maybe 1968-69, that gave me nightmares. Two hitchhikers in Montana killed a traveling salesman who'd given them a ride and ate part of him. We lived in MT, of course, and my father was a traveling salesman. That incident cured him of picking up hitchhikers!

Lenita said...

Two that really freaked us out in L. A. were the murder of Elizabeth Short, the "Black Dahlia", in 1947, when I was a teenager. It's still the longest unsolved murder in L. A. history. The second was Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, who committed gruesome murders in 1984 and '85. Someone else commented on bedroom windows--yeah, through two sweltering summers those windows remained firmly shut, making for some uncomfortable (but safe, we hoped) nights.

Kathy Reel said...

Hallie, I hope you see my well wishes for your wonderful book birthday tonight. I've been gone with the grandgirls all day and just now had a chance to get online. Before I left the house this morning, I received my hardback copy of Night Night, Sleep Tight. Even though I was lucky enough to read it early, I wanted a hardback edition for you to sign next fall at Bouchercon. So, I was excited that my pre-order got it here today. Hope your day has been full of fun and praise, as you well deserve.

There was a murder in my hometown that has stayed with me and about which I've always wanted to write. Let me just say it involves a bedridden mother confessing to murdering her daughter with two of the granddaughters in the house. The murdered woman's husband was a friend of my father's.

Ann Mettert said...

One that I remember is Claudine Longet killing her boyfriend. And Andy Williams being so loyal and helping her anyway.

Jack Getze said...

Hallie we all know this is going to be the Big One. Congrats and good breaks!
I grew up on the east side of LA and remember a man who robbed supermarkets while dressed in a helmet and black crash suit. The newspapers called him "The Man from Mars." He was eventually shot and killed by police a few miles from where I lived.

Karen said...

I grew up in Cleveland, and although the murder of Marilyn Sheppard occurred the year I was born (1954) it was in and out of the news for years, what with her husband Sam being tried. convicted, retried and then acquitted (in 1966, when I was 12). Years later I learned there was an actor/playwright of the same name (Sam Shepard - different spelling) and I had the two people confused in my mind for a long time.

When I was in high school someone I knew beat his girlfriend to death and then dumped her body near the Cleveland Zoo. He wasn't named in the papers, being a juvenile, but the facts they did print (he drove a small foreign car, the high school he attended) had friends thinking the victim was me until I showed up at school on Monday. That was a weird feeling indeed.

Rebecca said...

Hallie, congrats! I was too swamped with work The Day Before when you asked for remedies for nausea and insomnia. I do hope you found some bland food and rest. My mother always turned to Saltines and Coca-Cola for nausea. I think she stayed up watching Jack Paar and then Johnny Carson, whether for insomnia or laughs I don't know. The book is getting swell reviews, so reassure your tummy.