Monday, November 18, 2013

It's "What We're Writing" Week... Hallie Monday

So this is the first of a new feature on Jungle Red: a week of posts on "What We're Writing."

Hear the latest from:
Hallie Ephron Monday
Hank Phillippi Ryan Tuesday
Rhys Bowen Wednesday
Lucy Burdette Thursday
Deborah Crombie Friday
Julia Spencer Fleming Saturday
Susan Elia MacNeal Sunday

HALLIE EPHRON: I AM(!) writing the final 50 pages of a book set in Beverly Hills where I grew up in the early 60s. Yes, I went to Beverly Hills High School. Oh, all right -- classmates included Richard Dreyfuss and Albert Brooks (these are
their pictures in my 1965 yearbook). 

But seriously, folks, back then Beverly Hills was just another neighborhood. Well, another a wealthy neighborhood. But nothing like it is today.

Whenever I admit to someone that I grew up there, they perk
up and say, "Oh, 90210!" I remind them: We didn't use zip codes back the olden days. Ditto no pantyhose. We wore skirts to school, nylons, girdles, and padded bras. And we smoked. It was a gentler time, just a scoche before marijuana and drugs became widely available and long before anyone had even coined the term "safe sex." We used the word "scoche."

The main character in my work in progress (working title: Night Night, Sleep Tight) is Deirdre Unger. She left Beverly Hills, as I did, after graduating high school in '65. Unlike me, her best friend back then was a movie star's daughter who dropped out of sight after she murdered her mother's gangster boyfriend. (This may sound familiar to some of you.) 

Twenty years later, in 1985, Deirdre drives home to help her aging father, a screenwriter (as my father was) who still lives in the house where she grew up. She doesn't know it, but she's about reconnect with her one-time best friend and encounter another murder, this time even closer to home.

So here it is, TA DAH! A preview from the opening pages of my work in progress, working title "Night, Night, Sleep Tight" --

By the time Deirdre Unger reached the Sunset Boulevard exit off the 405 and sat at the light, waiting to turn toward Beverly Hills, her stomach burned. The egg McMuffin she'd wolfed down an hour earlier had been a mistake. She took a sip of what was left of tepid coffee. It tasted mostly of waxy cardboard and only made her stomach seethe.

"How hot is it, kiddies?" The voice on the radio sounded maniacally overjoyed. "So hot trees are whistling for dogs!" A buzzer sounded, then hollow laughter. "Seriously, it's hot out there so drink plenty of water. Red flag warnings have been issued for today and tomorrow. Heat and dry winds are expected to turn Los Angeles and Ventura County mountains and valleys into a tinderbox."

Yippee. Dierdre snapped the radio off and gripped the wheel. Another reason to have stayed home in San Diego.

At last there was a break in the traffic and she turned onto Sunset. Accelerated. All the time asking herself why on earth was she doing this? Couldn't her brother Henry have stepped up to the plate for once in his life? He'd been living in that house, sponging off their father ever he dropped out of college. The least he could have done was offered to help Dad get the place cleaned up and ready for viewing.

But no, Henry was "tied up" -- probably his euphemism for all night poker games or hanging out with his biker buddies at Neptune's Net.

The loud blat came from a passing car that she'd nearly sideswiped. Deirdre jerked her car back in its lane. Get a grip, she told herself. Besides, what was the point of churning over someone else's mishegas. Her father had asked for her help and, good daughter that she was, she'd agreed to roll up her sleeves and do what she could. Just a weekend, not a lifetime thank God.

No big deal, right? she thought as she unclenched her teeth and loosened her grip on the steering wheel. Speed -- that was what she needed.

She crossed into the left lane and floored it. She felt power surge as the car automatically downshifted and shot forward. Her Mercedes SL hugged the road as she pushed it around a bend, weaving between cars on the windy two-lane road. She braked into the curves and accelerated coming out. Forty, forty-five, fifty.

The end of her crutch slid across the passenger seat, the
cuff banging against the door. Her water bottled rolled off the passenger seat.

She allowed the car to drift into the right lane coming around a tight curve and then had to slam on the brakes behind a red bus that straddled both lanes and poked along at twenty miles an hour, idling just outside walled estates. STARLINE TOURS was painted in slanting white script across the back.

She gritted her teeth and crept along behind the bus, past pink stucco walls that surround the 
estate where Jayne Mansfield had supposedly once lived. It had been a big deal when the actress died, had to have been at least twenty years ago. And still tourists lined up to gawp at her wall. Breasts the size of watermelons and a car accident that decapitated her -- those were the kinds of achievements that merited lasting celebrity in Hollywood. That or kill someone.

In her less snarky moments, Deirdre sympathized deeply with Jayne Manfield's children. She thought there was a daughter about her own age, and Deirdre could easily imagine how painful it was for her, grieving and at the same time having her mother's notoriety stuck to her like a bad smell.

For some reason she never understood, buses like the one now belching exhaust in front of her now, used to pull up in front of her family's house, its passengers glued to the windows. Deirdre liked to dress up in her mother's silver fox stole and wave at the bus from the window seat of their dining room. She perfected an open handed, tilt-to-tilt wave like one of those gowned-up girls in the Rose Parade. Back then she could dream of being in the royal court. Queen, even. But beauty queens didn't have withered legs.

Most of her parents' neighbors lacked the star power to warrant a bus stop. In the flats between Sunset and Santa Monica, notables were TV actors, writers, and agents, tucked in like plump raisins among the nouveau riche non-celebrity types who'd moved to Beverly Hills, so they'd say, because of the public schools. You had to live north of Sunset to score neighbors like Lucille Ball or Jack Benny or Milton Berle. Move up even further, into the canyons to where one of those ultra-modern, ultra-expensive homes to find yourself with neighbors like Frank Sinatra
and Fred Astaire.

Finally the bus pulled over enough so that Deirdre and all the cars backed up behind her could pass. A little further along, she cruised past the familiar brown shield with gold letters, "Beverly Hills."
After that, the twisty road straightened into a divided parkway and the speed limit dropped to thirty, as if chastened by the wealth surrounding it. There was not a single pedestrian on the sidewalks. Not a soul crossed in the crosswalks or waited at bus stops.
 So here's my question as I try to keep anachronisms from popping up in 1985: Is it okay to have bottled water in a chapter set in 1985? And what else besides cell phones and and spray-on tanner do I need to be sure I don't try to insert into a 1985 narrative with flashbacks to '65?


  1. Well, bottled water has been around since about 1976, but not particularly popular until 1989 . . . Perrier was introduced in urban areas in 1977, so it’s definitely possible that your Dierdre could have a bottle of water, but not in those clear plastic bottles which didn’t come along until after 1985 . . . .

    The story sounds fascinating, and I am looking forward to reading it . . . .

  2. I can't wait to read this, Hallie! What a fun week.

    No internet, of course. And when you said the 405, I had to think about when that was built. I think not in 1965 but yes in 1985. But you've probably already looked that up. Not sure about cordless house phones - maybe not quite yet?

  3. It's amazing to think how much we take for granted, things that become food for thought in period pieces. The 405, upgraded to "freeway" designation in 1957 is definitely okay, but cordless phones didn't show up until 1994. [Dierdre could, however, have a Princess phone.] And while there was no Internet, Dierdre could have a Commodore 64, which was introduced in 1982 . . . .

  4. Johnny "Stomp" and Lana Turner is a great story all by itself. This sounds very good, Hallie. Did you really know the daughter Cheryl who stabbed him?

  5. Or an early Apple, definitely around in 1985 because my husband had one at home.

  6. Jack - No, I did not. But they lived around the corner from us. Cheryl Crane was a few years older and I was always always fascinated by her story. But my novel isn't about her at all. Just inspired by... her situation.

    And I just found out she's written a mystery novel. THE DEAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL. Sleuth is a realtor to celebrities. Looks like fun, and her cover photo is knock down dead GORGEOUS. No surprise there.

  7. Now I know what you meant when you said you wished you'd kept notes.

    It's easier to remember childhood years as opposed to those young adult years when daily life starts accelerating the days, months and years into a blur.

  8. I love the idea of this week of sneak-peeks. I'm sure we all are lacking for some books to anticipate and read. ;)

    I am very intrigued by this opening Hallie. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  9. Hallie -- You should contact Cheryl, ask her guest blog. What stories she could tell.

  10. Congratulations, Hallie, on a great opening -- you get better and better! This sounds complex and fascinating.
    When I taught 5th grade in 1987, I used to bring cans of Perrier to school.
    Have you read any of Susan Shreve's works about polio (she had polio as a child)? -- I am assuming there is polio in this character's background.
    This idea for a week of posts is super-terrific!!

  11. Okay, now I know I will be reading your book, Hallie! (I'll probably spend the next few days thinking to myself "didn't I just start reading a book about someone named Deirdre? WHY can't I FIND it? I hope it's not a library book!!!")

    The first time I ever bought bottled water was in 1978 but I was on vacation in another country and we were avoiding the local water. I don't remember when bottled water became popular here, and I don't remember if the bottles were glass or plastic.

    I vividly remember the incident you referred to. I read - and enjoyed - Cheryl Crane's book. (I hope there's more to come.)

  12. I love JRW's blog but this week will be even better. What a great idea to tempt us all. Thanks!

  13. Ah, polio... Denise Ann you are so clever! But no. Not polio.

  14. Sure, Perrier came in bottles, but cars were not set up to hold liquids as much then. Remember those little cup holders you hooked over the edge of the window? They were not very stable, though, and a tippy bottle could conceivably get dislodged in dicey traffic.

    There were "portable" computers, but they were not especially portable. Osborne and Compaq were probably the most popular, but I'm not sure someone who needed crutches to walk could have hauled one around very easily. I had a laptop that was pretty small, and heavy as a brick, with no Internet access, but I think that was several years later, maybe closer to 1990.

    I don't think we had cordless phones for a long time, but according to Wikipedia, they started to show up in 1980, with Sony being the preferred brand. We actually had the phone pictured on this page, but I have no memory of when that was.

    Car phones might have been around, for very wealthy people, but they would have been enormous, almost train case-sized. Remember train cases, aka makeup cases? My mother literally filled one with makeup when she traveled back then.

    Hallie, thanks for the tease. Can't wait to read more! Love this idea.

  15. Apropos of nothing but that photo, I don't see Jayne Mansfield in Mariska Hargitay at all, do you?

  16. Just two editing questions.
    "For some reason she never understood, buses like the one now belching exhaust in front of her now,..." "Now" and "now" in the same phrase?
    "Her water bottled rolled off the passenger seat." "Bottle"?

    Sounds intriguing.

  17. Ah, the down side of exposing not-final draft to a smart group of readers...

  18. I love this! What a fun week this will be. Great opening, Hallie, I'm hooked!!!

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  20. I love the "dated" details everyone is coming up with here. The one thing that comes to mind for me is cassette players in cars. I wore mine out in high school in the early 1980s, but when I was younger, I know we had an eight-track player in the car ... but I'm not sure they were around in 1965. Have fun with your research! This is a terrific teaser, Hallie. I can't wait to read the entire book.

  21. Hallie, such fun!!! Love the premise. And now curious about the leg... and everything else. Love the setting, too.

    Parts of my last book were set in late nineties, and the research drove me crazy for the same reasons. All those things we take for granted but we don't quite remember when they became popular... It's been much easier writing parts of books set in the 1890s! Or during WWII, or the sixties (my favorite, I think.)

    Can't wait to read more!

  22. It's grand that the "Reds" are displaying their works in progress for all to see. This is a fascinating subject, Hallie. A winner.

    I'm eager to see what the other Reds are working on.

  23. So interesting, Debs -- 1965 has been easier to write than 1985 in terms of the details. Because '85 doesn't seem so long ago and yet SO MUCH that we take for granted has changed. It was possible then to have just a single copy of a document that could get lost or stolen. So unlikely now. Just for instance. Just if we were looking for devices to move the plot forward.

  24. Well, okay, since somebody broke the ice: you describe the windy road. I read it like the noun wind (air blowing around), but I think you meant winding, like with lots of curves.

  25. Whoa, I love this new feature! What a treat to read an excerpt from your WIP, Hallie! I'm very intrigued by the word "withered." Backstory!

    Did we have ATMs in 1985? I'm sure we did, but only at the banks, not everywhere.

    CDs had just come out for music. I remember that seemed futuristico too cool. Were there CD players in cars yet? Hmm...

    The thing I remember about bottled water was that it seemed stupid. Why would anyone pay for water?

  26. There were ATM's in 1985, including at places other than banks. A high school friend of mine worked with the one of the biggest banks here in Cincinnati to develop their ATM system, and that was in the late 70's, very early 80's.

    I know this because he gave me and my oldest daughter t-shirts with the ATM logo on it, which was an owl, and I have photos of my daughter, somewhere between age 7 and 9, wearing hers. She was born in 1970.

  27. When I moved to Long Beach in 1983 the news broadcasts called the freeways by their name. I used to get so confused as I was only used to the numbers. Then they changed the 11 to the 110 and the 7 to the 710. Most of the news broadcast now use the numbers first and then maybe the name.

  28. Hm… Hallie,

    I remember all of these things, events, and people you mention. I didn't live in Beverly Hills then, although I did a couple of years later after I finished high school in Boston. I lived on Cañon with a friend who had dated King Hussein until he found out she was Jewish.

    Her mother lived with her and served as housekeeper and nanny to her little boy (who looked surprisingly like Hussein in every way except hair and skin color). We shared the house like a strange little family. She drove me out of my mind with strange demands. I suspected she did the same with her son. A number of years later I heard on the news that he had killed her. When I learned that he had hit her in the head with a pipe as she slept in their house in Encino, I was certain of it.

    Other than that—unless you also know her—we have a lot in common. Some of it is much lighter, happier, and fun. Shortly after I moved to West Hollywood from the house on Cañon, I was in my first film with Richard Dreyfuss. We were both teenagers. I have a still shot from the film with the two of us in it. Since you also knew him back then, I will e-mail it to you, probably the contact e-mail on your webpage?

  29. Reine, you are like one of those Russian dolls - just when you think you've found the last one something new pops out!

  30. Reine!Your life....

    And wow. Instant novel. How very sinister..

  31. While you guys are perseverating on windy, no one noticed that Sunset Boulevard is not two lines wide, it's FOUR lanes, pretty much end to end.

  32. Hallie, how did you know I had a Russian grandmother? I didn't even know until the 1940 census came out.

    Sorting photos... only 6 from that film so far. One with him hiding behind me! Oh well. I'll send that, so you'll know I'm not making it up. :)

  33. Hank... I know. Despite all I reveal, that one is a bit scary... could be a terrific mystery novel...

  34. Hallie just emailed it to you at Hallie AT HALLIEEPHRON DOT COM

  35. Great start to the week Hallie--now we're all intimidated:). Maybe we can just post more chapters of your novel each day....

  36. Got it REINE -- you were adorable! In the cast notes it says you played Muffin.

  37. In your dreams, Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib... They get to rake you over the coals on Thursday.

  38. OMG, Reine, I want to see you as Muffin, too!

    Good job, Hallie, and thanks for breaking the ice with the copy edits. Now the rest of us don't have to worry:-)

  39. Yes, I was the totally adorable Muffin. Some people still call me that. It was fun for a little while, but after a couple of years I was ready to go to college. I thank Auntie-Mom for that every day.

  40. PS: I think my character's name was Ethel? Everyone called me Muffin.

  41. I absolutely can't wait to read this, Hallie.

    It is funny to think about how many day-to-day elements have changed since 1985. I was a (young) grown up in 1985! With my first professional job! How can it seem so...historical now?

  42. Debs, just sent you a copy.

    Hallie, you know I need that book. Can't resist setting or the events that inspired the story. I will preorder as soon as it's available.

  43. Yeah, Lucy. Sheesh. Whose idea was THIS???

  44. Charlie's Angels ran from 1976-1981 and they all had a car phone. It was tucked between the front bucket seats and the handset was probably a little larger than a princess phone handset - if that helps.