Delia Ephron’s Siracusa is a page turner about love, marriage, motherhood, friendship and travel; it’s also a bit of a mystery, as in: which of these deeply humanly flawed individuals will do what and to whom? We talked to novelist and screenwriter Ephron about her latest....
Amazon Book Review: What was the inspiration for Siracusa?
Delia Ephron: Siracusa itself. I was there on vacation – it’s this amazing falling-down city in Sicily on the spectacular Ionian Sea. The ancient section is all stone – the Romans knocked down all the trees in 212 B.C. (for lumber to build ships) and paved it. It’s a stone paradise. Or is it? The first day I thought, This is the most magical place I’ve ever been. The second day I thought, I could go mad here. When I got home I wrote twenty pages of a book about two couples and a child on a vacation that is careening toward disaster.
ABR: Did you know the story right away?
DE: I knew it would be about deceit and betrayal in marriage. There’s a line I wrote early on that told me exactly where I was going: “Couples collaborate, hiding even from each other who is calling the shots and who is along for the ride.” I knew each couple – Lizzie and Michael, Taylor and Finn -- would keep secrets from each other and sometimes from themselves that would ultimately send them spinning.
ABR: The catalyst for much of what happens in the book is Snow, the pre-teen daughter of one of the couples. In a way, she has the most power in the book. Discuss. (!)
DE: Snow – Finn and Taylor’s daughter -- is ten years old and a mystery. Is she shy or is she cunning? Is she manipulating or being manipulated? As the plot of Siracusa becomes more and more tense and the betrayals and deceits multiply, she moves to the heart of the story. As a reader you don’t know whether to love her, protect her, or fear her.
ABR: Her relationship with her mother is powerful. Would you like to comment on that?
DE: There is fusion between Taylor and Snow. Some of us know moms like that. Lizzie doesn’t have kids. So there is the conflict in how Lizzie and Taylor see the world and understand children, and how they see and understand Snow.
ABR: You are a screenwriter – You’ve Got Mail, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Michael, Hanging Up – and this book, while easily see-able as a movie (which it may be soon), is also very much a novel. Can you talk about your “process” – writing one vs. the other, and why you think this is a novel first?
DE: Stories tell me what they are. There was never any question in my mind it was a novel. For one thing, I sat right down and started it in a burst of inspiration. Second, it plays off of the classic Rashomon narrative. Lizzie, Michael, Taylor, and Finn each tell their version of what happened on the trip in their own voices. That was for me a literary imperative. Siracusa is a page-turner, driven by character and plot, but I wanted to explore ideas too. The book has been optioned for film. When I write the screenplay, I have to find the movie in the book, a whole other problem. The movie will be the director’s creative work at least as much as it will be mine.
ABR: Why are you interested in marriage?
DE: A psychoanalyst once told me that chemistry is psychology. That two people falling in love across a crowded room is really each of them spotting his or her perfect neurotic match. I find that chilling.
ABR: What was the hardest thing about the book?
DE: Lizzie, Michael, Taylor and Finn each tell their stories. They each see and know things, and find out things the others don’t. The challenge was to switch voices but always to keep the story moving forward. The reader has to be propelled.
ABR: Without giving too much away, can you say something about how and when you knew the book needed to end the way it did?
The novel is called SIRACUSA. Which I knew meant something big had to happen there. I always start with a title. But I truly didn’t know what would happen when I started writing. I knew it would be a dark tale, an adventure for me as a writer. I set the characters out on this trip, this Italian vacation, with complications and secrets, and with very specific personalities and histories (Lizzie and Finn, married to others, had once been lovers). And then because of this and because it’s about travel – where intimacies are intensified -- and because Siracusa is a very specific place (another character, really), things started to happen. At some point, I went “oh whoa,” this is going to happen. In fact, this has to happen. This, of course, is the biggest twist to the story. I’m not revealing it. I hope people will read the book to discover and be shocked.
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