Writer Delia Ephron has a rare ability. She can take a difficult subject, say, the death of an aged parent, and use it to tell a warm, compassionate, even funny tale. This is exactly what she did in "Hanging Up," her first novel, which was just released by Ballantine in paperback ($12).
In a recent phone interview from her home in New York City, Ephron said "Hanging Up" is highly autobiographical.
"I like to write funny things about painful subjects," she said. "That's why I turned to this whole problem of your parents dying at a moment in life when you are feeling vulnerable yourself."
"Hanging Up" is about a woman named Eve Mozell, an adult woman in her 40s, during the last six weeks of her father's life. She is one of three daughters and has become the caretaker daughter. Crisis after crisis takes place concerning her father's physical and mental health. She keeps in touch with her sisters by phone. Her father calls her several times a day.
"He can't recognize his own pants but he'll never forget my phone number," Eve thinks.
She also thinks back to her earlier days and realizes that her family has lived out its life on the phone.
"It's also about sisters and how they love each other and drive each other crazy," said Ephron.
In the course of writing the book, did Ephron come to any understanding or peace about the aging process?
"No, I have not come to terms with it, it just gets worse. I don't know what to say about it to anybody. My advice is: Only look at yourself in the mirror when you're prepared to look."
While the fictitious Eve Mozell is dealing with her own difficulties looking in the mirror, her father is losing his mind.
"It's happening to a lot of aging baby-boomers who now have to deal with their parents 'dwindling,' " said Ephron.
She heard a social worker in an old folks' home once describe a patient by saying: "He has the dwindles."
"I thought it was a wonderfully descriptive term, at least as far as it goes in describing what happened to my Dad," said Ephron. She watched her father deteriorate in less than a ;year. The book's dedication reads: "To my father, Henry Ephron, 1911-1992."
"The book was a sort of coming to terms with my relationship with my father," she said. "I actually had a book contract to write a book that was going to be about telephone friendships and right after I had this contract my father started to phone me more and more...and I finally said to him: 'Dad, you're phoning me too much.'
"And he said, 'Oh, Dede, I live half my life in the real world and half my life on the telephone.' He passed the phone gene on to me."
Ephron said her father and my mother wrote screenplays together in the 1940s and 1950s including "Daddy Longlegs," "The Desk Set" and "There's No Business Like Show Business."
"He was a regular Hollywood guy," she said. "I heard the same stories over and over again. His favorite thing in the world was to tell stories...like the time Eleanor Roosevelt came backstage and said hello. Over time the story evolved to include drinks at Sardis and a great friendship."
Henry Ephron also passed a writing gene on to Delia who is the author of four books of non-fiction including "How to Eat Like a Child" and three children's books. Her three real-life siblings, including the famous Nora Ephron, also are writers.
"Nora and I have done several movies together including 'Mixed Nuts,' 'Sleepless in Seattle' and now a new one called 'Michael' with John Travolta, which will be out at Christmastime. And 'Hanging Up' may be a movie, too. We've just written a screen play."
Ephron said she was very happy for years writing non-fiction and never thought she'd write a novel. "The screenplays got me loosened up enough to try writing a novel," she said. A second is in the works.
Ephron said her young adult and children's books were the hardest to get published.
"It is the hardest business to crack, they were the hardest to write and I got almost no money. It's truly where you can drop right into a hole, even more than in adult publishing. But if you really want to write something nothing anyone ever says should ever stop you. If bad new stops you shouldn't be writing."