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Delia Ephron Speaks: Ambition, Love and the Hair Report

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DELIA EPHRON
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When the Massachusetts Conference for Women asked me if I would like to interview one of their Breakout Session Speakers -- the great Delia Ephron -- not only did I squeak like a little girl who was just told she could eat the whole gigantic rainbow swirly lollipop, but I set off an entire domino effect of squeaks as I told the women in my life about my good fortune.

First came the squeaks -- then came Super Storm Sandy. And like everybody else who was told to evacuate Lower Manhattan, Delia took shelter at a friend's home, where she was kind enough to grant me this interview.

Dori Hartley: Outside of the Massachusetts Conference for Women, what are some of the other conferences that you've spoken at recently?

Delia Ephron: Well, I did the Pennsylvania Conference for Women in October, and I'll soon be touring Charleston, Virginia Beach, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

DH: What topics will you be speaking about at the conference on Dec. 6 in Boston?

DE: I talk about what you need to do when you need to change direction in life, finding the bravery. My novel, The Lion is In, is about this. It's about three women on the run and the lion that changes their lives. It's about what they can run from and what they can't. And I talk about my own life and how I dealt with the turns I needed to find the nerve to make. Sometimes you have to get in the cage with the lion.

DH: Earlier this year you published The Lion is In. Tell me a little bit more about your book. How's it going?

DE: Oh, my editor calls my book a cross between Thelma and Louise and Born Free. And it's going great, fabulous. It's really fun to talk about it and to meet other women... The Jewish Book Festival is so supportive of authors.

DH: What occupies your time these days?

DE: Right now, it's the touring, because this month up until Thanksgiving I'm pretty much doing nothing but giving talks in various places about The Lion Is In, which is actually a blast. Then I have a contract for another novel and I have to finish the research. I just can't start the book (laughs).

DH: As of right now, we don't know who's going to win the election, but by the time you'll be speaking at the MCW, it will have been decided and that decision will definitely impact the temperature of the conference room in Boston. Now, I know you're not for Romney -- you've been very vocal about that. So, in your opinion, what on earth is it that would make a woman vote for this guy?

DE: I am clueless on this subject. He doesn't understand women -- he doesn't understand anything! He's never sat in the middle seat in coach in his life, there's nothing he understands about what real life is about. He speaks to women in such a condescending manner. He says things [on women in the workplace] like, "we made little accommodations for them if they needed to go home to their children." He has no understanding that men are also involved in the care of the children.

This is a world of single women too, and of single mothers and single dads -- he doesn't even know that that world exists. Almost no one is living the way that he is living. Lots of private medical insurance policies have a one or two million-dollar cap. That's chump change for him. He doesn't actually even need insurance! That's really insane. I'm really frightened about the election for women.

DH: Just for fun, what would you say is your guilty pleasure, if you have any such thing?

DE: Oh, my guilty pleasures are so pathetic. I like to watch Project Runway... would that be considered a guilty pleasure?

DH: Guilty enough for me. I love that show.

DH: What would you say is the defining moment of your life, if such a thing is possible?

DE: That would be meeting my husband, Jerome Kass (screenwriter and playwright), because he's so supportive and completely loyal. It's definitely not something I ever thought would happen. When I first became a writer, I knew I'd be driven in that regard, I was born to it being that both my parents were writers and all my sisters are writers. It seemed inevitable but I didn't expect Jerry. He's a writer, so I was able to have a really safe place, he nurtured me in so many ways. My parents had such a crazy marriage, and mine seems like some kind of miracle.

DH: In your articles and blogs, you've mentioned the idea of the "unspoken message" and how in your own childhood, you received these kinds of messages from your father. Say, if you or any of your other sisters came up a good idea and shared it at the dinner table, your dad would tell you guys to write it down, which you've said was like a subliminal message, suggesting that you kids might very well turn out to be writers someday.

DE: It wasn't if it was "a good idea," it was if it was a good line, then we should write it down -- which is different. Right away we were immediately being told -- I was always being told -- that I was funny and that what I said was worth writing down. And my mother was a career woman, a screenwriter, and she was so proud of the fact that she had a career. "I'm a working woman, and you are all going to be working women..." At the time, nobody said that to his or her daughters. She was a real force in terms of setting the bar high.

DH: What do you think are some of the broader, more generalized social messages that are given today to young women, and what do these messages suggest?

DE: We've gone through enormous social change. There was the women's movement, the civil rights marches [when] everything changed in a very exciting and liberal way and now things are on a conservative swing. I think it's personal -- you have to figure out what your own personal destiny is. For instance, the idea of "having it all" -- I think having it all is when what you want and what you have are the same. And that occurs at various times in your life. The worst thing in the world is when we think we have to fit into a mold or do something because everybody else is doing it. Or that we're supposed to feel something that we're not feeling, because that's where people get really screwed up.

DH: I've noticed that you're into reporting on what your hair is doing in any number of the cities you've recently traveled to. For some reason, this strikes me as very down-to-earth and real. What is it about women and their hair that seems to level us all out?

DE: Oh, you mean my "Hair Reports" on Twitter? I think that women don't really care about the weather, they really only care what the weather is going to do to their hair.

DH: For young women today, communication is different than what it used to be. They're obsessed with texting, with Tumblr and image-driven blogs -- phone conversations are rare in comparison to the amount of text messages they go through on a daily basis -- how are the young women of today going to know to "take that chance" or "make that break" in order to fulfill their ambitions? Where can they find inspiration -- as you did -- without losing themselves in all the distraction?

DE: It's so hard to stay focused. I think it's so much harder for young people who tell me they want to be writers... It's all about discipline, you have to glue yourself to the chair. All those temptations, Twitter and Facebook -- it's rough! Look, for a writer to write, she has to be alone. I love texting! I think texting is really fun. But it leads to the world's shortest attention span. Movies will be three minutes long one day because nobody's going to have the patience to watch a movie that's an hour and a half. The sound bite is going to be the movie.

DH: On your collaboration with your sister, Nora Ephron, Love, Loss and What I Wore -- tell me a little bit about your experience with that, and how it personally affected your own life.

DE: Oh, it was SO MUCH FUN. The great thing about that was that it was a show about women and for women, and we were unabashed about that. And every month we changed casts, and new actors would come in and they were all wonderful women, and they would form a community. The audience would have an experience, and the great thing about this was when you talk about your experience, it triggers memories -- there was a real sense that the audience and the actors were connecting. It was this great female sisterhood festival time. We had a woman producer, Daryl Roth, she was fantastic -- we just really had an awesome time.

DH: When I told my mother that I was interviewing you, she wanted me to pass this question on: Do you find that more and more older women are happy to be independent, on their own, finally trusting their inner voice?

DE: I hope that's true. I'm not an expert on that, but it seems to me that when you get older that's what should happen, that you should feel good about who you are. Part of our job in life is to figure out who we are and what makes us happy.

DH: Is there anything else that you'd like to say, Delia?

DE: I'm really excited to be coming up to Boston for the Massachusetts Conference for Women, I'm thrilled. One of my closest friends in the world will be there, and I can't wait to spend a couple of nights talking non-stop with her. The Philadelphia Conference was fantastic, so I'm sure the Boston one will be awesome.

Delia Ephron is a bestselling author, screenwriter, and playwright. Her newest novel, "The Lion Is In," will be released on March 29. Her movies include "You've Got Mail," "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," "Hanging Up" (based on her novel) and "Michael." She has written novels for adults and teenagers and books of humor, including "How to Eat Like a Child," and essays. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times, O the Oprah Magazine, Vogue, MORE and The Huffington Post. She collaborated with her sister Nora Ephron on a play, "Love, Loss, and What I Wore," which ran for two years Off Broadway, and has been performed in cities across the U.S. as well as in cities around the world including Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Sydney. You can also follow Delia on Twitter: @deliaephron