I remember discovering Crazy Salad (with its trippy psychedelic '70s cover) in my parents' bookshelf when I was about 12. The first essay was one of Ephron's most famous -- "A Few Words About Breasts." It was about growing up, developing, worrying whether she fit in... all the things that preoccupied me at the time, and none of the things I'd ever seen in an actual book. You can write about this stuff? I thought. You can be frank and funny and identifiably Jewish, totally honest about who you are and what you're thinking about? You don't have to don the literary equivalent of a Tom Wolfe suit to be published or pretend you're a man, with a man's concerns and a man's voice, to get attention? My 12-year-old mind was officially blown. That story -- and Ephron's inimitable voice, wry and sharp but never condescending or cynical -- stayed with me.
I did my own version of Ephron's career, starting off as a journalist at a small paper, eventually moving on to a newspaper in a big city. When I had a chance to cover the Pillsbury Bake-Off, I did it as an homage to Ephron's Esquire piece about the Bake-Off and what it said about women, feminism and the way the world was changing. Every time I sat down to write -- a newspaper story, a magazine piece and, eventually, novels -- her voice was one of the voices I kept in my head, close to my heart: frank, funny and identifiably female.
Ephron went on to gain fame for her movies, but, to me, she was always a writer first: taking stock of her neck or her failing memory; telling funny stories about watching Steve Wynn put his elbow through a Picasso. I used to dream about meeting her, but I knew that if I did I'd find myself tongue-tied and shy, blurting out something stupid and clichéd about how she was one of my heroes, how I wanted to be her when I grew up.
I am heartbroken that she's gone, that she won't be blogging her funny stories, or making more movies or publishing more essays. I only hope she had some inkling as to all of the women who grew up reading her and believing they could become writers because of the stories she told. She blazed a path for so many of us, and for that, I will be forever grateful.