“I didn’t want to be a writer; I was too scared,” says Delia Ephron of her younger self, whose body of work now includes 15 books, seven films (six of which were co-written with her sister Nora), two plays and countless articles. Ephron grew up as part of a powerhouse family of writers—her parents were successful screenwriters, and her sisters Nora, Amy and Hallie all became writers too…eventually.
“Everyone knew they had to do it but couldn’t face it,” she told Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg of the family destiny.
Her journey is rife with experiences that beg to be chronicled with the trademark Ephron mixture of humor and compassion: a stint as a “Girl Friday” for a terrible boss, a ex-husband who didn’t want her to be famous, a penchant for crocheting, and a recent visit to the pet psychic with her dog, Honey. Ephron’s latest book of essays is Sister Mother Husband Dog, Etc.
Having penned the likes of You’ve Got Mail and produced Sleepless In Seattle, Ephron is no stranger to romantic comedies, and was game for an Ask Me Another Challenge in which she had to name famous “rom-coms” based on their taglines. We’re just a game show, standing before a writer, asking her to play with us.
On writing about her sister Nora’s death
My sister had died in June, and it was September, and the seasons changed. It was such a big thing that she wasn’t there for the fall. I just was so lost, because I’m second, and we were collaborators as well as sisters. She bossed me around from the day I was born; she was thrilled to get me. I just was so confused, and I started to write. Because I’m a writer, and that’s what we do. We write to get to another place.
On a lifelong search for the perfect comeback
I had a mean boss. I was a “Girl Friday.” He started ragging on me about whatever I wasn’t doing right. I stood up and I said, “I quit.” And as I walked out the door, he shouted, “You’re flat-chested.” This is my favorite thing that ever happened to me. It was a lifelong regret that I did not answer back. I’ve spent a long time thinking about what I could have said in return.
On finally deciding to commit to the family business
I said to my husband — my first husband, that’s an important part of this story — “I think I really want to be a writer.” He said, “I don’t want you to be a writer. Suppose you become famous.” So I said, “I promise I won’t become famous.” Isn’t that sad? So obviously I had to leave him.
On learning how to write humor
I was eating chocolate pudding one night. And I was eating it my way. Which is: you know that pudding you cook and it has a little skin on top? I like to make a little hole in the skin, and scoop the soft pudding underneath, and then save the skin for last. I was doing this, and I suddenly thought: “Oh my god, I am eating like a child.” So I wrote directions about how children eat food, and it was called How To Eat Like A Child. And it got published in The New York Times. It was my first real success.