I never understood the need for a mentor until I accidentally found one. I’m psyched to say that writer Amy Ephron is my mentor. I asked her about writing, feminism, and vices.
Hi Amy! First, congrats on your book and making the LA Times Non Fiction Paperback Best Seller’s List. You’ve published other books – A Cup Of Tea, One Sunday Morning, White Rose: Una Rosa Blanca – to great acclaim. Is it still as exciting as to get recognition as when you started?
Loose Diamonds is my first non-fiction book. They’re sort of essays about women, L.A., life, politics, love, and a few things I’ve lost (and found) along the way… What’s been great in a way about this book is that some of my experiences have triggered really interesting conversations with women about their own lives, post-modern families, the difficulties of post-modern life, dating, (something you know a lot about and trust me, I wasn’t any better at it between marriages, although I thought I would be) — but I’m very good at dating advice, partly because I was so bad at it … sometimes. But when you write something that touches someone in some way, that’s always a great feeling!
I find you to be utterly brave and fearless even in sad times [like the loss of your sister Nora in June]. How do you do it?
It’s a front. No, kidding. I think, particularly, now, when we’re in such changing times in terms of print, media, instant press, where things only stay in the ether for a moment, some things work, other things don’t, work, relationships, friendship; that you have to figure out how to pick yourself up after a fall, go “next”; reinvent yourself; keep on going; a lot of other people are also probably depending on you whether it’s your children, your parents, your friends, or a favorite candidate, for support — and that a lot of what happens to a person is “copy” particularly if you’re a writer, funny, even if you don’t think so at the time. And the important part is to hold onto the memories that you cherish and the people that you love. I wasn’t that cheerful when we got burglarized and I lost my computers and all my jewelry — but I somehow managed through luck and perseverance to get a disc of my hard-drive back and then I realized the true value of the jewelry wasn’t in the pieces themselves, but the memories that each one held — the gold studs my mother gave me when I first pierced my ears against her will — and the title story comes out of that. Did not get my jewelry back. But I caught my burglar. Don’t ever lose me, by the way.
I will never lose you. Promise. I love the essay “Champagne by the Case.” It evokes such a wonderful feeling of LA nostalgia. Do you think you have to be from LA to fully enjoy Loose Diamonds?
“Champagne by the Case” is an odd story — they touched me and I never knew what happened to them. It could’ve as easily been set in New York or Atlanta — they’re also an analogy for Loose Diamonds, which I think of as an actress looking for a part, a woman looking for a setting and in L.A., a sense of permanence which, in a way, is all about impermanence. But we all have women that we’ve known who had “no visible means of support” … and in their case people who they were involved with who were way ahead of the curve of some of the later financial debacles that got execs into trouble — and they always seemed sort of Truman Capote-ish to me, not that I did as a good a job as he would have if he had written it. But I was thrilled when the New York Times excerpted it in T.
What advice can you give to struggling young writers? And do you think the internet helps or hurts those looking to publish their book?
Writers write. And the internet is a great place to get a presence. And there are no rules. You do have to rely on yourself to some degree and hope that you’ll pick up a few fans along the way. But I’m incredibly indebted to Arianna for giving me a place on Huffington from the start to write, express my views. And I love publishing One for the Table, my online magazine which features food, politics, and love, because I feel, and hope, that I’m also doing, in a smaller way, the same for other writers. And the internet can sometimes provide a network where we can all appreciate and promote each other and other things we just discovered yesterday that we love.
What’s it like to go on a book tour?
Tiring. And also great — because I’m always so excited and interested to interact with women and men from different communities, different points of view, as we’re all trying to figure out “normal” in these complicated geo-political times. Note to anyone on book tour: might not be the best idea to make a crack about Romney (even post-election) in a speech in Arizona. Second note: no matter what city you’re in, there’s probably something great to eat! Had an amazing Po’ Boy in Nola this week at Franky & Johnny’s — fried oysters, I only ate the inside. Delicious.
You write for so many different publications. Is there a difference in the writing process in print, like Vogue vs. websites like The Daily Beast?
The nature of the material is sometimes so different, that yes. Covering a trial, like the Dr. Conrad Murray trial [Conrad Murray was the doctor convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson], for example, requires a completely precise nailing of your facts as the pieces I wrote were also sort of deep background, not just in court coverage, which is very different than a restaurant review. But even at a restaurant, you should check the ingredients. But the ambiance, the tone, the atmosphere, if that’s not redundant, is just as important to me in terms of court coverage as I do it somewhat differently as in the floral setting in the middle of the table at a restaurant. One difference though is you don’t always have to identify yourself as a writer working for X if you’re reviewing something. But in court, they know exactly who you are.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes. And even more so after this last election. But I broke a glass ceiling when I was very young as a generation before me had been so active. I was a Production Vice President at Columbia when I was 25 — so then, it didn’t occur to me, although I bet, now, that the guy who had the same job was probably making more money … I can’t swear to it, but it didn’t occur to me to question it … but now that I have so many friends and daughters who are your age — I am deeply deeply concerned about womens’ rights and am thrilled that there are so many women going to Washington!
Who are some of your favorite contemporary writers?
Michael Lewis. Jeanette Walls — I loved Half Broke Horses. John Le Carre. And Michael Chabon.
What’s next for you?
I have a new column for The New York Times called L.A. POV and they’re letting me write about food, entertainment, and I somehow just squeaked in a visit to the Mormon Temple Visitors Center at the Los Angeles Mormon Temple — so I’m having a lot of fun with that … and I’m working on something else, but not ready to talk about it yet. There’s also a little bit of interest in turning two of the stories in Loose Diamonds into a tv series and they want me to write the pilot, so I’m playing around in my mind with what that might be. Hope I can figure it out.
What are your vices?
Bacon and eggs. I love breakfast. Does “The Good Wife” count? Twitter? Sometimes I dance in the street. And in my kitchen.
Honestly, I consider you my mentor. Do you think it’s important for young women to have mentors? How do they go about finding one?
That’s extraordinarily kind of you and I feel unbelievably fortunate to have you in my life. I’m not sure it’s something you can find. I had a mentor when I was very young, although I didn’t realize it at the time, and I had a chance to honor him in this book. His name was Stiles O. Clements and he collected tropical birds and lived across the street from me. I wrote a story about him called “The Bird Man.” And he also was an architect who unbeknownst to me since I was five had defined much of what Los Angeles looked like at the time — including the Egyptian Theatre — and it was sort of a magical moment when “Chloe @ 3AM” [a short film directed by Amy] played there, as I felt like he was looking down on me. I’m not sure you can find mentors, but if you’re really lucky and open to it, more than likely a mentor will find you. I consider you one of my better discoveries!
Oh jeez, thanks. And you as well, Amy!