For best-selling author, screenwriter and playwright Delia Ephron, writing isn’t just a career — it’s in her blood. Her sister was well-known director, screenwriter and author Nora Ephron, whose works include “Silkwood” and “When Harry Met Sally.” Their parents, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, were both screenwriters who, every night at the dinner table, stressed the importance of words. Ephron’s newest novel, “Siracusa,” which she’ll discuss with readers at Scarsdale Public Library in July, was a lingering presence in her mind for the better part of five years.
“It has so many thoughts and things I feel about relationships and marriage and everything. And then my husband and I found ourselves in Siracusa (Italy). The first day I thought, ‘This is one of the most fantastic places I’ve ever been. It’s been here since 2 A.D., it’s all stone….’ And the next day I thought, ‘If I spend another week here, I’ll lose my mind.’”
She’s talking from her East Village apartment in Manhattan, where she offers WAG beverages and snacks as she bustles around her cozy home with her dog, Honey, at her heels. When Ephron finally sits down, she curls her legs up under her, eager to discuss her new novel and the inspiration for it. During her visit to Siracusa (Syracuse), she knew almost immediately that she had to write a book with the stone architecture and rich history of the Sicilian locale as its setting.
“Nobody ever had. It’s very dramatic to put couples in a place that is almost where beauty can become oppressive. So I knew… that the story I was going to be telling was going to have a certain suspense element to it. It was going to have a sense of people going a little crazy.”
The story is told from the perspectives of two married couples — Lizzie and Michael, and Taylor and Finn, who have a mysteriously quiet 10-year-old daughter named Snow. But an underlying tension haunts the couples throughout the trip, some of it deliberately hidden from the others.
Lizzie and Finn used to date, and Taylor is strangely attracted to Michael, because he’s kind to Snow. Plus, Michael is cheating on Lizzie with a younger woman — a disaster in the making. Each character tells his or her story from a singular perspective, and the tangled web of lies spun throughout the book comes to an unraveling point in the historic city of Siracusa, where the couples have decided to vacation together.
As for what inspired such a complex narrative, Ephron says, “My husband and I have traveled for years with other couples, and often with other couples and their kids… So, I’ve always been aware of how travel intensifies relationships… And then you’re subject to all sorts of problems, like getting places and strange airports and dramas… And when you go on a trip you never know, Is this going to be one of my great ones? Or is this going to be one of my, kind of, God knows what.”
As Ephron sees it, the same goes for friends who travel together. “The other thing is that friendships are really both enhanced and destroyed on vacations… Instead of just having dinner and then after dinner you go home, we’d see them for breakfast, and then we would be at some exhibit, I mean… we had all these hysterical adventures with them, so I was very aware that travel with friends is also a whole thing different from friendship at home.”
“Siracusa,” out in stores July 12, is already headed to the big screen and Ephron, whose credits include “Michael” and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” will adapt it herself. Screenwriting was something she shared with Nora on such films as “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle.”
“Nora and I were so close,” she says of her sister, who died of complications from acute myeloid leukemia in 2012. “We had fun. We had a great time doing it.” Screenwriting lends itself to collaboration, anyway — working with actors, producers and directors — but the bond the sisters had gave them all the more reason to work together. “There were things that were common ground to us, that we felt especially suited to and so we would choose those things.”
But Ephron knew that writing novels was truly where her heart lay. “I made a plan in my head that I would always continue to write books, that they were what was my heart and soul and they were really what was going on in my brain, and I think I just was always in love with books. So that promise I made early to myself, and I’ve kept to that.”
Delia Ephron discusses “Siracusa” from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. July 16 in the Scott Room of the Scarsdale Public Library, 54 Olmsted Road. Registration is required in advance. For more, visit scarsdalelibrary.org.