Author Delia Ephron was visiting her big sister, Nora, in "the country" (actually East Hampton) one summer morning when she glanced at the crime report in the local newspaper.
Oh, how quaint, she thought. Five Dr. Peppers had been taken from the refrigerator at Corecelli's turkey ranch; eight pairs of men's shoes had been discovered in the middle of Lane 6 at the bowling alley; a geranium thief was on the loose.
The Jewish urbanite and co-author of Nora's big-city comedies "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail" was smitten.
"I immediately fell in love with the column and the innocence of the crimes," says the author of eight nonfiction books and two novels. "I instantly knew that I had my next novel: A woman who writes the crime column for a weekly newspaper in a small town with no crime, and suddenly there is one. A woman in 'the country.'"
Of course, Ephron hadn't spent much time at all in the country, save for childhood summer camp, which she'd detested. So research was in order. Ephron pluckily moved to East Hampton all by herself one winter; then to the Berkshires and to Maine. She rode around with the small-town police, helping them to rescue a man who had collapsed after drinking too many martinis, among other adventures.
She didn't sleep a wink at night. "I didn't understand how anyone could be calm in the country," says Ephron, whose "Big City Eyes" is a thriller about a divorcée who moves with her teenaged son from Manhattan to a small town. "It was too quiet to be calm....I'm used to the city with people on all sides and above and below. I didn't recognize the sounds or the fact that there were animals not on a leash."The heroine of "Big City Eyes" is, like Ephron, a high-strung, slightly caustic New Yorker who is unsettled by small-town life. "In my mind, Lily is Jewish because the town isn't," Ephron says. "Everything she encounters is 'other.'"
The angst of Sam, Lily's troubled son, also draws upon the author's experience, specifically her difficult childhood. From the time Delia was 11, her alcoholic, screenwriter parents used to wake up the four Ephron sisters with their screaming fights in the wee hours. "I have a real memory of what it feels like for a child to be in pain," says the writer, who has just completed a TV pilot for Fox and is happily en-sconced back home in Manhattan.
She has no plans to return to rural life, thank you. "Most people want an additional home in the country," she confided to Talk magazine. "I'd rather buy a second apartment in Soho."