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Nora Ephron and the Price of Baring it all

Is everything Copy?

Nora Ephron was an extremely successful screenwriter known for "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle." HBO made an excellent documentary called "Everything is Copy" that portrays her life and work.

Nora maintained that "everything is copy," meaning that life is a supermarket of raw materials. Any and every experience we encounter in life is fair game for the writer's canvas.

She was married to the renowned journalist Carl Bernstein, who uncovered the Watergate scandal. In the wake of their bitter divorce, she wrote "Heartburn", a tell-all book. In this revenge novel, which became a bestseller (and later a movie starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson), she laid it all bare about her marriage to her cheating (with her best friend) husband. Her unapologetic honesty caused him considerable embarrassment and pain, tarnishing his fame and reputation.

Good for her, right?

But watching the documentary, I could perceive the heavy toll her family paid. Not only her cheating ex, who had it coming, but her children as well. Nora's exposure scarred her immediate family, her dearest and nearest, for life.


In the book I'm writing now, the heroine's mother is ill in a way that affects both her body and her mind. I furiously poured out several scenes between a mother and her daughter onto the page. One particular intense scene I wrote in a fit of rage after my own ill mother drove me nuts. The scene portrays the mother berating the daughter’s choices, complaining that she doesn't take care of her like she’s supposed to, and belittling her father.

The strain of a serious illness, the kind that hits families while taking care of a member during prolonged illness, is huge. And being candid can benefit the writer and the story, for sure, but sharing others' stories has consequences. And there is my family, my father, my mother, and my sisters, it’s their story too. I think, in the end, I will be very careful about using "the truth" in my book.

What is your opinion? Have you ever found your story told - but not by you?

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