Kathy Ebel on her journey from TV procedurals to coming-of-age novel

Kathy Ebel on her journey from TV procedurals to coming-of-age novel
Author Kathy Ebel will be discussing her debut novel, "Claudia Silver to the Rescue," at Book Soup this week. (Doug Piburn / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Kathy Ebel's debut novel, "Claudia Silver to the Rescue," chronicles three months in the life of a young woman as she navigates through employment woes, hapless romantic entanglements, and helping out her sister from whom she has been estranged for years. Set in New York City in the early 1990s, Claudia's story details "twentysomething" college grads who are not always prepared for the realities of life in the years immediately after graduation.

Creative director at NBC, Ebel is also a former screenwriter for television shows such as "Cold Case" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," and her essays and poetry have appeared in SELF, Might and the Los Angeles Times Magazine.


Ebel answered questions by email about her book, the 1990s and why writing for TV crime procedurals is great training for a novelist.

She will be appearing at Book Soup in West Hollywood on Wednesday at 7 p.m. to discuss her book.

This is your first novel.  Why did you choose to tell Claudia's story in a book rather than as a screenplay?

I've always wanted to write novels, and fiction was my first love, full stop. I pursued a Hollywood writing career for close to 20 years, promising I would reward myself with novel writing once I'd "made it," until I finally put that one down. Man, was it heavy. I wish there was a way to say that "Claudia Silver to the Rescue" is my "Goodbye, Columbus" or "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" without sounding like a ninny.

Your television credits include crime and procedural shows, which is a long way from this book. Was the transition difficult? Did it affect any of your story or how you approached the story?

When I moved to Los Angeles more than a decade ago, I was wildly fortunate to get hired as the researcher on the Dick Wolf procedural "Law & Order: SVU" in its first season. That gig landed me in an extended community of procedural writers and producers, and led to several enduring friendships.

I am the last person in the world who should be writing a crime procedural. When I was a staff writer on "Cold Case," everybody else was hotly debating the placement of DNA evidence at the crime scene, and all I could think was: "The victim's in a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, with a navy and geometric print – and it was a sexless marriage." But procedurals are master classes for story structure, and the skills I didn't have then showed up to help me design the intricate plot of the novel.

The story takes place in the 1990s, but at times it also seems very current because of the era's cultural resurgence. Is that why you chose the '90s?

The 1990s in New York City is my Fertile Crescent. I'm still listening to a lot of the same hip-hop and R&B I did then, rocking my bling, attempting some swagger. It's just a zeitgeisty coincidence that we're having another '90s moment. I hope Claudia can be its poster child! And that Pat Field can design the costumes!

There are a number of similarities between you and Claudia (Barnard College grad, New York, writing). Is she based on your experiences or are there any other inspirations for Claudia?

To create the character of Claudia Silver, I considered how I felt – and how the world seemed – when I was in my 20s. Like many fierce characters and actual people, Claudia's bravado is a survival skill she's developed to protect herself. That one, I know.

Do you have plans for your next project? Will it be another book?

I'm working on my next novel. It's called "The Kidpower Hour." It has graphic plastic surgery, musical numbers...the last Jewish orphanage in Los Angeles, and puppets.