Monday, January 22, 2018
Books

Festival of Reading: For Joyce Maynard, real life and fiction inspire each other

The Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading presents more than 50 authors, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 12 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Joyce Maynard will speak at 2:15 p.m. in the Student Center Ballroom. Find more information here.

Joyce Maynard's latest novel is, she says, "a little bit thriller, a little bit romance." Essentially, though, Under the Influence is the story of a friendship, one so intense it transforms a woman's life — and then nearly destroys it.

"The end of that kind of friendship can be as painful as the end of a love affair," Maynard, 63, says by phone from her home in California.

The book's main character, Helen, is a divorced woman with a young son. After she's arrested for driving under the influence and faces the shattering possibility of losing her son, she meets a wealthy, charismatic couple. Swift and Ava take her under their wing, and in many ways her life improves. But there will be a price to pay.

"My novels are certainly fiction, but everything I write comes out of aspects of my experience that I've felt particularly deeply," Maynard says. "I've had a very close, very intense friendship that just blew up. It haunted me for years."

Maynard's life has been a source for her writing for a long time. She became instantly famous when her New York Times Magazine cover story, "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life," was published in 1973, when she was a freshman at Yale. That led to her relationship with Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger, which she chronicled in her 1998 memoir At Home in the World. Her novels include the bestsellers To Die For and Labor Day, both made into movies; Under the Influence is her 16th book.

She'll be talking about it at the Times Festival of Reading. "I've wanted to get back to Tampa for a long time," she says. In the 1980s and '90s, she wrote a syndicated column called "Domestic Affairs" that ran in the then-St. Petersburg Times. "Those readers are incredibly loyal, so I'm looking forward to seeing them."

Maynard's novels have sometimes been described as women's fiction. "I'm proud of the fact that a lot of men read my books, too," she says. "But there is this conception that there's something soft in writing about the territory of home and relationships."

She doesn't buy it. "Talk about thrillers! Go to the American family and you'll find the darkest stories there are."

She says she has dealt with sexism in the book world during her four-decade career. "One male critic actually called one of my books 'vaginal,'" she says, laughing.

"I don't think, 'I'll write a story for women.' I'm going to write a good story. And if more women read it than men, that just means women are more discriminating. Smart men know that if they come to one of my readings, they'll meet a lot of interesting women."

Maynard says that she enjoys giving readings: "I love going out into the world and meeting readers." Writing is by nature solitary work, and for her the interaction with fans helps feed her creativity.

Another of her favorite forms of interaction is teaching workshops and mentoring the writers who attend them. "They're a real joy in my life. I get writers at all levels, sometimes people who have never written anything before."

For many years she has taught annual workshops in San Marcos La Laguna in Guatemala, which she calls "one of the most beautiful spots on earth." She also teaches one-day workshops at her home near San Francisco. This year, before and after her appearance at the festival, she'll be doing workshops in Florida, at Little Gasparilla Island and Naples.

Talking a break from her own work can refresh her, she says. "I certainly am not writing while I'm helping other writers. But then when I do write I can put my whole heart into it, and I'm very inspired."

Maynard says she has already completed her next book, and this one is very personal indeed. "I just finished a memoir," she says, that will be published next fall.

"I fell in love five years ago, after many, many years of being single."

In 2013 she married Jim Barringer, a lawyer who loved travel and rock 'n' roll. A little more than a year after their wedding, Barringer was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died in June.

Maynard says, "All through this I knew that I was going to tell that story," the story not just of his death but of their lives together.

"People say, '(Writing the memoir) must have been very cathartic for you,'" she says. "It has to be more than cathartic for the writer. It has to work for the reader."

She's already busy with her next project. A movie version of Under the Influence is on the way, she says. "I'm writing the screenplay. I've never done that before."

Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

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