One of the most unlikely things that ever happened to me is a friendship with Joyce Maynard.
For starters, she went to Yale and worked at The New York Times. I went to Indiana State and work at a small-town newspaper. She has major publishing houses finance her manuscripts and two of those, To Die For and Labor Day, became movies. I self-published one small novel with another on the way.
She travels more and has more interesting things happen in a typical month than I do in … well, I’m embarrassed to say.
Yet some things are meant to be. Life is full of mystery and opportunity.
I’ve thought about Joyce a lot this week because her new book, Under the Influence, hit the shelves. And also because her husband, Jim, is in the hospital in Guatemala, where Joyce has a second home and runs writing workshops. Together, the couple has spent the past year and more battling his cancer. Things have been looking up, but he took ill last week.
Joyce came on my radar in 1987 when in Editor & Publisher I spotted a promotion for her book, a compilation “best of” her Domestic Affairs newspaper columns, in a book by the same name. The ad offered editors review copies. It was her face that reeled me in. Her eyes so wide and alive, and she was sporting these charming bangs and pigtails (pigtails!). It was as though she could jump off the page and we could go for coffee and talk about life as moms.
I was new to the mom scene; she had spent the past few years by then writing about adventures in that realm from the vantage point of a remote New Hampshire farm.
The book arrived and I inhaled it: stories about canning tomatoes, middle-of-the-night Christmas shopping, perilous, New England roads in winter, loving kids and family and life. Each essay was served up, readable, edible even, in the candor and humor. And each piece had a twist. Perhaps it was some bit of lesson learned or at least question asked. I loved it.
I started noticing her Kids in the Country column byline in Country Living, and somehow, in the days long before social media, learned about her fan newsletter and subscribed. I still have the copies in my attic. Joyce was accessible, real. In fact, she made it a part of her life and, surely, was an instinctive part of her own branding and marketing, to connect well with fans and hear their stories. I wrote a piece or two for her newsletter, coming onto her radar.
Life happened. She divorced, cared for and buried her beloved mother, moved off the farm to Keene, N.H., wrote more books. Her column ended but she had become a novelist with a bread-and-butter career as a magazine contributor. I moved too, worked for a different newspaper, birthed a second baby. In 1997, her newsletter announced that she was moving to San Francisco and if anyone was in New England on June 22, stop by her garage sale.
I took it as a personal invite. I knew I had to attend that garage sale, as unlikely and ridiculous as it sounded. I had to meet Joyce, pick up a relic from her life. So I wrote her a letter and asked about where to stay. She called and said stay with her for the weekend and help with the sale. Could I bring a friend? Sure.
And so my bestie Gay Kirkton and I did just that and had one of the most remarkable weekends we can imagine. Little did we know there would be a New Hampshire II.
It came in 2013 when Joyce invited us to her wedding to Jim. “You have to go,” said my husband, and we did. We sat among TV stars, writers, and other remarkable people on a mountaintop in New Hampshire and watched Joyce and Jim tie the knot. She had waited a long time to find this man.
We stayed in a 1700s bed and breakfast, went to church in a town the size of Brownsville with a Harvard-educated pastor; discussed The Great Gatsby with a Dartmouth English professor, and toured a gorgeous loft that belonged to a friend of Joyce’s and was featured in Country Home. We danced at her wedding along-side a famous 1960s community activist and were interviewed by a New York Times reporter.
Just a weekend in the life of Joyce.
A big weekend in the life of this fifty-something Hoosier farm girl.
We were saddened to learn of his illness just short months later. But then later, happy to hear he was cancer free.
And now, like so many times before, a new Joyce book joins the others. Once it’s read, it will reside next to its siblings in my glass-front book cabinet that holds special volumes and keepsakes.
I don’t abuse this unique—what?—relationship/fanship/friendship—with Joyce by asking her to read my manuscripts or give me advice. She is asked these things by many people all the time and as she has explained kindly to her fans, if she helped everyone who asked, she would never get her own work done. Plus, she makes a portion of her living leading writing workshops both in Guatemala and in the states. I get it. It takes a lot of time to comment on other people’s work in a constructive way. But Joyce has given me a few key pieces of advice, personally:
1. Always take the adventure.
2. Make Samantha ( heroine in Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast and the upcoming follow-up) 50, not 60.
3. Keep telling stories.
I’ve learned that adventures abound—they are the way we approach our everyday lives—and include, for me anyway, the occasional one that physically takes me away.
Samantha is 51 in the new book.
And as for stories, here’s another.