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Nancy Thayer on Family, Persistence & the Payoff
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
June 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
June 2019

Nancy Thayer is a Nantucket-based New York Times bestseller of more than 32 novels centered around women and relationships. She’s praised for her exploration of the complexities of women and their many identities as mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, strong independents, and friends. Her latest novel, Surfside Sisters, comes out this month.

“I always have wanted to capture the life of ‘ordinary’ women,” she says. “This is why I write. I’ve always used inspiration from my own life. If you click on ‘Inspiration’ on the home page of my website, you’ll see how my 9-years-younger, blue-eyed-blond baby sister inspired Island Girls. I never use exact details; I don’t want to get sued!  But I listen to my friends, my daughter, her friends, my sister, & my own life. Sometimes cutting your finger when slicing carrots can make you break down & sob, because of everything else that’s happened that day. My mother died two years ago, and I can stub my toe and burst into a storm of weeping because I miss her.”

This excerpt was originally published on How To Write a Book. Read the full interview here.

On Inspiration

In writing about women, Thayer inevitably finds herself writing the stories of families, many times across several generations.

“I believe that families are the heart of the world and the people who love us are our light in the darkness. I've explored family life in all my novels, because families are endlessly varied and fascinating. To me a family is not just a core of one idealized set, but all the blended relatives, step- and half- relatives, and even the animals who keep us sane when the humans drive us crazy, or the best friend who celebrates with us when we are alone.”

This excerpt was originally published on Coastal Living. Read the full interview here.

On New Ideas

"My novels start with a character and a sentence, and I start writing to find out what’s going to happen.  And often that first sentence gets cut. Sometimes, though, an idea waits for me. I’ve always been fascinated by Louisa May Alcott’s younger sister, but I don’t write historical novels. When I started writing Island Girls, I thought: Aha!  My character Meg is writing about her."

This excerpt was originally published on How To Write a Book. Read the full interview here.

Still, she says, that first sentence doesn't always come to her easy. Nor has her writing career always been a walk in the park. 

"Be persistent,” Thayer encourages to aspiring writers. 

“Read the books on writing other writers, like Stephen King, have written.  Do join writers’ workshops. Read as much as you can. And be persistent! It took me 10 years of steady working and trying before my first novel was published. Give yourself at least 10 years.”

This excerpt was originally published on How To Write a Book. Read the full interview here.

On a Writer’s Life

“I wrote the first six chapters of my first published novel with a pencil on a six-by-nine notebook while I was in Helsinki, during the one hour my two small children napped behind their closed bedroom door in a Spartan fourth-floor concrete walkup.”

“A lot of the novel was autobiographical, but a lot of it was not. Zelda, the main character in Stepping, was like me, only better. She was funnier, nicer, and she remained married to her husband. I was cranky, terrified about money, and about to be divorced. No one would ever confuse my novel with my diary.”

“As it turned out, people loved my book because the scenes of domestic difficulties were honest and often funny, in that so tired-you’re-hysterical way. Stepping was published the year I was divorced. I got a letter from a mutual acquaintance who’d read the novel and was furious at me for having an affair. I considered telling her what Sylvia Plath said: Fiction is the lie that tells the truth. I didn’t answer her, but I did realize I needed to take care when writing an autobiographical novel.”

“Because of my books, I was kissed by David Niven in Hyde Park, and shown through Charleston by Virginia Woolf’s niece. Because of my books, I met the love of my life.”

“I’ve also been rejected, snubbed, and insulted because of my writing. So, on the whole, I’ve been lucky.”

This excerpt was originally published on Dear Author. Read Nancy’s full post here.

To many, Thayer is a household name. But she’s not the only author in her family. She is also the mother of Samantha Wilde, author of This Little Mommy Stayed Home and I’ll Take What She Has.

“Sam wrote her first "book" when she was five, so I've always known she wanted to write,” says Thayer. “Over the years, she's written short stories, essays, and poetry. But she is also an interfaith minister and a Kripalu certified yoga instructor, not to mention a wife and mother, so I wasn't sure she'd end up writing. When I heard her first book was going to be published, I was over the moon with pride.”

As it turns out, Thayer had been both a mother and role model to Wilde, and her passion for her work spilled generously into the next generation. 

“It always seemed to me that my mother had the best job in the world – for two reasons,” says Wilde. “The first, and most important, she loves her work. It always seemed to me that she felt there wasn’t a better thing to be doing than writing. I certainly wanted to find myself as in love with my occupation as she was with hers. And secondly, I have, like her, always devoured books. Reading and writing went together naturally in our house. I started writing little books as a small child because that was the way of it! I was surrounded by books, words, language, stories. I can see this in my son now; sometimes he takes a book to bed instead of a stuffed animal--not necessarily to read, but simply to have near him. In fact, the other day he asked my husband if books are alive! In my childhood home, with my mother’s passion for her work, books were alive.”

This excerpt was originally published on Book Reporter. Read the full interview featuring Thayer and Wilde here.

 

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