New York Times Best-Seller Nancy Thayer has written 23 books. Her novels tend to focus on the relationships between women, and women’s identities as sisters, friends, daughters, mothers, aunts and grandmothers. They are often love stories as well, but they feature strong female protagonists who are focused on more than just the men in their lives. Her most recent novels have beach-themed titles, such as Moon Shell Beach, Beachcombers, and her latest, Island Girls (coming June 18). Many of her novels take place on the island of Nantucket, where she makes her home with her husband, Charley.
Nancy Thayer will kick off the Authors on Main program at Contemporary Theater, 327 Main St., Wakefield, Rhode Island on Sunday, June 30, at 6 p.m. Get your tickets here. She spoke to Betty J. Cotter via email.
BC: You have chronicled the lives of generations of women – from the fractured families of the ’70s and ’80s, in books like Stepping and Nell, to the spirit and challenges of midlife in The Hot Flash Club series. Do you find you have generations of readers, too? Do grandmothers-mothers-daughters pass around your books?
Nancy: What a great question! Yes, I get emails & Facebook posts from women telling me they’ve shared books with their mothers, daughters, friends. It’s just about the most wonderful experience a writer can have. My daughter (38) and her friends read my books, too.
BC: How have readers changed since your first novel was published? I’m thinking in terms of both what they are looking for in a novel – how they expect it to be written, perhaps – to the issues that concern them in their everyday lives.
Nancy: Another perceptive question. Everything moves faster in the world today, and most readers are so busy multi-tasking they prefer a book that moves fast, too. My first novel, Stepping, was dense, long sentences, long paragraphs. My newer books are faster paced. A friend actually said to me that she won’t buy a book unless “there’s a lot of white on the page.”
As far as issues — I couldn’t have written the Hot Flash Club series back in the 80’s. I started writing before Oprah, and she made it possible to discuss intimate problems. My early books were about people getting divorced; Island Girls has a woman who grew up with divorced parents. In Summer House, there’s a gay wedding. Still, many issues remain the same — childbirth can still be dangerous for women.
Nancy: I always have wanted to capture the life of “ordinary” women. 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.
BC: How does a novel start? Is the idea an ah-ha moment, or does it evolve slowly?
Nancy: 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.
BC: When you are writing, at what point do you start to share drafts with close friends or fellow writers, if at all? Do you belong to a writing group?
Nancy: I’m always talking with my husband, friends, and my daughter, Samantha Wilde, also a novelist, about ideas and issues. I’m fortunate now to have the most perfect editor and agent, and I’m always talking with them, too. My agent says my editor and I have a “Vulcan mind-meld.” No, I don’t belong to a writing group. I’m a bit reclusive.
BC: Did you ever start a novel and give up, put it in a drawer?
Nancy: Heavens, yes! A million times!
BC: How have changes in the business of publishing affected your life as an author?
Nancy: Technology has been such a gift to me. Now I press a button and my entire manuscript wings its way to New York; I don’t have to lug it to the post office. And Facebook! I adore it. I feel like I’ve met so many good friends.
BC: Do you own a Kindle or Nook? Why or why not? If you do, how would you compare the experience to traditional books? Do many of your fans seem to prefer one format over the other?
Nancy: I prefer reading traditional books, and so does my husband, and our old house is sinking beneath the weight of probably thousands of books. Book covers are so evocative; I need them. My son gave me a Nook two years ago, and I use it when I’m traveling. It’s so easy to carry one item rather than several bulky books. I think my fans seem to be equally divided between e-readers and “real” books.
BC: What advice would you give someone just starting out with the ambition to write novels? If they can’t be persuaded not to, that is.
Nancy: Be persistent. 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 ten years of steady working and trying before my first novel was published. Give yourself at least ten years.
BC: Who are some contemporary novelists you read and admire? What’s on your bookshelf waiting to be read right now?
Nancy: I’m a mystery fanatic. P.D. James, Elizabeth George, Peter Robinson, Deborah Crombie. I just discovered Alec Grecian’s mysteries, and Sara Henry’s. I also like to browse our library and choose something non-fiction that tests my brain. I’m reading The History of Future Cities, and it’s fascinating. Oh, and I love Claire Cook’s novels, and Marian Keyes, because they make me laugh out loud.
BC: Do you think this is a good time to be a woman and a writer, or not? Is writing still a man’s world?
Nancy: Statistically, men still get published in a disproportionate number to women, and I think Meg Wolitzer’s “The Second Shelf” essay in the March 30 New York Times Book Review is brilliant on the subject. Still, if you’re a woman who wants to write, nothing should stop you.
Betty J. Cotter is the author of the novels Roberta’s Woods (Five Star, 2008) and The Winters (Swamp Yankee Publishing, 2012), as well as four books of local history published by Arcadia. Named the 2006 fiction fellow by the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, she holds an M.F.A. in writing from Vermont College and a B.A. in public affairs/journalism from Keene State College. After 30 years in journalism, including 14 years as editor of the South County Independent, she left newspapers in 2012 to teach college writing full time. She is an adjunct instructor in the Journalism and Writing & Rhetoric Departments at the University of Rhode Island and in the English Department at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Conn. Besides helping to organize the Authors on Main series at Contemporary Theater, she teaches writing to adults through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at URI. Her work has appeared in The Providence Journal, The Day newspaper of New London, Conn., Grace magazine, and the Ocean State Review. She maintains a blog at swampyankeewoman.wordpress.com.