It is our pleasure to welcome to Book Club Girl today’s guest blogger, Joyce Maynard. Maynard is the New York Times bestselling novelist of Labor Day (about to release as a major motion picture on screens nationwide this Christmas Day) and The Good Daughters. I know many of you have read and blogged about these novels, so I have no doubt that you will enjoy Joyce’s post here today, in which she shares the story of what happened in her life to compel her to write her new novel, After Her. Without further ado, I give you…Joyce Maynard!
My new novel, After Her, is loosely based on events that took place in Northern California in the late 1970s. For more than a year a man known as the “Trailside Killer” roamed the vicinity of Mt. Tamalpais, killing more than half a dozen young women. I can see this mountain from every window of my house in Mill Valley, where I’ve lived for the last seventeen years. The idea of murders taking place so close to home has haunted me all this time.
Although I'd been aware of the story for years, I was inspired to explore it further when two sisters, Laura and Janet, now in their forties, showed up at my home to attend one of my one-day writing workshops. I soon learned that they were the daughters of the homicide detective who had originally been in charge of the investigation, and who had died only a few years after the arrest of the killer.
Though the official cause of their father's death was cancer, Laura and Janet believe that the stress and grief he suffered as a result of his inability to solve the case contributed greatly to his final illness and ultimate death. The arrest of the killer, when it finally occurred, took place outside of his jurisdiction at the hands of another police officer.
All of this happened when Laura and Janet were very young—just thirteen and eleven, respectively—though the repercussions have stayed with them since. A few years ago Laura wrote to the killer (still incarcerated at San Quentin for more than thirty years now), requesting permission to visit. She hoped against hope that he might finally confess, something he had not done. And though he consented to see her, he did not confess.
What interested me most about Laura and Janet's story was not the killer himself, but the story of the family—theirs—that had been so terribly affected by him and his actions, and the ways in which those had shaped their lives. And I was immediately moved by the extraordinary bond I observed between the two women—both happily married, both mothers of young children, but still inseparably linked in a way I had seldom, if ever before, observed between sisters.
I asked them if they would allow me to tell a fictionalized version of their story, and with enormous generosity they gave me their blessing. But they did much more than that. They filled a whole notebook with details from their childhood growing up on Mt. Tam and conjured for me with stunning clarity the mood of those times, right down to the last detail: the music they loved, the secrets they shared, the jeans they would have worn (if they'd had the money). Most important of all, they gave me a portrait of their handsome, charismatic, hugely lovable, and deeply flawed father—a man who had left their mother and remarried when they were just little girls.
Through all of this, Laura and Janet and their families have come to be counted among my closest, most trusted friends. When I finished the first draft of the novel—a story whose outcome differs totally from their own (but which stays true to the extraordinary connectedness of their relationship)—the people with whom I wanted to share it first, even before sending it to my editor, were these two sisters.
And so I called them and they drove to my house on a rainy Saturday morning. We sat on my couch for almost eight hours (first with coffee, then with wine) as I read all four hundred manuscript pages out loud to them. On several occasions they cried. Although I never met their father, I like to think I brought him back to life for them that day.