What happens when a writer who made her name as a memoirist turns the bulk of her book writing to fiction? Exactly what you’d imagine: much of her life’s experiences become fictionalized with in the pages of her novels. And Joyce Maynard has never been one to shy away from the overshare, be it in real life or in her novels. It’s one of the things this reader (your blog writer) loves about her most of all. Joyce wears her heart on her sleeve, and she shares her life because it’s a fabulous tale, and because it starts a conversation, and because it just might make life easier for someone else.
Here is an excerpt from a Q&A Joyce recently had with The Book Report, in which she shares what bits of her own life inspired her new novel, Under the Influence, on sale now. Learn more about Under the Influence here. Find out how you can enter an essay contest to win a week long writer’s retreat with Joyce, and read the Q&A in its entirety here.
The Book Report: Some of your previous works have been inspired by real-life crimes or news stories. Were any elements in Under the Influence inspired by real people or events?
Joyce Maynard: Under the Influence is a story about betrayal in a friendship. Like most women I know, I’ve had the experience of losing a friend, and finding out that a person I trusted was not who I believed her to be. The story I tell in my novel is a product of my imagination, but what fueled it was the memory—still painful after all these years—of breaking up with a friend. I’m guessing many women will identify with that one. I don’t think I know a single person who hasn’t had the experience, somewhere along the line, of discovering that a person she trusted and loved was not her friend after all.
Another aspect of the new novel has to do with my narrator’s addiction to alcohol. Although I never got a DUI, as my central character, Helen did, I am the adult child of an alcoholic, and I have had my own complicated dependence on wine over the years, as my way of dealing with sorrow or stress.
Writing this novel, and having the experience of putting myself in my narrator’s head—and my ability to do that as well as I did—actually served as the impetus for my decision to give up drinking. I had one of those “socially acceptable” drinking habits that had gradually snuck up on me, to the point where I could imagine myself getting into trouble, as Helen does.
There was more of me in Helen than I liked to admit. As I write this, I’ve been off the wine for just six weeks, but I’m feeling strong about my choice, and—though I won’t ever point a finger at those who drink and love wine—I am hopeful that my novel will open up some worthwhile discussion about the role of drinking—specifically, wine drinking—in women’s lives.
TBR: In your author’s note, you mention a handful of inspirations for the novel, including a generous gift of writing space that prompted you to meditate on the nature of friendship. How would you define friendship?
JM: In my novel, Helen believes her friends Ava and Swift accept and love her without conditions, but she discovers—painfully, and at great cost—that their friendship comes with strings attached.
A real friend doesn’t look for repayment of kindness or keep score. By the time Helen understands this about Ava and Swift, she’s thrown away the love of a good man and her eight-year-old son has been placed in great jeopardy. She realizes who her true friend was, but only after it appears that she has lost him.