We Value Your Privacy

This site uses cookies to improve user experience. By continuing to browse, you accept the use of cookies and other technologies.


A Joyce Maynard Primer

Where to start with this bestselling thriller writer.

joyce maynard
  • camera-icon
  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

Joyce Maynard is a brilliant novelist and journalist who has been thrilling readers for decades. A New Hampshire native, Maynard has been releasing her stories out into the world since she was just 13-years-old, publishing her work in magazines. In 1972 Maynard was attending Yale as a freshman when she had her first big break—the publication of her New York Times cover story, “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life.” Her success hasn't diminished since, as she went on to be a reporter and columnist for The New York Times, as well as the columnist of "Domestic Affairs," which is syndicated in over fifty newspapers across America. Besides being a regular contributor to both NPR and The Moth, Maynard is also the author of eighteen books.

Related: 13 Thrilling New Releases by Female Mystery Authors That You Need to Read

Though we at Murder & Mayhem favor her mysteries and thrillers, Maynard is known for writing across a wide array of genres. From romance to coming-of-age and domestic fiction to memoirs, this bestselling author really does do it all. Here's where we think you should start with her eclectic catalogue.

Joyce Maynard dropped out of college after the publication of her New York Times cover story, but life only got all the more exciting for her. In response to her article, Maynard received a letter from literary legend J.D. Salinger, which warned her of the pitfalls that came with publicity. Their correspondence continued, until the pair entered into a romantic relationship. Maynard moved in with Salinger—then 53-years-old—who had divorced his wife five years prior. Their cohabitation lasted 8 months, during which Maynard wrote her first book, Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties. The book was published shortly after the pair split in 1973.

Related: 15 Forgotten Female Mystery Writers from the Golden Age and Beyond

Unrelated to her relationship with Salinger, this memoir was a look at the cultural history of the 60s. Through her honest and opinionated eyes, Maynard talks about everything from school drills during the Cuban Missile Crisis to The Beatles to Life Magazine's cover of a fetus in utero. Though while she picked apart the world that surrounded her growing up, she didn't dive deep into her personal life.

It wouldn't be until 1998 that Maynard would write about her relationship with Salinger, in the controversial memoir At Home in the World.

Her first fiction novel was published nearly a decade later in 1981. This work of women's fiction is a captivating read about early motherhood. In their New Hampshire community, four teenage girls stand apart. 18-year-old Sandy is married with a child. After coming from a broken family, Tara raises a baby alone. Wanda has a three-month-old, yet she still manages to find time for dating. Jill is pregnant, waiting for her baby to come.

Related: 13 Pulse-Pounding Mystery Books for Lisa Gardner Fans

Though their situations all differ, the girls are united by the love they have for their children. But then two out-of-towners arrive—childless women—and take an interest in the teen mothers. As their worlds begin to tangle together, catastrophe teeters on the brink, ready to inextricably change their lives.

In 1987, Maynard returned with another nonfiction work, Domestic Affairs. While not as revelatory as the romantic exposé that would come roughly a decade later, this work treaded deeper into Maynard's personal world.

Related: Celebrating the Female Mystery Writers Who Craft Our Favorite Thrilling Reads

Published as an extension of her popular newspaper column of the same name, this book delivers a frank look at the highs and lows of family life. From babysitter troubles to the struggles of a child's blossoming independence, Domestic Affairs tackled all the challenging realities of modern motherhood. The essays in this collection encompass nine years of the accomplishment Maynard holds most dear—being a mother.

Maynard's first thriller was published in 1992. This gripping work of crime fiction follows Suzanne Maretto, a suburban weather reporter whose ambition soars to deadly heights. On her mission to become like her idol Barbara Walters, Suzanne determines that her lackluster husband is standing in her way. In a bid to catapult herself to stardom, Suzanne seduces a 15-year-old fan—Jimmy—into killing her husband. Seeking a TV deal as she capitalizes on her new role as the grieving widow, Suzanne has no problem throwing young Jimmy under the bus for the crime.

Related: 13 Mystery and Thriller Books That Inspired Films

In 1995, this novel was adapted into a movie of the same name, starring Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, and Joaquin Phoenix. It quickly became a cult classic.

Following this success, Maynard steadily began to release more fiction titles. The romance novel Where Love Goes was followed by two dark and dramatic coming-of-age novels: The Usual Rules and The Cloud Chamber. In 2006, Maynard released the true crime title Internal Combustion, which covered Nancy Seaman's brutal murder of her husband.

Related: Visceral Mystery and Thriller Books for Fans of Ottessa Moshfegh

Labor Day was published in 2009, becoming the perfect middle ground between Maynard's straight thrillers and her young adult works. With a steamy Labor Day weekend on the horizon, lonely 13-year-old Henry Wheeler spends his time either watching TV, failing at sports, or fantasizing about the girls his age. His mother,Adele, was once a dancer, but is now depressed, divorced, and agoraphobic. When Henry manages to convince his mother to go out shopping with them, they encounter a strange man bleeding from his forehead. Frank is a convicted murderer who escapes from prison. But he also teaches Henry all he never knew about life, and brings love and joy back to Adele.

This novel was also adapted into a film of the same name in 2013, starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.

After Her was published in 2013. This thriller begins during the dry North Carolina summer of 1979. 11-year-old Patty loves basketball and dogs. Her older sister, Rachel, loves making up stories, and believes she can read the minds of those around her. They spend their days spinning tales about their enigmatic neighbor, or otherwise playing dangerous games on the mountain behind their house.

Then young women start turning up dead on that very mountain. The girls' father—a handsome and larger-than-life detective—takes on the case of the "Sunset Strangler." But as months pass, more women die, and her father begins to unravel, Rachel concocts the idea to act as bait to catch the killer. Little does she know, her actions will not only destroy her father further, but ripple through the lives of everyone she knows.

30 years later, Rachel's plan remains the same, as she believes the killer is still at large. But as she tries to smoke him out again, she unearths an unexpected family secret.

The 2016 novel Under the Influence is an enthralling, psychologically suspenseful thriller. Helen's marriage was destroyed by her drinking, and her alcoholism even lost her custody of her 7-year-old son, Ollie. Though she once had dreams of being an art photographer, she makes ends meet by working as a caterer and snapping portraits for school children. She spends her time perusing aimlessly through a dating website, and struggling through awkward weekend visitations with her son.

Then she meets Ava and Swift Havilland. This wealthy and philanthropic couple immediately have Helen wrapped around their fingers. They're well-connected, and have a home full of edgy art which hosts extravagant parties. But can they compete with the new man in Helen's life?

Related: 10 Female Noir and Mystery Writers You Need to Read

Elliot is a reserved accountant full of kindness, who offers Helen all the loyalty and love she's been missing. He has nothing in common with the Havilland's. In fact, the couple finds him dreadfully boring. To make matters worse, Elliot remains unimpressed by their lifestyle.

But Helen is firmly under their Havilland's thumb, even before they unearth their secret weapon: the influence to help her regain custody of Ollie. But what is the price of such a thing? When Ollie witness an incident involving Swift, his adult son, and the housekeeper's daughter, the young boy's future is in danger.

Referred to by The Atlantic as "the Joyce Carol Oates of women’s confessional essays," Joyce Maynard is no stranger to vulnerability in writing. For all that she's widely criticized for her life choices, some might say that her flaws only lend to the interesting, layered, and complex stories she spins across the page. Maynard is a writer who freely and shameless pulls inspirations from the world around her, in all its darkness and joys. Through this, she crafts world, characters, and situations that pull readers right into the center.

Her latest book, Count the Ways falls under the genres of romance, suspense and coming-of-age. Pre-order the title now before it's release on June 29th.