Beach Reading: an interview with Nancy Thayer

One fine day in April, I was surprised and thrilled to find an email with an opportunity to read Nancy Thayer's latest novel, The Guest Cottage, and then interview her. Nancy is the author of 2 dozen novels and if you enjoy a good beach read, I encourage you to check out her work! Not only are her books the kind that are fun to read with legs stretched out in the sand, but they are often set on Nantucket where she lives. Nancy KNOWS the beach!

Want to know what you'll find in The Guest Cottage? Well, here you go:

"Sensible thirty-six-year-old Sophie Anderson has always known what to do. She knows her role in life: supportive wife of a successful architect and calm, capable mother of two. But on a warm summer night, as the house grows quiet around her and her children fall asleep, she wonders what’s missing from her life. When her husband echoes that lonely question, announcing that he’s leaving her for another woman, Sophie realizes she has no idea what’s next. Impulsively renting a guest cottage on Nantucket from her friend Susie Swenson, Sophie rounds up her kids, Jonah and Lacey, and leaves Boston for a quiet family vacation, minus one.

Also minus one is Trevor Black, a software entrepreneur who has recently lost his wife. Trevor is the last person to imagine himself, age thirty and on his own, raising a little boy like Leo—smart and sweet, but grappling constantly with his mother’s death, growing more and more closed off. Hoping a quiet summer on the Nantucket coast will help him reconnect with Leo, Trevor rents a guest house on the beautiful island from his friend Ivan Swenson.

Best-laid plans run awry when Sophie and Trevor realize they’ve mistakenly rented the same house. Still, determined to make this a summer their kids will always remember, the two agree to share the Swensons’ Nantucket house. But as the summer unfolds and the families grow close, Sophie and Trevor must ask themselves if the guest cottage is all they want to share."

Many, many thanks to Nancy Thayer! And here's the interview!

Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo: What inspired The Guest Cottage?

Nancy Thayer: When my first novel was published, I was a divorced mother with two young children, much like Sophia, and I often felt like a table with three legs. Thirty-two years ago I came to Nantucket to visit a friend, and I also met Charley. Wow! We’ve been married for thirty years now, so I can truthfully say this island inspires romance. I have several good friends who have met their husbands here, too. One good friend told the man who wanted to date her: “You don’t want to date me. I can’t have children.” He said, “That’s great! I’m adopted, and I’ve always wanted to adopt.” This is true. They’re married and have adopted. That love-at-first-sight stuff gives me goose bumps every time.

MCD: In reading The Guest Cottage, the themes of big life changes, family and Nantucket as a character itself emerge. These often crop up in your work—what draws you to explore these ideas?

NT: I’ve always wanted to write about family, because I believe the family is the center of the world and holds the world together. Yet living in a family is hard work, sometimes exhausting. What we, especially women, moms, do every day is nothing short of heroic, and at least as valuable to the world as killing someone in a war. I wish the evening news had a section called “Another Family Survived the Day.” The screen would show a mom whose jeans have gotten too tight from stress eating lifting a screaming toddler from a grocery cart as her four-year-old accidentally pushes the cart over her foot. The mom would ignore her foot, soothe the baby, kiss her four-year-old, buckle the children into their car seats, and hand them all a sippy cup of water and a small box of crackers. She would sneakily eat a bar of chocolate as she drove.

MCD: What is your motivation when you sit down to write? What is it that you set out to do?

NT: First of all, I want to tell a good story. A good story saves the day every time. I want that woman with the screaming toddler to climb into bed with a cup of hot chocolate and my book, and to feel like she’s reading about her best friend. I want her to laugh, and cry, and be encouraged and inspired for the next day.

MCD: You've published many novels in your career—how do you maintain the momentum?

NT: I often joke that it’s OCD, and maybe it is. I don’t seem to run out of ideas, and right now I have a marvelous editor who nurtures and inspires me. I couldn’t keep working like this if I didn’t have a great husband who does his own laundry and cooks his own meals—these are not little matters. I used to get snail mail and now I get real mail from women who have been nurtured by one of my novels, and their kind words are like rocket fuel to me.

MCD: What do you feel is your greatest contribution to women's literature? What draws you to the genre?

NT: My novel Stepping, about a young woman who married a divorced man with two children, then had two children of her own, was published in 1980. Before Oprah. Back when divorce, step-parenting, second wives, were all frowned upon. Stepping was a huge success. I received dozens of letters. Since then, I’ve continued to write about families, friends, children, and my greatest contribution is that I’ve written about “ordinary” women with “ordinary” challenges. I think I’ve chronicled my kind of life, not one with gems, yachts and princes, but our beautiful, amazing, ordinary life.

MCD: How do you think you have evolved creatively?

NT: Thirty years ago, before the Internet, people had more time to sit and read. My books are faster paced now, just like people’s lives.

About Nancy Thayer (from her website):

Nancy Thayer is the author of twenty-three novels, including Summer House, The Hot Flash Club, Beachcombers, Heat Wave, Summer Breeze, and Island Girls.

Her books concern the mysteries and romance of families and relationships: marriage and friendships, divorce and love, custody and step parenting, family secrets and private self-affirmation, the quest for independence and the normal human hunger for personal connections.

Nancy Thayer has a B.A. and M.A. in English literature from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. She was a Fellow at the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference. She has lived on Nantucket Island year-round for twenty-eight years with her husband Charley Walters. Her daughter is the novelist Samantha Wilde.