Frisky Q&A: Joyce Maynard, Author Of Labor Day & Kate Winslet’s Personal Pie Instructor

Seeing your novel be made into a mainstream film is one thing. But teaching two of Hollywood’s biggest stars how to bake your mother’s pie recipe? Joyce Maynard has the life.

Maynard is the author of Labor Day, a novel about an agoraphobic, fragile single mom  who is brought out of her shell by a fugitive on the run. In the film version, “Labor Day,” which is directed by Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Up In The Air”), the marvelous Kate Winslet plays Adele, a divorcée buckled by heartbreak who we desperately want to find love again. We just aren’t sure we want her to find it with Josh Brolin’s character Frank, a prison escapee and big, scary, imposing man sent from Central Casting. Good job on that beard, Josh!

At first Frank forces himself into Adele’s house seeking cover, which she provides under fear of injury. But this hostage situation becomes a love affair when Frank proves himself to be a sensitive and caring individual (despite his murder record) and that’s just what Adele needs. Their unconventional love story is narrated by Adele’s 13-year-old son Henry. He watches Frank with a wary eye — but is happy to have a father figure and delights in seeing his mother smile again.

I spoke with Joyce Maynard about teaching Josh Brolin to make pie (photo proof above!), writing like a 13-year-old boy, and her desire for an unconventional love story. Our Q&A begins after the jump:

The Frisky: There’s a big scene in “Labor Day” that involves making pies. It’s almost erotic the way it figures into the plot.  I heard that you are the one who personally taught Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin how to make pies.

Joyce Maynard: I did, I did.

Wow. What was that like?

Kate attended the pie lesson but really my focus was Josh, because he was the one who had to have this command of the pie. When Jason [Reitman, the screenwriter and director] read the novel — he called me up and said he cried when he read the novel — the first thing he said was “Can I come over to your house and watch you make a pie?” He made this great little iPhone movie of me making a pie.

They flew me in to teach Josh in particular how to make the pie, because I wanted it to look like a real pie. I didn’t want it to be a food stylist’s pie. He was a terrific pie student and I always say, the only way to learn how to make a good pie is to see — you cannot get it from a recipe. Paramount may have sent you a recipe that I reluctantly wrote down but really, what I want people to do is get away from recipes. You can’t learn to dance, or make love, or take care of a baby from a book. You have to feel it.  …  I love most of all that people are going to be reading my book, but I love that they’re going to be making my pie! Making my mother’s pie and baking! And doing something old, you know, hand-made! Not ordering it up, not getting store-bought crust, there’s no app you can download for this one. This is human beings in a kitchen with human hands, flawed and crust falling apart and patching it back together, and it’s what my mother did. I love the idea that young people, older people, people of all ages might be inspired to go home and make a pie, and make a pie together.

“Labor Day” is actually your second novel that’s been made into a movie. (The first was “To Die For,” starring Nicole Kidman.)

It feels pretty great, not surprisingly — actually, more so even than “To Die For.” Although I did think that “To Die For” was a wonderful movie. But the movie “To Die For” did not lead people to reading the book To Die For. In fact, most people didn’t know a book existed. So the great experience that I’m having now is that readers are flocking to the novel Labor Day, and of course that’s the best news I could hear because I’m proud of my work. And as good a film as Jason Reitman made, of course there are things in the book that are not in the film. And then people will find out about all the other books I’ve written.

So what are some of the things in the Labor Day the book that didn’t make it into “Labor Day” the movie?

I would say in general — and this just goes with the territory of the form, I don’t fault Jason Reitman for this — but the novel is written in the voice of [the 13-year-old narrator] Henry. So there are a lot of his thoughts and feelings and sexual fantasies, a lot of his sexual fantasies,- that didn’t make it into the movie. There’s a great thing that he does, which actually, a man that I knew once told me this. When he was 13 — and this was a simpler time, before the Internet — he had this dream that he was chasing a naked girl around a tree. I mean, this exemplifies 13-year-old boy. He’s running as fast as he can, but he can never catch this naked girl and he desperately wants to see the front of her, and he gets this wonderful idea that he’s gonna turn around 180 degrees. Only when he did turn around the 180 degrees in his dream, he didn’t know what the front of a girl looked like! So he woke up! And that’s Henry. That’s who Henry is. Henry’s a very touching character, but he’s also funny.

I wanted to ask you about Henry because I’m always really interested when fiction writers write in the opposite gender. As an adult woman, do you find it hard at all to write from the point of view of a teen boy?

You know, it’s one of the joys of my fiction writing life that I get to experience lives beyond my own, and it would be very boring for me if I always wrote in the voice of a woman of whatever age I am who’s had my life. So I loved being a 13-year-old boy. I actually, I mean it wasn’t really a conscious decision. Literally, I woke up and he was talking and I just couldn’t type fast enough. I wrote that book in 10 days because I had to find out how it all turned out and the only way to find out was to write it. I have in fact raised two former 13-year-old boys — my sons are now 29 and 31 — so I know some things about 13-year-old boys. But [Henry] just came to me fully formed and I love that boy.

In “Labor Day,” Kate Winslet’s character is a single mother stuck in a deep depression and basically agoraphobic who falls in love with someone who is shunned by society (in this case, a fugitive on the run).  Is there anything about the novel that corresponded with what was going in your life at the time you wrote it?  

You know, the mother’s the most obvious [comparison], because I was a single mother raising three children in a small New Hampshire town. … What really came from my life is the experience of being no longer young, with many miles and losses on me and still holding on to a dream of love and of making a family. You know, not a conventionally configured one. And that was me, that came from me. And I hadn’t read a story for a person like me, I hadn’t read that story. I know romance novels exist, but I didn’t want a complete unrealistic fantasy. I wanted something that was possible. Most people don’t have Josh Brolin show up in their kitchen and start baking for them, but I wanted a love story for people like me, a grown-up love story. And I wrote it fast because I was my own first reader of that story.

But I could add that I’m partly Henry, I’m partly Frank. I’m sad to say I’m partly that mean girl Eleanor [Henry’s sort of friend]. If any writer is honest, he or she will tell you that if you read their work you know some things about them, and not just the good things.

“Labor Day” is in theaters nationwide on Friday, January 31st.

[Joyce Maynard on]