Friday, September 7, 2018

S. M. Thayer

S. M. Thayer is a pseudonym for an award-winning fiction writer and McDowell Fellow whose work has appeared in numerous publications and received several Pushcart Prize nominations. A native of New York, Thayer lived for decades in the Washington, DC, metropolitan region before moving to rural Virginia and earning an MFA from Virginia Tech.

His debut novel is I Will Never Leave You.

Recently I asked Thayer about what he was reading. His reply:
The Fall Guy, by James Lasdun

This was the third time I’ve read the novel since it was published in 2016. For me, it’s that rare breed of novel that works both as intelligent literary fiction and an honest-to-goodness page-turning psychological thriller. I just finished writing the first draft of a new novel so, before going to work on revisions, I wanted to dive into something that could show me yet again what I should be aiming for. Lasdun’s prose, imagery, dialogue, pacing, and his sense of time and place, are impeccable. Like many (every?) good psychological thriller, envy and illicit love propel The Fall Guy’s plot, but I’m equally drawn to Lasdun’s exploration on “how [money] affects the consciousness of people who have it, or work with it.”

The Favorite Daughter, by Kaira Rouda

I was given an advanced copy of The Favorite Daughter, which will be published next year, and tore through it with shocking quickness. Rouda’s got a way with writing totally compelling, totally shocking characters. Like Rouda’s previous novel (Best Day Ever), the novel’s central character is a narcissistic psychopath who cackles with malicious verve. The weird thing is, despite their many and obvious flaws, as a reader I root for Rouda’s psychopaths almost up to the end. As a writer, one of the things I struggle with is writing sympathetic characters, so I paid attention to how Rouda made me feel so close to her characters. I hoped I learned a few things. It’s a tough balancing act—trying to create a character underhanded enough to effectively manipulate others and yet likeable enough so the reader doesn’t throw down his or her books in disgust. At this, Rouda’s a master!

“Dark vs. Darker” by Leslie Pietrzyk (essay)

I just stumbled upon this essay tonight but I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about it for several weeks—especially once I start revising the draft of my next novel. Pietrzyk, an award-winning writer who teaches in a low-residential MFA Program, muses about how all the best writing originates from some deep, dark place inside each writer. When thinking about some of her novels she’d been unable to sell to publishers, she concludes that that they failed because she didn’t dig to the darker places all of us have within us.

One paragraph that especially got to me was this:
Oh, I’m a hundred percent right; the best writing comes from the dark place. As a teacher, I’ve got to tell them that. But as a writer, I know we don’t muck down there all the time. I mean, there are funny books, and skillful stories that don’t require guts splayed on paper, and practiced writers learn to distract readers with style! Intellect! Tricks! All sorts of glittery baubles work, or seem to, keeping the writer safely distant from the dark place while getting published.
Believe it or not, I once considered myself a pretty clever, intelligent, witty writer. Prior to writing I Will Never Leave You, I wrote aggressively experimental novels stuffed up the wazzoo with bells and whistles and parlor tricks. None of those previous manuscripts got close to being published, and still I clung to my literary baubles. I Will Never Leave You was the first novel I consciously wrote in a realistic style. Because I didn’t try to hold readers’ attention with bells and whistles, I dug deeper, and darker. I hope I remember this lesson as I plow forward with the next novel.
Visit S. M. Thayer's website.

The Page 69 Test: I Will Never Leave You.

--Marshal Zeringue