Maynard has published novels in a wide range of literary genres, including fiction, young adult fiction, and true crime. Her sixth novel, Labor Day (2009), was adapted into the 2013 film of the same name, directed by Jason Reitman. Her most recent novels include The Good Daughters (2010), After Her (2013) and Under the Influence (2016).
Maynard was born in Durham, New Hampshire, the daughter of Fredelle (née Bruser), a journalist, writer, and English teacher, and Max Maynard, a painter and professor of English. Her father was born in India to English missionary parents and later moved to Canada; her mother was born in Saskatchewan to Jewish immigrants from Russia.
Maynard attended the Oyster River school district and Phillips Exeter Academy. She won Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, and 1971. In her teens, she wrote regularly for Seventeen magazine. She entered Yale University in 1971 and sent a collection of her writings to the editors of The New York Times Magazine. They asked her to write an article, which was published under the title "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life" in the magazine's April 23, 1972 issue. After the article was published, she got a letter from fiction writer J. D. Salinger, then 53 years old, who complimented her writing and warned her of the dangers of publicity.
Maynard and Salinger exchanged letters. After her freshman year at Yale, she moved into his house in Cornish, New Hampshire. Salinger and his wife had divorced in 1967. While living with him for ten months, Maynard wrote her first book, a memoir titled Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties, which was published in 1973 soon after Maynard and Salinger ended their relationship.
Maynard withheld from her published work information about their relationship until her 1998 memoir At Home in the World. During the same year, she auctioned the letters that Salinger had written to her. Software developer Peter Norton bought the letters for $156,500 and returned them to Salinger.
After moving out of Salinger's house in 1973, Maynard bought a house in Hillsborough, New Hampshire. From 1973 to 1975, she contributed commentaries to a series called Spectrum on CBS Radio. In 1975, she joined the staff of The New York Times as a general assignment reporter and feature writer. She left The New York Times in 1977 when she married Steve Bethel. They moved to New Hampshire and had three children, Audrey, Charlie, and Wilson.
From 1984 to 1990, Maynard wrote the weekly syndicated column "Domestic Affairs", dealing with marriage, parenthood, and family life. She worked as book reviewer and columnist for Mademoiselle and Harrowsmith magazines. In 1986 she helped lead the opposition to the construction of the nation's first high-level nuclear waste dump in her home state of New Hampshire, a campaign she described in a New York Times cover story in April 1986.
After her divorce from Bethel in 1989, she and her children moved to Keene, New Hampshire.
Maynard published her first novel, Baby Love, in 1981. Her 1992 novel To Die For drew from the Pamela Smart murder case and was adapted into the 1995 film of the same name, directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, and Joaquin Phoenix. In the late 1990s, she wrote to her readers in an online discussion forum, The Domestic Affairs Message Board.
She published two books of young adult fiction: The Usual Rules (2003) and The Cloud Chamber (2005). Her true crime book, Internal Combustion (2006), dealt with the case of Nancy Seaman, a Michigan resident who was convicted of killing her husband in 2004. The novel Labor Day was published in 2009 and turned into a movie of the same name, written and directed by Jason Reitman. Her other novels include The Good Daughters (2010), After Her (2013), and Under the Influence (2016).
Maynard and her sister Rona, a writer and retired editor of Chatelaine magazine, collaborated on an examination of their sisterhood. Rona Maynard's memoir My Mother's Daughter was published in the fall of 2007.
In February 2010, Maynard adopted two Ethiopian girls. In spring 2011, she told friends and family she could no longer care for the girls. She sent them to live with a family in Wyoming and, citing their privacy, removed all references to them from her website.
On July 6, 2013, she married lawyer Jim Barringer. He died on June 16, 2016.Baby Love (1981)
To Die For (1992)
Where Love Goes (1995)
The Usual Rules (2003)
The Cloud Chamber (2005)
Labor Day (2009)
The Good Daughters (2010)
After Her (2013)
Under the Influence (2016)
Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties (1973)
Domestic Affairs: Enduring the Pleasures of Motherhood and Family Life (1987)
At Home in the World (1998)
Internal Combustion: A Story of a Marriage and a Murder in the Motor City (2006)
"A Good Girl Goes Bad" (2007), in Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave, edited by Ellen Sussman
"Your Friend Always" (2007), in Mr. Wrong: Real-Life Stories About the Men We Used to Love, edited by Harriet Brown
"Someone Like Me, But Younger" (2009), in The Face in the Mirror: Writers Reflect on Their Dreams of Youth and the Reality of Age, edited by Victoria Zackheim
"Straw into Gold" (2013), in Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting, edited by Ann Hood (W. W. Norton & Company)