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Jen's Jewels
Get the lowdown on your favorite authors with Jennifer Vido.

Interview with Meg Waite Clayton

When my husband and I were living in Atlanta back in the early nineties, I left my teaching career behind and gave birth to our first son. Not surprisingly, I joined a moms’ group. Within months, these near strangers became my closest friends as together we faced the challenges that motherhood brings. Looking back, some of my fondest memories of those years include these extraordinary women who made motherhood seem like a walk in the park.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels, Meg Waite Clayton, touches upon this theme of bonding mothers, yet it is set in a turbulent time…the late sixties and early seventies. THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS is a spell-binding novel that truly depicts the essence of an era in which women dared to make a change. Beautifully written, this remarkable story of five distinctive women coming together to unearth their true destinies is sure to win your heart. Quite simply, it’s a story of love, loyalty, and friendship.

As part of this interview, Ballantine Books has graciously donated five copies of THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS for you, my readers, to win. So don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. Please go ahead and grab something cold to drink and get to know my friend and this month’s featured author, Meg Waite Clayton.

Jen: It seems that the growing trend among novelists today is to have pursued their supposedly “chosen” career before coming to the realization that their true passion is and always has been writing. Not surprisingly, your unique story seems to follow suit. Please tell us a little bit about your educational and professional background that led to where you are today.

Meg: In my experience, most people who are at all humble have difficulty believing they might reach their dreams. That’s one of the things The Wednesday Sisters is about: how friends help us believe in ourselves. Growing up, I dreamed of writing books like A Wrinkle in Time, but to me, writing novels was like leaping tall buildings in single bounds. Even a girl going to law school was a stretch. So I studied history and psychology in college, went to law school, and then to a law firm.

The history background sure prepared me to write novels set in other times, though, and the psychology training helped me better understand the sometimes odd things people do, and why. Through the law, I learned to anticipate every angle of a situation, which pays dividends in writing, where you really do need to consider what every character in a scene brings to that scene. I learned discipline, too, and met some really interesting and often very successful folks along the way, all of whom turn out to be as human as you and me – a great perspective to have when you’re writing. And in the law, you are often telling stories of one sort or another.

Jen: How did you arrive at the premise for your latest work, THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS?

Meg: The way I think most readers would describe the premise of The Wednesday Sisters – something like “five moms and homemakers connect over books in a park at the dawn of the women’s movement, and bond when they form a writing group” – wasn’t, for the most part, even there when I began the book. My first journal entry for it does not contemplate a historical setting or a park. It doesn’t contemplate that they meet over books or will end up forming a writing group. What it does contemplate is a group of women who become friends, and help each other through life. Since the book started on a day when I was having a tough time myself, feeling like my literary life might be over almost before it had begun, and at the time when my own closest friends lived thousands of miles away, I suppose I was gathering them around me in the best way I could, which was by trying to capture the spirit of our friendships in words.

Jen: One of the most difficult tasks for a writer is to find her main character’s voice which enables the story to truly come to life. However, you chose to have five main characters, each with adversities as well as moments of triumph which mold them into the strong women with whom we can identity. Please tell us about this very special group of ladies. What makes each one so vital to the evolution of the plot?

Meg: The Wednesday Sisters started with five friends: Frankie, a timid Midwestern transplant; Linda, a brutally blunt athlete; Brett, an eccentric math-science geek; Kath a spunky Southern debutante; and Ally, the quiet, thoughtful one – although reducing them to type like that loses the contradictions and details that make them interesting.

I’d like to say I had a very logical reason for including each of them, but the truth is they arrived as a group, and eliminating any of them would have been like whiting one of my law school pals out of my favorite photo: the whole picture would become unbalanced in a way it’s hard to imagine, because I only known the world with all of them there.

Jen: No matter what the genre, some research is required in order for the overall book’s authenticity to ring true. One of the things I liked best about your novel was as the story unfolded, history was also being made. How did you go about preparing for the writing of this book? How much factual research was needed? And what, if anything, did you discover along your journey that was most fascinating to you?

Meg: The wonderful history professors at University of Michigan left me steeped in the emotions of the sixties, if not with a great memory for dates and names some twenty-five years later. I did a lot of research on the particulars, turning to 1960s bestseller lists and fashion photos, articles on the state of medicine, the Olympics, women’s marches, Miss America photos and quotes, and footage of the lunar landing and the Johnny Carson Show.

What I discovered was that women’s lives were even more limited than I’d imagined: women weren’t allowed to run marathons and even Stanford had no women’s track team; new mothers were often required to forfeit their jobs; want ads were separated by gender; there were actually men-only flights; and my own high school, the year I started – 1972 – had only six girls’ sports teams (no track there either!), all listed after the many, many pages of the many, many boys’ sports. I think of myself as coming of age on the other side of the women’s movement from The Wednesday Sisters, but I see in retrospect how long it has taken – and is still taking – for the world to change.

Jen: From start to finish, approximately how long did it take for you to complete this book? Which of the five characters was the most rewarding to write and why?

Meg: For a year and a half or so, “The Wednesday Sisters” was just a title on a blank file on my computer. On July 1, 2004, I sat down to write in my journal with only the idea that one of the sisters – whoever they were – would wear white gloves. It was an amazing morning: when I got up again, I had the guts of the story. When I sat down to write it in earnest the next spring (I spent the interim on another novel that I still haven’t gotten right), I wrote the bulk of the first draft in an eight-month burst, then revised very quickly. I had a manuscript ready to go by mid-January.

To make a long story short, eleven months and many discarded drafts later, at the urging of some writer pals I trust, I changed agents. Marly Rusoff – who walks on water – helped me edit over an intense few weeks, then sold it in early March of 2007. So by one measure, it took almost three years to write it. But it feels like it came much more quickly than that.

Kath was the easiest character to write from the start, Ally the most difficult. Frankie’s was the voice that came to me in that first journal session, and never left. I liked Linda and Brett the best at first, but in the end each of them tapped into something I feel deeply. So I think the most rewarding part was not any single character, but rather the way the friends – together – seem to be bringing readers a little of the kind of joy my own friends share.

Jen: Frankie is the catalyst that ignites the desire in each of the women to follow their dreams. What is her biggest strength? Weakness? What is the driving force behind her willingness to break out of her cocoon?

Meg: I suppose Frankie’s greatest strength is that she recognizes her weaknesses and wants to grow; she’s willing to work toward her dream. Her greatest weakness is probably that she fears being seen to fail: hence her hiding her writing even from her husband.

But I don’t think of Frankie as the sole catalyst for the sisters actions. She does urge the sisters to try harder after they’ve settled into complacency. But it’s Linda who gives them the first push. Brett capitalizes on Linda’s push by plunging into the water head first. Through Ally, they learn the value of wanting something badly enough to face failure again and again. And Kath provides the sort of unconditional positive regard we all need sometimes to believe in ourselves, which perhaps answers your earlier question about what makes each one so vital to the evolution of the plot.

Jen: At the beginning of the story, there is an air of mystery surrounding Ally. Without giving too much away, why do you think the women choose to stand by her side despite the non-conventional choices that she has made?

Meg: I think very few women lack empathy for what Ally goes through, and The Wednesday Sisters are no different. One of the things they come to realize, particularly through Ally and Kath’s stories, is that who we choose to love – if it is a choice – and how we love them is impossible to judge from the outside. And I suppose Ally’s story represents my own hope that the polarization of groups-think falls away when we come to know individuals from unfamiliar groups, and see that they are more like us than not.

Jen: Tacking on to the last question, there also was some mystery surrounding Brett and her fetish for white gloves. Why did the women not come right out and ask her why she was wearing them? What made them not dare to cross that line?

Meg: Linda does ask about Brett’s gloves at the end of Chapter 2, but Brett ducks the question, and Kath – who is nothing if not well-mannered – cuts off another pass by Linda to spare Brett embarrassment. Once the question is avoided the first time, it becomes more difficult to raise, although Linda does make another pass in Chapter 12. As the sisters come to care about one another, though, even Linda comes to see that those gloves are the only band-aid Brett has to cover some deep pain, and the sisters allow Brett the dignity of uncovering that pain in her own way, at her own time which is what, in my experience, the best of friends do.

Jen: The Miss America Pageant could very well be the sixth main character in this novel. Why did you decide to have it play such an important role in the book? (I really enjoyed how you worked it into the storyline. Well done!) What relevance does it have in your life?

Meg: Thank you! I am definitely a girl who grew up watching the Miss America Pageant, even after the 1968 protests called its existence in to question, and continued to read women’s fashion magazines well into the 1990s. There still seems to me to be an unhealthy emphasis on a woman’s physical appearance, even for a woman running for president – which ought to be all about intelligence. And just as it was primarily women watching Miss America, it is still women buying the fashion magazines with the anorexic models. I certainly meant to use the Miss America pageant to remark on that, to say that yes, some things are better now, but other things haven’t changed as much as they should.

Jen: After reading THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS, I have to admit that I felt somewhat empowered in the sense that I could appreciate how far we as women have really come. At any point in the writing of this novel did you feel the same way? What stuck out in your mind as perhaps the most significant achievement for women?

Meg: I’m so glad you felt that! I certainly did as well. When I think of the moments that have moved me most, they are Sandra Day O’Connor and Nancy Pelosi being sworn in to their respective positions, Katie Couric taking the anchor’s chair, Joan Benoit winning the first women’s Olympic marathon. But one of the things that became very apparent to me in researching The Wednesday Sisters was that those moments only happened because of the moments that came before them: women marathoners staging a sit-down strike at the New York City Marathon to draw attention to the state of women’s running; protestors facing ridicule by newscasters and onlookers when they took to the streets to draw attention to gender inequality; individuals suing law and medical schools to gain admission, and suing employers to gain jobs or more equal pay.

Jen: With the completion of a novel comes a sense of accomplishment but also some sadness due to the need to finally put the characters to rest. I would imagine that these women became a part of your life. (They did mine!!) Was it hard to say good-bye?

Meg: One of the nicest things about touring with the book is that I get to share Frankie, Linda, Kath, Brett and Ally with audiences. It’s a little like taking my children out and showing them off. Jen: In relation to your craft, what was the most valuable thing you learned from writing THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS?

Meg: I learned so much about point of view on this novel! I have a strong preference for the intimacy of first person, but it can be limiting. How do you get stories of five characters told that closely from a single point of view? The solution I settled on – having a single narrator who knows all the stories well enough to tell them even though she wasn’t actually there every moment – certainly has its roots in the way my family tells stories about ourselves. And now I that I’ve stepped beyond tradition first-person; I’m exploring other first person or mixed points of view in my new work.

Jen: Please take us on a tour of your website. Do you have a mailing list? E-mail notification of upcoming releases? Blog? Do you participate in author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about arranging one?

Meg: My website is the amazing creative work of Ilsa Brink, and I am just thrilled with the great job she did. My favorite pages are the Character pages (reached through the character buttons on the home page); each of Linda, Ally, Brett, Kath and Frankie has her own page – and they are beautiful! The Book Groups pages include not just information for book clubs and all readers, but also a little bit about my own book clubs. And the Writers pages are meant to inspire anyone who wants to write to pick up a pen. That’s also the point of my blog, 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started, where I host a different author every Wednesday. And you can email me or sign up for my mailing list on the site, or request a book club chat. It’s one of the things I most enjoy: talking with readers.

Jen: Are you busy at work on your next novel? If so, what can you tell us about it?

Meg: I’ve got two under construction. For one, I have a first draft – I’ve bulldozed the road I think I’ll travel - which for me is the hardest part. The other is not quite as far along. It’s always hard for me to say what a book is about until it’s pretty close to done; I have to write it to see what’s there. But both books have a friendship core of one sort or another, like The Wednesday Sisters, although they are very different in other ways.

Jen: Thank you so much for taking part in this interview. Your novel is an inspiration to writers such as me who dream of becoming a published author someday. It has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you. Best of luck in your career!

Meg: An inspiration! That is a lovely thought. Thanks for hosting me, Jen!

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Meg. Please stop by your local bookstore or library and pick up a copy of THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS today!

Answer the following trivia question and you could win your very own copy of THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS!

What is the name of Meg’s blog?

In September, I will be bringing to you my interview with screenwriter, David Fuller. His debut novel entitled SWEETSMOKE will be one of this fall’s most talked about books! You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…Jen

 

 

Comments

9 comments posted.

Re: Interview with Meg Waite Clayton

Meg's blog is 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started
(Kathy Roberts 10:57am August 20, 2008)

Fantastic Author and Meg's Blog is 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started. Thanks and God bless you!
(Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez 1:43pm August 21, 2008)

1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started is the name of Meg's blog.
(Marla Alleman 7:04pm August 24, 2008)

Very nice and interesting interview!
(Val Brice 10:29pm August 27, 2008)

Stories of How Writers Get Started is the name of Meg's Blog
(Karen Zylstra 8:25pm September 1, 2008)

1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started
The Wednesday Sisters sounds very good! I'm looking forward to reading it!
(Carol Mintz 1:17pm September 4, 2008)

Meg's blog is 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started
(Jobie Marshall 7:14pm September 5, 2008)

I would love to win a copy of this book; it's been on my wish list! Meg's blog is named 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started.
(Dawn Rennert 7:52am September 8, 2008)

Meg' Blog is named 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started. Great contest!
(Peggy Gorman 9:42am September 14, 2008)

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