Yesterday, I reviewed THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS by Meg Waite Clayton; and I loved it! I was just thrilled when the author agreed to answer some questions about the book for me.
Booking Mama: What prompted you to write THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS?
Meg Waite Clayon: I wish I could say I set out to write a novel about friendship, or about how the women’s movement changed the world, or about the struggles so many women go through today, which aren’t so different from the struggles women have always faced. But the truth is it’s very daunting to start a novel—a bit like getting up one morning and running a whole marathon without any training. So everything I write starts more modestly, with some little nugget of something I find interesting, that I want to explore.
THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS started as a title. I can’t honestly remember where it came from, but when it popped into my mind I loved it. Not a word of the story came with it, though, so it sat as an empty file in my computer for over a year. The story itself started with a single nameless, faceless, character, just a character trait, really: white gloves. I had no idea who wore them or why she might be a “Wednesday Sister.” There were a lot of elements rolling around in the back of my mind, but I did have the idea that it would be a friendship story. As I was writing it, I kept in my journal a photo from when I was in law school: my roommate Darby and me sitting on our balcony after my last second-year final, raising our glasses to our other roommate, Jenn, who’d poured the wine and didn’t hesitate to capture me at my worst on film. (Darby, of course, looks great!)
Booking Mama: The story takes place during the late 1960s and early 1970s -- a fascinating time of history for our country. You are too young to actually remember many of the events mentioned in your book. Why did you choose for the book to take place during this time period? How much research did you have to conduct before writing this book?
Meg Waite Clayton: When I was in law school a friend—I think it was Liza Yntema—took me into a room somewhere in Hutchins Hall to show me some old Michigan Law School class photos she’d found, to show me how few women there were in classes not many years before us. It was definitely an “aha” moment for me. I don’t think I had a clue what a difference the women’s movement had made in my life before that. That was definitely something I wanted to explore here: the shift the movement provoked in the way women—many women or maybe even all women, not just those who would call themselves feminists—think of themselves.
I could go on and on about that.
But part of why I wanted to explore this is that I think how we judge ourselves as women still has some way to go. For example, although we don’t gather around the television to watch the Miss America Pageant in anywhere near the numbers we used to, the media image of how women are supposed to look seems only to have gotten thinner and more airbrushed and unrealistic. We seem to be stuck in this ideal of womanhood as Virgin Mary perfection that no real woman can live up to.
As for research, I have a huge three ring binder overfull of things I’ve collected. I pored through magazines and newspapers from the late 1960s, picking out clothes and hairstyles they would wear and trying to imagine which articles they might read and what they would think of them. I went through bestseller and top-forty lists and watched the lunar landing footage, old Tonight Show clips, and old movies. (All great fun!) I got the kind and patient staff at the library to drag out files on Palo Alto history for me. I looked at a million photos. And for the things I hadn’t personally experienced, I relished opportunities to touch base with someone who had. I love research because it not only illuminates the things I don’t know, but also leads me to new launching pads.
Booking Mama: I related to so many of the characters in this book, and I'm sure women who read the book will feel the same way. I especially felt an affinity with Frankie moving to a new city and having to make new friends. What character do you most relate to (if any) in the book? Are there any autobiographical aspects to this book?
Meg Waite Clayton: I certainly relate to Frankie in the moving-to-a-new-city anxiety. I’ve had a lot more practice with it over the years than she has, but that has never made it easier!
The Wednesday Sisters isn’t autobiographical in a strict sense, but the heart of the book—the Wednesday Sisters’ friendship—definitely draws its emotional roots from my own friends, and in particular my friend Jenn DuChene, my husband, Mac Clayton, and my long-term writing pal, Brenda Rickman Vantrease. Let’s just say I could not have written The Wednesday Sisters without them. The joy the Sisters share is the same kind of joy I have gotten from all the many friends I am blessed to have, joy I hope I return to them. This book is absolutely meant to be a halleluiah to friends.
Each of the Wednesday Sisters does contain some little piece of me. Linda’s fear—for her children and for herself—is my fear. Brett’s tortured relationship with her “unfeminine intellect” draws on my own discomfort as a girl who was talented at math when girls weren’t supposed to be. Kath’s darkest moments draw from a relationship of mine that ended unhappily. Frankie’s self-doubt and her chubby phases are mine, as is her experience with her first novel. Even Ally is me in her middle-of-the-night journey at the end of the book, drawn from my own experience as a mom.
When I first started writing, I think I most related to Linda. But by the time I finished I felt so very close to all of them that picking one over any of the others for anything would be almost like choosing one of my sons over the other—which I couldn’t imagine doing.
Booking Mama: All of the Wednesday Sisters agree to start writing, but they all go about the writing process in different ways. For most of the women, their writing acted as therapy for them and helped them to cope with their insecurities and disappointments in their lives. What are your reasons for deciding to write after practicing law for years?
Meg Waite Clayton: Growing up (isn’t that when most dreams start?), I was a huge reader. I dreamed of writing books like A Wrinkle in Time, but to me writing novels was like leaping tall buildings in single bounds. The adults I knew were businessmen—not even business women; the “ladies” were moms and teachers and nuns. Even a girl going to law school was a stretch. My husband, Mac, was the first adult to whom I admitted my childhood aspirations to write, and he gave me a great big push. He said, basically, “Your dream, Meg. How will you ever know unless you try?”
Booking Mama: I loved the symbolism that you incorporated into the novel, especially the parts about the Miss America pageant and the space flights. Why did you choose to incorporate these events into your story?
Meg Waite Clayton: One of my earliest really vivid memories is of watching Neil Armstrong step out onto the moon. And I am as guilty as the Wednesday Sisters of watching Miss America. It would be hard for me to write about the 1960s without touching on them.
So they were there in the first draft, and the trick for me in revision is to sort out the weeds from the flowers, and to make room for the flowers to grow.
I suppose those two elements were appealing to explore beyond that first draft because they represent different ends of the spectrum. So many girls grew up aspiring to be Miss America, but there were also girls like Brett (and me!) who thought one of the coolest things in the world was an astronaut. The Miss America element allowed me to explore that whole over-emphasis on women’s physical beauty, and to show how the women’s movement raised awareness of that even in women who would not in a million years call themselves feminists. And the space race allowed me to explore the things women couldn’t do. They simply could not become astronauts any more than they could board the male-only “executive” flights that existed at the time.
I think the race for the moon in some ways represents the future, too. The possibilities. As Senator Clinton said in her speech the other day, we’ve now seen fifty women launched into space. One of the things I found most interesting about that is that I didn’t even know it until I heard her say it: women routinely fill so many roles from which they were once excluded that we don’t even keep count anymore.
Booking Mama: I was wondering if you are a big sports fan? You mention the ups and mainly downs of the Chicago Cubs baseball team as well as lots of information about the Olympics and running. I am a huge sports fans and it was so nice to see so many sports references in a "woman's" book.
Meg Waite Clayton: Let’s just say that for my 20th anniversary this summer, my husband and I are going to a Cubs game with our sons, my father and several of my brothers and their families. And I once called to excuse my sons from school for “an important family matter” without mentioning that the matter was a Cubs game.
I loved playing softball and almost any sport when I was younger, and though I don’t participate in team sports beyond the occasional family touch football game these days, I spend plenty of time running. I’m currently training for the Nike Women’s half marathon with Team in Training. (I’m really slow, but I’ve never failed to get to the finish line!)
Booking Mama: I am always asking everyone I meet this question because I am constantly looking for new book ideas. I hope I'm not putting you on the spot, but who are some of your favorite authors and what are some of your favorite books? What book are you reading right now?
Meg Waite Clayton: Right now I have the great pleasure of reading an advanced reader copy of Michelle Richmond’s novel coming out June 20, No One You Know. It is terrific! I quite expect to see it on the bestseller lists, as her The Year of Fog was.
I have this idea that my taste in literature generally leans heavily toward women writers and strong women characters, but I’m not sure my favorites list supports that. I love Jane Austen and George Eliot and Harper Lee and modern women writers like Alice McDermott and Anne Tyler and Barbara Pym. But I also love Tolstoy and Graham Greene and Ernest Gaines, all of whom are men who write largely about men. I suppose I like well-written books that dig right into my heart, books that make me laugh and cry.
Booking Mama: What are you working on now?
Meg Waite Clayton: I’m finishing up the first draft of a new novel currently called “Untitled Catholic Story.” At the moment, it is definitely drivel, but I’m hopeful there is a story that can be pulled out of the muck.
Booking Mama: What would you like readers to take away from your book?
Meg Waite Clayton: Two reviews posted on Library Thing embody exactly what I would like readers to take away from The Wednesday Sisters. One said after she finished the book, she picked up her own pen for the first time in years. The other said, “…when I finished, I emailed all of my best girlfriends just to tell them I love them”—which caused me to pick up the phone to call my own friends!
I'd like to thank Ms. Waite Clayton for agreeing to be interviewed by me. I appreciate the time and thought she put into each of her answers.
I just happen to have an extra copy of THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS to share with one lucky reader. If you are interested in winning a copy of this book, please leave a comment (with youre e-mail) after this post. To double your chances, mention it on your blog with a link back here. The contest will be open until Saturday, June 21st at 11:59 p.m. I will announce the winner on Sunday, June 22nd. Good luck to everyone!