Meg Waite Clayton is the author of The Wednesday Sisters, a novel based in part on her experiences with her own writers’ group, and just released this week by Ballantine Books. Her first novel, The Language of Light, was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize. Meg lives with her family in Palo Alto, California, where The Wednesday Sisters is set.
Please join us in welcoming Meg to The Debutante Ball.
What’s in my Purse Backpack?
The history of my writing starts with a purse. Like the character of Linda in my new novel, The Wednesday Sisters, my first writing teacher—at a college extension class—dumped hers out over the table and told us to write for five minutes about anything that spilled out. She swore we wouldn’t have to read (just as Linda does in The Wednesday Sisters when she’s pushing the sisters to write). Then she called on me to read first. Which is the good news. If she hadn’t, I’d have ducked out before she could. It had taken all the nerve I had just to get to that class, to admit that, yes, I dreamed of writing novels.
I carry a backpack rather than a purse myself. More room for my journal, which is where The Wednesday Sisters began. My first entry for the book? “Feeling incredibly well-run-dry today … I don’t have anything … Not a character yet. Not any idea where it will go, or even where it will start.” The Wednesday Sisters had been a title on an empty file in my computer for over a year, and all I had for it was a single nameless, faceless, character—just a character trait, really: white gloves—without any idea who wore them or why she might be a “Wednesday Sister.”
That journal entry makes me laugh every time I reread it—and reminds me why I carry a journal and sit down to write even on “empty” mornings—because a minute later a woman with a blond braid sticking out of her Stanford cap walked by, and though she was gone in seconds (I never even saw her face), already Linda was bearing down on me, wondering if I could get her story into words before it was lost. By the time I looked up again, I had the guts of Linda’s story, and of Kath’s, Ally’s, Frankie’s and Brett’s. I had the idea for the first paragraph, which turns out to be two, and the last line of them. And I knew the story would be about friendship.
To be honest, Linda was wearing Brett’s white gloves at first, and the ending involved her husband rather than her friends. Frankie, who was named Bernie, was the only writer in what became their writing group. None of the five friends was born much before I was, but those few years made a world of difference: they were married with children when the women’s movement began, while I came of age on the other side, when women could apply to Harvard and Yale even if we couldn’t run Olympic marathons and didn’t yet sit on the Supreme Court. That’s something I wanted to explore: how the movement changed the world even for women of my mom’s generation who were committed to “the mommy track” before there was much of any other track. As was another issue on which progress remains thin: the ideal of womanhood as Virgin Mary perfection that no real person can live up to.
The heart of the story, though? True, my friend Jenn doesn’t write. My friend Brenda does, but she’s quick to point out that she’s a Tuesday Sister—the day our writing group met—and she swears she wouldn’t do what the Wednesday Sisters do together even for me. My husband Mac—also a part of that Tuesday group—would, but he is … well … male. Two Tuesday Sisters and One Husband? Not such a good title, right? But the story behind the The Wednesday Sisters is those “Wednesday Sisters” of mine. It’s meant to be a hallelujah to my own amazing friends.