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A Novel

Written by Meg Waite ClaytonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Meg Waite Clayton

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List Price: $11.99

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On Sale: June 17, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-345-50784-6
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Five women, one passion, and the unbreakable bond of friendship

When five young mothers—Frankie, Linda, Kath, Ally, and Brett—first meet in a neighborhood park in the late 1960s, their conversations center on marriage, raising children, and a shared love of books. Then one evening, as they gather to watch the Miss America Pageant, Linda admits that she aspires to write a novel herself, and the Wednesday Sisters Writing Society is born. The five women slowly, and often reluctantly, start filling journals, sliding pages into typewriters, and sharing their work. In the process, they explore the changing world around them: the Vietnam War, the race to the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they believe about themselves. At the same time, the friends carry one another through more personal changes—ones brought about by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success. With one another’s support and encouragement, the Wednesday Sisters begin to embrace who they are and what they hope to become, welcoming readers to experience, along with them, the power of dreaming big.

Excerpt

The Wednesday Sisters look like the kind of women who might meet at those fancy coffee shops on University—we do look that way—but we’re not one bit fancy, and we’re not sisters, either. We don’t even meet on Wednesdays, although we did at the beginning. We met at the swings at Pardee Park on Wednesday mornings when our children were young. It’s been thirty-five years, though—more than thirty-five!—since we switched from Wednesdays at ten to Sundays at dawn. Sunrise, whatever time the light first crests the horizon that time of year. It suits us, to leave our meeting time up to the tilt of the earth, the track of the world around the sun.

That’s us, there in the photograph. Yes, that’s me—in one of my chubbier phases, though I suppose one of these days I’ll have to face up to the fact that it’s the thinner me that’s the “phase,” not the chubbier one. And going left to right, that’s Linda (her hair loose and combed, but then she brought the camera, she was the only one who knew we’d be taking a photograph). Next to her is Ally, pale as ever, and then Kath. And the one in the white gloves in front—the one in the coffin—that’s Brett.

•••

Brett’s gloves—that’s what brought us together all those years ago. I had Maggie and Davy with me in the park that first morning, a park full to bursting with children running around together as if any new kid could join them just by saying hello, with clusters of mothers who might—just might—be joined with a simple hello as well. It wasn’t my park yet, just a park in a neighborhood where Danny and I might live if we moved to the Bay Area, a neighborhood with tree-lined streets and neat little yards and sidewalks and leaves turning colors just like at home in Chicago, crumples of red and gold and pale brown skittering around at the curbs. I was sitting on a bench, Davy in my lap and a book in my hand, keeping one eye on Maggie on the slide while surreptitiously watching the other mothers when this woman—Brett, though I didn’t know that then—sat down on a bench across the playground from me, wearing white gloves. No, we are not of the white-glove generation, not really. Yes, I did wear them to Mass when I was a girl, along with a silly doily on my head, but this was 1967—we’re talking miniskirts and tie-dyed shirts and platform shoes. Or maybe not tie-dye and platforms yet—maybe those came later, just before Izod shirts with the collars up—but miniskirts. At any rate, it was definitely not a white-glove time, much less in the park on a Wednesday morning.

What in the world? I thought. Does this girl think she’s Jackie Kennedy? (Thinking “girl,” yes, but back then it had no attitude in it, no “gi-rl.”) And I was wondering if she might go with the ramshackle house beyond the playground—a sagging white clapboard mansion that had been something in its day, you could see that, with its grandly columned entrance, its still magnificent palm tree, its long, flat spread of lawn—when a mother just settling at the far end of my bench said, “She wears them all the time.”

Those were Linda’s very first words to me: “She wears them all the time.”

I don’t as a rule gossip about people I’ve never met with other people I’ve never met, even women like Linda, who, just from the look of her, seemed she’d be nice to know. She was blond and fit and . . . well, just Linda, even then wearing a red Stanford baseball cap, big white letters across the front and the longest, thickest blond braid sticking out the back—when girls didn’t wear baseball caps either, or concern themselves with being fit rather than just plain thin.

“You were staring,” Linda said. That’s Linda for you. She’s nothing if not frank.

“Oh,” I said, still stuck on that baseball cap of hers, thinking even Gidget never wore a baseball cap, not the Sandra Dee movie version or the Sally Field TV one.

“I don’t mean to criticize,” she said. “Everyone does.”

“Criticize?”

“Stare at her.” Linda shifted slightly, and I saw then that she was pregnant, though just barely. “You’re new to the neighborhood?” she asked.

“No, we . . .” I adjusted my cat’s-eye glasses, a nervous habit my mom had forever tried to break me of. “My husband and I might be moving here after he finishes school. He has a job offer, and we . . . They showed us that little house there.” I indicated the house just across Center Drive from the old mansion. “The split-level with the pink shutters?”

“Oh!” Linda said. “I thought it just sold, like, yesterday. I didn’t know you’d moved in!”

“It’s not sold yet. And we haven’t. We won’t move here until the spring.”

“Oh.” She looked a bit confused. “Well, you are going to paint the shutters, aren’t you?”

As I said, Linda is nothing if not frank.

That was the first Wednesday. September 6, 1967.

When I tell people that—that I first came to the Bay Area at the end of that summer, that that’s when the Wednesday Sisters first met—they inevitably get this look in their eyes that says bell-bottoms and flower power, war protests and race riots, LSD. Even to me, it seems a little improbable in retrospect that I never saw a joint back then, never flashed anyone a peace sign. But I had a three-year-old daughter and a baby son already. I had a husband who’d passed the draft age, who would have a Ph.D. and a full-time job within months. I’d already settled into the life I’d been raised to settle into: dependable daughter, good wife, attentive mother. All the Wednesday Sisters had. We spent the Summer of Love changing diapers, going to the grocery store, baking tuna casseroles and knitting sweater vests (yes, sweater vests), and watching Walter Cronkite from the safety of our family rooms. I watched the local news, too, though that was more about following the Cubs; they’d just lost to the Dodgers, ending a three-game winning streak—not much, three games, but then they are the Cubs and were even that year, despite Fergie Jenkins throwing 236 strikeouts and Ron Santo hitting 31 out of the park.

Anyway, I was sitting there watching Maggie on the slide, about to call to her to clear away from the bottom when she did it on her own, and I was just a bit intimidated by this blonde I didn’t know yet was Linda, and that occurred to me, that I didn’t know her name. “I’m Frankie O’Mara,” I said, forgetting that I’d decided to be Mary, or at least Mary Frances or Frances or Fran, in this new life. I tried to back up and say “Mary Frances O’Mara”—it was the way I liked to imagine my name on the cover of a novel someday, not that I would have admitted to dreams beyond marriage and motherhood back then. But Linda was already all over Frankie.

“Frankie? A man’s name—and you all curvy and feminine. I wish I had curves like you do. I’m pretty much just straight up and down.”

I’d have traded my “curves” of unlost baby gain for what was under her double-knit slacks and striped turtleneck in a second, or I thought I would then. She looked like that girl in the Clairol ads—“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”—except she was more “If you can’t join ’em, beat ’em” somehow. She didn’t wear a speck of makeup, either, not even lipstick.

“What are you reading, Frankie?” she asked.

(In fairness, I should explain here that Linda remembers that first morning differently. She swears her first words were “What’s that you’re reading?” and it was only when I didn’t answer—too busy staring at Brett to hear her, she says—that she said, “She wears them all the time.” She swears what brought us together was the book in my hand. That’s how she and Kath met, too; they got to talking about In Cold Blood at a party while everyone was still slogging through the usual blather about the lovely Palo Alto weather and how lucky they were that their husbands were doing their residencies here.)

I held up the cover of my book—Agatha Christie’s latest Poirot novel, The Third Girl—for Linda to see. She blinked blond lashes over eyes that had a little of every color in them, like the blue and green and yellow of broken glass all mixed together in the recycling bin.

“A mystery?” she said. “Oh.”

She preferred “more serious fiction,” she said—not unkindly, but still I was left with the impression that she ranked my mysteries right down there with comic books. I was left shifting uncomfortably in my pleated skirt and sweater set, wondering how I’d ever manage in a place where even the books I read were all wrong. I couldn’t imagine, then, leaving my friends back home, the girls who’d shared sleepless slumber-party nights and double dates with me, who still wore my clothes and lipstick and blush. Though it had never been quite the same after we’d all married. My Danny had seemed so . . . not awkward, exactly, but uncomfortable with my friends. And they weren’t any easier with him. “He’s such a brain,” Theresa had said just a few weeks before, and I’d said, “He is, isn’t he?” with a spanking big grin on my face, I’m sure, and it was only the doubt in Theresa’s eyes that told me she hadn’t meant it as praise. The conversation had left me feeling fat and desolate and drowning in filthy diapers, and when Danny came home from class that same evening talking about a job in California, I said, “California? I’ve always wanted to see California,” at once imagining dinner parties with Danny’s co-workers and their wives and weekend picnics at the beach and a whole new set of friends who would never imagine that Danny was one thing and I was another, even if we were.

Another gal pushed a baby buggy up to our bench just then, a big-haired, big-chinned brunette who had already pulled a book from her bag and was handing it to Linda, saying she’d finished it at two that morning. “No love story, but I liked it anyway. Thank,” she said, her y’s clipped, her i’s lingering on into forever. Mississippi, I thought, though that was probably because of the book: To Kill a Mockingbird.

Linda, polite as anything, was introducing us, saying, “Kath, this is Frankie . . .” Frowning then, clearly drawing a blank on my last name.

“Mary Frances O’Mara,” I said, remembering this time: Mary Frances or Frances or Fran.

“Frankie is moving into that cute little house with the awful pink shutters,” Linda said.

“Linda,” Kath said.

“In the spring, right?” Linda said.

“Maybe not that house,” I said.

“Oh, right. She hasn’t bought it yet. But when she does, she’s going to paint the shutters.”

“Lin-da!” Kath blinked heavily darkened lashes straight at her friend’s lack of manners. Then to me, “You can see why she doesn’t have a friend in this whole wide world except me, bless her cold, black heart.”

Kath said how pleased she was meet to me, her head bobbing and her shoulders bobbing along with it, some sort of Southern-girl upper-body dance that said more loudly than she could have imagined that she was an agreeable person, that she just wanted to be liked. I said, “Me, too,” nodding as well, but careful to keep my shoulders straight and square and still; probably I’d done a Midwestern version of that head bob all my life.

Kath began to unpack her baby from the stroller, placing a clean white diaper over the shoulder of her spotless blouse first, the careful pink of her perfect nails—the same pink as her lipstick—lingering on baby hair as neatly combed as her own, which was poufy at the top and flipping up at the ends the way it does only if you set it, with a big fat braid wrapped above her bangs like a headband. Not a real braid like Linda’s, but a fake one exactly the color of her hair. Still, it was easy to imagine that she slept propped up on pillows so her hair in big rollers would dry through, and that when it rained her hair might revert to disaster like mine did, even when it didn’t get wet. She wasn’t like my girlfriends back home, exactly, but she was more like them than Linda was. Not Twiggy thin. Not Doris Day blond.

Although Linda had lent Kath To Kill a Mockingbird. There was that.

“How old?” I asked Kath, glancing down at my own three-month-old Davy.

“This punkin?” Kath said, admiring her little Lacy. “She’s three months. My Lee-Lee—Madison Leland Montgomery the Fifth, he is really—he’s three and a half. And Anna Page—”

A young girl with Kath’s same chin, her same chestnut hair left alone to fall in its own random waves under a straw hat with a black grosgrain band, tore off across the park, the hat flying back off her head, tumbling into the sand behind her. She tripped and slid in the sand herself, and her dress (this smocked thing with white lace at the cuffs and neck) . . . well, you could see she was not a girl who kept her dresses clean. But she picked herself up without so much as a pout and continued on to the jungle gym, where she climbed to the top cross bar and hung upside down, her sandy dress falling over her face.

“I swear, she’ll be drinking bourbon straight out of the bottle before she’s eighteen,” Kath said.

Linda asked Kath who was coming to her Miss America party that Saturday night, then, and they started talking together about the other doctors’ wives they’d met—or the residents’ wives, to be precise. Kath had grown up in Louisville, Kentucky, and Linda in Connecticut. They’d both just moved to Palo Alto. They didn’t know any more people than I did, really. But they’d spent every Miss America Saturday they could remember gathering with their girlfriends to watch the pageant, like I had, all of us imagining taking that victory walk ourselves even if we were the homeliest things in town. Or Kath had always watched with her girlfriends, anyway, and Linda left the impression she had, too. She didn’t say anything that first afternoon about how lonely her childhood had been.


From the Hardcover edition.
Meg Waite Clayton|Author Q&A

About Meg Waite Clayton

Meg Waite Clayton - The Wednesday Sisters

Photo © McCord Clayton

Meg Waite Clayton is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of four novels, including The Wednesday Sisters and The Wednesday Daughters. She was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize (now the PEN/Bellwether), and her novels have been translated into languages from German to Lithuanian to Chinese. She’s also written essays and opinion pieces for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Forbes, Writer’s Digest, Runner’s World, and public radio.

Author Q&A

A Conversation Between Meg Waite Clayton and Brenda Rickman Vantrease


 
Meg Waite Clayton and Brenda Rickman Vantrease, author of The Mercy Seller, have been writing partners and close friends for more than a decade. They first met at an open writing group that gathered monthly at a Nashville library, but they really came to know each other as part of a more closely focused splinter group much like the Wednesday Sisters. Their small group met weekly at local coffee shops, commenting on one another’s work and improving as a result, and eventually all four members published articles, essays, and stories. Seven years after this writing group formed, Meg sold her first novel, The Language of Light, and a year later Brenda sold The Illuminator. Although they now live nearly a continent apart, Meg and Brenda continue to critique each other’s work, and the friendship that began in that first tentative sharing of manuscript pages now encompasses every aspect of their lives. Brenda and Meg enjoyed reminiscing about their early work together, reflecting on how friendship inspires writing, and exploring how much of The Wednesday Sisters is drawn from real life. 

Brenda Rickman Vantrease: There is so much I love about The Wednesday Sisters–I mean, it’s a beautifully written novel about writing and about friendship, which is as necessary to the human experience as breath. So what is not to love, right? But being a writer of historical fiction, I especially admire the way you integrate the historical setting with the lives of your characters. This story, these characters, could not exist apart from their time and place. That’s not an easy thing to do. What drew you to that time and place? Why the late 1960s? Why California? 

Meg Waite Clayton: I wanted to write a novel about women who have dreams for themselves that they are struggling to reach for, that they don’t really begin to reach for until their friends urge them to. I originally set out to write a contemporary story, but I worried that women coming of age today have no great excuse for hesitating to reach for their dreams. We still do hesitate–it’s a scary thing to reach for a dream, because what do you do if you come away emptyhanded?– but women today are open to the charge that we’re just cowards, and it’s hard to make a coward a sympathetic character. If you put those same women in the 1960s, though, when there were real societal barriers to women reaching for dreams . . . 

The answer to “Why California?” starts with the fact that I live just a few blocks from the park the Wednesday Sisters meet in, so it was a short walk to see what, for example, the trees look like when I needed to describe them. And the more I poked around, the more I came to realize that Palo Alto in the 1960s was, as a community, divided in a way that paralleled the divide in the country as a whole: it was a fairly conservative community set next to a college with a liberal student body, a dynamic point of contact between the old world and the new. The city council minutes from the time are full of wonderful gnashing of teeth over the hippies taking over the streets, and the newspaper was full of photos and stories about student occupations of university buildings and bombings of local bookstores, and ideas about how the community should be dealing with the chaos. I didn’t have to concoct some scheme to drag the Sisters to a women’s rights demonstration elsewhere because the women’s rights gathering described in the book actually occurred right on University Avenue. 

Brenda: Since Kath, Linda, Brett, Ally, and Frankie are in traditional roles as wives and mothers, they are slower to recognize and embrace the evolution in women’s lives that began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For example, they are reluctant to let go of the Miss America Pageant, and they harbor secret ambitions for which they seem almost ashamed–like Brett’s desire to be an astronaut. They have to be pushed by Linda to attend the feminist rally, sort of tiptoeing into the water as they walk on the fringes of a peace march. We see them being changed by the times, not trying to change the times themselves. Was that a deliberate choice on your part? Did you ever consider including an unmarried woman in the group or a strident, card-carrying feminist? 

Meg: The choice of five traditional women was a deliberate one that I think comes out of an “aha” moment I had at Michigan Law School, when my friend Liza Yntema dragged me to see some old class photos in Hutchins Hall, to show me how few women there were in classes not many years before us. 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 became more and more interested in exploring as I wrote The Wednesday Sisters: 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 wanted to have my characters pretty well settled in more traditional women’s roles when the women’s movement really became visible in part to spotlight the real differences in our lives now: We run marathons. We attend colleges where the doors used to be closed to us. We can support ourselves financially; no one is requiring us to leave our jobs because we’ve gotten married or had children. I think a lot of young women coming of age today–and even those of us who aren’t so young–don’t fully realize how much more restricted women’s lives used to be, or have lost sight of that. I’m guilty of that myself: I remember thinking when Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court that it was really cool, but I wasn’t emotionally overwhelmed by the moment. I thought it was something that ought to happen and so of course it had. The same with Sally Ride going into space. I was a lot younger then, and considerably more naïve about how quickly the world changes. By contrast, by the time Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as Speaker of the House, I was basically bawling my eyes out, because that next round of barrier-breaking seemed to take such a long time. I was also interested in exploring the extent to which the way we judge ourselves as women still has some distance to go. 

Brenda: You evoke the 1960s so well. Would you say something about your research methods? (You can’t be old enough to remember Johnny Carson!) 

Meg: Alas, I was in law school when Johnny retired from hosting The Tonight Show; I used to try to finish studying in time to catch his monologue. The lunar landing happened when I was eleven, so I remember it, too–although admittedly not well enough to deliver the lunar landing scene even after being steeped in the 1960s as a history major at the University of Michigan. 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, and women’s marches, and Miss America photos and quotes. I read old magazines and talked to people and–this part was really fun–watched the footage of the lunar landing, and old clips of The Tonight Show from the days when Johnny Carson was the host. 

What I discovered was that women’s lives were even more limited than I’d imagined: 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’s-only flights; and my own high school yearbook, when I was a freshman–1972–listed only six girls’ sports teams (no track there, either!), all after the many, many pages of the many, many boys’ teams. 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. 

Brenda: While the Wednesday Sisters are women of their time, there is universality in their experiences that transcends the time in which they live, like the love they have for their children, Linda’s breast cancer, Kath’s struggle with her husband’s infidelity, Ally’s desire for children, their awareness of body flaws such as small breasts or big feet. In what ways do you see yourself as different from the Wednesday Sisters? In what ways are you similar? 

Meg: Women of the Wednesday Sisters’ generation–my mom’s generation– certainly had more limited choices than women of my generation did, despite the few years between us. It’s one thing to go to law school, as I did, with a substantial number of women students, and another thing entirely to decide you’re going to law school when most schools don’t even admit women and those that do have no more than a handful in each class. Similarly, women just a few years younger than I am, who came of age after Title IX was fully imple- mented, take things for granted that I didn’t: playing soccer, for example, or being able to attend Ivy League colleges and become engineers. But even among our different generations, there are experiences that are universal. We still care deeply about our children: it’s interesting to see how many young women today choose to leave careers to have families. We choose perhaps as badly as we ever have in love, and stay with unfaithful husbands even when we have the financial freedom to leave. Beyond these universal issues, there are other ways in which I am individually very similar to the Wednesday Sisters, little pieces of me embedded in each of them: Linda’s fear–for her children and for herself–is definitely my fear: my mom is a breast cancer survivor and my grandma didn’t survive. Brett’s tortured relationship with her “unfeminine intellect” draws its emotional roots from my inner math-science geek. Kath’s darkest moments draw from a relationship of mine that didn’t end well. Frankie’s self-doubt and her chubby phases are mine, as is her experience with her first novel. Even quiet Ally is me in her middle-of-the-night journey back to the neonatal intensive care unit, where her daughter, Hope, is tethered to life by the same tubes and wires my own son Nick once was. 

Brenda: There was one scene–I think I told you this the first time I read it–that was hard for me to read. I can better understand the Kath on the freeway than the Kath who begs her philandering husband for affection. It was painful to watch her humiliation. Was there any scene that was particularly hard for you to write? 

Meg: That’s the one scene I point parents to when they ask if the book would be appropriate for their teenage daughters, not because it’s graphic, but because it presents a level of humiliation that I hate to imagine young readers knowing might exist. That was definitely one of the hardest scenes to write, although for me there are at least two scenes that were emotionally harder to write: the scene where Ally goes to the hospital in the middle of the night–because that is drawn from real life–and the scene where Linda tells her children she is going into the hospital, because I suppose my greatest fear is dying before my children could survive my death relatively unscarred. 

Brenda: I know you’ve said that the story of The Wednesday Sisters emerged from an image of a woman with a blond ponytail who walked across your field of vision one day. She would later become Linda. How did you birth the other characters? Did anybody else come as easily as Linda? 

Meg: All five characters came to me that same morning. I’ve told this story so many times, but I was quite seriously having a pity party for myself and the impending death of my writing career when that woman walked by; then within hours I had the guts of The Wednesday Sisters mapped out in my journal. They really came to me in a gang, all five of them, with Frankie telling their stories. 

That having been said, Kath and Linda came more easily than the others. And I had a struggle with Ally and Brett. Even after I sold the novel, my editor suggested merging them into a single character because they were bleeding together. I think–hope–they seem to be very different personalities in the final book, because I put a lot of work into making them distinct. I revised and brainstormed and revised some more. And more. And more. One of the things that I think helped was adding Ally’s mother-in-law, which was a suggestion of a friend of mine from India. I remember reading somewhere that one of the best ways to characterize someone is to show them through another character’s eyes. 

Brenda: Let’s talk about friendship and writers. There are probably more examples in literary history of friends who have fallen out over writing than friendships that are strengthened because of it. Our love of writing was the shared interest that brought us together. The Wednesday Sisters seem to discover their common interest in writing after they become friends. They are initially brought together by their loneliness and their children. The discussion about books is more of a conversation opener for Frankie than a desire to form a reading or writing group. Do you think friendship has a positive or negative influence on the kind of feedback writers get from one another in a work group setting? 

Meg: I think true friendship is a huge positive for writers. True friends really care about each other, and if you really care about someone, you’re going to do everything you can for them. If they want to improve as writers, what you can do for them is tell them what you honestly think. True friends will speak gently, because they love, but they will also make sure they are heard–again, because they love. And then they will step back and let their writer-friend make his or her own choices, because another crucial element of true friendship is respect. 

Brenda: When you’re speaking “gently,” that’s the time I really listen because I know that desire not to hurt comes not just from friendship but a real concern about a problem with the writing. 

Meg: I feel the same way. I think those fallings out seem to happen mostly as a result of jealousy, don’t you? You and I–as much as we might envy each other’s successes–have stayed so close because we have been able to draw inspiration from them. I remember when your ad for The Illuminator appeared in The New York Times Book Review. Have I ever told you this? I taped it onto the glass on a framed photo hanging on the wall of my office right beside my desk. I still have the ad, although I’ve moved it to my middle desk drawer now. But I used to look at it and think, Dang, Brenda can do it and I know she’s only human, so maybe I can, too. 

Brenda: I felt the same way when you were the first to sell a novel. I was a little jealous–okay, a lot jealous–but at the same time I was so happy for you. I knew how hard you’d worked on that book, writing and rewriting to get it just right. You’d worked harder than any of us, and you deserved to be the first. And when I held that book in my hand, I teared up with a fierce pride not only in you but in us. It was a shot of mental adrenaline. I was determined that you might be the first, but you wouldn’t be the only. 

Meg: It still kind of amazes me that our books sit together on my bookshelf–and with Leslie’s book now, too [Leslie Lytle, Brenda and Meg’s fellow writing group member]. One of the nicest afternoons I’ve ever spent was that day we visited Nashville bookstores together and signed our books. 

Brenda: We used to meet over coffee each week and faithfully exchange manuscripts and ideas with a seriousness that would indicate we thought we would someday actually write something that somebody else would not only want to read but pay to read. I’ll confess it all seemed like an impossible dream to me, but I was enjoying the process and the dream. However, I always had the sense that you were sure it was going to happen. Was that true? Where did that confidence come from? 

Meg: Don’t tell my poker gang, but I bluff well in poker, too. Honestly, I don’t know that I was any surer it would happen than you were, Brenda. What I was sure of was that if it didn’t ever happen, it wasn’t going to be because I hadn’t tried as hard as I could. I actually went through a period–inspired by Scott Adams, who draws the Dilbert cartoons–where I would write in my journal “I will get my novel published” not just once, but fifteen times every day. It was good for me, because it kept me focused on the future, on the possibility that I could reach that dream. Almost everyone I know who has been published–including you!–has a long history of sticking to it when no sane person would continue to do so. 

Brenda: Now that that dream has come true what has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned? What have you learned that you wish you had known when we were so earnestly swapping pages and picking one another’s brains for tips on the most effective query letter, the best kind of opening line, the appropriate point of view? 

Meg: I think the most surprising thing has been how much better I’ve come to know myself through my writing. And I wish I’d known to hold tightly to the story I wanted to tell. I’ve come to see that’s where my best writing comes from, but there were definitely times along the way where I was so intent on being published that I lost my center in trying to please. 

And I suppose I wish I’d really understood that flawed characters are more compelling than perfect ones, that sometimes the most grammatically correct sentence isn’t the best one, and that point of view is richer and more complicated than I once thought. 

Brenda: Speaking of point of view, this seems to be a real pitfall for some writers. I know you have experimented with other points of view but in the end chose to have Frankie narrate all of the Sisters’ stories. Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose her point of view? 

Meg: When I first began imagining the story, it came to me in Frankie’s voice. I spent a lot of time poking around looking at points of view in the early stages, though, because I had these five stories to tell, and Frankie wasn’t going to be, for example, in Kath’s and Lee’s bedroom; a traditional first-person point of view wasn’t exactly going to work. But maybe because my storytelling roots are in listening to my family tell stories on itself, I feel much more comfortable in first person. Honestly, even the third-person stories I’ve published have for the most part been written in first person and then converted to third. So I finally decided that, because it’s retrospective and because these are friends who are so close that they know one another’s stories well enough to tell them even if they weren’t there every moment, I could get away with Frankie narrating scenes she isn’t in–even that awful Kath bedroom scene. It allows me the benefit of one unifying narrative voice, and yet it also allows me to tell all the stories from a very intimate point of view. 

Brenda: I have always envied your energy and discipline as a writer. Would you say something about your writing process, for instance, your typical routine? 

Meg: Two thousand words or 2:00 p.m. when I’m writing a first draft. I sit down to write at 8:00 every morning, and if I’ve got 2,000 words by 9:30, I can do whatever I want for the rest of the day. But if I have 2,000 words even by 2:00, I’m reluctant to get up from that chair, because that’s a really good writing day. 

I do sit down to write each weekday morning almost as surely as if I had to punch a clock. I figure what I lack in talent maybe I can make up in discipline. 

Revision is the sweet spot of writing for me, where the awful cocktail party at which I know not a soul starts feeling more like a gathering of friends. I go through draft after draft. I’m only guessing, but I’d say at least twenty for The Wednesday Sisters. I did an entire draft focused on making Brett and Ally more memorable. I did a dialogue draft, looking only at dialogue to make sure each of the five characters’ voices is distinct. And each draft isn’t necessarily better than the last, either. At one point for this novel, I returned to a draft from six months earlier, did a redline of all the changes since and– starting from the earlier draft–picked the few good changes and left everything else on the cutting-room floor. I’d like to think there is a more efficient way to write, but it seems I sometimes have to go down a wrong road far enough to see it’s a dead end before I can find the open path. 

Brenda: I’m almost as excited about your next book, The Ms. Bradwells, as I am about my own third novel. I wish you were here so we could workshop both of them over coffee the way we used to. I know your new one is a friendship story, too. Can you tell us a little about it? 

Meg: I like to call The Ms. Bradwells my “law school story” to make my pals from law school nervous, though in fact it’s about four women who first meet at the University of Michigan Law School a few years before our class was there. I’m in the early stages, so I’m less articulate than I’d like to be on the subject of what it’s “about,” but my explanations tend to include the terms “friendship,” “motherhood,” “that first wave of women entering historically male professions in substantial numbers,” and “the consequences of the choices we make.” The four friends in the story–Betts, Lainey, Ginger, and Mia–come together years after their law school graduation, expecting to spend a long weekend celebrating Betts’s appointment to the D.C. Court of Appeals. But a question raised at her confirmation hearing about an unexplained death during their law school days sends them fleeing to an isolated Chesapeake Bay island family home Ginger has just inherited from her mom–the very place where the death occurred. Over the three days they spend together, the friends reconsider the truths they may have buried in the wake of that death. They also begin to make sense of the very different career and life choices each has made in the intervening years, the effects their mothers’ dreams and expectations have had on who they have become, and the world their daughters will inherit from them. 

At least, that’s what I think it is going to be about. I do look forward to having you read it, though, as I always learn so much about what I’m really writing–as opposed to what I think I’m writing– from your critique! 

Praise

Praise

"This generous and inventive book is a delight to read, an evocation of the power of friendship to sustain, encourage, and embolden us. Join the sisterhood!" —Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club

"I read The Wednesday Sisters in one delicious gulp. With a smart, entrancing voice, Meg Waite Clayton sweeps us into the world of the tumultuous 1960’s and beyond, and gives us the gift of five young women coming into their own as friends, mothers, wives and writers. The Wednesday Sisters takes their writing group as its core, and up until the last page, I found myself fervently rooting for each of them as if they were my friends too.” — Lalita Tademy, author of Red River and Cane River

“Long before there were book clubs and play dates, there were the Wednesday Sisters–a group of women whose shared love of literature transports them above the pains and pitfalls of ordinary life. While these women may seem like typical suburban housewives, each character has an intriguing secret and a rich interior life that drew me into the story and held me there. This remarkable group of women demonstrates that no matter what period of history in which we live, no matter what race, creed or class we are, no matter what pains we endure, our one unifying salvation can be books. And this book reminded me of why I love to read."— Lolly Winston, author of Good Grief and Happiness Sold Separately

I simply could not put down The Wednesday Sisters.  I gave my heart to Meg Clayton's vivid characters, and I read their intertwined stories breathlessly.  Move over, Ya-ya sisters!—Amanda Eyre Ward, author of Forgive Me and How to be Lost

"Meg Waite Clayton gives us a group of spunky women–mostly young, married mothers–who make the unlikely decision in 1967 to form a writers’ group. Their diverse journeys over the next years in their writing and in their lives add up to a compelling and deeply moving testament to the power of women’s friendships. I simply couldn’t put The Wednesday Sisters down until I’d turned the last page." —Ellen Baker, author of Keeping the House

"Richly intelligent, deeply felt and incandescently original, Clayton's book is a rhapsodic story of female friendship, set against wildly changing times and mores. Not only is the book heartbreaking, funny, and undeniably smart, but truly, this is the kind of book you don't just want to pass on to all your friends. You have to."—Caroline Leavitt, author of Girls in Trouble and Coming Back to Me
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. What do you think draws the women together in the opening scenes of The Wednesday Sisters? Is it, as Linda suggests, a shared love of books, or is it a shared fascination with Brett’s white gloves, or is it both or something else?

2. Twice in the novel, Linda attempts to ask about Brett’s gloves, but she is cut off by one of the other Sisters. Why are they reluctant to cross that line? What do you think the gloves symbolize? Do you think young women meeting Brett today would be as gentle about her gloves? Are there generational differences in the ways women relate? 

3. Ally enters the group in part based on an unspoken assumption that Carrie is her daughter, when the child is in fact her niece. Why do you think Frankie keeps this secret rather than sharing it with the others? Do you think Ally’s life would be different today, given the existence of fertility treatments and support groups? 

4. Why does Kath go so far in trying to win Lee back? Did this surprise you? Do you think she would have acted differently if the success of her marriage weren’t so important to her parents? If divorce had been as prevalent then as it is now? If she had been able to provide for herself financially? Would you, like Kath’s friends, be reluctant to counsel her to leave her husband? Or can you imagine giving her different advice? 

5. Linda’s breast cancer and Ally’s fertility issues cause each to doubt her own femininity, and leave their friends at a loss as to how to help them. Have you or a friend ever been through a similar crisis? What has helped you hold on to your sense of self through tough times? How have your friendships affected this experience? 

6. Why do you think Frankie finds it so difficult to tell Danny she’s writing a book, when she has no trouble at all confiding this fact to her husband’s boss? Why are we sometimes reluctant to admit we have dreams? 

7. The old abandoned mansion–“a Miss Havisham house,” as Frankie’s husband, Danny, calls it, after the moldering mansion in Dickens’s Great Expectations–is a haunting presence through most of the novel. What does this house seem to symbolize? Does it mean something different to each of the Sisters? What does its destruction mean? 

8. Published books are mentioned throughout the novel–from The Great Gatsby to The Bell Jar to To Kill a Mockingbird. What role do these titles play in The Wednesday Sisters? Why do you think each of the Sisters chooses the “model book” she does? What model book might you choose yourself? 

9. The writing group the Sisters form in The Wednesday Sisters helps its members grow in self-awareness and self-confidence. Have you been a part of a group–perhaps even a reading or writing group–that has had a similar effect on you? What do you think of the author’s message that writing doesn’t have to culminate in a book deal; that it can feed the soul of anyone who works hard at it; that with hard work, it is possible to get better; and that writing can help one make sense of one’s life? 

10. In one memorable scene, the Wednesday Sisters gather in a funeral parlor and imagine what they can accomplish in their lives that will not perish with their deaths. Did this make you think about writing in a new light? What about motherhood? 

11. The women’s movement provides an evolving backdrop to the lives of the women in The Wednesday Sisters. How did you relate the experiences of the Wednesday Sisters to events in your own life or in the lives of women you know who lived at that time?

12. The Wednesday Sisters make a tradition of watching the Miss America Pageant every year. How do their reactions to the pageant change over time, and why? How does the pageant itself change? 

13. If the Miss America Pageant is one recurring motif in the novel, the space program is another. What similarities and differences do you see in the way the author uses these two iconic slices of Americana? 

14. Brett’s novel, The Mrs. Americas, posits a future in which a spaceship crewed by women and carrying a cargo of frozen sperm takes off on a mission to propagate the human race beyond the confines of our solar system. Why do you think Clayton chose to have Brett write this particular novel? 

15. In addition to exploring the empowerment of women and the prevalence of sexism, The Wednesday Sisters addresses other social issues. In what ways are race and class raised in the novel? What did you think of the Sisters’ reactions to the fact that Ally’s husband, Jim, was from India? 

16. Why do you think the author chose to set the climax of her novel on the set of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson? How does this scene compare to the Miss America Pageants described in the novel? 

17. Throughout the novel, the Wednesday Sisters’ friendships are complex, constantly evolving, and occasionally downright messy. Yet even as their bonds are tested, the group endures and grows stronger. What do you think keeps their friendships growing stronger rather than breaking apart? 

18. In an interview, author Meg Waite Clayton once said, “If an author makes me weep, I am theirs–though why so many of us like books that make us cry puzzles me to no end.” Do you share this sentiment? Why do you think readers respond to novels that make them cry? 

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  • The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
  • May 05, 2009
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Ballantine Books
  • $15.00
  • 9780345502834

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