meg waite clayton

Hi Meg, welcome to my room. As a lover of your novels, and an admirer of your writer’s voice and vision, it is particularly wonderful to be able to chat with you here.

Just in case there is someone reading this interview who hasn’t yet made your acquaintance, allow me to introduce author and mentor for new writers, Meg Waite Clayton. Meg has written four novels and writes regularly on her blog First Books: Reading and Writing with Friends and web site, both of which I strongly recommend checking out for her inspirational and informative content.

Meg’ novels in order of publication:

The Language of Light, Meg’s first novel and a Finalist for the Bellwether Prize, Ballantine Books, 2003

The Wednesday Sisters, Ballantine Books, 2008

The Four Ms Bradwells, Ballantine Books, 2011

The Wednesday Daughters, Ballantine Books, forthcoming, 16 July 2013

Clicking on any of the links above will take you to the page for that novel where you will discover not just information about the book as well as reviews and awards, but also access to some of the background research which Meg discovered while researching her novel. My favourite is her piece on Poetry and Miniature Books.

A poem begins as a lump in the throat,
a sense of wrong, a homesickness,
a lovesickness
–Robert Frost

1)      Meg, you run the amazing blog First Books: Reading and Writing with Friends, a place where you introduce and showcase the novels of women writers, with a focus on the author’s experiences with writing and publishing their first novels. Can you tell us a little about your philosophy behind this inspiring web space?

I really enjoy the blog as much as anyone. I find stories of how writers get the work done and what they’ve done to get published inspiring. I hope the blog readers do as well. But I do host male writers too!

The Language of Light

2)     You also host a group over on the writing forum She Writes called Novelists (Struggling or not). Can you tell us a little about that please? In what ways are your blog and this group similar and dissimilar? What can one do that the other cannot? How do they support one another’s online presence?

She Writes is a bit more social, more of a place to come share and chat on a less formal basis. They serve the same purpose in some ways – helping writers keep writing. But 1st is better for longer, more in depth exploration of how one becomes a writer. She Writes is better for just having a conversation among friends.

3)     Your blog is one of my go-to sources for books I want to read. What are your criteria for choosing the authors you present?

The only real requirements I have are

1. that guest authors have to be published through traditional publishing channels. At some point I’ll have to rethink that as this world changes, but at the moment it helps me limit the possibilities, if nothing else. And it’s time consuming for me, so that’s important.

2. That the author him or herself approach me. I often get inquiries from publicists, and my response to them is that I’m happy to have their author email me about a guest spot. I love my publicist at Random House, so I have no excuse for this except that I like to connect more directly with fellow authors.

4)      Recently there’s been a lot of talk about women’s fiction as a genre in its own right. Personally I love women’s fiction and for me it means something quite unique, a beautifully crafted and lyrically penned novel focusing on a woman’s journey of transformation. But not everyone is happy with this kind of naming, interpreting it as a barrier between women’s literature and ‘literary’ novels. What are your feelings about this?

My problem with calling something “women’s fiction” is that it suggests male readers shouldn’t be interested. There is no “male fiction” category because it’s presumed women will read about men’s lives, and not vice versa. So that’s my issue with the term. I much prefer the term “upmarket fiction,” which carries no gender presumptions with it.

The Wednesday Sisters

5)      Your own novels typify for me the best of women’s fiction. I have read and enjoyed all of your novels so far and am eagerly anticipating the publication of your newest novel. Can you entice the readers here with a little taste of The Wednesday Daughters and set it in the context of your previous novel The Wednesday Sisters, which I hasten to add everyone reading this blog will love by virtue alone of its subject matter and theme – a woman’s writing group.

I’m really dreadful at describing my novels, but I will say that much like The Wednesday Sisters, The Wednesday Daughters also has a writing angle. I certainly learned a lot about writing from the writing of it, too, in no small part due to the Beatrix Potter angle.

The Ballantine folks are quite good, and their description of The Wednesday Daughters (a few paragraphs) can be found in a lot of places, eg here. I think the best short description of the book I’ve seen comes from Paris Wife author Paula McLain, who said about it:

The present and the past intertwine beautifully and inevitably in Meg Waite Clayton’s winning follow-up to The Wednesday Sisters. From the beguiling Lake District setting, to a completely charming (and spot-on) portrayal of Beatrix Potter, to the way The Wednesday Daughters strive to unpuzzle both their own choices and their mothers’ legacies, every layer of the novel delivers. Utterly rich and satisfying.”

6)     Your novel The Wednesday Sisters could be seen as a hymn and testament to the inspiration and support which writer’s groups can offer. You are a long-time member of a writing group. Can you tell us a little about how it all began and the reactions when the first novel in the group was published? Do you still meet? Do you think that online writing groups can ever hope to serve as a substitute for real-time support groups?

Thank you! My writing group grew out of a larger group that met at a local library in Nashville, TN (USA), where I used to live. There were four of us in the final iteration of the group, and although we started out all unpublished except one obscure travel piece one of us had published, we now count nine books published or being written under contract among us, and we all have short pieces in print. It wasn’t anything in the water of the coffee shop we met in (at a local bookstore, now sadly closed). It was the friendship and support and honest critique we gave each other. And they remain my go-to readers. I love online groups, but I don’t think there is anything quite like in person friendship.

The Four Ms. Bradwells

7)      Would you mind telling us a little about your own experiences of writing your first novel? When I first ‘discovered’ you and your books I decided to read your work in sequence. Personally I find that to be a marvellous way to track the development of an author. Can you tell us a little about how your writing has developed and matured with each of your novels, for example the writer’s voice in your most recently published novel The Four Ms Bradwells, is quite different from your voice in your first novel The Language of Light. I love all your books, but for different reasons. The Language of Light seems to me to be a more poetic novel created and built upon a sense of subdued mystery, as if a veil of mist has somehow settled upon the story, muting some parts while exposing others when the sun breaks through in places. Your later novels seem to me to have become increasingly  focused upon the characters and their lives and interactions with one another. While I love and admire your mastery of the craft I do hope that someday you will return to your beginnings and pen another poetic and lyrical novel. I would love you to comment on this!

The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton

The short answer is a long one: 10 years. That’s the time it took me to get that first novel on bookstore shelves. I also love the poeticism of that novel, although I think less patient readers are less enthusiastic. But I think you will see something closer to it in The Wednesday Daughters. For me, that comes in part from using place, and the English Lake District is more like the Maryland countryside of The Language of Light than the settings of the intervening novels.

8)      What resources,eg books, web sites, etc would you recommend for aspiring authors and novelists? Any tips based on your own experience?

I keep a list on the writers page of my website, which I try to remember to update as I find good resources.

Meg, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview and for taking the time out from your very bust schedule to visit my room. Best of luck with your new novel. I can’t wait to read it!