Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Wednesday Sisters and the Writing Life

by Julia Flynn Siler

For anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming an author, Meg Waite Clayton's website is a delightful and inspiring place to visit.

Meg is the author of the bestselling novel, The Wednesday Sisters, a book about a group of women friends. They meet at a park in Palo Alto, California, in the late 1960s and form a writers' circle. Along the way, as the war in Vietnam rages, American astronauts land on the moon and the Women's Movement challenges much of what they think about themselves. They support each other through changes in their personal lives brought on by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success.
Meg Waite Clayton and her creation.

I loved Meg's book in part because I was born in Palo Alto in the 1960s and the book helped me imagine what my own mother's life might have been like at the time. I also loved The Wednesday Sisters because it celebrates the strong bonds and support that can be provided by a good writers' group. And I am lucky to be a member of two such groups that helped me navigate the often treacherous waters leading to publication.

Long before I began the Wall Street Journal article that led to my book, The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty, I joined a long-standing group of women nonfiction writers who usually met every two weeks in San Francisco's Noe Valley. We came to call ourselves "North 24th," because we'd usually meet north of 24th Street.

The writers of North 24th read and edited many chapters of my book, talked me through the steep reporting hurdles I faced, and provided encouragement at the times when I doubted whether I could complete the project. We've also become close friends, helping each other through such life events as the death of a parent.

The other group I joined was at the invitation of Meg: a group of published women authors called "Word of Mouth -- Bay Area" (WOM-BA), which was modeled on a group that began in New York. From the Wombistas, I gained insight into a world I was about to enter -- the world of the author (versus the writer) with its unique set of challenges, such as literary agents, marketing and choosing the right projects.

Most importantly, the WOM-BA group offered support in the form of a daily online conversation, as well a network of supportive author friends. This coming Thursday night, July 10th, the founder of WOM-BA, Ellen Sussman, and a group of contributors to the new anthology she edited, Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex, will read at Book Passage at the San Francisco Ferry Building at 6:00 p.m.

I went to a reading for the last anthology Ellen edited -- and the event truly was more like a party than a staid old book talk. Tomorrow night's event will feature Meredith Maran, Kim Addonizio, Helena Echlin, and Thaisa Frank reading from a collection that NPR, in a recent rave review, called "... a lewd but undeniably stimulating collection ...". It should be a memorable evening.

The following night, July 11th, Meg will be talking about The Wednesday Sisters at Book Passage in Corte Madera. I and fellow Marin Wombista Martha O'Connor, author of The Bitch Posse, will host a reception beforehand, so please join us at 6:30 p.m. on Friday to raise a glass to Meg and her success.

But it's time to get back to Meg's website. If you're a writer looking for tips on how to begin your novel, or perhaps organize the mounds of research you've gathered, go to Meg's page on "Writers" and scroll around the desktop for inspiration. My favorite idea is to be found by clicking on Meg's red Dell computer: her "first-draft-writing-rule" of writing either 2,000 words or working until 2:00 p.m. (when her sons got out of school). Meg shared this with me several years ago, and I adopted a version of it that helped me keep disciplined as I wrote The House of Mondavi.

The other discovery on Meg's site is her marvelous blog called "1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started." That's surely a question I'm asked at nearly every one of the dozens and dozens of book events I've done over the past year: How did you get the idea for your book? Find out the answer from writers such as Michelle Richmond, Brenda Rickman Vantrease, and Meg herself. Check out the book trailer for The Wednesday Sisters, as well. It's fun.

Julia Flynn Siler is the author of the New York Times bestseller The House of Mondavi. She will host a wine tasting and talk about her book at Book Passage at the San Francisco Ferry Building on Sunday, July 13th, at 2 p.m. For more information, please visit:

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