Meg Waite Clayton – A World War II “Nut.”

I recently had the honor of hosting best-selling author Meg Waite Clayton for a weekend in my home. She had come to Laguna Beach in order to speak at the annual fund-raising Literary Luncheon for an organization dear to my heart .*  Earlier I had been asked by the organization to write a short piece about Clayton for the local newspaper.  In order to do that, I had already enjoyed a long phone interview with the author and knew when she arrived we would hit it off.

Clayton’s most recent novel, The Race for Paris, is, like Immigrant Soldier, historical fiction set during World War II.  She has published five novels, but The Race for Paris was the second novel she began writing and it was the one she came back to repeatedly over 15 years as she completed a string of best-selling novels about women’s friendships – The Wednesday Sisters, The Four Ms. Bradwells, and The Wednesday Daughters.

Though Clayton came to writing after several years as a corporate lawyer, she was a history major in college. She revealed her favorite undergraduate course had been 20th Century American Wars from a Soldier’s Perspective, which required a lot of reading, including fiction like All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.  Her professor taught that sometimes more can be learned about a period from fiction because fiction writers get down to the ground level and give you something besides troop movements and the stories of the generals. “I really do like the stories of what real people experienced during the war,” Meg told me.

Meg has a strong interest in the role women play in wartime. “One of the things that really stirs my passion is the way women are treated and mistreated in the world and the challenges we face in getting to places where men get to with considerable ease,” Clayton explained.  “I like to write about women who misbehave. It’s more interesting to break the rules than to follow them.”

The Race for Paris, the result of extensive research, is the fictionalized story of two women during World War II, one a photo journalist and the other a news reporter. They go AWOL to travel with the Allied troops toward the liberation of Paris. The novel highlights the difference between how male and female journalists were given access to the front.  In the 1940s, female journalists had to defy military regulations and gender barriers if they hoped to cover any relevant action on the ground during the war. They were usually restricted to behind-the-scene locations like hospitals without transportation or access to information, while male correspondents were housed in press camps where they were given twice daily briefings about military movements. The men were also given jeeps and had on-site censors at the press camps (a good thing as negotiation about wording of an article was possible). Women journalists who took the plunge and defied orders so they could get close to the front risked their lives, as well as the possibility of being sent back to England or the United States under military arrest.

Before the 1930s, few women were journalists or photo-journalists. “One of the things that happened,” Meg explained, “was that [in the 1940s] men went off to fight the war and women were left to do the jobs men left. Some of those jobs included reporting for the newspapers. At the time, that was not an unusual way for a woman to come to a career as a journalist.” She added, “Many of the women journalists came home after the war was over, set down their pens, took up their families, and didn’t write again. But many of them did continue [to write].”

Jane, the narrator of The Race for Paris, began as a reporter for her hometown paper.  Early in the novel, she tells her new friend Liv that she asked for an oversees assignment because “I figured I’d be an old maid by the time the boys returned home, so I thought I’d best come here to find a beau.”  During her talk at the luncheon, Meg revealed this motivation was inspired by her aunt’s story of why she went to Europe to serve with the Red Cross during the war.

Like all historical fiction writers, Meg had to become immersed in research about the places and the era of her novel. She was able to travel to Paris several times and to visit the Normandy beaches.  We discussed how the internet has changed over the last 20 years and how it has made research easier now than it was when we each started gathering information about our respective books.  Meg told me that one of the web sites that especially inspired her was the site of the Washington Press Club Foundation, which has collected and archived transcripts of interviews with famous women journalists, including many who began their careers during World War II.

During our first phone conversation, Meg declared, “I’m a World War II nut. . . . I read just about everything that crosses my path about World War II.”  We talked about our extensive libraries of books on the subject and exchanged autographed copies of our novels.  I hope she enjoys Immigrant Soldier as much as I did The Race for Paris.

To learn more, go to Meg’s author web-site:

*AAUW – American Association of University Women


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *