The Write Space – Meghan MacLean Weir

The Write Space is a monthly Q&A series from Creative Collective covering a local writer and a North Shore space(s) s/he associates with writing.  Questions? Contact: ellorelizabeth@gmail.com.

Photo by Michael Lionstar

Give us your best writerly bio.

Meghan MacLean Weir moved to the Boston area following medical school to train as a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center. When, during orientation, she and her fellow interns were advised that the best way to survive residency was to focus solely on their duties in the hospital, she decided that sounded incredibly narrow-minded and that she would also write a book. Between Expectations: Lessons from a Pediatric Residency chronicles those years. Then, when it was suggested to her during a career counseling session that “everyone at Harvard has a book,” she decided she probably ought to write another, since the first one apparently didn’t count. The Book of Essie, a novel, was an Indie Next pick for June 2018 and a finalist for the New England Book Award. It has nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with the crippling social anxiety that stemmed from growing up in the rectory of her father’s Episcopal church under the watchful eye of his parishioners. The characters also visit Cuba, where Meghan once attended a conference with Paul Farmer and got a very memorable sunburn. She lives in Danvers with her husband and two children in a house whose gardens were purportedly designed by Charles Sprague Sargent, the first director of the Arnold Arboretum, but which were largely comprised of poison ivy by the time she and her family moved in. The first shoe factory in the United States once stood in her front yard, which has very little to do with Meghan’s current writing, but may provide future inspiration, perhaps for a spin-off of Kinky Boots.

Tell us about a North Shore Write Space.  

I generally write at home, on whichever couch has the fewest cats lounging on it. Working at home means I can spend most of my time in pajamas or, if I’m feeling fancy, sweatpants. I also have easy access to Diet Coke. When I hit a roadblock and need to recharge, I take a walk through the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary. The chickadees there will eat sunflower seeds out of your hand if you stand still for long enough. Another favorite place is Crane Beach in the off-season. Though our black lab, Scout, can’t be trusted without a leash, it’s fun to see the other dogs run free. It’s also the perfect place to clear my head and have internal arguments with whichever character is causing me trouble at the time.

When I’m in North Shore, not writing, I’m …

Shuttling the kids (aged 6 and 9) back and forth to their various activities: piano, soccer, and the like. My favorite thing to watch them do is springboard diving at the Ipswich YMCA. Their lesson is comprised of about 63% belly flops, 32% chickening out and falling in, and 5% success, which seems, overall, to be a pretty accurate breakdown of what they can expect from life and will, I hope, teach them grit even if they never learn how to dive. We also spend quite a bit of time at the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers. It’s my favorite place to pick a fight with my nine-year-old daughter about how the REAL Baby-sitters Club books are not graphic novels, but actual novel novels, and that, despite being completely impossible to find these days, they are real and not myth, and, no, I am not coming down with dementia (not yet) and I may not know much, but I do know that Logan likes Maryanne. While this happens, my son flips through books about opossums, then informs me that they are marsupials and have thirteen nipples.

Finally, and this surprises both my children and my husband, I am still a doctor and am expected, from time to time, to present myself to the hospital wearing clean scrubs and with a stethoscope hung around my neck. There, I have the privilege of ooh-ing and ahh-ing over new babies and offering unsolicited advice on what shows to binge watch while breastfeeding. Sometimes, when a child’s elbow or shoulder has gotten confused as to where it ought to be in relation to the bones around it, I give it a stern talking to and put it in its place. I prescribe a lot of albuterol and amoxicillin, especially during the winter months. I place excellent, very even stitches in foreheads and chins, even when the patient in question is trying to bite me. Sometimes they succeed and leave teeth marks on my hand but, given that very few children on the North Shore carry rabies, I generally don’t mind.

What are you working on now?

I wrote nearly two full drafts of my current manuscript before realizing that half the characters didn’t especially want to be in the same story as the other half. After spending quite a bit of time in denial about this fact, I decided that I was probably writing two different stories. I picked one, put the other aside, and started the manuscript a third time. As it stands now, and it’s entirely possible this will change, the story focuses on four friends from college who reunite after the murder of one of their husbands.

Cover Photo by Sarah Toure

And finally  . . .

Here is an excerpt from THE BOOK OF ESSIE, currently available from Knopf.

Daddy had spent so much time on television by then you’d have thought it would have come naturally, but Mother said he was as nervous as a pig in a bacon factory the day the new crew started filming. Up until then, the cameras had only been at church, where they were entirely under Daddy’s control. Could he tell then that the balance of power was subtly shifting? In any case, Mother had to force Daddy to let the crew into the house and even then he did this thing where he scratched his wrist incessantly anytime the cameras were pointed at him. Candy’s team did their best to edit this out, to use the close-ups of his pensive expression and his clear blue eyes, but there are a few shots where you can see him moving his fingers back and forth compulsively, as if possessed, like an addict scratching at invisible bugs burrowing just beneath his skin.

Mother stole the show, though, so it didn’t matter. She cried real tears when she revealed their struggles to conceive, their disappointment. She was candid when she confessed that they had always wanted a big family, a brood, a flock to tend and raise up in His grace and light. After all, if children are a gift from God, surely Daddy was deserving of more than just a single blessing since he had made it his life’s work to speak His truth and praise His name even in these darkest days. She sighed and reached out and took my father’s hand then, stilled it, and held it tight to keep him from scratching. With her eyes turned up to the ceiling, the tears welled at first but did not fall. Then Mother looked directly at the camera and breathed something about accepting God’s will and those fat drops rolled right down her tastefully rouged cheeks as if she had control over gravity itself.

That hour-long special probably would have just been a one-off since Daddy said the focus should be on his ministry, not on his family, but on Christmas Eve they found out that Daniel was on the way and people called it an honest-to-God miracle and there was no stopping after that. Nine months later when Daniel was born, ten million people tuned in to see it happen. Not the actual moment, of course, but everything leading up to it: the praying, the hand-holding, the reciting of bits of verse. Then he was lifted, slick and shrieking and still streaked with blood, and Daddy let loose a heartfelt alleluia and a regular television phenomenon was born.

Find out more at —- www.megweir.com or from the amazing staff at Cabot Street Books in Beverly. The folks in the Beverly Hospital ER know all my secrets, as well, but I hope you won’t have to visit them. Watch out for black ice, get your flu shot, and have a safe winter.

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