If you think it’s too late to start writing or get published…meet Claire Cook. I started reading Claire’s books after seeing the movie, Must Love Dogs. It piqued my curiosity and I discovered there was more to Claire Cook than a movie (as if that’s not enough). I’ve been a reader and fan ever since. Then, when I found Claire on Twitter — I knew I’d struck women’s fiction gold. She has been so generous to tell us her story and share advice and words of wisdom below.
Please give Claire Cook a big Women’s Fiction Writers welcome in the comments! And if you haven’t tried her books (or seen the movie) this summer is a great time to start!
Interview with Women’s Fiction Author Claire Cook
CC: After a decades of procrastination and 16 years as a teacher, I wrote my first novel in my minivan outside my daughter’s swim practice when I was 45. At 50 I walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the movie adaptation of my second novel, Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. I’m now 56 and the bestselling author of eight novels.
I love sharing my story because I think it’s important to get the word out there that when it comes to becoming a published writer, there’s no expiration date. I don’t even think there’s a “best by” date. In one of the many gifts of midlife, I’ve learned that I don’t have to write everybody’s books, just mine. One of my gifts as a novelist is to make people laugh. And also to recognize themselves and their quirky families and maybe feel a little bit better about them. I play to my strengths. I understand people, so my novels are character-driven. I’m a huge eavesdropper, which has taught me to write dialog that rings true. I know who I am and try to bring those unique qualities to write the books that only I can write.
ASN: Simply put, your latest book, Best Staged Plans, is about make-overs — or maybe, do-overs. It’s a very relatable story — what prompted the idea?
CC: Reinvention is the story of my life, so I think it just naturally found its way into my books, and it’s still the common thread. The characters in my novels are all looking for their own next chapters, and often there’s an entrepreneurial twist. Downsizing and home staging in Best Staged Plans, travel and cultural coaching and cooking in Seven Year Switch, buyouts and lavender and clotheslines in The Wildwater Walking Club, makeup in Summer Blowout, sea glass jewelry in Life’s a Beach, etc. There’s nothing rarefied about the lives of the women in my novels. They’re trying to find creative ways to survive during these swiftly changing, crazy times – just like the rest of us!
I have to give credit to my readers for coming up with my jumping off point for Best Staged Plans. I was rushing around trying to get some packages mailed off, and I dropped my reading glasses into one of them as I was taping it up. So I did what every modern writer would do and posted a funny comment about it on Facebook. The response was amazing – hundreds of people jumped in with their own reading glasses stories, and then everyone started saying, “There’s your next book, Claire.” So I went with it, and then I started thinking about what would be an interesting job to explore. Professional home staging seemed like a very cool career – it’s creative and flexible, life experience is an asset, and it’s a growing field. And from there I thought, what if the heroine was a home stager who is struggling to sell her own house? Her husband is dragging his feet, and her borderline adult son moves home and turns the basement into his “bat cave”…
ASN: What was the best part about Must Love Dogs becoming a movie?
CC: As a writer, the best part was that the Must Love Dogs movie gave me name recognition. There are so many books out there, so many authors, so it’s great to have an identifier like that. And the movie still plays all the time on TV, and whenever it does, it bring me new readers.
As a person, the best part was the whole thing! I was treated like gold on the set – they even gave me my own personalized director’s chair which actors autographed to surprise me. I got to hang out with John Cusack and Diane Lane and all the other actors. I did interviews with Access Hollywood and Extra while walking the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere. Even my own kids thought I was cool for a couple of weeks there! It was just a fun, fun experience – one that I truly wish could happen to every author. And if it happens to you, my advice is to just relax and enjoy it – and never once ask what happened to page 38!
ASN: We’ve been talking a lot about works-in-progress and getting to know our characters. What’s your process for writing a new book? And, can you (will you?) share with us what you’re working on now?
CC: When I’m writing a first draft, I write two pages a day, seven days a week. So, essentially, I’m living in the book, thinking about it all day long. I’ve noticed my best ideas come in the shower, on the elliptical machine at the gym, at red lights when I’m driving, and when I wake up in the middle of the night. I jot things down all day long – on notecards, in notebooks, on the backs of receipts.
I don’t outline, because it would make it feel like a term paper. I try not to think too much or try too hard, because when I do, my writing goes flat. I have a sense of who my main character is, and because my books are written in the first person, my entry point tends to be capturing my protagonist’s voice. Then, because I’m essentially writing slice-of-life novels, I think about what makes the book begin today instead of another day. Once I find that little explosion, then I have my jumping off point. The characters react to that and there’s a ripple effect. I just keep following those ripples….
I love talking about my books, but only after they’re written. For me, talking about a book that isn’t written takes some of the energy away from it, and I start to feel that I’ve actually finished today’s pages, when I haven’t written word one.
ASN: What do you think of the women’s fiction naysayers?
CC: I don’t think of them. At all. I just put on my blinders and get back to work.
ASN: Which leads to…how do you define women’s fiction?
CC: I’m soooooo not a label person, and I don’t buy into the high art/low art thing or the women’s fiction/chick lit thing. To me, a book is well-written or it isn’t. It speaks to you or it doesn’t. But if you mean fiction written by women for women, then I’m in — both as a reader and a writer!
ASN: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?
CC: My best advice is to rise above the negativity. People will tell you what you can and can’t do, what you should and shouldn’t write. Of course you can! Of course you should! Believe in yourself. Focus on becoming the best writer you can possibly be. Write the book you’d want to read. Sharing what I’ve learned so far with other writers is really important to me, so check out the writing and reinvention pages at ClaireCook.com, too.
Thanks so much for having me, Amy! I love your blog and wish you and all your readers much joy and success.
Write on! – Claire
Bestselling author Claire Cook’s latest novel is Best Staged Plans, which received a starred Library Journal review and is an Indie Next pick. Hang out with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. Read excerpts of her eight novels and check out her writing and reinvention pages at http://ClaireCook.com.