CLAIRE COOK/Sisterhood of the Traveling Book Q&A
Q. One of your favorite sayings is "Midlife Rocks." Why?
After decades of procrastination and sixteen years as a teacher, I wrote my first novel in my minivan outside my daughter's swim practice when I was forty-five. At fifty, 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. If that doesn't allow me to say "Midlife Rocks" I don't know what does!
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 author, or whatever your buried dream might be, 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 try to bring my unique qualities to write the books that only I can write.
Q. How has having your novel Must Love Dogs made into a major movie changed your writing career?
A. Every time the Must Love Dogs movie plays on TV, which is all the time, it sends me new readers. As an author, all you really want is for readers to discover your books, so that’s been a huge gift. Beyond that, I don’t really think about it. I’ve had other novels optioned for film since, and maybe some day another one will make it all the way, but I don’t spend my time worrying about it. I’m too busy trying to write the best books I can write!
Q. You have an active website and use social media, including Facebook, Twitter and to communicate with your readers. How do you find this helpful?
A. I think social media is a great way to help new readers find my books, and I'm lucky that I really enjoy it. The challenge is not getting so sucked in that it encroaches on my writing time.
Having direct communication with my readers has even begun to help me write my books. I can ask a question and get instant answers, and I know my readers enjoy being a part of the process. While writing Time Flies, I asked everybody to share their favorite songs from high school, as well as old clothing and makeup memories. It was fun for all of us and also gave me some great authentic details for the novel.
I also love hearing what resonates for readers in my books, and I think it's helped me become a better writer. So if you're reading this right now, I hope you'll connect with me! Go to ClaireCook.com to start.
Q. What's your process for writing a novel?
A. 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.
Q. You seem to know a lot about metal sculpting. Have you done it yourself or did you research it? What is your interest in it, and why did you give this artistic expression to your main character in Time Flies?
A. I choose professions for my heroines that I think my readers will find interesting, and I often hear from readers thanking me for giving them ideas for their own lives. I do tons of research for my novels, because I think those authentic details are crucial for believability. As for my own personal experience with metal sculpting, I have tried it under close supervision, and I found it really, really hot, loud, and scary. I am a metal sculpting wimp.
Q. Why did you choose to focus on phobias in Time Flies?
A. I stumbled across the fact that forty percent of women experience a full-blown phobia at some point in their lives, often brought on by stress, and I was really struck by that and wanted to learn more. I also absolutely hate driving on big, busy highways, and would drive only on back roads in some cities if I could get away with it. I know lots of other women who feel the same way, so I thought it would be relatable.
Q. Reinvention appears to be a theme in your books and in your life. Besides reading your novels, what advice would you would give to women contemplating their own reinvention?
A. First of all, know that you're not alone. Almost every woman I've talked to over the years has gone through, or contemplated, some kind of reinvention in her life, often more then once. Beyond that, my top five reinvention tips:
- Rise above the negativity. Whatever the motive, lots of people will tell you why you can't or shouldn't do whatever it is you want to do. You just have to decide to do it anyway. You might want to protect yourself a bit in the beginning, too. I didn't tell anyone about my first novel until it was finished. You don't need anyone's permission - just do it!
- Be who you really are. The big buzz word these days is branding, but I think of it as authenticity. This is the first job I've ever had where I wasn't pretending, or at least trying to pretend, to be a slightly different person. Who I am and what I write are totally in synch. There's tremendous power in that!
- Confound expectations. If everybody's doing it, it's already been done. Put a little surprise in everything you do. Originality counts!
- Do something nice for someone. It's easy to get needy when you're struggling to figure out what's next, but many of the great things that have happened to me were triggered by something nice I did for someone else. People talk; your actions determine what they say. As one of my characters once said, karma is a boomerang.
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MAKING THE MOST OF MIDLIFE
CLAIRE COOK wrote her first novel in her minivan when she was 45. At 50, she walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the adaptation of her second novel, Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. She is now the bestselling and award winning author of ten novels, including Wallflower in Bloom and Time Flies. Read excerpts of her novels and visit her writing and reinvention pages at ClaireCook.com.