The Lit Ladies are so excited to welcome bestselling author Claire Cook to our new blog to discuss her latest novel, Time Flies, and about writing in general! She is definitely a literary lady, and just wait until you hear her story! Best of all, if you enter our TIME FLIES giveaway with the Rafflecopter form below, you have a chance to win a hardback copy of TIME FLIES (U.S. mailing addresses only please). So on this late summer, Saturday morning, grab your cup of coffee, sit back, relax, and learn from one of the nicest authors on the planet!
Most of you are probably familiar with the movie Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. Well, guess what? Claire wrote the book that was turned into this movie. It was only her second novel, and even better. . .she didn’t write her first novel until she was 45! She also wrote this first novel while sitting in the minivan, waiting for her kids. FIVE YEARS LATER, she walked the red carpet for the Must Love Dogs premiere.
The Lit Ladies first met Claire at the Missouri Writers’ Guild conference in 2012 in St. Louis, MO. She was the luncheon keynote speaker, and she was fantastic. So, here we go!
Sandwich Lady: Welcome to the new Lit Ladies blog, Claire. We are so honored to have you! You are a true lit lady, following your writing passion and not giving up on your dream of writing books. So, what do you love about being a writer?
Claire: Thanks for having me, Margo! And congrats to all the Lit Ladies on your new blog! As for what I love about being a writer, it’s a toss up between the actual writing and connecting with my readers. Through the magic of social networking, my wonderful readers have begun to help me write my books, which is really fun. For instance, while writing Time Flies, I asked my Facebook and Twitter followers two things: What one song most reminds you of high school and what are you really, really afraid of? I received hundreds and hundreds of responses. It was fun for all of us and provided some great details for the novel.
Sandwich Lady: Awesome! After reading the book, I think I know what one of the “fear” suggestions must have been! Time Flies is about a recently divorced woman who is going to her high school reunion. What made you write a book about this?
Claire: I started off thinking it would be fun to write kind of a twist on Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion–but for the next stage of life, when you have so much baggage that you can’t just slide on a miniskirt and jump into a convertible. And I think high school reunions are one of those lightning rod issues—you either can’t wait for your next one, or wild horses couldn’t drag you.
I made the narrator a metal sculptor because I like to choose professions for my heroines that I think my readers will find interesting—I often hear from readers thanking me for giving them ideas for their own lives. And I stumbled on the fact that forty percent of women struggle with a full-blown phobia at some point in their lives. And then I started thinking: what if my heroine’s husband has left her and she can finally do exactly what she wants to do, but the stress triggers a latent highway driving phobia and suddenly she can’t? And her best friend wants her to head north for their high school reunion, and an old flame gets in touch to say he’s going, and and and. Ten books in, the way a novel comes together is still a mystery—you just have to trust the process.
Writing Time Flies was such a fun stroll down memory lane for me—all the great music, the bad hair and outfits—and ultimately, I think it’s a book about the power of lifelong friendship.
Sandwich Lady: Yes, yes, and yes! I completely agree with everything you’ve said here! What themes do you like to explore in your novels?
Claire: Reinvention is a theme in all my novels (as well as in my life!), but I have to admit my readers were the first to catch on to this. I tend to be so focused on the characters I’m creating that I don’t see the themes — my version of not seeing the forest for the trees, I guess.
Now I realize it’s the common thread, that the heroines of my novels are all looking for their own next chapters. In Time Flies, Melanie has her career worked out but has to figure out what/who else she wants. In Wallflower in Bloom, the narrator is the personal assistant to her famous brother, which means she basically has no life of her own. She’s really good at social networking and uses his massive online audience to get herself voted onto Dancing With the Stars as a last-minute replacement, the ultimate reinvention. It’s 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 a creative way to make a living during these swiftly changing, crazy times – just like the rest of us!
Sandwich Lady: What’s your writing schedule like? How do you write a new novel and market the latest one at the same time?
Claire: 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; and in about six months or so, I have a first draft. And then the real work begins since the truth is: it’s the rewriting – again and again – that makes your novel truly come alive.
My trick to juggling it all is that I get up early and finish my pages before I move onto e-mail, my website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and interviews like this one. They’re all important; but the most important thing is always the novel you’re writing; because without that, the whole house of cards collapses. So I make sure I give that my freshest energy. If you start the day by checking social networking and e-mail, it’s so easy to get sucked in; and before you know it, you’ve put your creativity into a brilliant tweet instead of a page in your novel.
Sandwich Lady: You are so wise! Thank you for sharing your process with us, too. Everybody, I’m sure, wants to know this. . .what was it like to have one of your novels become a major motion picture? Did you meet the “stars?”
Claire: 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 Must Love Dogs movie still plays all the time on TV; and whenever it does, it bring me new readers—truly the gift that keeps on giving.
As a person, the best part of the Must Love Dogs movie experience was the whole thing! I was treated like gold on the set–they even gave me my own personalized director’s chair, which the 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!
Sandwich Lady: Ha! No doubt! Thank you, Claire, for your time today. We love you and appreciate everything you do and give back to the writing community. Anything you want to add?
Claire: Thank you! Wishing you and all the Lit Ladies—and everybody reading this—much joy and success! I hope everyone will stop by my website and check out the writing and reinvention pages. And while you’re there, make sure you sign up for my newsletter, so you don’t miss any of the fun book news and giveaways coming up!
Sandwich Lady: Thank you, Claire! Hey everyone, fill out the Rafflecopter form below and get points to enter the contest for signing up for Claire’s newsletter and checking out her website!