SheKnows: We love your story: that you wrote your first novel in your minivan when you were 45, then walked the red carpet of the Hollywood premiere of the film adaptation of your second novel, Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack (2005). Your latest, Time Flies, is your 10th novel. So what's your secret? How have you written so many books since then? Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? How often do you write, and how long does it typically take you to complete a novel?
Claire Cook: It took me decades to get around to writing my first novel, so the truth is that I had some lost time to make up for. Once I hit my stride, the knowledge that I could so easily not have written that first book and missed this entire second career has kept me focused and determined. I'm also really lucky that I've been able to earn enough to be a full-time author since my second book, and my kids are also grown now, so that also makes it much easier. If there's a secret, I think it's to do the best you can given the constraints of your life. And when you're finally really ready to write that first book, you can do it anywhere — even in a minivan!
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 note cards, 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.
SK: How did you think of the idea for Time Flies? And on that note, how do you think of so many different book ideas?
CC: I started by thinking that it would be fun to write kind of a twist on the movie Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997), 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 stumbled on the fact that 40 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... Writing Time Flies was such a fun stroll down memory lane for me — all the great music, the bad hair and outfits — though ultimately, I think it's a book about the power of lifelong friendship. Not that you two would know anything about that, Lisa and Liz!
SK: You have a huge fan base because you are so great at connecting with your readers. What is your favorite way to stay in touch with the reading community?
CC: I love, love my readers! They have truly given me the gift of my second career, and I never forget that for a moment. I'm thrilled to connect with them any way I can, and it never gets old for me. As for my favorite way to stay in touch, I think of my website, ClaireCook.com, as the hub. I post excerpts, book club extras and info about giveaways there, plus I encourage readers to sign up for my newsletter, "Must Love Readers," so they don't miss anything. And I also have Writing and Reinvention pages there, where I share everything I've learned so far. I really love connecting with readers on Facebook and Twitter, too, and I find them both fun places for giveaways but also for asking my readers for specifics to use in my novels — I think of my Facebook and Twitter followers as my virtual research assistants! Pinterest and Goodreads are fun, too. For me, the trick is not to get so sucked in I don't get my next novel written!
SK: What books will be in your beach bag this summer?
CC: An early copy of Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, of course!
SK: Are you working on your next book? Can you tell us what it's about?
CC: I just delivered a draft of my 11th novel to my literary agent. I am sooooo dying to tell you what it's about, but I'm sworn to secrecy for a couple of reasons. Which I'm also dying to tell you, but I can't do that yet either. But thanks for asking!!