I feel privileged to introduce one of our keynote speakers for the 2012 Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference. This is a woman who will inspire you to dust off your writing goals, confront your fears and realize that there is no time like the present to “Write Now!”
Claire Cook wrote her first novel in her minivan outside her daughter's swim practice at 45. At 50, she walked the red carpet at the Hollywood adaptation of her second novel, Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. She's now the bestselling author of 8 novels, including Best Staged Plans and Seven Year Switch, with a 9th, Wallflower in Bloom, to be published by Simon & Schuster Touchstone in June 2012.
With the release of a new novel in June, Claire is expecting a very busy spring. However, she’s graciously taken time to be one of our feature speakers at the “Write Time! Write Place! Write Now!” MWG Conference. She will present a Friday early arrival seminar titled “Just Write It: Practical Strategies for Starting and Finishing the Book that Only You Can Write.” She will also give the Saturday Luncheon Keynote that will address George Eliot’s quote: It’s never too late to be what you might have been. She will also be conducting a Saturday break out session titled Protecting Your Writing Time In An ADD World.
Claire, thank you for taking a break from your busy writing schedule to participate in the upcoming Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference. I’m, specifically, excited to have you come speak as I think your story will inspire all those who hear it and serve as a reminder that it’s never too late to start working toward your writing goals.
Claire: Thanks so much, Sarah. I’m absolutely thrilled to participate in the MWG Conference, and I can’t wait to meet you, and everybody else, too! A novel a year makes for a crazy busy writing/promotion schedule, but it’s also really important to me to share what I’ve learned so far with other writers. As one of my characters once said, karma is a boomerang!
Question: You mentioned before that your keynote speech will be about reinvention with a tie-in to the above George Eliot quote. Could you elaborate more about that speech and what makes it the one you’re most often asked to give?
Claire: Reinvention is the theme of both my life and my novels, so I think there’s an authenticity that rings true. 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 feels real. I know who I am and try to bring those unique qualities to write the books that only I can write.
I hear from so many emerging writers, via my website and Facebook and Twitter, who are dusting off buried dreams or picking themselves up after rejection, and wondering if they’ll ever reach their goals. It feels so great to be able to honestly say, through my own life and the lives of my characters, that it really is never too late!
Q: You’ve said that you wrote your first book in your mini-van after decades of procrastination. Could you give us some pointers on how you were able to overcome procrastination so much so that you were able to write a MS in such an unusual spot?
Claire: For me, it was a midlife wake-up call. One day, sitting outside my daughter’s swim practice at 5 AM, it just hit me like a ton of bricks that I might live my whole life without once going after my lifelong dream of writing a novel. It was the busiest time in my life – I was teaching at one school, consulting for two others, my daughter was swimming twice a day, my son was involved in karate and soccer, we were renovating an old house.
It’s not about the perfect office, or having oodles of time, or waiting around for the muse to arrive, or wearing your lucky writing bathrobe. If it’s important enough, if it’s your lifelong unrealized dream, you can always, always find a way. I did, and if you’re really ready, everybody reading this right now can, too.
Q: On the writing page of www.clairecook.com, you addressed what can be a vicious cycle for writers of abandoning one project in favor of a new one but never actually finishing anything. You encourage writers to stick with one project til it’s finished - no matter what. You theorized that fear makes it hard to do this. Would you elaborate on what helps you overcome that same kind of fear?
Creative people are good at lots of things. But if you choose one and focus all your energy and creativity on it, you’ll go from good to better. I can’t tell you how many times an aspiring writer has told me about her partially completed drafts of two novels and three short stories, not to mention that screenplay, all of which she’s abandoned because she just got a great idea for a children’s book.
Been there. And still, halfway through every novel, I struggle not to jump to a “better” idea, because the grass is always so much greener in front of the book I’m not really writing. I think some of it is fear. Once you finish something, you have to put it out there and hear what the world has to say about it. That part never gets any easier. But you do it anyway, because that’s how you learn and grow, and how you get better at that place where your urge to create and your ability intersect. Once you finish an entire draft, you have the clay on the table. You can pound it and shape it and tweak it until it becomes the work it needs to be.
Q: Regarding your Early Arrival Seminar on Friday, how do you know that you have an idea for a book that only you can write? And I’ll take it a step beyond that and add, that with the advent of new technology, it seems like ideas are everywhere. How do you know you are the best person to bring that idea to life by telling its story?
Claire: You and I could decide to write the exact same book, but when we bring our unique selves to it, the results will be completely different. Nine books in, what makes a Claire Cook novel is who I am and how I see the world. The buzz word is brand, but I think of it as authenticity. If you met me at a fancy party, or at the grocery store, or on the page, you’d be meeting the same person. There’s great power in that.
Ideas have always been everywhere, but we’re now bombarded with them 24/7 from all directions, and sometimes it’s hard to hear yourself think. So, that’s part of it, but I think you can also be so close to your own life that you can’t even see what’s so unique and valuable about it. It’s all material, and you have to learn to mine your life – every bad job, every dysfunctional family dynamic!
We’ll also talk about practical strategies for painting yourself into the corner so you can actually finish that book amidst the noise of this ADD world of ours.
Q: You said in your YouTube video, Stay Open To Surprises, that there’s no one way to write a book. Could you tell us how you go about writing a book? Have you written all 9 of your books the same way?
Claire: I think you have to find a way to write your book that suits your personality. I’m in a fiction co-op with 49 other writers, and it’s mind-boggling how different, and sometimes even how similar, our processes are. So, bottom line, if it works for you, then it works for you.
Yes, I’ve written all nine books the same way. 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: Finally, could you tell us more about your new novel that will debut in June 2012? Also, while we’re waiting for it to come out, what other books of yours would you recommend us to read and what about any other authors?
Claire: Well, I’m in the process of brainstorming titles for it right now – I think I’ve come up with close to 100 at this point! It was sold to Simon & Schuster Touchstone with the title THE FAMILY DANCE, which really suits the novel once you know that it’s about a woman unexpectedly chosen to appear on a popular reality show (think Dancing with the Stars), which enables her to finally shed her lifelong role as family wallflower and experience the double-edged sword of her fifteen minutes of fame. But now the powers-that-be at Touchstone are thinking we need a title that’s compelling whether or not you know what the book is about. I’m fine with that, since I know that titles and covers really come down to marketing and are key to bringing new readers to your books, so I’ll just keep brainstorming till we’re all happy. By the time I meet you all at the conference, I’ll definitely have a title – as well as some galleys to give away!
In the meantime, I hope you’ll check out some of my others. 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, a family of hair and makeup stylists in Summer Blowout, living in the family FROG (finished room over garage) and sea glass jewelry in Life’s a Beach, etc. And Must Love Dogs, which is about divorced preschool teacher whose family nudges her back into the dating world, has just been released for the first time as an eBook. 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! Everyone has a different favorite, so you can jump in anywhere, and you can read excerpts of all of them on my website.
Thank you Claire, for taking a few moments to chat with me here at the Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference Blog. Not only are you a very talented author, but you are truly a joy to speak with. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing you speak this coming spring.
Claire: Thanks for all the great questions, Sarah – it was a joy to chat with you, too. Can’t wait to hang out with everyone at the conference, and in the meantime, post a comment by October 8th, 2011 to be entered to win a copy of my latest novel, Best Staged Plans, which I’m proud to say is an Indie Next pick!
You can find out more about Claire at http://ClaireCook.com and follow her at http://facebook.com/ClaireCookauthorpage and http://twitter.com/ClaireCookwrite. You can find her books online, and in most brick and mortar bookstores.
I’ve now introduced two of our top-notch speakers - Susan McBride & Claire Cook - for the upcoming 2012 Missouri Writers’ Guild Conference. Tomorrow – Oct. 1 – Tricia will post the full list of speakers, agents and editors who will be attending this year’s conference, so be sure to drop by and check them out. She has planned a wonderful line up for this year’s conference that you will not want to miss.
In the meantime, don’t forget to renew your Guild membership in order to get the membership discount for this year’s conference. Head over to www.missouriwritersguild.org to download the PDF registration form and mail it in. Or you can complete it online and pay by Paypal.
Early bird conference registration opens Nov. 1.