Best-sellling author Claire Cook’s latest book, Wallflower in Bloom, is a delightful story of Deidre Griffin finally finding her own courage to step out from behind her brother Tag’s shadow. Tag is a famous self-made guru and the book follows Deidre’s journey as she finally realizes that it is up to her to become a self-made woman. As she takes a huge risk, she learns how to start her life all over again. With her signature wit and insight, Claire Cook delivers yet another funny, fiery look at how one woman can become the hero of her own life. I’m delighted to share my interview with Claire Cook here.
Diana: My blog is called “The Best Chapter” and the major theme of all your books is how your characters take that big step to begin the next chapters in their lives. In your newest book, Wallflower in Bloom, which I loved, Deidre Griffin reaches a pivotal moment when she decides to do something completely unexpected. Was there a time in your life when you realized, this is it, time for me to start my best chapter?
Claire Cook: I love your blog, Diana, and I love that you won the 2011 Family Circle Fiction Contest, which I was a judge for one year – such a small world! Thanks for your kind words about Wallflower in Bloom, and yes, the overarching theme of all of my novels is reinvention and how to move on to that next chapter in our lives.
My own journey was pretty much a midlife wake-up call. I’d known I was a writer since I was a little girl. I majored in film and creative writing in college, and fully expected that the day after graduation, I would go into labor and a brilliant novel would emerge, fully formed, like giving birth.
It didn’t happen. I guess I knew how to write, but not what to write. Looking back, I can see that I had to live my life so I’d have something to write about, and if I could give my younger self some good advice, it would be not to beat myself up for the next couple of decades.
But I did. At the same time, I pretended I wasn’t feeling terrible about not writing a novel, and did a lot of other creative things. I wrote shoe ads for an in house advertising agency for five weeks, became continuity director of a local radio station for a couple of years, taught aerobics and did some choreography, helped a friend with landscape design, wrote a few freelance magazine pieces, took some more detours. Eventually, I had two children and followed them to school as a teacher, where I taught everything from multicultural games and dance to open ocean rowing to creative writing.
Years later, when I was in my forties and sitting in my minivan outside my daughter’s swim practice at 5 AM, it hit me that I might live my whole life without ever once going after my dream of writing a novel. So, for the next six months I wrote a rough draft in the pool parking lot, and it sold to the first publisher who asked to read it.
My first novel [Ready to Fall] was published when I was forty-five. At fifty, I walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the movie version of my second novel, Must Love Dogs. I’m now the bestselling author of nine novels, including my newest,Wallflower in Bloom. Not many days go by that I don’t take a deep breath and remind myself that this is the career I almost didn’t have.
Diana: You wrote that your characters are “trying to find a creative way to make a living during these swiftly changing, crazy times – just like the rest of us!” What do you do each day to make each day a page in your best chapter?
Claire Cook: I rise about the negativity. People told me I couldn’t get published without connections. I didn’t know a soul. Lots more people told me the Must Love Dogs movie would never be made. Long shots happen every day. Believe in them. Believe in yourself. And if there are people in your life who aren’t supportive of your dreams, dump them if you can. Or at least stop sharing your dreams with them.
I work my butt off. It’s tough out there, so I make it a point to always do more than the situation requires. I did this when I was trying to break in to the publishing biz, and I continue to do it on a daily basis. I meet every deadline. I dive back into a manuscript again and again and again – whatever it takes to make the novel I’m working on as good as it can be.
I focus on being who I really am and writing the book only I can write. The buzzword these days is branding, but I think of it as authenticity. Being a novelist 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.
I remember that karma is a boomerang. This is the truest thing one of my characters has ever said. Many of the great things that have happened to me (including a Today Show feature!) were triggered by something nice I did for someone else. People talk; your actions determine what they say. So do something nice for someone and set that boomerang in motion.
I don’t wait around for anyone else to make things happen for me. I truly believe we’ve all got the power to make our own dreams come true. The Internet is a great equalizer – everything you need to know about the world you want to conquer can be found online. Research. Network. Create an online presence.
Diana: Deidre Griffin and other characters in your novels are very real heroines. This highlights my belief that we can each be the hero of our own lives. You mention how important it is to be you, to be authentic. How can people do that when – like Deidre Griffin – their families are holding them back?
Claire: We can blame our families or bad breaks or a tough world, but for Deirdre, and for all of us, the truth is that we’re often the ones who are really holding ourselves back. I think once you accept this and get out of your own way, things go a whole lot better!
Diana: I love your use of phrases called chiasmus in Wallflower In Bloom. My favorite is “Success is getting what you want, but happiness is wanting what you get.” How did you get the idea of including a chiasmus for each chapter? What is your favorite – in your book and in life – and why?
Claire: So glad you enjoyed the chiasmus chapter headings inWallflower in Bloom! I love word play, so I thought it would be a fun way to start the chapters. But I also thought that it would be interesting if they were the method to Deirdre’s guru brother’s mojo. I mean, some of them are powerful and some are just silly, so I think they’re also a statement on charisma and celebrity – when someone has that It Thing, the pieces sometimes seem to add up to more than the whole. As for my favorite, after coming up with a different chiasmus for all 38 chapters of Wallflower in Bloom, I think I’m seriously over them!!!
Diana: One of my mantras about writing is, “Write it to right it.” You began the next chapter in your life literally by writing your next chapter. Are there other tools you use to live your best chapter?
Claire: Absolutely. And I share them all on the For Writers and Reinvention pages at www.ClaireCook.com!
Thank you, Claire!
I’m adding the photo of the cover from Wallflower in Bloom because it’s color-coordinated with Claire’s shirt in her photo above and it captures a wonderful moment in time — a simple whirling dance — that leads to the next thought:
We can all do one thing today to make our own dreams come true. Today is your day. What are you going to do?