Claire Cook is the USA Today bestselling author of twelve books, both traditionally and indie published, including Must Love Dogs, which became a movie starring Diane Lane and John Cusack and is now a series, and her first nonfiction book, Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (without getting lost along the way), a #1 Amazon Bestseller in Women’s Personal Growth. Download your FREE Never Too Late workbook, find book club questions and read excerpts at ClaireCook.com.
Loren Kleinman (LK): What is reinvention? How have you reinvented yourself?
Claire Cook (CC): Reinvention can be a massive, earth-shattering change or just a tweak to your existing life. Sometimes it’s a choice, and other times the world changes around you and forces your hand.
For some, the trick is finding your reinvention destination. If you’re one of those people, you’re still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, whether you’re pushing thirty or eighty. For others, deep down inside you already know what you want, so it’s all about finding the courage to dig up that dream and dust it off.
Like so many of us, I’ve reinvented myself lots of times. Finally finding the courage to write my first novel at 45. Going after my backlist and indie-publishing the reverted books as well as new ones.
Deciding to write my first nonfiction book—about reinvention!—was a huge personal reinvention for me. It just felt like time to give back and to share everything I’ve learned on my own journey that might help other writers and reinventors in their own. And as a novelist, I’ve always been able to hide behind my fictional characters, so sharing my personal story, particularly the bumps in the road, was a stretch for me. But I did it and I’m really proud of Never Too Late. There’s lots of advice in it on everything from platform-building and social networking, to strategizing to stay on track with your writing/reinvention, to dealing with the fear and the inevitable ups and downs. Writing this book was truly a labor of love for me.
LK: You wrote your first novel in your minivan at 45. At 50, you walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the adaptation of your second novel, Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. Can you talk about going from minivan to red carpet?
CC: I tell the full story of how the Must Love Dogs movie happened in Never Too Late, but the short version is that it was a blast! I’ve had other books optioned, but optioned books rarely make it all the way to the screen, so I was incredibly lucky that one of mine did. Besides walking the red carpet the year I turned 50, I also spent lots of time on the set, and was even given my own director’s chair with my name on it, which all the actors signed to surprise me. And best of all, Gary David Goldberg, who created Family Ties and Spin City, and I became friends for life.
LK: Can you talk about writing non-fiction versus fiction? What’s different about the two (besides the obvious)? Which do you feel the most compelled to write?
CC: Because I’d only written novels, when I decided to write Never Too Late, I wondered whether I’d even be able to write nonfiction. And to tell you the truth, I had absolutely no idea how to do it! But, pantser that I am, I just jumped in and figured it out as I went, and pretty quickly I knew I was on the right path. The process didn’t feel much different to me than writing a novel. Lots of readers have told me Never Too Late reads just like a novel, so maybe that’s why!
LK: How do we get spiritually lost? How can we come back?
CC: There’s so much noise all around us that it’s easy to start to forget who we are and what we want your lives to be. Focusing on our authenticity and on the unique gifts we have to bring to the world—can bring us back. For me, one of the big gifts of midlife was that I finally realized I don’t have to be all things to all people. I’m focused on where I want to go, not on where else I could be going or who has something that I don’t—or any of the gazillion other things that can spin you off track.
LK: How does experiencing a traumatic event propel us into change? How can it paralyze us?
CC: My theory is that change is hard, so if things are going pretty well in your life, you’re less likely to be motivated to change. But if something traumatic happens, you’re not only miserable, but you’ve got nowhere to go but up. For me, after decades of hiding from my dream of writing a novel, the procrastination finally became more painful than actually writing a book. So, in my experience, pain can be a big motivator.
I think fear and overthinking can paralyze us, with or without a traumatic inciting incident. Here’s a quote from Never Too Late about reframing fear: “If what you’re doing is significant, of course you’re going to fail. In fact, if you can’t remember the last time you failed at anything, you might want to step it up a little. You might be playing it way too safe and easy.” I try to look at fear as a sign that I’m getting closer to my destination.
LK: What does it really mean to “let go”?
CC: To do what you were born to do with all your heart—to push past the fear and do it anyway.
LK: How does the theme of love play out in your fiction works? How does this theme facilitate reinvention?
CC: There’s certainly love in my books, but I think the overarching theme of my novels is reinvention. In each of my eleven novels, the heroine is stuck in some way and trying to find her own next chapter. There’s nothing rarefied about the lives of these women. Just like the rest of us, they’re trying to survive and thrive in these swiftly changing times, and that often boils down to reinvention.
Sarah in Must Love Dogs is a preschool teacher, and in Book 2, Must Love Dogs: New Leash on Life, she takes on a summer consulting gig teaching social skills to twenty-somethings at a video game company. In The Wildwater Walking Club, Noreen is duped by a sorta boyfriend into taking a corporate buyout and gets involved in walking and lavender and clotheslines. In Life’s a Beach, Ginger transitions from a series of dead-end sales jobs to making sea glass jewelry while she spends time on a movie set as her nephew’s guardian. In Summer Blowout, the family business is a hair salon, and Bella’s reinvention involves staying away from her ex-husband, who has run off with her half-sister, and creating her own personalized makeup kits. March and her daughter go to college at the same time in Multiple Choice and end up with their own radio show.
And on and on and on through all eleven novels. I guess I just find reinvention endlessly fascinating.
LK: In Time Flies, you write: “Because nobody knows you better than somebody who knew you way back then.” Could this somebody be you, in fact? Or does it take someone else to remind us of who we are?
CC: It could absolutely be you, and I think there’s still a sixteen-year-old wondering if the cool kids are going to sit with us at lunch still buried inside each of us. But those old friendships can be really powerful—and really fun—and I had lots of fun exploring them for Time Flies.
LK: If you could write a letter to your 20-year old self, what would be the first two lines?
CC: Dear Claire, Don’t bother to beat yourself up for the next two decades, because it’s all going to turn out fine.
LK: Are you happy? Why?
CC: Yes. I choose to be happy every day. Or at least most days!