Interview with Claire Cook: ‘I’m absolutely living my dream!’

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“I was so not the kind of mother who would ever snoop in her daughter’s diary. But I did it anyway, standing in the hallway outside her bedroom, my heart beating wildly, because I knew my daughter would totally flip out if she caught me. Maybe most mothers eventually break their own code of ethics this way, and in our defense I would have to say it comes from the fiercest kind of love. The world is a tough place, and children are so terrifyingly fragile. Making sure your kid is okay triumphs everything.”

Oh come on, you know you’ve done it or at least was tempted! This is an excerpt from Claire Cook’s ‘Seven Year Switch just released from Hyperion Books.

Claire masterfully tells the story of Jill Murray, single mother trying to keep the roof over her head and her 10-year-old daughter safely under her wings despite the fact runaway dad has popped back in their lives much to the chagrain of Jill but the delight of their daughter, Anastasia. It’s a wonderful book about finding yourself and doing what’s right despite the fact it tears you to pieces.

We interviewed Claire to find out more about her book, Seven Year Switch. Enjoy!

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Claire CookThank you for this interview, Claire. Can we begin by having you tell everyone what your new book, Seven Year Switch, is all about?

Claire: Thanks for having me! Seven Year Switch is the story of a single mother whose husband ran off to join the Peace Corps, leaving her with a three-year-old. Seven years later, just when they’ve figured out how to make it on their own, he’s ba-ack – proving he can’t even run away reliably! Now Jill has to face the fact that there’s simply no way she can be a good mom without letting her ex back into her daughter’s life. They say that every seven years you become a completely new person, and it takes a Costa Rican getaway to help Jill make her choice – between the woman she is and the woman she wants to be.

Did you take any part of your real life and work it into the novel somehow? Are there any similarities?

Claire: I think all of my characters contain little bits of me, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to write them convincingly. That being said, none of my characters are autobiographical. The great part of writing fiction is you get to make things up for a living!

Where did you get the idea for your main character, Jill Murray, to work answering phones for Great Girlfriend Getaways and teaching Lunch Around the World at the community center?

Claire: Like so many of us, Jill’s life didn’t turn out quite the way she planned. By this point in her life she thought she’d be a cultural coach, jetting around the world working with diplomatic families before they headed off on their next foreign service post or with international business people. Instead, in order to provide stability for her daughter, she’s become a Jill-of-all-trades, cobbling together a life as best she can. I followed my own children to their school as a teacher and stayed for sixteen years before I became a novelist, so on some level I knew those feelings. As for the cultural aspects, they were just something I wanted to know more about. Sometimes I write what I know, and sometimes I write what I want to know! And I also wanted to work in a trip to Costa Rica, so my readers would get to go there vicariously, and so I’d simply have to take a research trip!

Seven Year Switch 2How did you come up with the storyline? Did you go with an idea, and then let the words fly or did you map it out first?

Claire: My novels are character-driven, so they always start with the characters. And then, because they’re essentially slice-of-life novels, I think about what is the explosion that makes the book start on this particular day? In Seven Year Switch, it’s the reappearance of Jill’s husband after seven years. After that, I just feel my way through by picturing the characters and their interactions, based on who they are. Robert Frost said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” The parts I didn’t plan often turn out to be the best parts of my books, so I’m glad I allow myself to stay open to these surprises.

Claire, in a recent interview, you said your first manuscript sold on the first try. Can you tell us all about this?

I wrote my first novel, Ready to Fall, in my minivan in the parking lot outside my daughter’s swim practice during one long cold New England winter ten years ago when I was 45. Amazingly, it sold to the first publisher who asked to read it. I think the trick to avoid rejection might be to procrastinate for decades and skip all those awful stages!

Hindsight 20/20, if the first publisher you approach wants your book, you should get an agent fast! I only queried two agents, who were both so famous even I had heard of them. One wrote back: “Dear Claire, If your novel is half as funny as your query letter, you will definitely find someone, however it won’t be me.” I thought, ha, who needs an agent? So I submitted to Bridgeworks, the publisher who launched Tom Perrotta and Lorna Landvik, and they took it. I spent more on gas driving to the few stores who would let me do events than I made on the advance, but the novel did well enough to bring me to the attention of my agent, the famous and wonderful Lisa Bankoff at ICM, and in her brilliant hands, my next novel went to auction, and at 50 I walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the adaptation of my second novel, Must Love Dogs. I’m now 55 and the bestselling author of seven novels, and I’m absolutely living my dream!

I know Hyperion is doing a bang up job of promoting Seven Year Switch. Can you tell my readers what they have done for you so far?

Claire: Hyperion has terrific marketing, publicity and sales departments, and they’re really behind my books, so I have lots of support.

Seven Year Switch has received beach read shout outs from People, USA Today, The New York Times and more. My books are also displayed front and center on the beach read tables in both indie and chain stores. I had incredible turnouts of enthusiastic women at my Seven Year Switch events. (Photos up on events page ClaireCook.com.)

I answer every email. I chat and Skype and do conference calls with book clubs. I tell my readers how much I appreciate them every chance I get.

That being said, I think it’s important to bring as much energy as I can to the mix, and I do. I have an active website. I do lots of networking on Facebook and Twitter. Seven Year Switch even has a great book trailer.

You also have a book out, Must Love Dogs, that was made into a Warner Bros. feature film starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. Would you like to share with us how that happened?

Claire: I’d just done a signing at a bookstore in Vermont and there was a big display of autographed books. Gary David Goldberg, who created Family Ties, Spin City and Lou Grant, wandered in looking for something to read. He said he brought the book home, poured a glass of wine and sat down with it — and never got up till he finished! The next day he called my literary agent in NY, and the rest is history! The movie experience was a blast — I got to hang out on the set and on location, and they gave me a director’s chair with my name on it and the actors all autographed it for me! I walked the red carpet at the premiere — and was even on Access Hollywood and Extra!

What’s next for you?

Claire: I’m just about to dive into revisions on my next novel, which will be out in summer 2011!

Thank you so much for this interview and we wish you much success!

Claire: Thank you so much — it’s been great talking with you!

Thank you so much for your time in answering our questions, Claire. Godspeed to you! Claire will be on virtual book tour throughout July to talk more about her book, Seven Year Switch. If you’d like to visit her official tour page where you can read more interviews and guest posts from this wonderfully talented author, click here.

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