Never Too Late to Make a Difference
December 2019 Issue
By Cynthia Robinson
Photography by Mike Force Photography
From the time she was a small child in Virginia, New York Times, Amazon, and USA Today best-selling author and St. Simons resident Claire Cook knew she wanted to be a writer. “I started writing when I was little, little. The first thing I had published was on a kid’s page when I was six years old,” she said smiling. “I majored in film and creative writing in college (Syracuse University). But when I graduated, I choked. I listened to all the negativity about how hard it was to be a writer and hid from writing for decades.”
Instead of pursuing her calling, she “followed her kids to school” and became a teacher for 16 years. “I wrote for some magazines and won awards for creative teaching, but it was as if I had buried my dream so deep, I almost couldn’t find it. I really loved the kids, but it just hit me one day that I could be one of those people who didn’t ever try. My procrastination finally became more painful than actually doing it.”
So, at the age of 45, Claire wrote her first novel in longhand, as she huddled in her minivan during her daughter’s early morning swim practices, while they were living in Massachusetts. That first book, Ready to Fall, “sold to the first publisher that read it. That never happens!” Claire laughed.
Her target readers are “women and a few good men,” she added, laughing again. “I made the conscious decision to help people have fun. I want to write books people would want to take on vacation. There is enough sadness in the world, and I didn’t want to be part of adding to it. I try to write books I want to read. I think you can’t be a writer unless you are a voracious reader. I also like to read things that take me out of my comfort zone that I wouldn’t write, but it’s a good way to learn and grow.”
With that first novel under her belt, she wrote her next, Must Love Dogs, which was turned into a Hollywood, big-budget movie starring John Cusack and Diane Lane and is now a seven-book series. “I walked the red carpet at age 50 to the Hollywood premier. My kids (daughter Garet, who now works at Emory University, and son Kaden, who works at Foundation Medicine in Boston) were teenagers then, and even they thought I was cool for about a minute! I had a great time at the premier. It really demystified Hollywood for me. And, John Cusack is a sweetheart! He bought books for his mom and sisters.”
After years of running from her dream, Claire has embraced what she calls her own “reinvention” with gusto and has written and had published 19 books in 19 years. She is now at work on book number 20. “I have written 17 novels and two non-fiction books. Book seven of Must Love Dogs came out, and I’m now working on a third in my Wild Water Walking Club, which was requested by my readers.”
Although she put off her writing career for years, Claire follows a strict schedule now in turning out her bestsellers. “Because I procrastinated so long, I am very disciplined with my writing. I get up really early and take a walk on the beach before sunrise. Then I come back home, have my coffee and a handful of almonds, and I write. I don’t check email or social media first. I block out time like that. If you get two finished pages done in a day, you can have a rough draft within six months. When I’m writing a book, I’m living in it and the ideas come to me all the time, no matter what I’m doing.”
Claire said there is current interest in turning her Wild Water Walking Club into a TV series, and her book, Best Staged Plans, is garnering movie interest. “It’s a fun book about a downsizing heroine who is a home stager.” As for her next project, Claire said she has been inspired so much by her new home, that she is “going to set a series on St. Simons. I have met so many fascinating people from all over who moved here, as well as many who have lived here their entire lives.”
While continuing to write her novels, Claire said she “reinvented myself again” with her two nonfiction books—Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention and Shine On: How to Grow Awesome Instead of Old.
“I feel grateful every single day and feel like I’m having a career I almost didn’t have. I enjoy cheering others on and want to write about our lives. Women in particularly think their lives are not interesting, but they are. I think we are endlessly fascinating.”
Claire shares her knowledge through upbeat workshops and talks and will be presenting a workshop in January on St. Simons. “Many people are making New Year’s resolutions at the first of the year, and I am very excited to work with Cary Knapp and the St. Simons Literary Guild for this workshop. I wanted to do my small part to be the change. I’m hoping this eventually becomes a regular yearly event.”
For anyone wanting to embark on a writing career, Claire said she is more than happy to pass on what she’s learned. “If the big gates don’t open for you, there are a lot of small presses out there. Social media has changed everything. If I can get people to come to my website and get their email, we can stay in touch. I also do fun giveaways through my newsletter. We’re so lucky to live at a time where we can be so connected to our readers. I am so grateful for them.”
Although she’s a seasoned writer now, she still battles her nerves whenever she finishes another book. “With every book, I still have to put it out there and hear what the readers have to say. It’s still scary, but I love it! None of us have any guarantees in life, so live the life you want now.”
Claire’s Reinvention Tips:
• Rise above the negativity. So many people will tell you what you can and can’t do. Rise above it anyway.
• Be who you really are. So many of us get put in a box. When I was a teacher, I was always trying to rein myself in. Now, I’m me. There is so much power in being authentic.
• Originality counts! Confound expectations. If everybody is doing it, it’s already been done. Do a little tweak and put your spin on it. I wrote only the books that I can write.
Origins: One of eight siblings. She and husband Jake Jacobucci have been married 40 years. “No one can spell his last name, so that’s why I stuck with Cook! We’ve been married since I was 23 years old, and we still like each other and have fun together. It’s crazy!”
Relocation to St. Simons: After years of living in the little beach town of Scituate, Mass., her husband was done with the snow. “We looked up and down the East Coast for the quintessential beach town. When we got to St. Simons, that was it. It has a tourist vibe, but also a real feeling of community. The Pier Village is similar to Scituate, but without the snow!” They moved here about a year ago.
Morning Show Spotlight: Claire was featured as a Today’s Woman by NBC’s Today Show. “They were really sweet, but it was so stressful. They were at my house for eight hours. I’m someone who can either get myself fixed up, or my house, not both! I was so worried that they would move a chair and find some Gummi Bears leftover from the 80s!”
Four-Legged Family: “We always adopt dogs and cats. Our last dog, Daisy, was a Sharpei/Lab cross who died at age 15.” Although they decided to wait on adopting another dog, while they were out-of-town, a feral cat had kittens under their house. “We’re into must love cats now. The mother, Pebbles, has turned into a lap cat.”
In Demand: Claire is frequently called on to judge writing contests and speak at events, including the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, Denmark Literary Festival, the Cape Cod Writers Conference and the California Women’s Conference.
Reinvention Presentation: The St. Simons Literary Guild will present Claire’s high energy, interactive workshop, Never Too Late: New Year Reinvention Workshop with Claire Cook on Saturday, Jan. 11; 10 a.m. until noon in Room 108 at the St. Simons Island Casino in the Pier Village. The workshop is free for Guild members and $10 each for non-members. For more information or to reserve your spot, visit www.litguildssi.org.
Keep Up with Claire: Claire is active on social media and can be found at: www.clairecook.com; I@ClaireCookauthorpage;
M@ClaireCookwrite; L@ClaireCookwrite; and O@clairecookwrite>