As a former ad copywriter and (among other jobs) fitness instructor who wrote her first novel at age 45, then saw her second novel turned into a Hollywood movie (above), Claire Cook of Scituate knows all about second acts. In addition to publishing six novels, she has led writing and “reinvention” workshops for women around the country, and her session last month at Scituate’s Front Street Book Shop will be featured in a Today show segment that’s expected to air in mid-August.
In her most recent novel, “The Wildwater Walking Club,’’ the plot is set in motion when the lead character takes a buyout from her employer, an athletic shoe manufacturer. The heroine’s transformation includes career-counseling workshops with a group called Fresh Horizons — though Cook says that any resemblance to her own workshops is mostly coincidental.
“I don’t know how good the coach was at Fresh Horizons, but I know he was better than I am. I don’t pretend to have any expertise at all in career coaching, but I feel really lucky that I can make a living on my book contracts because soooo many authors can’t. So for me it’s a giveback thing. I really believe that if you have a buried dream, it’s a good idea to dig it up and take a look, and see if it still resonates, and yet I still know how terrifying it was to me.
“The Fresh Horizons characters are from my imagination. I’d be in big trouble if I were a newspaper reporter. I’d say, “That was a good answer, but this one is better.” I think as a novelist — and maybe it’s true of all writers — you’re first and foremost an eavesdropper, and I always tell my friends, “don’t tell me if you don’t want it to find its way into a character.’’ It’s almost like you put everything in a paper bag and shake it up, and when you take it out again, it’s in a new order. I don’t think my characters are even composites of anyone.
“But certainly before I started writing “Wildwater,” I talked to lots of women who took buyouts, and even to a couple who had taken buyouts from shoe companies. I talked to people who started lavender farms, so I do research in my own little way….I think the authentic details are what makes fiction come alive, and if you’re reading something and you happen to know about a specific area, you just have that real sense of discord if one of the details doesn’t ring true.
“The minute you get published, people who are trying to get published start wanting to go out for coffee, and I really tried to keep up with it for the longest time, but I couldn’t get my own work done. These workshops became a way for me to share what I’ve learned. And that’s how the Today show heard about me. I was on a book tour in Atlanta about a year ago and was doing a writing workshop at Emory, and someone told them, “You should do a story on this woman Claire Cook.”
“The workshop in Scituate was packed. The Front Street Book Shop is so tiny. Finally everyone had to wait outside, and I talked to a group and they got the footage they needed, and then I moved out to the front lawn and did the workshop again.
“When you think about it, what are the chances that a national show would be doing something about me? And to be able to share it with people from the town that has supported me is just the best.
“Women often come to these workshops because they think they’re going to hear about me and I’m going to give them some magic potion. What they end up doing is connecting with each other. I always do this thing called “speed networking,” where I make them turn to someone they’ve never met before and say, ‘What’s my dream, and how far along am I, and what can we do to help each other?’
“At first, people feel really awkward, and then all of a sudden, this buzz starts, and they’re yakking away with all these great ideas. I’m completely out of the loop, and when that switch happens, I feel that I’ve done my work here.
“There’s this big misconception that it’s who you know and what your connections are, and that’s so not true. I mean, I still don’t have any connections, and I’ve got six books.
“I’ve delivered a draft of my next novel, and it will be out next summer. I’ve got everything but the title, because I always go through, like, 200 titles before I get a decent one. The narrator is a woman who hoped to be a cultural consultant; she thought she’d be the one telling Sarah Palin she couldn’t really see Russia from her backyard. But instead, her husband abandons her with a 3-year-old daughter, and she’s spent the last seven years teaching cooking-around-the world-classes at the community center and answering phones for Great Girlfriend Getaways….I know I’m not making it sound funny, but it’s a fun book, too.
“You know, I used to write a book every two years, and for the past couple years, it’s been one a year. But I’m doing this full time, and these are books I really want to write. And given that it took me 45 years to write the first one, I’ve got a little catching up to do.”