Claire Cook's "Summer Blowout"

She started writing at 45 and became a best-selling author by 50. Now Claire Cook is back with a new book — and a full arsenal of beauty tips

By Wendy Rodewald
Claire Cook (Photo: Diane Dillon)

Claire Cook’s story reads like an aspiring midlife writer’s ultimate fantasy: She penned her debut novel at 45, found a publisher on her first try, followed it up with a best-seller, and by 50 was walking the red carpet at the premiere of her book-turned-major-film Must Love Dogs.Now three years later Cook is gearing up for the release of her fifth effort, Summer Blowout (Voice), another love story sharpened with a smart sense of humor. The novel’s sarcastic heroine, makeup artist Bella Shaughnessy, meets a dashing mystery man when she’s least expecting it — that is, after her younger half-sister has hooked up with Bella’s ex-husband, causing her to renounce all romance forever. Fed up with working alongside her eight siblings in their father’s faux-Italianate salon, Bella resolves to reinvent her life by starting a business. Colorful details like a purse-sized dog with pink-highlighted fur and a laundry list of bizarrely named — and real! — lipstick shades (My Chihuahua Bites, anyone?) up the entertainment quotient for this just-right beach read.In preparation for her reading/workshop tour (part of the MORE/Voice series Getting Better All the Time), Cook spoke to about finding success and staying You’ve said that you always knew you were a writer, but you never got around to writing your first novel until you were 45. What made you finally decide to sit down and do it? Claire Cook: I was sitting outside my daughter’s swim practice at five in the morning, and it just hit me: I might live my whole life and never once just go for it. So I sat that whole winter — this is sort of an embarrassing suburban story — in my minivan outside my daughter’s swim practice in the freezing New England cold and wrote a draft of the novel [Ready to Fall, published in 2002]. For me, the procrastination just got so much more painful than actually writing. I just couldn’t hide from it anymore. And now I look back and I think that all of the crazy jobs I’ve worked and the things I’ve done are feeding my novels now. People say to me, "Oh my God, you’re writing my life!" Well, yeah, because I’ve lived it! Your novels are told through these funny, sarcastic female narrators — how much of that is your own voice coming through? CC: The fun thing about being a novelist is that it’s all me and yet none of it is, which is so freeing. I have a much more boring and stable life than most of my characters, so it probably keeps me out of trouble to have these vicarious thrills through my characters! I think that if I have a gift as a writer, it’s to make people laugh and to recognize themselves and their quirky, crazy families, and that’s what I bring to the table in my life as well as in my fiction. I think there’s enough pain and suffering in the world without me having to contribute to it! Bella, the main character in Summer Blowout, is going through a similar sort of midlife reinvention, after divorcing her husband and deciding to start a business. How did your own experience inform her story? CC: I think all of my heroines are at midlife and in transition. My feeling is that none of us would change if we didn’t have to, because transitions are painful. They’re wonderful and they bring you to a fabulous place, but they’re hard. So I find that transitions are where the fireworks happen, whether it’s your own life or your character’s life. It’s when things get really messy and really interesting. With Bella, it was an interesting world for me to delve into because hair and makeup are so not my thing! But when Must Love Dogs [was made into a movie], suddenly I was doing this whole circuit of TV shows, and the same makeup people from one would be at the next one. I got friendly with a couple of them, and I thought, what if they were a family? I think that every novel gives you a chance to discover a world that you might not see. Did you find yourself strangely drawn to lipstick all of a sudden? CC: [laughs] A little bit! I’m amazed at how many people I didn’t realize had lipstick addictions actually have them. Now I feel a little bit less intimidated by the whole thing.

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