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 MORE.com about finding success and staying real.MORE.com: 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!MORE.com: 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!MORE.com: 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. MORE.com: 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. I’m getting letters already from people saying, "I got the best makeup advice from you!" That just cracks me up because I never thought I’d give makeup advice.To me, the family part was probably the most compelling part of the book, because I think nobody loves us more than our families and yet nobody can box us in like our families. I’m one of eight myself, so I know the whole drill.MORE.com: Speaking of families, your writing has earned you a huge number of devoted fans. What’s it like to be so popular? CC: I dedicated this book to my readers because I feel such amazing support, and I very much feel like we’re all in this together. I try to give to them by sharing everything I can about how to become a writer and how to attack that dream. And in return, readers are buzzing my books all over the place. A character in one of my books says, "Karma is a boomerang," and I think it’s so true. I never take my readers for granted — I answer every e-mail that comes in, I try to give back as much as I can and to share everything I know. MORE.com: Does working with aspiring writers affect the way you think about your own writing? CC: It’s made me realize how little I know! There’s no one way to do anything; there are a gazillion ways to do it. It’s important to trust yourself and to trust who you are, but also to reach out. I’m so lucky that I have this great support system around me, but in the beginning you really do have to cobble that together, and I think that’s a place where a lot of aspiring writers struggle. MORE.com: Summer Blowout is your fifth novel. Does each book get any easier to write? Do you have a system down at this point? CC: The only way that it gets easier is that you know you’ve lived through it before! I’ve learned how to get really disciplined — I actually schedule my days on a calendar so I get it done, because it’s just so easy to cheat. So I’ve learned that piece of it, but I don’t think it’s possible for it to be really easy. Everybody makes this analogy, but it’s like childbirth: It’s a tough thing to go through, but boy does it feel good when you get that book out! The hard things are the good things in life. MORE.com: Can you tell us anything about your next novel? CC: The next one, I can say, is about women and walking. But I’m the worst person to say what my novels are about. I know they’re always about the characters, and hopefully they’ll bring people a few laughs.MORE.com: What’s the best part about your job? CC: I think it’s the best job in the world. Every day I’m at that place of being really challenged, but not over my head, and that feels so great. I’m learning so much and I feel that I really am getting better all the time. And that’s my goal. I’m living my days doing just what I want to do — and how many people can say that? But I think we can all get there.Join MORE and Voice books for "Getting Better All the Time," a workshop series featuring Claire Cook and more authors. See dates and interact with fellow readers at voice.gather.com. Learn more about the series Visit Voice books online For more information on Claire Cook and Summer Blowout, visit her Web site: clairecook.com Originally published on MORE.com, May 2008.