Thursday, June 16, 2011

Q&A with Claire Cook

Where did you get the idea for Best Staged Plans?
I didn’t! My readers did. I remember it exactly: I was rushing around trying to get some packages mailed off, and I dropped my reading glasses into one of them as I was taping it up. So I did what every modern woman would do and I posted a funny comment about it on Facebook. The response was amazing – hundreds of people jumped in with their own reading glasses stories, and then everyone started saying, “There’s your next book, Claire.” So I went with it!

What came next?

For me, a huge part of the fun of being a novelist is that I get to live other lives vicariously. And I know my readers often get ideas for their own lives from my novels. So I started thinking about what would be an interesting job to explore. Professional home staging seemed like the perfect midlife career – it’s creative and flexible, life experience is an asset, and it’s a growing field. And from there I thought, what if the heroine was a home stager who was struggling to sell her own house? Her husband was dragging his feet, and her borderline adult son moved home and was living in the basement bat cave….

Now that you’re an expert, what advice would you give to people who want to hire a home stager – or even to become one?

Ha! I did lots of research, and there’s plenty of solid staging advice in Best Staged Plans, but I’m hardly an expert. In fact, I keep telling everyone to ask me questions about things like de-cluttering and paint colors fast, before I move on to my next novel and forget everything I’ve learned! If you’d like to find a real, as opposed to a fictional, professional home stager, or look into becoming one yourself, a great place to start is The Real Estate Staging Association® (, a member-governed trade association for home stagers. On the RESA website you’ll find a list of accredited home stagers, a consumer’s guide to home staging, information about training and accreditation, and lots more.

Do you and Sandy Sullivan, the narrator of Best Staged Plans, have anything in common?

Absolutely. We even live in an almost identical 1890s Victorian - it’s such a cool house that I kept most of the details. And, like Sandy, I’m facing the choices and adventures that come with the whole empty nest stage of life.

The comment I hear most often from readers is, “OMG, you’re writing my life!” Well, that’s because I’m living it, too! But even though this novel cuts close to some aspects of my own life, with all of my novels, I use bits and pieces of real details from my life, the lives of everyone who’s brave enough to be friends with a novelist, things I’ve read or overheard at the gym or from the next table at a restaurant, and things I imagine. Then, it’s as if I put them into an imaginary paper bag, shake them all up, and pull out all the pieces in a new order. I guess you could call it my Shake ‘n’ Bake method for writing a novel!

What is Readers for Readers and how did it come about?

With every novel, I look for opportunities to give back. I’ve spoken and signed books at thematically linked fundraisers, and I’ve taught lots of free writing and reinvention workshops. When a thread about homelessness found its way into Best Staged Plans, I was completely surprised to find out, along with my heroine, that not having inexpensive, non-prescription reading glasses is the biggest obstacle to disadvantaged people over forty re-entering the workplace. Every midlife woman I know has a handful of outgrown reading glasses, so I decided to set up a Readers for Readers page on my website, where I’ll list the mailing addresses of women’s shelters who would be happy to accept donations of reading glasses.

Does it feel different to be publishing your eighth novel than it did your first or second? Or do the pressures and expectations remain the same?

I could answer this question so many different ways, but the truth is I don’t spend much time thinking about these things! I write for my readers, and if they’re happy, I’m happy. Beyond that, I focus on trying to become a better writer with each novel, and I think I’ve done that. I also have the most amazingly supportive readers and more of them discover my books with each new release. I can’t control the rest of it, and worrying about it will only take me away from the things I should be thinking about.

What’s your best advice for women struggling to find their own next chapters?

Stop listening to the naysayers. Try things. Make mistakes. Get your computer skills up to speed. Work harder than everybody else. Remember that, as one of my characters once said, karma is a boomerang, and help other women along the way. And, of course, check out my reinvention page at

Many Thanks to Claire for providing me with this Q&A!   If you have not picked up a copy of Best Staged Plans, I highly recommend it!  Check it out on Amazon: Best Staged Plans and Barnes & Noble: Best Staged Plans.  Don't miss the blurb about Claire below which includes giveaway information!!
Claire Cook is the bestselling author of eight novels, including Must Love Dogs, which was made into major motion picture starring Diane Lane and John Cusack, Seven Year Switch, just out in paperback, and the upcoming BEST STAGED PLANS, everywhere June 7.
Find her at and Go to to win a Kindle, a Nook or a beach bag of books!

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