Reinventing women's lives one Facebook post at a time: Claire Cook launches newbook Wallflower in Bloom
For a brief moment, 57-year-old author Claire Cook thought she might be on Dancing with the Stars.
“Of course I would have done it,” she says, nodding emphatically, hazel eyes widening over her perpetual smile. “You just have to do those things.” Cook ends this sentence, and many others, with a peal of laughter that sends her large silver earrings bobbing.
When publishing blog Galley Cat polled their Facebook followers in 2010 on which author they’d most like to see on the dancing reality show, Cook beat out fellow nominees David Sedaris and Jodi Picoult, and a petition full of fan signatures was sent to the show’s producers. Although Cook was not invited to appear on the show, the incident served as the inspiration for her latest humorous novel, Wallflower in Bloom, released Tuesday by Touchstone.
Deirdre, the heroine of Wallflower in Bloom, is a downtrodden woman of a certain age stuck playing personal assistant to her brother, a rockstar-famous guru named Tag. Frustrated by having spent her life in Tag’s shadow, Deirdre highjacks his Facebook page in order to win a last-minute replacement spot as the “non-celebrity” on Dancing with the Stars.
In a story rife with puns, pratfalls and pop culture references, Deirdre uses her appearance on the show as motivation for reinventing her life. “All of my books have a theme of reinvention,” Cook says.
This is a story Cook, who reinvented her own life by writing her first book at 45, is uniquely positioned to tell. Cook describes deferring her dreams of authorship until midlife, when she had a revelation: “I was watching my daughter’s swim practice and it hit me like a ton of bricks: I might live my whole life and never go for it.” She began sitting in her minivan during her daughter’s swim practices, scribbling down what would become her first novel, Ready to Fall.
The book sold to the first publisher who saw it. “I’m very lucky,” she admits. But with eight bestsellers under her belt, one of which was adapted into the 2005 film Must Love Dogs, it’s clear that Cook’s success is about more than luck.
Cook strikes a chord that resonates with her readers, a few dozen of whom have come to the serene and luxurious Lake Austin Spa Resort to attend a private book launching party and a workshop by Cook on “Reinvention.” Mostly women in their forties and fifties, a few attend the party wrapped in spa bathrobes. The floor is a sea of colorful pedicures framed by sequined and bejeweled flip flops.
Cook emphasizes over and over that she writes about ordinary women — no celebrities, no glamour queens. “It’s easy to feel invisible once you get to a certain age,” she says. “I want to give a voice to real women — average, normal women.”
For Cook, channeling those voices means keeping active on Facebook, Twitter and her blog, all of which she updates herself. Cook says that social networking “lets the readers in to be part of things,” and she means that literally, claiming to have bounced ideas off her fans and even found inspiration for her novels in comment threads.
As Cook speaks enthusiastically about getting story ideas and input from her Facebook followers, she occasionally seems to fudge the distinctions between sisterhood and social media marketing, the community and the focus group. After all, Cook claims that “branding” is just another word for “being who you are” — a strategy that has worked wonders for her career.
But if social media marketing has been crucial to Cook’s success, she seems genuinely eager to share the wealth. She notes that many women her age need encouragement to tackle unfamiliar social media platforms, and in the “Reinvention” workshops she teaches around the country, she urges women to “get your tech together.” In fact, social networking skills feature prominently in Wallflower in Bloom.
Although Deirdre attains newfound confidence and a creative outlet through Dancing with the Stars, it is her realization that she is a highly marketable social media expert that finally prompts her escape from her famous brother. On the set of Dancing with the Stars, she wins over her trainers, costumers and make-up artists, not with her dancing skills, but by setting them up with Twitter accounts and teaching them how to mount Facebook campaigns.
For all Cook’s emphasis on marketing, however, she is anything but cynical. Getting serious for a moment, she says, “I wrote the books that were in my heart. If I tried to plan my books based on marketing—it doesn’t work. My readers would know.”
Cook values her readers above all. Speaking of critics who may not appreciate her style — what some might call “chick lit,” and Cook herself calls “the fun books” — she shrugs her shoulders and repeats, “My readers get it.”
And they really do. One fan who was lucky enough to have her trip to the spa paid for via a publisher-sponsored sweepstakes describes the appeal of Cook’s novels: “I love that they’re about normal people. And that’s what I like about her too. She’s so normal.”
At the reception, Cook brings out a basket of colorful silk flowers, which the women laughingly pin in their hair, and corrals them together for a photo by the display of books. In her coral skirt and flower-embellished flip flops, Cook matches the cover art almost perfectly. Cameras flash, and the picture is on Facebook within a few days.