Inspiration for Claire Cook came at 5 a.m. in a minivan outside of her daughter's swim practice.
It was time to write again.
Cook hadn't seriously written since college, when she was a double major in film and creative writing at Syracuse University. Sitting bleary-eyed in her Ford Windstar, a mother in her mid-40s, she decided that if she was ever going to write she had to get down to it.
Now, nearly a decade later, she's had string of best-sellers, including "Must Love Dogs," which was made into a movie. She's a writer now, but she also likes to think of herself as a type of motivator, too. She has a message: Life doesn't end at middle age.
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"(Writing) was a lifetime dream," she said. "But I just never tried. I kept hearing about how tough the industry was. And then I had a mid-life wake-up call."
Cook will speak at the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Lunch With Author Series on Wednesday. She's recently published "Wallflower in Bloom," her ninth novel.
Her first novel, "Ready to Fall," was published when she was 45. She wrote most of it in those early morning hours in her minivan. She sold it to the first publisher to whom she sent it.
The book was a modest success, but her second novel hit it big. Seemingly out of the blue, "Family Ties" creator and "Spin City" producer Gary David Goldberg optioned "Must Love Dogs." Unlike most novelists who have books picked up by Hollywood types and then never get another word in the movie-making process, Cook spoke with Goldberg several times to hash out drafts of the screenplay. The film was released in 2005. Cook walked the red carpet at the premiere and hob-nobbed with stars Diane Lane and John Cusack.
"I could have lived my life and never done this if I hadn't decided to write that first book," she said. "It goes to show what can happen if you try."
"Wallflower in Bloom" came about because of another quirky brush with fame for the author.
Cook, who's generated a loyal fanbase via Twitter and Facebook, was named the author readers most wanted to see on "Dancing with the Stars" in an online survey on the popular publishing blog GalleyCat. She never made it on the show, but it got her mind working.
The main character in "Wallflower" is Deirdre, who is the personal assistant to her famous New Age guru of a brother. She uses her brother's online following to get her a spot on the TV reality dance show. The themes of the novel are familiar in Cook's work and life. Deirdre is a woman looking to change. And she finds a new adventure when she does.
"We all have that fantasy of 15 minutes of fame," Cook said. "What would we do if we actually got it?"