Episode 127 – Beyond the Point – a story of the female veteran bond with author Claire Gibson
Claire Gibson is a Nashville-based author whose work has been featured in The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and Entrepreneur Magazine, among many other publications. Her debut novel, Beyond the Point, tells the story of a group of female veterans in an incredibly powerful way.
In this week’s show, we cover a ton of ground, to include:
- Her childhood in a military family and growing up at West Point
- The blessings and curses of writing recent historical fiction
- How this story came to be
- What it’s like to publish your first book, and her future plans!
And much more!
Intro: 00:01 This is the Eagle Nation podcast where we talk about building richer lives and stronger communities. We have inspiring guests, tap real conversations about the things that you care about.
JJ: 00:13 All right, everyone. Welcome back to the Eagle Nation podcast. My name is JJ Pinter and I’m going to be your host again today for another literary themed I guess version of the addition of the Eagle Nation podcast and I’m joined by a fantastic author named Claire Gibson. So Claire, thanks so much for joining us today.
Claire: 00:31 Hey, thanks for having me, JJ.
JJ: 00:32 So we were just waxing poetically, a little bit kind of off before we started recording here and Claire and I have a bunch of stuff in common slash kind of I guess shared history maybe. Is that a good of parallel timelines, parallel timelines? Yeah, and I guess the reason we should talk about the reason that that we’re getting to this, so Claire is the author of a fantastic new book called beyond the points, which is, it’s being published by Harper Collins and his just out fairly recently, right?
Claire: 01:02 That’s right. Yeah, it cannot on April 2nd
JJ: 01:05 and it is a book about a lot of things. So it’s a book about kind of female veterans. It’s a book about kind of women’s experiences. It’s a book about like, it’s like a coming of age novel kind over. You get a chance to like see these, these kind of the three protagonists as they like grow and develop. But it is, it is a book that is, it’s a fictional book, but it takes place largely at, at West Point, my Alma Mater, which is also where Claire spending much of your time growing up and Bannon Miller, who works for us, knew about Claire and knew about this book and reached out to me and said, you gotta read it and you’ve got to get her on the podcast. And I said, I trust band. So I said, absolutely. So clear. Thanks so much for joining us today. And I guess maybe a good place to start would be hearing a little bit about your, your professional career. So you’re, you’re, uh, I always get nervous when I talked to like legit real authors. You’re a legit real author who’s written in some big publications.
Claire: 01:59 Yeah. You better put your glasses on and be real area around me. No, I am an author now. You can say that, but fairly new for me too. So there’s a little imposter syndrome going on when I’m having these interviews and I’m feeling like, no, it’s just, it’s fun. I mean it’s, I’m really, really excited to have this book finally live outside of my computer. You know what I’m saying?
JJ: 02:24 I do. So I know you’ve written in some, some shorter form pieces. Is, is this your first kind of novel or longer form foray?
Claire: 02:34 It is. Yep. So I, like you said, I grew up at West Point, the military academy and we were there at the same time even though I was in middle school when I guess in high school when you were in college. And my dad was a professor there. And so I had this opportunity to kind of look around and have this beautiful hometown, but also kids and college kids coming in and out and watching their training from the sidelines. And my parents were really involved
JJ: 02:59 while
Claire: 02:59 we lived at West Point, so they were helping out with sports teams and hosting Bible Studies and we always had our doors open. So it felt like for those seven years that we lived there that we constantly were a bed and breakfast, you know, for the whole campus. We had a just people in and out all the time. And, and I loved that. I loved getting to know a lot of connects, both male and female and I did not go to west point. My Dad retired from the army in 2003 and we moved to South Carolina where he had a huge career change and instead of teaching systems engineering, he began working as an athletic director at a small d two college. And so he had a whole career shift and I finished high school in South Carolina and then went on to a small liberal arts school in South Carolina called Fermin University.
Claire: 03:48 That’s in Greenville, South Carolina. So I am, part of the reason I chose not to go to west point was because I felt like I wasn’t sure that I would be the right fit. I’m a pretty emotionally charged person, um, and very competitive. And when I was growing up, I would go on runs with my high school guy friends that were trying to go to west point and I never could keep up. And so I just felt like, I don’t know if this is going to be the right fit for me, but as my life went on, I constantly looked back and wondered if I had made a mistake and not choosing that path because I just always wondered how would I have stacked up and what I’ve been able to make it. And that continued to linger in my mind while I started my professional career.
Claire: 04:35 First as a middle school teacher, I taught history. So I’ve constantly been interested in history, uh, having grown up at west point, that helps a lot. But I also had some really great history teachers along the way. And, um, I did teach for America, so I was in an inner city school. Oh cool. And I did that for a few years and then just kind of went back to the drawing board about life and thought, you know, is this really my path? I think I was maybe 24, 25 and I just wondered, you know, what do I really want to do long term? And the one thread that had sustained throughout my entire childhood and college years and after college was that I was always writing on the side and it took a lot of different forms. But ever since I was a little girl I was always writing little stories or a blog or newspaper articles.
Claire: 05:23 And I never really thought it could be a career in growing up at west point, you know, you want your dad to think you’re doing something important. So I have like, I can’t call home and tell him I’m going to be a poet or something. Like I need to have real ambitions here. But eventually I had to get over that. And my dad did too. So started freelancing. So that was in 2012 I started writing for the Washington Post and the Christian science monitor and some other publications in Nashville where I live. And then in 2013 I got a call from some old friends, some West Point grads female connects that we’d known when I was a child and they had seen some of those essays coming out and they just said, hey, you know, we’ve got a lot of great stories. Would you be interested in interviewing us and seeing if this is a story. And when I started doing the interviews, I realize this is not just an essay or a newspaper story. This is much, much larger. And that’s when I started down the road toward writing an awful,
JJ: 06:20 it’s so funny when you said that you, you know, you didn’t want to like tell your parents that you were a poet or something like that. I have a funny story to tell you yet. When I was a kid, I didn’t watch a lot of TV, but I would occasionally watch TV and I remember these commercials would be on four and they had this thing, it was called the, they would have like the starving artists sale and he’d go by like our and poetry and all of this stuff. And as a kid I didn’t know what that meant. I thought it was like a club called the starving artists. I had no idea. And I didn’t realize until later in life that it was like, oh that means something entirely different. And that’s like probably not the thing that you want to tell your parents you want to go into.
Claire: 06:56 Right. And I mean my parents would not have been wrong. This is not, I was telling someone the other day, you know, I didn’t ever feel like writing is a viable career. And then I like, and truly it’s really not a viable career. Like it is just not the way to go and make $1 million. But it is the way to, to really, for me to lean into what I believe are some gifts that God has given me. And I mean, it’s the privilege of my life that I’ve been able to take these stories that these women have shared with me and put them into a format that hopefully can speak to a wider audience than just people who are interested in west point.
JJ: 07:29 So did you have in the back of your head that you wanted to write a novel, or did this just kind of present itself to you when you did the interviews and you said, okay, the only way I can do this justice is, is a novel. So I guess I’m going to write one?
Claire: 07:42 Well, it’s kind of both. So I’ve always, I kind of wanted to write a novel for many, many years. I wanted to write something that was a book links story, and I didn’t, I really want to write memoir or nonfiction. So I was like, well, I kind of want to write a novel, but I don’t know what it would be. And my favorite novel is east of Eden. By John Steinbeck and when that’s your favorite novel, nothing that you want to write, it feels like it’s going to be, you know, worth spending time on. So when these women inner contacted me and I started interviewing them, it felt like it was this key unlocked the door for me where I felt like, okay, this could be what I’m supposed to do because not only am I captivated enough by these stories to actually put in the time, but I also have very unique perspective because I lived at West Point. So I have, I know the lingo already. I know what the campus looks like, I know, you know, there’s so many things that I didn’t have to ask about. I could jump into deeper elements right away. And I decided, you know, that I thought it needed it to be a novel because it also gave women permission to tell me all of their stories knowing that you know, their name wasn’t going to be totally associated with it. And so I felt like it helped get the truer story out.
JJ: 08:56 Yeah. So that’s really interesting. It’s so another quick aside here, the Clare and I were talking before we started recording about this list of a hundred books that I’ve been trying to, to get through and Grapes of Wrath is on there and other Steinbeck book, but east of Eden is not, and I’ve never read east of Eden, but everybody says that’s actually his best book.
Claire: 09:16 Red Grapes of Wrath.
JJ: 09:17 Not in a long time.
Claire: 09:18 Yeah, no, you don’t need to read rates and you’re going to read anything that Steinbeck please for the love of God read east of Eden. Yeah, it’s an incredible novel and I honestly, I’ve read it probably five times in the course of my life. It’s just that good.
JJ: 09:34 All right. I’m putting it on my list above. The next one was going to be Gulliver’s travels. It’s going on up above there.
Claire: 09:40 Okay. Yeah, it’s great. I mean I think novels in general, you and I were also talking about how you were diving into a lot of nonfiction sort of businessy books and those books, nonfiction are typically really easy to get through and even skim. And can I get the gist and get the headlines out of, but there’s something really meditate about reading a novel. I think for me it helps me really check out of where I am in my life and totally immerse myself in another world and I always feel a lot more at peace and calm after reading 15 minutes then pretty much any other activity in my life. So that’s why I love novels.
JJ: 10:23 I had been reading all these like businessy self improvement books that I felt like I was supposed to read and I and I had lost my love for reading because I do love to read and you’re going to think I’m the biggest nerd when I tell you this. I’m going to tell it to you anyways. Someone recommended that I read this book called ready player one. Have you heard of it?
Claire: 10:43 Cause my husband doesn’t love reading but he sped through that book like crazy.
JJ: 10:48 I could not put it down. I was literally had it in my car and was reading it at red lights. Like, I was so enthralled with it and that was the thing that made me like, Oh man, I really do you like you get into a good novel. And it really is all consuming.
Claire: 11:02 It’s true. And I love that. But I mean I didn’t love that book, but I loved that book for that reason because my husband lied to me when we were dating. He told me that he loved reading and he had read east of Eden. So we like jived on that. Cause of course I’ve already talked about it 16 times, 10 minute podcasts I’ve been on. But it turned out really, that was like the only novel he had read ever. And then we got married and I read every night for probably an hour. He kept it being annoyed by it and I’m like, didn’t you say you like reading? And he just the truth because he doesn’t. So when I, when he got into that book, it made me really happy to see him finally living up to his promises. Right, exactly. Exactly. Yeah.
JJ: 11:48 Get him Ender’s game.
Claire: 11:50 Okay. Ender’s game.
JJ: 11:52 Have you heard of it?
Claire: 11:52 No, I think actually that might be one he read when he was younger.
JJ: 11:56 Probably does. He like things that are awesome.
Claire: 11:59 He loves things that are Saifai. He got an a vampire or fiction for a while and I’m just sitting over there reading my, it’s funny, I love it. I mean I think that to each his own, you know like whatever you like that gets your creative juices flowing and gets you out of your own head for a little while. I mean that’s what, that’s what it’s about.
JJ: 12:20 What color I want to talk about. You wrote an awesome book so I want to make sure that we talk about that, but I don’t, I want to be super careful that we don’t like kind of give the story away at all. So at a, at a high level, let me tell, you could have my takeaways on this and then you can tell me if I’m, if I’m wrong or if I missed anything on it. So it’s a, it’s a story. I think we talked earlier, it’s a story about women’s experiences and the relationship with these three friends set at the backdrop of of West Point and then Fort Bragg and it kind of shows their experiences both as cadets and after experiences, but it’s really a, it’s a, in my, I thought it was kind of a coming of age story and it just a story of friendship and a story of growth and a short story of pain and all of these, all of these things.
JJ: 13:01 But here’s what I found to be really interesting. It was the story took place at West Point at the same time that I was actually there in, and it took place at a time in our world, in our time and in the war and a time in the army that I was in the army and doing, having those same experiences and west point has gotten more and more kind of gender integrated with each additional year. But when I was there, it still was not very gender integrated. It was something like 15% female, something like that. And females hadn’t even been allowed to go there that long. So in some senses the stories, the themes of like friendship and bonding and like my friends from that time of my life are closer than in any other friends. They were very familiar to me, but in some senses the female experience was very different and eyeopening to me. So it’s, it felt very like familiar in one sentence and then very like foreign, that’s not the right word, but it just, it showed a different side and all of these variables that I didn’t really have to deal with, if that makes sense.
Claire: 14:06 Yeah. Like what, I’m curious what stuck out to you in that regard?
JJ: 14:09 Well, I was just kind of like, you’re like generic cadet, right? Like didn’t it did okay at everything. I didn’t do like graded at anything. I didn’t do bad at anything. Just pretty generic and I didn’t have like guys hitting on me all the time, you know? I didn’t have like that same set of challenges to deal with that the characters did and that I know in real life the female cadets had to deal with
Claire: 14:34 for people that haven’t seeing the cover or haven’t heard about it, you know it, it follows these three girls that come from very different backgrounds. One is and Danny and she’s an African American sports and academic phenomenon from Ohio and she
JJ: 14:51 kind of wants to defy
JJ: 14:53 the expectations of her hometown, who you know, I’ve lifted her up as this hometown hero and she breaks the stereotype and decides she’s going to go to west point to kind of prove them all wrong and to prove them that she can do more than just be a good basketball player, which is kind of how they’ve pigeonholed her in her life. And then you’ve got this character Hannah, who is kind of a, she, her grandfather was an army general and she grows up in Texas, kind of a humble pie family and she really feels a calling because of her faith to attend west point and kind of follow in her grandfather’s footsteps even though he’s not really all that keen on her doing so. And the final character is this girl Avery, and she is kind of a rebellious homecoming queen that comes from a pretty dysfunctional family and really chooses west point as a way toward freedom and a way to get away from her roots and find a free path to college, um, and hopefully for her a path toward meaning and independence.
JJ: 15:52 So those were kind of the three girls and they start at West Point in 2000 which would have been your first year, right, JJ? Yep. So they would have been plebes when you were a firstie and which meant that they were at west point when nine 11 happened. That’s sort of the backdrop, but it’s interesting to me that you reading it kind of gave you maybe some empathy toward your female classmates. I that wasn’t a mission that I had an in mind, but I think that’s really interesting to me. My little sister didn’t go to west point, but she’s in the army and she’s still currently, as I’ve been very, very open and clear about the fact that the military should be very completely gender integrated, should be standard spaced. I’m even coming at that from a place of like, I don’t need to be convinced about this.
JJ: 16:46 It was very eye opening to hear about it and you know from the outside looking in you kind of know what those experiences are going like. Are you at least you at least have a sense that well in some senses they’re having the same, your female classmates are having the exact same experiences as you. There’s just all of these additional things, complications that they have to deal with that I, I didn’t have to deal with, if that makes sense. Clear. The other thing that was very striking to me is it was very kind of thought provoking, maybe isn’t the right word, but it was very kind of almost like emotional in the sense that you’re writing style is very detailed but you get like very important details very right in the book about the backdrop and the time and it’s stuff that like if you didn’t spend time there you would probably wouldn’t know the difference. But if you did you absolutely would. And it’s like it’s very clear that you did a lot of research this. Then the book takes place. I feel old here, you know, almost 20 years ago now. And so even like timeline wise there’s some stuff that I had forgotten about almost. You
Claire: 17:50 brought back to my memory when I was reading through it. Well thank you. I mean that was really important to me that it’s because I’m not a grad, but because I lived there, you know, I did have a lot of subject matter knowledge where I knew what the neighborhoods look like and I know what it feels like to be at an army football game. But at the same time, I didn’t live behind closed doors. You know, I didn’t live in the barracks. And so it was super important to me that I did nice due diligence and completed these interviews and I did interviews all the way through the writing process. So not only did I do a bunch of interviews at the beginning, but then as I was writing, I would call those same women back and say, Hey, I have six more follow up questions.
Claire: 18:31 Or I have, I had other women that I wanted to call once I was halfway through the process. So I kept doing the research during the writing and I think I told the publisher once we got closer to the publication date, if we don’t get this right, if the cover doesn’t look right, if we get something wrong, factually west pointers are going to be the first people to know and then toss it to the side. Because I wanted so badly for this novel even do just like the teeniest bit of justice to that experience. And a lot of times, you know, when it comes to historical fiction, authors don’t get started on their research until many decades after an event has occurred. You know, World War II fiction is super hot right now and that’s great. And I’m so glad that those stories are coming to light for me. You know, the women that I interviewed are in their thirties and I’m so grateful that I have those interviews down on paper, you know, on my computer. And even though it is a novel, I feel like I’m grateful to add it to the bookshelf because it deserves to be there and I don’t think that there’s anything quite like it just yet. So I was proud of that to help kind of put it there.
JJ: 19:38 Well that’s really interesting that you use the word historical fiction because I wrote that down when I was preparing for this and it was going to ask you that if you are a lay person and pick the book up, it just appears to be a work of fiction. It doesn’t even
Claire: 19:50 say anywhere in here. These characters are based off real people or anything like that.
JJ: 19:55 I guess the question is you’re writing a novel. Do you consider this to be historical fiction?
Claire: 20:00 No. No. I mean at first of all, I don’t know what the cut off date or something to be considered historical fiction. I don’t know if it has to be 50 years in the past or la, I don’t know. But to me, like you said, this all feels very recent. 2001 to me does not feel that long ago even though now it has been nearly 20 years. So I think technically that the publisher is considering it contemporary fiction, but I think in some ways I followed the model of how historical fiction authors right in that I did the interviews, I did research before sitting down to write it and you know all novelists do that. There’s a great novel called a gentleman in Moscow, which I would put on your a hundred books. So now you have 101 and the author, it takes place in post revolutionary Russia. So that would I think firmly B historical fiction, but he talked about his research process and actually going to Russia and living there and spending time so he could write the scenes more clearly. And I liked that as a writer. It makes me feel more confident in what I’m writing to have that raw material to pull from.
JJ: 21:11 Well I guess maybe, maybe I’m not doing a good job of aligning my questions up here. The historical context, if you want to call it historical context, depending on how far back you go, the context is like spot on. I guess the question I’m not doing a good job of asking here is more about like, because this is based off three real people and wanting to do justice to their story versus also wanting to be able to write a novel and and have a piece of fiction. How hard was it to kind of decide how close you want it to be to have this be kind of biographical versus a a true piece of fiction?
Claire: 21:45 Yeah, no that, that makes sense. So to be fair, you know, I did 20 plus interviews with women graduates of West Point during that decade, between 2000 and 2010 and this novel follows three different characters. But those characters in the novel are very much composite characters. They’re like an amalgamation of people. Yes, definitely. And so what I’ve said before is that, you know, everything in the novel happened to someone, but it may not have happened in that order or in that to that same character or you know, whatever. So it’s, everything in a novel happened to somebody but not to the same three people. Paul. And for me, you know, the more interviews I did, the more I realized two things. Number one, I didn’t want to be held to a nonfiction standard of fact checking and making sure that every single day that I put in was accurate.
Claire: 22:35 Because to me that was secondary to telling you the story, which like you were talking about details and really painting a picture and taking readers on an emotional journey was more important to me than like teaching them about women veterans. And, and like I said, I’m more attracted to novels as a reader. And so I’d rather write a novel, right? A nonfiction biography. So that was one thing. And then the second thing is that I feel like right now if you were to walk into a bookstore and you asked for something about women in the military, what you would be given is a nonfiction biography or you know, Gail Linen tomorrow book, Ashley’s War, which are all of those are incredible stories that deserve to be told. But often it’s the toll. The story of the first female general are the first women that it attached to special operations. And these first stories are so great and they need to be told, but I didn’t want to write a first story. I wanted to right. A story that could connect to any woman or man, whether they were interested in the military or thought they were interested in the military or not. And so for me, the best path to achieving that well was to write a novel because you’re going to reach a much wider audience than if you were to just put out a biography.
JJ: 23:49 And some of the things that you described in this book could be punished by lots and lots of hours
Claire: 23:55 void.
JJ: 23:58 They break some pretty significant rules in this book. And so the statute of limitations might not be over with. So it’s probably good to not have it be completely accurate.
Claire: 24:06 Yeah, yeah. I mean, and even in the acknowledgements section, you know, I had to check with everybody, like, are you okay that I put your name in the acknowledgment section? Because I mean, it’s not that far away. Like these things happen not too long ago. And you know, my sister has been reading the novel recently and she grew up at west point alongside me and married a West Point guy and they’ve been texting like, well, who is this and who is this supposed to be? And I’m like, you know, trying to give them all the time puzzle pieces, but that’s be affected, you know, from people that were there at that time.
JJ: 24:36 So I’m really interesting. I bet there was in one sense they probably felt like a lot of pressure to be able to take these interviews and put your own spin on them. I can’t imagine what it would be like the first time he kind of showed this to all of those people.
Claire: 24:50 Oh yeah. Yeah. Thanks for that’s true. I mean it was really daunting and I think that’s probably part of the reason it took me four years to write this thing. There was a lot of self doubt and a lot of self talk that was super negative and you’re not good enough and you didn’t do this and who are you to write about war when you didn’t serve? And all of those things that run through my mind. But I will say, you know, as a child growing up at west point, I was constantly impressed by the selflessness and care and kindness of male and female cadets at West Point. And these women that I interviewed only reinforced to that beautiful picture of, of what the character is of cadets. I go to west point and when I shared the early drafts of this with those women, they were so kind and honest and critical when they needed to be critical and encouraging where they needed to be encouraging.
Claire: 25:48 And to be honest, I don’t think that I would ever have had a career as an author if those women hadn’t trusted me with their stories. And so I’m not only am I indebted to them because of the impact they made on my childhood, but now I’m indebted to them because of the path they’ve helped me heart toward my dream to be an author. And it’s so amazing to me to feel like they trusted me. And when that, when I did finally give them know more of a final draft and I got the phone calls and emails back in there and tears and grateful and excited and, and sad because this book does touch on some really tragic situations obviously when we’re talking about war and deployment and their emotion told me that, you know, we were on to something.
JJ: 26:36 Something I think we do in the, in like the veteran community is we don’t talk outside of our echo chamber. We veterans talk and we tell our own stories and like it’s all kind of just talking in the same echo chamber. So in some senses you’re the perfect person to be able to do this because you understand the culture, but you can speak to an entirely different audience then if one of the people that you interviewed decided to try to write this book themselves or whatever. Right. So I think it’s really important to have this kind of dialogue and discussion with all sorts of different groups of people.
Claire: 27:11 Well, thank you. I mean, I don’t know if what kind of, if you come from a faith background or what your belief system is, but I do truly believe that God, this story to be told and no universe would this work. You know, if you told somebody, I’m going to work with 20 female veterans and try to read a novel and get Harpercollins to publish it and you know, sell the TV rights and all the things that have happened, there’s like no universe for that would work. But truly believed in that all of the doors opened just as they were supposed to. Because I do think the story needs to be told. And I think the civilian community, they don’t have to bear the burdens of war. And that is the beauty of living in a country that relies on him volunteer service. But as a civilian now, you know, I constantly feel like I live in a culture that’s completely separated from the military community.
Claire: 28:05 And I think it’s wrong. You know, I think I looked it up the other day, only 0.4% of the US population is currently serving. And that the burdens of war are so heavy right now. I mean, we’re going into nearly 20 years of the same conflicts. And I think that if the rest of the civilian community had to feel the weight of that, those words would have been over a long time ago. And I do believe that I was in the right position to write this because I know when to drop some jargon and like teach the civilians what certain things mean. But I also can gloss over things that don’t need to be in there that would bog down the story. So hopefully what I, gosh, I mean, I just hope that someone that reads this that maybe has no connection to the military whatsoever. The next time they see someone in uniform, they think about these characters and they, there’s a little bit more feeling in a little bit more understanding behind sometimes what feels like empty words when someone says, thank you.
JJ: 29:02 Yeah. People forget they’re, there were three marines killed yesterday. We’re very much still fighting these wars. And it seems like it’s just, you know, they’ve been going on so long that you know, they’re largely kind of out of the public consciousness clear. What do you think made these women reach out to you? Because I know a lot of veterans, both male and female that have great stories, but I don’t know many
Claire: 29:25 who
JJ: 29:26 we kind of proactively say, Hey, this is a story that needs to be told and I’m willing to, to take the time to be vulnerable and to share it. And I think it needs to be shared. That’s the piece that I don’t see many people. Why do you think this happened?
Claire: 29:42 That’s a great question. I mean it started with one, right? It just started with one, one person that was willing to, I have no idea what she read of mine that made her decide to reach out to me. But I think it started with her and then she was willing to kind of go to bat for me. So she was the one that I interviewed her for a while and then she sent an email, maybe the two or three or four friends and said, I trust this person. Would you be willing to talk with her? And then after those conversations, I think those women felt like, okay, this person is an ally and easy to hopefully ease. I think they thought I was easy to talk to and then you know, it kind of momentum builds and the snowball happened where more and more women were willing to open up to me.
Claire: 30:28 And so I think that was part of it. And I think, I feel like my heart, I’ve tried to really keep my heart in a place of, I mean believe me, I’m not making any money off of this. This is my, like I felt like it was a mission for me. Like I said, I always had regret about not going to west point and so in some ways felt like a way to pay tribute to the friends that we lost in these wars and a way to serve in my own little nook of the world.
JJ: 30:57 Would it feel like the first time you had your own novel in your hand?
Claire: 31:02 There’s a video on my Instagram of me opening the box and um, I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal cause I was like, ah, I’m like reading this thing over and over and over again. But yeah, when they sent it and I saw the cover printed on it and you know, you see the mockups come through your email address and everything and so I’d seen it, but you just hold it in your hand. I mean it is, I had four years of work and toil and self doubt poured into those words and my husband and I lived a lot of life during those years and had our own struggles and yeah, so to hold it and to know how much time and effort and pain had gone into it. I mean it really was emotional. So I cried and we drink a lot that night and like it was, it was really special. And then, you know, this last week, getting to actually launch it into the world, what really meant the most to me. Some of the women that I interviewed flew to Nashville to be here for the launch event. So that was like beyond awesome.
JJ: 32:04 That’s how I wish I would’ve known. I would’ve driven down for it. I only moved just a little bit north of you, I guess.
Claire: 32:10 Oh, where are you? I live in Louisville, Louisville. Oh, cool. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, should’ve, would’ve, could’ve JJ.
JJ: 32:15 I know, right? I actually almost came to Nashville like 10 days ago for complete change of story here, but bicycle playing cards. Oh, so a friend of mine, her name is Margery Eastman, who’s a female author, veteran, author, uh, who wrote an award winning book lives in Nashville, the front line generation. So she did this where a couple of years, maybe a year or two ago. Where do you remember? Like the deck of 52 when the war first started, where the army put out like the 52 worst terrorists on deck of cards and they have, so she made a modern version of that that had 52 like veteran serving companies that we’re doing great things and she liked did this whole kind of thing where she highlighted them on social media and everything. So the bicycle playing cars, people saw this and liked it so much. They made a career of deck of playing cards and they did a big launch of this thing in Nashville like 10 days ago.
Claire: 33:11 Really cool. Yeah, we should have done that I guess the interview at 10 days ago and then I would have known.
JJ: 33:20 I know, right? That probably would have been a, uh, some you should definitely need to meet Marjorie. She’s awesome.
Claire: 33:26 Are googling her. So yeah, we’ll, I’ll get on it.
JJ: 33:29 That’s a separate subject. So I want to talk about what the perception has been like. So I’m always interested in asking people about kind of perception versus reality, if that makes sense. So you get ready, you know, you put all this blood, sweat and tears into something and you kind of, I imagine it’s kind of like sending your kid off to college where you put all this, you know, you’ve kind of like have done the best you can and all you can do is like kick them out of the roost. I imagine it’s kind of the same thing with, with writing a novel and then you just, you just hope that everything is going to go okay. When you were thinking about what this was going to be like after the book was launched and then compare it to kind of what it’s actually been like, how has it been now that it’s out in the wild and people are reading it?
Claire: 34:09 Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean everyone tells you when you’re writing a novel not to expect it to get published traditionally. So you’re kind of told it’s impossible to get an agent. It’s impossible to get a publisher. And then even if those things happen, which we were, you know, I was oddly enough for that to it to happen. Even when you get a published here, people are like, oh, and you better be ready to do all your own marketing because they don’t do anything. That’s just kind of the, the ethos that is around authors today. And in some ways it’s not wrong. Publishers are struggling. And so I think in my mind, I imagined going on like a 10 city book tour and you know, things like that that you just sort of imagined that authors do and publishers are not paying for a debut novelist to go on a 10 city bookstore.
Claire: 34:52 Like that’s just not going to happen and nor should it. But I think I’ve been really pleasantly surprised about how, how much the publisher has really gotten behind it. And some of that has to do, I think with two things. One, we know as I was finishing the book, I wasn’t sure that we were going to get a traditional publisher. And so I put in some of my own money to create some resources, like little videos and things like that that could go along with the book release thinking that the publisher wouldn’t be putting in Eric 2 cents. And I think the publisher, once they saw that I had put some skin in the game, they got the bug and they were excited to do some things as well. And so it kind of ended up working in my favor to pretend that I was going to self publish because then once I did get a publisher they saw that I had already put in a lot of effort toward a marketing plan and then with their resources it felt like the marketing really got a good push. So in some ways I think that’s been really great, but we live in a world where that has like a ton of books, right? So you’re always trying to grapple with like how do I get the word out and how do I measure success? That’s a really hard thing. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on that about a podcast. Cause you know podcasts have grown so much.
JJ: 36:06 Oh Man. When we first started doing this podcast, it was three, four years ago and there wasn’t that many podcasts and just plural. Refrigeration of podcasts in the last couple of years has just been crazy. And there’s like the traditional, you know, numbers of downloads and CPMS and all that kind of stuff. But where I’ve really landed for me for this podcast is you could go down the route of trying to have a big podcast and you would choose certain guests and do certain things to promote that podcast. But that just feels very inauthentic to me. So we’ve gone down the road of trying to keep it authentic and trying to keep it real and trying to have interesting
Claire: 36:44 people who
JJ: 36:46 have interesting things to say and just hope and have some faith that if we are putting good content out that is going to continue to, people are going to find utility in it.
Claire: 36:57 Totally. And I mean I think that’s the only way that you can really measure success is like am I staying true to the heart? Why I set out to do this. Cause if you try to measure it by, for me it’s like good reads reviews or you know, how many books have sold, the number changes every day so I can constantly move the bar up for myself, which I do. And so then I’m, I’m never happy, I’m never content. And so for me it’s like continually trying to remember the reason I did this and the reason that I wanted to do it. Aye. Say with clarity that it is a success because I stage true to what I, you know, the reason I, I tried to do this in the first place, but I think it has been really cool to see it gain traction among readers who I think it’s cool to see someone who you don’t know reading your book. That’s Lsa, that’s like really, really a cool thing. Um, and now with Instagram I can go on and look at the Hashtag beyond the point and be like, oh, look at this person in Alaska that’s reading it or what, it’s so weird. It’s a weird experience, but it’s also kind of exciting and hopeful that the more people read it, the more the story has life of its own.
JJ: 38:07 Well, don’t get too hung up on, what I’ve found is that people are crazy. So you can’t listen to those reviews too much. One of my also favorite books, I’ve got this copy or I have this copy. I like Hemingway always liked him anyway. Uh, for whom the bell tolls. I’ve had it forever all beat up. I went on a mission trip earlier this spring. It’s a long story. We ended up getting evacuated, had to leave all of our stuff there. I had to leave my copy of for whom the bell tolls. So I come back, I’m like, okay, I need to buy a new copy of this, need to have it in my house. You go on Amazon, it has like two and a half stars. Are you people crazy or whatever it was. I just remember thinking or like, you know, you could look at Moby Dick if it has like three stars out of five, you’re like, all right,
Claire: 38:50 I can’t trust these people. So glad you told me. That makes me really, really happy. Oh Man. Well I try not to go read the reviews, but my mom has been reading them and so she’ll send me the good ones and then she’ll say something snarky about the bad ones. And so I get the reader’s digest version through my mom. Well I read them all in on Amazon and they were all good. So don’t worry about that.
JJ: 39:15 Well Claire, what’s next for you? Like this is a, the got one under your belt. Like got any ideas?
Claire: 39:21 You know, it’s funny, I do, during the years that my husband and I were during any of your ears, I was writing this novel. My husband and I were having a long projected, projected a long battle with infertility. And I have, I’ve written about it and I’m, I’m pretty open about it, but we ended up adopting and our sense, Sam is 16 months old and he’s amazing. But during that whole process, I’ve heard more and more stories of people who are been through the adoption process or really interestingly women who have recently reconnected with their biological families through things like 23 and me and ancestry.com. So my next novel, I’m sort of starting it right now and I think it’s going to be inspired by true stories of people finding their biological families. And I’m really, really excited about that. But I’m also very aware of what a mountain it is to write a novel.
Claire: 40:18 So, um, we’ll see kind of how it unfolds. But it’s been really fun to go back to the blank page. Try again. You know, I owe so much to my military brat background because I think so much of writing, like anything in life has a lot to do with discipline, way more than it has to do with talent. And so I’m just grateful that my dad and my parents taught me what it means to just show up every day and keep going and chipping away at it because that’s really what it takes. So yeah. So I’m back in the chair looking at blank pages,
JJ: 40:52 another fiction author I’d like as Neil Gaiman. Have you heard of him or he is pretty well known. It’s like he’s written up. If you Google him, he’s been pumping out like good stuff, 20 years or something. 30 years. And I read a really interesting article with him or I listened to a podcast once, he was on the Tim Ferriss podcast a few years ago and he was talking about like writing as a profession and what that’s like. And his thing is every single day he says he’s got a right to good pages. He does not get up until the writes to good pages. And he says sometimes that can take them two hours and sometimes that can take them 12 hours, but two good pages every day. And when he’s writing, that’s what he does. And he said, I have to have the to do that every day, no matter what. And the discipline to do that is he is what has made him a successful author in his opinion.
Claire: 41:41 Totally. And I’m sure you feel the same way as a podcast host. Part of it is consistency. Like that’s how you build an audience is being consistent. And then that’s also the hardest part of any creative profession is continuing to run the faucet of your creative output. But that’s why people keep coming back because they believe you’re going to keep producing. And so yeah, I think it’s, he’s totally right. I mean I don’t do two pages every time I sit down. That’s actually kind of a lot in my mind.
JJ: 42:09 It sounds like not very much right from the like you know my experiences like writing papers in college and it’s like two pages. That’s nothing.
Claire: 42:19 No. I mean my goal is always 500 good words. It’s probably one page, but if I can get that done during a nap time, now that we have a baby or maybe two pages if I really have a nice long amount of time by myself. Yeah, I mean at the end of the day it’s just the discipline to keep going back. Whether you’re putting it out in two pages a day or two sentences a day. Like you’re making progress. And that’s the, that’s the key.
JJ: 42:45 Yeah. I can imagine. And I’ll tell you what, you, I have three kids. So you are in what I think is the hardest age right now. Oh my goodness. I do not. Oh well I’m glad to hear it cause I’m loving this age actually in between the age of one and two I think is the hardest age.
Claire: 43:03 Well we know sometimes I appreciate that we’re making it, but at the same time, you know, we waited so long and wanted to have a baby for so long that even the hard things, I’m grateful that I able to have some perspective to go, you know what, this is hard, but at the same time it’s so much better than not being able to have a family and sober. We’re dealing with the temper tantrums and trying our best to kind of keep that in perspective. But he’s also just like a really good kid. Like I think we kind of lucked out. So maybe, maybe I’m not a good uh, case study cause he’s pretty chill.
JJ: 43:37 Yeah. Well, it’s probably not going to stay that way, so.
Claire: 43:40 So I know, I know, I say that and then I just gave myself, I should knock on wood.
JJ: 43:47 Well, Claire, thanks so much for your time today. This was a lot of fun and I want to make sure I’m going to put the link to how people can go get the book into your website in the show notes. Anything else that you want to make sure that people know people
Claire: 44:00 follow on Instagram? That’s probably where I’m the most active. You can kind of see more about the book and my life and writing and that kind of thing. But yeah, you know, I just really appreciate you having me on and I love team Rwb and what you guys do and I’m, I’ve been grateful to kind of see all of that unfold over the last few years and I’m, I’m just grateful that you felt content to have me on and to share about the book and yeah, so thank you JJ.
Speaker 4: 44:28 Thanks Claire.