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Claire Bidwell Smith

I’m thrilled that Claire Bidwell Smith has agreed to kick off my occasional series featuring authors.

Claire’s memoir, The Rules of Inheritance, describes her grief journey after both of her parents died of cancer by the time she was 25. I was drawn to her book because I felt that her subject matter overlapped with themes that I write about in my forthcoming memoir. I also think it’s great that Claire is willing to help others who may be struggling with grief—she has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and offers counseling services.

Here’s what Robby Auld had to say about The Rules of Inheritance in The Nervous Breakdown:

“Death, the inevitable loss and end (or physical end) of all things, fills every crack in Claire’s being, the cracks that form following the deaths of both of her parents before she is old enough to fully realize the severity of these events and the consequences that will follow, many of which are self-inflicted.”

If you know me, I think you can see why I wanted to read this book. I’m intrigued by the stories of others who grew up with death as such a heavy part of their daily lives.

Not only am I captivated by Claire’s writing, but I think she’s an all-around great person. I reached out to her as a complete stranger a few months ago and she responded right away. She’s a great role model for authors—treat others as you would want to be treated. Then I found a photo of her on Facebook with one of my friends! So it really is a small world.

If you want to learn more about Claire, listen to this great podcast she did with Brad Listi for Other People (and if you want more great author interviews, subscribe to the Other People podcast in iTunes—it’s free! Brad’s interviews have provided me great company on long runs). I actually think I first heard of Claire through the podcast.

Find out more about Claire, her book, and her blog at http://clairebidwellsmith.com/

Now onto the main act:

RACHAEL: What are you reading right now? And generally, do you tend to read more nonfiction or fiction?

CLAIRE: I’m reading like nine books. Seriously. I like to skip around until one of them grabs me and I read it obsessively in a couple of days until I finish it and go back to skipping around again. Right now I’ve got my nose in everything from Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (fiction) to Siblings Without Rivalry (I have two daughters) and When Things Fall Apart (spirituality/self help) and Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. They’re all pretty phenomenal in their own way.

RACHAEL: If possible, can you estimate how long it took you to write The Rules of Inheritance from start to publication?

CLAIRE: That’s such a hard question. One answer is that I spent my whole life writing this book. Another answer is that it took 10 months. I wrote three versions of this book beginning when I was twenty-five. The first two versions were awful, just terrible. But I had to write them. I had to write out all these things I needed to process in order to distill what was important to the story. That result is what has been published…and that version I wrote in just ten months. I sold it in three weeks to Penguin, based on three chapters. At that time I had nine of the fifteen chapters completed and I had to write the last six chapters in just six weeks. But I wasn’t going to not do it, you know? The book hit shelves only 13 months after I sold it, which is very fast in the publishing world.

RACHAEL: What’s your writing process? For example, do you write a set amount of time each day? A certain number of words? Or is it more fluid?

CLAIRE: I try to write every day and I usually try to do so first thing in the morning. I usually achieve about 1500-2000 words each day. My husband and I are both stay-at-home writers and we have two young daughters so we have to switch back and forth between writing and watching the kids. Whoever is on a better writing streak or has an important deadline gets the mornings. I think it’s really important to just write every day though. Even if what you’re writing seems worthless, the act of writing is what’s important to keep in motion.

RACHAEL: What did you learn about memoir while writing The Rules of Inheritance that you could pass along to other would-be memoirists?

CLAIRE: I learned that it’s really challenging to write about your life because it can be hard to discern the difference between what is important to the story and the reader and what’s just important to you. I’ll be forever grateful to those two earlier drafts I wrote because they enabled me to write the third, much better, version. In a sense I had written out all the unpublishable stuff—I got it out of my system. And once I did that I could really write something that was meaningful to others as well.

RACHAEL: One question for fun: What was your favorite musician/band at age 17?

CLAIRE: Oof, that’s a scary question. I was listening to popular stuff like Nirvana and Pearl Jam but also getting into older stuff like Nina Simone, The Velvet Underground and The Beatles. I still love all of those bands in different ways.