Listening In: Claire Gibson


WARREN SMITH, HOST: I’m Warren Smith and today you’ll be listening in on my conversation with novelist Claire Gibson.

Claire Gibson says that when people ask her where she’s from, she sometimes struggles to come up with an answer. Calls herself an “Army brat” and like a lot of children of military personnel, she moved around a lot following her father’s career all throughout her childhood. But as you’ll also hear, she came to think of home as the United States Military Academy at West Point where her father had two extended stays. West Point is now the setting of her first novel Beyond the Point, which follows the lives of three young women who come from very different backgrounds, but who form a strong bond of friendship when thrown together in the crucible of West Point cadet life.

Claire Gibson has a fascinating story herself. In addition to being an army brat who has traveled all around the world, she received a college degree from Furman University in South Carolina, studied for a time in Asia as a young adult, and ultimately settled down in Nashville where she now lives with her husband and young son.

I had this conversation with Claire Gibson near her home in Nashville.

Claire, welcome to the program and I got to tell you, I just finished your book a couple of days ago. I’ve been reading on it for a while and you can see how torn up it is.

CLAIRE GIBSON, GUEST: It’s pretty tattered.

SMITH: So I’ve been carrying it around with me for a while. I really enjoyed the book. Tell me about it. It’s a story of three young women who went to West Point, went to the United States military academy.

GIBSON: That’s right. And thank you for having me and thank you for reading. That’s a huge honor. I know it’s a lot of pages, so anytime anyone reads it I’m like, you’ve really done me a solid.

SMITH: Yeah, 489 pages. I was like, wow.

GIBSON: As an author you just never know until it shows up at your doorstep what that digital imprint is going to look like when it’s printed. So thank you. So, sure. It’s Beyond the Point. It is a story I tell people it’s a lot like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Zero Dark Thirty if you’ve ever seen that movie.

SMITH: Sure.

GIBSON :So it is both lighthearted and a friendship saga among these three women, but it is also a very serious story with a lot of stakes. I grew up at West Point, the military academy, so I had the great privilege of seeing countless young men and women choose a path of service and then go to school, go to college, right in my backyard. And the women that I interacted with at the academy, a lot of them ended up being my mentors through different ministries or through just the community. And I had a chance to watch them grow and leave the academy, face war and marriage and life in their twenties long before I had to face my own twenties. And so by the time I was out of college and starting to write, I always felt like West Point was this incredible backdrop that I had very intimate knowledge of having lived there for so long.

SMITH: Well, I don’t want to get into spoil… You know, we can do spoiler alerts here and we’ll try to avoid most of those though we might give away a few plot points here along the way. But just in a nutshell, I mean these three girls, young ladies, they go off to at West Point, they form a relationship. They graduate, and two of them go on to military careers. And you did not go to West Point. As you said, your dad was a professor there.

GIBSON: That’s correct.

SMITH: And so you kind of grew up there in two different stints. Am I remembering that right?

GIBSON: That’s right. I was born there in the 80s and then we all moved away. My dad had a career in the Army and ended up getting a PhD in engineering and we went back in 1997. I was 10 years old.

SMITH: So a lot of the stuff that you write about, you saw firsthand.

GIBSON: That’s true. Yes.

SMITH: And 9/11 falls right in the, I mean, in some ways this is not just the story of those three young ladies, but this is in some ways the story of the 9/11 generation, the generation of young people of which you are apart. That 9/11 is sort of the dividing line. A before and after moment.

GIBSON: I think you’re right. You know, and I’ve thought a lot about that as I was writing this book because, you know, there’s a temptation to want to start right with 9/11 because that’s the kind of an inspiring and inciting event that sets all of this in motion. But in some ways I think, you know, these women and myself, you know, when you’re living at West Point, it’s 50 miles north of New York City. And so on that day, literally the hijackers that took those planes into the World Trade Center use the Hudson River as their navigation to get them to the city. And there were people on campus that saw those planes go by and before they hit the buildings. And so not only were we so close to where this tragedy happened, but as soon as it happened, the entire campus was aware that everything had changed. Everyone’s future had changed. Even though I didn’t attend West Point myself, everyone that I cared about was about to go to war, including my sister who was not a cadet, but also had done ROTC. And so everyone was impacted by 9/11. Every community has their stories, but I think West Point itself, unlike most places, it was extremely intense.

SMITH: Well, I can’t resist a little rabbit trail here, a little side trip. You said your sister went through ROTC.

GIBSON: Excuse me. No, she enlisted. I’m so sorry. After college. My parents were very angry about this. She enlisted and then went to officer candidate school.

SMITH: I got it. Okay. Got it. Very good.

GIBSON: So, the Army did not pay for her college. My mom would be very concerned I got that clear.

SMITH: But you were not tempted? Did you…

GIBSON: I was. I was actually quite tempted. Living at West Point, you know, you see these statues and you kind of get this thought going through your brain that the only way to be successful is to do this. And this is the premier leadership training academy in the world. Why would you not choose that path? So there were many late nights during my high school time that I wondered is that the path God is calling me to? And it’s a whole ‘nother long story why I didn’t choose West Point. But in the end I did decide to go to Furman University in South Carolina and pursue a liberal arts degree. But I always wondered, I always, I don’t want to say regret cause here I am and I’m really grateful for where I am, but I always wondered how would I have stood up to that challenge? And writing this book really gave me the opportunity to live vicariously through these characters and see maybe how I would’ve done. And I think in the end I would have been okay.

SMITH: Well I did want to ask you, even though you were there as we’ve already established and you were able to see these young cadets go through and your dad was, you know, a professor, and all of that. I am curious though, how much research did you have to do? How much of it was memory that you were able to sort of tap into and how much, you know, original research did you have to do to make sure you got certain details right?

GIBSON: Sure. Well, I will start by saying I’ve already received emails about things that I’ve gotten wrong. So I’m sure there are things that…

SMITH: Welcome to my world.

GIBSON: Right? Oh my goodness. So, yes, my email address is Claire C Gibson, you know, I should give everyone out. Because I’m sure you’ll find mistakes. No, I did do a lot of research. You know, it was very important for me. As much experience as I had living at West Point, I didn’t live in cadet area. I didn’t know everything, obviously. And so gratefully, you know, there were about two dozen women that opened up their time and their stories to me. And I was able to sit down just like this and interview them and ask all of my questions, some of which created answers that were a little, you know, they asked for them to remain anonymous. And others that needed to kind of, you know, say that they couldn’t answer. You know, there were a lot of women that served overseas that still felt uncomfortable about talking about some of those experiences. And I really tried to understand and just be a listener.

SMITH: Well, again, this falls into the area of potential spoiler alert and I want to try to be careful about this, but let’s just say that an incident of sexual harassment/abuse plays a central role in the story, one of the characters. Is that fair to say?

GIBSON: You know, I pause, ’cause one of my concerns is that I think women in the military, often their stories get told when there’s a sexual harassment situation. And so while that happens in the book, I wouldn’t call it a central plot point.

SMITH: Okay, well, fair enough. Let’s just say it’s a part of the story and certainly one of the characters it affects in a significant way.

GIBSON: Absolutely.

SMITH: Was that based on a true story?

GIBSON: I have to be careful because it is a fiction book and it is based on composite characters. But I will say that, you know, I lived at West Point for many years and while West Point’s a very inspiring place, it is a human place. And just like anywhere, you know, there are times where horrible things happen. You know, horrible things happened to me when I lived at West Point. Horrible things happened to a lot of my friends. And that’s simply because if you look at the statistics of sexual assault and abuse, one in four women is a survivor. And so the story is very much based in true stories. But the names are different. The chronology is different. Some of the responses in the novel are different than what happened. But many cadets will look at this book and if they were there during that time, they will recognize some of the characters for sure.

SMITH: Yeah. And the other thing I wanted to ask you about was the weapons training. You describe some of the weapons training there. How did you develop enough expertise to be able to describe that?

GIBSON: I sure hope I did. Again, my dad read the book prior to going to print. So thankfully, he was a very good editor. A lot of my friends that attended West Point have read the book and have given me the thumbs up. So I’m hopeful that that will sustain. Some of it is lingo, some of it is just looking up… I remember I looked up on Google like, okay, how do you clean a gun? And I was like, let me make sure I have this step by step. But at the same time, you know, growing up at West Point, you really do see these cadets running around the woods and they were in my house showing me how they put camo paint on. And I really did have a kind of a front row seat to some of the exciting things that they do. And I told someone recently that West Point, you know, they have Ultimate Frisbee club just like any college. But they also have the parachuting team. And right on the front plane of the college, you know, the helicopters are taking off after school and kids are jumping out of planes as their club sport. And it’s a pretty incredible place to grow up and obviously great fodder for a book.

SMITH: Well, yeah, and that brings me to one other question that I wanted to ask you, sort of about this, before we pivot and talk about some other things is you talk about type one fun and type two fun. What do you mean by that? What does that mean?

GIBSON: So, type one fun is the fun that you think of when you hear the word fun, which is, you know, you’re eating, you’re drinking, you’re partying, you’re playing music, you’re going out on the town, you’re with your friends, you’re laughing. It’s the stuff that, you know, you imagine when you think about, let’s go have some fun tonight. Type two fun is actually the fun you have when you’re not having fun. It is…

SMITH: Which describes a lot of West Point, right?

GIBSON: Oh, West Point is only type two fun. You know, I actually had a cadet share that analogy with me and I thought it just was perfect. Because so much of West Point and life really is, it’s a drag, man. It is hard work and you’re tired and you’re grumpy and you’re barely making it. But it’s when you’re in that trench and you look to the person next to you and you’re like, man, this, this is terrible. And you just end up laughing because you’re both just so cold and miserable and wet and, you know, 20 years from now, those are the stories you’re going to tell. You’re not going to tell the story about the time you went out and had a great meal. Maybe you will, but you’re going to tell the story over the dinner table of, you know, being in the mud and not having any sleep and how are you going to make it through. And those are the stories you tell at the dinner tables 20 years from now, you know.

SMITH: Claire, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about the writing process and also maybe the publishing process as well. And to tee that question up, let me say… Let me just observe this and get you to react to it. This is not a Christian book, per se. You’re a believer. I’ve known you for a while and, you know, I know your faith and your commitment to Christ. This book is, you know, William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins, not a Christian publisher. If you read this book, it’s, it’s PG-13, shall we say? I wouldn’t say it’s R-rated. I mean there’s not really any overt sexuality. But these are young women and they’ve got relationships. And there are a lot of non-Christian characters in here who talk and behave the way non-Christians behave. Talk about that process for you. Was it a tension for you to try to figure out which way this book was going to go and then once you had written in how to find a publisher, whether it should be a Christian publisher or a non-Christian publisher?

GIBSON: Sure. You know, I live in Nashville, Tennessee. This is sort of the hub of Christian media, whether that’s music or publishing. And I resisted for a long time wanting to write too explicitly about my faith because I felt that it could potentially pigeon hole me as a certain type of writer. Some of the best books I’ve ever read are John Steinbeck or Tolstoy or my latest favorite is by an author named Min Jin Lee. She just wrote a book called Pachinko. None of those books are Christian, per se, but they have a lot of Christian themes that sometimes I think prove more valuable and more real when they’re told in a context of the world as it is. Not the world as we wish it would be. So, yes, this book is full of characters that are flawed and confused about their faith, confused about their motivations. They make mistakes. They do things that are wrong. They do things that they know are wrong and they still do them. And I made a decision probably before I sat down and wrote most of it, that it would not sit well with a Christian publisher. But I always joke, sorry, I hope this is okay. But I joke that, you know, sometimes Christian publishers, if I came and pitched them the Bible, they probably would say, I don’t know if we could publish that because the Bible is full of really flawed people.

SMITH: Yeah, a lot of violence, a lot of fornication in the Bible.

GIBSON: Yeah. So much trauma in the Bible. And so for all those reasons, you know, I decided pretty early on that if it was going to be published traditionally it would likely have to go with a traditional publisher. Secular.

SMITH: Well, I think one of the artistic decisions that you made that I don’t know if I respect the most or appreciate the most, certainly, is that one of the problems that, I mean, you’ve got Christians in this book and they’re over… I mean, they talk the way Christians would talk. And you’ve got, you know, pagans or non-Christians in this book. But one of the things that you don’t do in this book is that you don’t have that conversion moment, at least not overtly. And I think that’s where so much Christian fiction goes awry, where maybe they might have a bad character, but then you got to get them saved at the end, right? And if you don’t get them saved somehow, you know, it’s not legitimate or valid or whatever. Was that a conscious choice for you?

GIBSON: It was. I became a Christian at a very young age. I was 6 years old. I don’t remember a conversion moment in my life. However, I do look back on the course of my life and my faith. It wasn’t one moment in time where I knew that I knew that I knew that Jesus loved me. You know, my faith has been like an ocean wave that at times feels very far out and distant and at times feels very close up. And I can hear, you know, the closeness of the Lord, like the waves. You know, I don’t believe for me that my faith has ever felt like a light switch going on or off. It has felt more like, you know, that ebb and flow. And I think that’s true of most other people that I talk to and life circumstances really impact where I am with the Lord.

And you know, I had a very hard infertility battle over the years that I wrote this book. And my faith in God ebbed and flowed during that time because, you know, you put your faith in the Lord and whether you want to or not, you have expectations of like what you think God ought to deliver in your life. And these characters also have those expectations that sometimes are met and sometimes they’re not. And those circumstances, unfortunately, sometimes can really impact your faith. And I think it would be unfair to these characters to diminish faith into that one little moment when the reality is it’s pervasive. It’s way deeper and way more complex than just that one moment.

SMITH: Well, one of the things that also I really appreciated about the book was just the power of friendship in the book. That in some ways, at least as much… The book is at least as much about friendship as it is about West Point or as it is about faith or as it is about anything else. And these young women form a bond that is really profound. And it is that friendship that in many ways see them through some of the darkest periods in their lives. In fact, they call themselves a cult, which in some ways I liked that language because it made in some ways talking about faith or religion, almost organic. It just felt really, really natural because they kind of viewed their friendship in spiritual terms.

GIBSON: That’s interesting. Sure. I mean, I think one of the saddest things that I think happens to women in the military is that they are spoken about in the media in terms of individual stats. So this is the first woman General. This is the first woman Ranger. This is a survivor of sexual assault. You know, they’re always spoken about as an individual on a pedestal. Look at what she did alone. And the reality is, you know, for these women that I interacted with my whole life, they look nothing like that stereotype that we’re typically delivered through the media. They are far more feminine, far more complex, far more nuanced, far more ambitious, but also more realistic. And they have friendships just like I have friendships. And they want to paint their nails. And they want to have children. And they’re all of the things that I am and that other women are.

And so it was really important to me that this book wasn’t a war story. And friendship is such a powerful part of the female experience. And I think—my husband and I talk about this a lot—men I think sometimes need, they need some object to gather around. You know, my husband’s really into collecting whiskey and he’s really into movies. And so he and his friends can decide to go to a movie and then they all can decide afterward, let’s talk about it. And then they talk about their lives or their feelings. Whereas women, we can just say, hey, let’s go get a coffee. We can open up to one another very quickly and we don’t need that, you know, object to center ourselves around.

SMITH Well, you realize that if I said that, it would sound really different.

GIBSON: Sexist, I’m sure, right?

SMITH: Yeah. Yeah.

GIBSON: I know. Maybe so. But it’s true. And I think men are getting better at it over the years. But I do think that it is a gift of female friendship, too, that we can dive in really quickly. And these women are very different. They come from… These three characters… Avery comes from a kind of blue collar, middle class sort of family. And Dani is an African-American athlete who has grown up in a suburban culture where she sort of an one of the only black female athletes in her high school. And then you’ve got Hannah, who is sort of a white upper middle class family from Texas that has a lot of military history in her family. And so they all kind of come together with very different motivations and backgrounds and yet find a lot of common ground.

GIBSON Did you identify with one of them more than the other?

SMITH: Oh, that’s interesting. I think, I mean, as a writer you kind of have to put yourself in each of their shoes while you’re in that character’s timeframe. But I think that I often find myself feeling Hannah’s sense of faith and sense of duty and she’s an achiever. She wants to do everything as perfectly as she possibly can and that kind of can come back to bite her. I also have Avery’s sense of rebellion against authority. You know, I like to be my own boss and she very much doesn’t like to be told what to do, which is funny when you put her in a West Point context. And then Dani, you know, she’s misunderstood a lot. She finds herself in situations where she’s trying to say one thing and the person across from her hears something totally different. And I’ve had that experience so much. I can be a lot. I can be very overbearing, you know, I have to be careful not to overstate my opinion because I’m very outspoken and opinionated and thankfully grew up in a family that really, my dad really encouraged us, his girls, to be bold and who we were. But sometimes that doesn’t come across like I want it to. So I do. I think I could relate to each of them in different segments of the book.

SMITH: There’s one other character I wanted to ask you about and that’s Wendy. Wendy Bennett. Is that her last name?

GIBSON: Yes.

SMITH: She’s older. She becomes a friend to these young women there. And not just these three young women, but others as well. She’s kind of a mother hen in some ways to a lot of folks. In the novel, she’s the wife of a colonel who teach us at the academy, at West Point. Did she have a model in real life?

GIBSON: Definitely. So Wendy’s for sure my mom. And my mom was quick to call sobbing after she finished reading this draft. Because she said… 

SMITH: You and I haven’t talked about that in advance, but whenever I read that I was … and, of course, especially after I found out that your dad was a colonel. I was like, I wonder if there’s a relationship there. Well, it’s a very, let me just say it’s a beautiful tribute. She’s an amazing woman.

GIBSON: I was going to say she called sobbing to say that she was never as good as Wendy, you know, in the book. And I would obviously beg to differ on that. But, you know, I don’t think this is giving away too much, that there is a sort of a culminating tragic event and, you know, my mother reading this book, I think it was really hard for her to just kind of relive some of those times because we loved living at West Point. We loved being able to be a family for other cadets that were there that don’t, you know… There’s so many rules. They can’t watch television. Things have changed now. I mean, people have their computers now. But back then there were no televisions. You really didn’t have cell phones. And so our home became a home away from home for a lot of these cadets. And so we loved the chance to be around them and we lost a lot of them in the war.

SMITH: Claire, I want to ask you a few more specifics about the book before I, you know, again, sort of go off the reservation a little bit and talk about your writing process. Something happened in the book. Well, I mean, obviously these cadets, they graduate, there’s so many of them go off to war. You talk about a website icasualties.org, that in the book, that’s a website that they check. You know, I mean, it’s kind of a morbid discipline, right, to look to see if their friends and family members are actually their, if their names show up on that site. Sometimes that’s the first notification that people would have that a loved one had become a casualty of war. That’s a real site, right?

GIBSON: It is. It’s still up. It is crudely called icasualties.org and it’s one of what I found to be one of the most comprehensive log that I’ve been able to find of the casualties of men and women in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

SMITH: And whenever, sort of the time period of this book, there were a lot of casualties, right?

GIBSON: There were, yeah. So, you know, obviously we started the conflict in Afghanistan right after 2001, the 9/11 attacks and then in 2003 after we invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein, you know, things for those first few years were we’re moving along as I think our leadership expected, but in 2006 and 2007, in this book—the heart of it takes place in 2006—there were a lot of casualties. 2006 was the time during the war that the, you know, American foreign policy was to increase the amount of troops we were sending overseas. It was called the troop surge. So cadets that had graduated from West Point in 2004, by the time 2006 rolled around, they had completed their training as officers and they were the ones that were heading overseas at that time. And so the class of 2004 is what I focus on in this book for that very reason because they were impacted most significantly by the troop surge. And their class has been incredibly impacted and has lost a lot.

SMITH: You talked a little earlier about some books that you read, that you care about. One of the books that you didn’t mention a few moments ago, but plays a pretty big role in this book is East of Eden. Why does that book play such a role? I guess it has a role in your life as well, right?

GIBSON: It does. Yeah. It’s my favorite novel. I always recommend it to anyone. It’s John Steinbeck’s piece de resistance. John Steinbeck’s very best. And it’s the reason I’m married to my husband. He told me he loved reading, which I later after we were married, came to found out that it wasn’t exactly true. He had read, it was lucky he had read the one book he needed to have read to when my heart, which was East of Eden.

SMITH: Really.

GIBSON: And it is our favorite book. It’s why our son is named Samuel. You know, East of Eden is this epic family saga that is set in the world. It’s not a Christian book, but it obviously deals with a lot of Christian themes and there are very, I think it has one of the most stark villains in all of literature. Her name’s Kathy in that book. I think that’s fascinating. And it’s also a friendship book. You know, I think in East of Eden there are these three characters that come together—Samuel, Adam, and Lee—and they are all very different. And John Steinbeck, you know, their differences create this incredible dialogue where they can come together and differ in their beliefs, but somehow bring out the best in one another. And, you know, obviously this is no Steinbeck, but I always to to write in the way Steinbeck did in that I want that friendship to be the part that you walk away with and go, man, I wish I had something like that.

SMITH: Yeah. Well, you know, again, we come back to this idea of friendship and this is not a new idea with me, in fact, I’ve even talked about it with others on this program that when Jesus called his disciples, he was their mentor and they were his disciples. Right? I mean, he was the teacher, they were the students. But at the end of his ministry, he called them friends. He says, “Up until now you’ve been my servants, but now I call you my friends.” And it strikes me that in some ways friendship is a really core biblical idea that somehow we modern Christians kind of overlook.

GIBSON: That’s interesting. You know, I think you’re right. I think friendship, it’s one of the places that I’ve seen God’s hand in my life the most. You know, there are some very hard times of my life where, you know, I don’t live near family. We live in a society now where a lot of people don’t live near family. And if you’re in the pit, sometimes the person that can get to you the quickest is a friend. And luckily, I’m very lucky to say that I have, you know, a handful. It’s not a lot. I don’t even have 12 like Jesus did, but, you know, just to be able to have that handful of close friends that you can call when you’re your worst is the biggest gift. And, you know, as Christians, we have the ability to come to one another with our real selves because we all know that we’re sinners. And I think if you really believe that and you live that out, then you don’t have to have shame when you come to your friends and expose the reality of where you’re at, even if that’s a really ugly place.

SMITH: Well, Claire, I wouldn’t normally ask this question of you, but since you brought it up earlier, I feel maybe some liberty and I ask obnoxious questions for a living and you can feel free not to answer, but you mentioned, you know, that you had struggled with infertility and then you also mentioned Sam. So can you kind of give us the rest of the story there? What happened in your marriage and relationship and that struggle with infertility?

GIBSON: Sure. So my husband and I have been married now nine years and I started writing this book about six years ago, right around the same time that my husband and I started trying to have a family and expand our family. So the years of writing this book, you know, it was sort of a double-edged sword. Since we didn’t have children, I had a lot more time to devote to writing. However, I had this deep longing and this deep pain all through the writing process. I remember we had a miscarriage right around the same time that I was writing some of the darkest parts of the book. And as hard as that experience was, there was sort of a gift in that I could take that pain and come to these pages and I was feeling it. I was really feeling it. And I could put that emotion down even if it was a very different circumstance, you know, that these characters were going through. The pain is the same, which is that I’ve had this dream and it’s gone. And so we lived through the darkest of those times. My husband and I had to go through a lot of counseling. We struggled to decide, you know, where we were going to go from there and if medical intervention would be part of our path or if adoption was our path. And after a long time we did decide to go down the adoption route. And thankfully through a lot of hard won tears and times, we were matched with a birth mom and she gave birth to Sam in November of 2017. And bravely invited us into the labor and delivery room. We were able to be with him and with her when he was born. And we still have an open relationship with his birth mom and it’s very important for us and we’re so grateful for her and we’re so grateful for him and he’s just a bundle of crazy. But we love him. He’s so fun. He’s one and a half now.

SMITH: Yeah, I was going to say, a little over a year old now. That’s great. Well, that’s fantastic. Congratulations on that. And I should say congratulations on the book. Having written a few books, I know it’s not quite like giving birth, but it’s…

GIBSON: It’s something though. There are days…

SMITH: It’s not that, but it’s not nothing either, right? So congratulations on this book.

GIBSON: Thank you. It’s such a joy to get to be here and talk about it and, you know, it’s something you do in silent and then you put it out there. And so to get to talk about it with someone like you has been a huge gift.

SMITH: Well, it’s my pleasure and I can’t, again, just can’t resist asking a process question. What’s next? The book is out and there’ll be some promotions and associated activities related to that. But are you working on another book?

GIBSON: I am. It’s very early days. So as you know, I’m still figuring out what it is and learning these new characters that I’m spending some time with. But I think that one thing that worked really well with Beyond the Point is that it is based on true stories. And so I do have, you know, firsthand accounts that I can go to when I’m stuck or I can ask questions when I feel like I need a new angle. And so this new book, I think, is also going to follow that same pattern in that it’s based on a true story. It will focus on multiple points of view, and take place across multiple different geographical locations, which I’m excited about. And might have some adoption themes, which obviously are very close to my heart. So I’m excited about it.

SMITH: Claire, do you have any mentors in writing here in Nashville or elsewhere in your life?

GIBSON: I do. So, here in Nashville, I’ve been really blessed to have a relationship with a writer in town named Russ Ramsey. He was instrumental in bringing this book to life.

SMITH: Well, let me ask you, because I know Russ a little bit and many of our listeners might know Russ because he’s written a lot of books. In fact, I think one of them this year was named book of the year by Christianity Today, if I remember. Maybe it was last year. But so, what does that relationship, how has he been helpful to you?

GIBSON: It’s changed over time, but it started… I was a fan of his writing from afar and reached out to him and just told him a few different articles that had touched me. And we ended up kind of trading some words back and forth. He read some things that I’d written. I read some things that he’d written, and then we ended up meeting a couple of times for coffee over the next couple of years. And he was a real encouragement, you know. He was having books come out, you know, like gangbusters. He’s so prolific. And I was just plodding away on this thing. And if you look back at some of his books, you’ll see in the back, the acknowledgements, like “Claire, finish your novel,” and then the next one comes out, “Claire, finish your novel.”

SMITH: Well, I’ve got to admit, I hadn’t read that or, if I read that, I didn’t know you. I didn’t know who he was talking to. So that’s really funny. I’m going to go back now and…

GIBSON: I know. I think in my acknowledgment section it says, “Russ, I finally did it.”

SMITH: That’s great. Well, good for you. Well, I’m actually getting an early reader copy so you can see what the acknowledgement say there. It says to come, right? So there’s nothing there yet, so I can’t wait to see that. That’ll be fun. So Russell was just an encouragement to you and…

GIBSON: Just an encouragement and just always told me to keep going and would offer a really strong encouragement that it was good enough. That’s always my fear. You know, every writer is just, you know, very hard on themselves. And then, you know, lately I’ve been really encouraged, another writer that your listeners may have heard of Jonathan Rogers and he has these incredible online writing courses. And I’ve started taking his online courses and he came to me at church the other day and said, can you tell me why you’re taking my courses if you have a book already being published by Harper Collins? And I just feel like I have so much to learn still. I just always want the next book to be better than this one and so on and so forth. So I really hope to have a long career and have more stories to tell. So I just want to know how to do it better. And Jonathan’s an incredible teacher.

SMITH: Well, uh, I’m actually going to be interviewing Jonathan about his book on Flannery O’Connor, which is… I’m a big fan of Flannery O’Connor, and read just about everything that’s been written about her.

GIBSON: It’s incredible. His book…

SMITH: I think his book is the best.

GIBSON: The Terrible Speed of Mercy? Oh yeah.

SMITH: Yeah.

GIBSON: Well, I would highly recommend his class, which is called “Writing with Flannery O’Connor.” We wrote these 500 word assignments every week in the style of Flannery O’Connor and it really blew my mind just how much he was able to push out of me during that short class. So he’s incredible. And that book is great.

SMITH: Well, that book is really great. And it’s kind of interesting to know that he was one of your teachers in this process, along with Russ.

GIBSON: I will say, he’s sort of newer. I’ve been telling Jonathan not to read this book because I’ve learned so many lessons from him that I broke. You know, rules that I broke it during writing Beyond the Point. But he’s incredible. He’s a great writer.

SMITH: Final question. When people read this book, what do you want him to come away with?

GIBSON: You know, we live in a time where everything feels like it’s moving really fast and social media makes us feel like we’re connected to people, but in reality those connections are very shallow and we put out a lot of type one fun, you know, that we’re having a lot of type one fun. And I think the opportunities to have those really meaningful interactions with your friends are harder to come by and you have to be that much more intentional of making those memories happen. So I really hope that people will read this and put it down and think, man, I want my friendships to be as strong and as beautiful as what I saw in these three women. And what that means is hopefully they will put the book down, pick up their computer, and buy a plane ticket and go see someone that they miss or, you know, create some new memories together because it’s so vital for our lives to have people around us that really, truly know us deeply and are going to be there for us even when things are challenging.


(Photo/Claire Gibson)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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