Claire Gibson has planted roots in each place she’s ever lived — and that list is not a short one. Her father was a professor at The United States Military Academy at West Point, where she grew up. She studied at Furman, she lived in Asia, and in 2009, she planted in Nashville. A writer throughout her life, five years ago she turned her hobby into a full-time gig. Since then, she’s been weaving words in a cozy corner at Ugly Mugs in East Nashville, telling stories of her own life and those around her. Captivating and charming in all senses of the words, Claire Gibson is a Nashville FACE you should know. With her new book, Beyond the Point, hitting the shelves on April 2 and a celebration at Parnassus on April 3 (with our own Liza Graves leading the Q&A!), we are absolutely delighted to introduce you to Claire Gibson!
When did you start writing?
I started writing as early as six years old. I remember I would write little stories at school and bring them home for my mom or my friends to read. Of course, they were terrible, but about five years ago, I remembered that long history of writing — that I had always been doing on the side — and finally realized that I needed to try to make it my career. I started by freelance writing. I pitched stories The Tennessean and Garden & Gun and other magazines around the region. Slowly, things started getting picked up. Around that time, I had the idea to write a novel about my childhood home, which is this unbelievably beautiful place in upstate New York called West Point. It’s beautiful because it’s located right on the Hudson River, and it’s also the training ground for the officer leadership of the U.S. Army. My father was a professor there for most of my childhood. I thought that our experience there could be a really intriguing setting for a novel.
When did you start writing it? And when did you finish?
I started my writing and research in 2013. I finished the novel in the summer of 2017.
So, tell us about it!
Beyond the Point is a novel that is based on true stories of women graduates of West Point. It follows three main characters, Dani, Avery and Hannah, who could not be more opposite. Dani is a young African American sports and academic phenomenon who chooses to attend West Point just to defy her community’s rigid expectations. Hannah is the granddaughter of a famous general. Avery is a rebellious homecoming queen who sees West Point as an opportunity for independence from her family.
They forge an unlikely friendship at the beginning of their time at West Point, and they soon realize that things will be a lot harder than they anticipated.
I tell people that the book is sort of like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Zero Dark Thirty. The book follows their friendship as they face challenges both in and outside of the army.
And you said it’s based on real women?
Yes. I completed more than 20 interviews with women who attended West Point from 2000-2010, and the three characters are a composite of those women.
I can’t wait to read it! Do you have any mentors or specific people who have inspired your journey in writing?
A local writer named Kim Green was one of the first women I met in Nashville who was a successful writer. She really encouraged me from the very beginning that it was possible to go after this as a career, even though it would be difficult.
I also have learned a lot from Jonathan Rogers and Russ Ramsey. Both of those men have written many books and are contributors to The Rabbit Room. Over the years, they both have imparted a lot of wisdom about the art of writing.
And, I read a lot! I feel like I’ve learned a lot about being a writer just by being a better reader.
What was the first piece you wrote that you were really proud of?
My very first published piece was a story about a couple in Nashville. They had adopted a daughter from Uganda but the U.S. refused to grant their child a visa. That ended up getting the front cover of the Sunday Tennessean that week. And I remember picking it up from the newsstand, and saying, “Ah! That’s my name! That’s my story!” Oh my gosh, I was so excited to see that the story had really found a home and a place to live. It made me really happy to share their journey with a wider audience and hopefully make a difference. It made me feel like, this is possible, I can do this.
Do you experience writer’s block? If so, how do you push through it?
Yes! I definitely experience writer’s block. The moment that I hit the biggest writer’s block while writing Beyond the Point, I turned to a friend of mine who lives in NYC. She was so kind and helped talk out the problem that I was having. We sat for about three hours in her apartment in New York and talked through the characters and the issues I was having with them. My writer’s block wasn’t necessarily gone, but I knew where I needed to go next. Sometimes, you just need to talk it out with someone else.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished Kate Quinn’s new novel The Huntress, which is awesome historical fiction. I am also reading Michelle Obama’s memoir for a book club I’m in. I just finished Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. It’s the story of Elizabeth Holmes, who had a Silicon Valley startup that was valued at billions and turned out to be fraud. It’s a page-turning reported story of a startup venture gone awry.
What’s the most impactful book you’ve ever read?
My favorite novel is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It’s hard to put into words how big of an impact that book has had on me. Next to the Bible, that novel has taught me the most about what it means to be human. It exposes the fears and motivations that we all have in our lives as we’re trying to make a place for ourselves in this world.
What does an ideal day look like for you?
It starts at Marathon Fitness which is my favorite gym. My trainer Joe Johnson has helped me since I was first moved to Nashville. Follow that up with some coffee at Ugly Mugs in East Nashville, which is where I do most of my writing. Jared and Courtney DeLozier are so nice to let me have $2 coffee and never give me the side-eye to leave. I sit there for a while to write. Every day at noon, I go home for lunch and spend some time with my son Sam who is 16 months old. In the afternoon, we walk to the playground. On an ideal day, my husband and I get to have a date night at Folk or Rolf and Daughters. You can’t get much better than that.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and who was it from?
My friend Dionna McPhatter is a West Point graduate. She is one of the women I interviewed for the novel, and she is the one I met with in New York City to talk through my writer’s block. During that conversation, she looked at me and said, “Claire, what do you need to do in order to be proud of it? Do that and then move on.” It really unlocked a lot of potential for me, because it helped me see I didn’t have to make the novel perfect, I just had to make it something I was proud of.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you cannot live without?
Coffee is a necessity. Mascara is the only makeup product I can’t live without. And books. They open so much of the world, and no matter where you are, a book can take you pretty much anywhere.
Pre-order Claire Gibson’s book Beyond the Point before it hits bookshelves on April 2. And please join us at Parnassus to celebrate this wonderful work by Claire. Thank you, Claire, for sharing with us, and thank you to Leila Grossman of Grannis Photography for these beautiful photos!
Our newest FACE of TriStar is Dr. Michelle Luschen, an interventional and vascular radiologist at TriStar Skyline Medical Center. She has risen to the top of her field and has made a name for herself in this innovative specialty. Get to know this dynamic wife, mother and radiologist as our newest FACE of TriStar. Click HERE!