Every month, it is such an honor to talk to the author of our FFL book club picks and get some inside knowledge on the book we’re all obsessing over, their writing process, and a hint about their next book! It’s that time of the month again, and we’re so excited to share our interview with Claire Gibson, author of Beyond the Point, with you all.

What inspired you to write this novel when you did? Have you always wanted to set a story at West Point?

Anyone that has ever been to visit West Point will tell you that it’s a magical, sacred place. I had the privilege of growing up at West Point right there alongside the Corps of Cadets, while my father was a professor.  I know it like the back of my hand. The only way I could have known it better was if I had attended myself — which continues to be something I wonder about all the time — how would I have handled the challenge? Should I have tried? But college choices aside, when I began writing full time, I couldn’t kick the gut feeling that I was supposed to write something about West Point or the Army. Then in 2013, a group of women West Point graduates asked if I’d be interested in interviewing them for a possible story. The more women I spoke to, the more confident I was that I was meant to write their experiences down as a novel — something that every person could engage with, whether they were familiar with West Point or not.  

What’s the most interesting thing you experienced growing up at West Point? What’s the ‘fact’ or ‘anecdote’ that always makes people’s eyes grow big when you tell them?

I think it surprises people that I had such a front-row view of these teenagers as they attended college, while also learning to march and ruck and blow things up. Also, I will never forget that on 9/11/01, my mother was walking along the Hudson and saw a low-lying commercial plane barrelling south. We learned later that the hijackers used the river as their navigational guide to get to New York City and the World Trade Center. The tragedy of that day, and the loss of life that came after is always close in mind.

Did you always imagine Beyond the Point as a multi-POV novel? What decisions went in to seeing which moments through each woman’s eyes, or determining her path post-West Point?

All of the characters in Beyond the Point are composite characters — Dani, Hannah and Avery’s storylines are the product of more than 25 different interviews with women who graduated from West Point in the decade after 9/11. So yes, I always saw it as a multi-point of view story, because these women were all different, not the same cookie-cutter version of GI Jane that I think most civilians are conditioned to expect.  However, just because the characters are composite and the story is fiction, much of the content came directly from first person accounts. Everything in the book happened to someone.

Which of the women–Dani, Avery, or Hannah–did you enjoy writing the most? Which came easiest to you? 

I think I enjoyed writing Avery’s character most. It’s fun to write about seduction and love and longing. Avery was self-sabotaging in some ways, but Dani and Hannah’s stories were much more difficult to embody for me, mostly because the content was more nuanced and tender.

Basketball is a critical part of this book, largely for her it brings the women together. Did you play basketball, or another sport? Why did you choose basketball to unite these girls’ stories versus another extracurricular, or even another sport?

I played lacrosse. But most of the women I interviewed for Beyond the Point played a sport of some kind, and athletics are a huge part of the West Point culture. It was important to me that the women have that additional arena (no pun intended) in which to connect and form bonds. Many of the women I interviewed played basketball, and that sport in particular spoke to me because it often levels the playing field between men and women. It mean Dani could later shoot hoops with young kids in London, and keep up. It was just another way to show that these women had grit. 

What do you think civilians can learn from reading novels about members of the military–especially women?

It is my sincere hope that anyone who reads Beyond the Point will leave its pages knowing more about this incredible place and its graduates. I also hope that it might find its way into the hands of a young high school-aged woman who suddenly finds she’s interested in pursuing admission to a service academy. In a way, I wrote it to my former self, as a way to tell her — hey — if you choose this path, of course it’s going to be hard. But it’s also going to be beautiful.

Though this book was published a few years ago, so many aspects of it feel very prescient to today–especially thinking about violence against women in the military. What do you think are the biggest issues facing women in the military right now–based on your interviews with servicemembers?

The military has a long way to go in creating a culture that is safe for women — not only so they can work effectively with their peers, subordinates, and superiors, but also so they might report sexual misconduct in a safe and anonymous way that will protect their careers from reprisal. I think the biggest issue facing women in the military right now is the issue of grappling with the last 20 years, and the conflicted feelings of grief and relief that the war is over, but deep sadness over how it ended. The Taliban are in control of Afghanistan. And America left so many allies behind whose lives are now in very grave danger.

What do you like to read for leisure? Is there a specific genre or author that is an auto-buy for you?

I love reading fiction. I’m a new devotee of Elizabeth Strout. I love Lief Enger and am a sucker for any Liane Moriarity page-turner, too. Generally speaking, I am interested in books that take me out of my own head and move my spirit. 

What’s next for you? Are you working on another novel?

I am working (slowly) on another novel! Pandemic and two little toddlers at home have made the process more difficult, but I am trusting that it will get onto the page in its proper time. 

What was the most exciting part about publishing your debut novel? What tips would you give to an aspiring writer? 

I think the most exciting part about publishing this novel was that I never expected it to go as far as it has. Publishing is a very challenging, narrow road and there are so many paths today that have never existed before. For me, all I cared about was writing a story that honored the women who inspired it. I wanted it to “live” outside of my computer, so to speak, but I also understood that “success” was largely out of my hands. I would encourage any aspiring writer to take it slow, enjoy the writing process, and seek out strong writer friends to encourage you along the way. It can be a lonely endeavor, but it is always worthwhile. 

It’s not too late to join in on the reading! Pick up your copy of Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson today. Our October book club selection will be announced on October 1st.

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member