Meet Elin Hilderbrand, the "Queen of the Summer Novel" and one of Helen Jon’s all-time favorite authors. She gives us an inside look at her creative process, how she gets it all done, what projects she is working on next, and why her legions of fans stay so devoted.
We are thrilled to be talking with you! We love everything about your books: the juicy friendships, the steamy love affairs, the family dynamics, the drama of fame found and lost, and especially the gorgeous Nantucket backdrop. Nineteen novels, three kids. How do you do it?
It’s super-hard. But it’s also really great. I love what I do! But I think the real answer is: Discipline. I start my day, every day, with a 2-hour run. I have recently started taking Barre classes, so I will finish my run, head to a Barre class, and then make my way home to write. I am a very disciplined person, and I do rely on this trait to help me accomplish my goals.
Raising my kids has trained me to put my discipline into practice. There is no such thing as waiting for that “perfect” moment for the writing to begin, because I have two teenage boys and an 11-year old girl to take care of. They play sports, they have busy lives - I’m always on the move, getting them from place to place. I will write when I’m waiting for them at their practices, sitting on the bleachers, in pick-up lines. People see me working in the most random places, whenever and wherever I can. The only time I know I cannot write is when I’m driving!
Though I would love to add that I unplug to get focused, I cannot actually do that because, as a mom, that’s basically untenable. I do challenge myself to stay focused and get “back to the page” whenever an interruption occurs during my writing time.
You are this magical combination of an author who writes the ultimate page-turner and beach read — but with a completely beautiful writer’s writer kind of touch. Yours is the kind of writing that seems effortless, because it’s breezy, it’s fun, it draws you right in and makes you so happy… and you allow us to “know” all of the characters. Magic, for real. When did you realize that this was your sweet-spot and the style of book that you would write?
I was doing my graduate work at The University of Iowa, Writer’s Workshop, having graduated from Johns Hopkins. I had been honing and developing a decidedly more “literary short story” kind of thing. But then I found myself stuck in the cold midwest, with cows outside my window, missing the beautiful beaches of Nantucket, the streets of Boston, and the world I knew best. That is what prompted me to set my first novel on Nantucket. I decided to transport myself, at least through my writing, to the place I wished I were. And the rest followed suit.
Tell us more about your latest novel, The Identicals. Our team all read it — and read it fast! We couldn’t put it down. It seems you have a kinship with so many of your characters, including Harper and Tabitha. How often do you lean on real life to draw out your characters?
Thank you. I really loved this book. I am proud of and feel a kinship and affection for all of my novels, all of my characters. And The Identicals is no exception. There is something about Harper and Tabitha that I just loved. I’m raising teenagers right now, so some of the challenges of raising kids of this age were woven into the fabric of the story. (Special mention goes to the party scene that appears in the beginning of the novel. It may or may not have been inspired by my real-world experiences!)
If you could pick three authors, designers, or other creative types with whom you would most like to share a beach house on Nantucket for a full week, who would they be?
Diane Von Furstenberg because she is so independent, self-sufficient, creative and awesome. Curtis Sittenfeld, who is one of my absolute favorite writers, and is so incredibly funny and whip-smart. Though we are only Twitter friends, if I were to meet her and we were not fast friends, I would be shocked beyond measure. And, Bobby Flay, for lots of reasons. But he could cook for us, entertain us and why not!? That is my all-star crew. Let’s make it happen!
We love to talk to women who inspire us and others—and you totally fit this bill. Tell us more about #mamastrong and how you, as a three-year breast cancer survivor, connect and give strength to other cancer fighters, survivors and their loved ones.
#Mamastrong is something that I am so incredibly proud of. In 2014, after my breast cancer diagnosis, a double-masectomy, and a terrifying and nearly fatal infection that developed post-surgery, I started #mamastrong in efforts to connect with and provide community and support for others who were fighting this fight.
My cancer diagnosis gave me a new understanding of how precious life is. It also instilled the desire to reach out to other women going through the terror of diagnosis and the challenge of treatment. The women I have met and connected with through #mamastrong and my Facebook page has been transformative for me.
I created #mamastrong as a place where people could tell and share their stories — and connect. It’s an open call: tell me about where you — or your mom, sister, daughter, best friend — had treatment, and I will send them a box of my books. It’s been amazing. Not only have my books, I’ve been told, helped people get through their treatments, but the community we’ve created has been such a wonderful source of happiness and hope for them, as well as for me. I love every aspect of #mamastrong.
How did you come up with the name #Mamastrong?
My daughter, age 8 at the time, actually came up with the name. She kept saying to me, “You’re strong. You’ve got this. Mamastrong.” And she would bend her biceps in the “strong-man” pose and kiss each bicep and say “Mamastrong.” She somehow had the uncanny ability, even at age 8, to evenhandedly not worry for me, to just have utter confidence that I would be fine, that I had this. So, the genesis for this hashtag came directly from my daughter’s amazing ability to cut through the emotion and fear — and deliver this basic phrase that somehow had total power and gave me such clarity and strength of purpose.
You have such an ardent and HUGE fan base. We love the name for your super-fans, “The Hilderbranders.” Your writing - and you as an author, person, friend, mom — feel very approachable and knowable.
I love my fans, and I try to connect whenever I can. I am attentive — because I truly am grateful for their support and affection. It’s a natural thing for me. I love hearing from, meeting and connecting with my fans.
Not long ago, a woman contacted me and told me her sister was one of my biggest fans and was getting married on Nantucket that weekend — and asked if I would go by and make an appearance. I told her, “yes” but only for about 5-10 minutes. I gave her a specific time that I would be there. I showed up, exactly when I had promised - the sister was delighted! And I even brought my books for their guests. It was terrific.
Nantucket and Elin Hilderbrand. A perfect pairing. You have created a true “brand.” In this day and age, it seems so important to have a connection to those things that we love, and branding really helps associate. As a swimwear and activewear line, we strive to connect with our customers and deliver “Beautiful” each and every time, in a way that feels true to us, but not redundant. How do you stay fresh and relevant and original, while still remaining familiar and true?
It is a real challenge! I feel pressure each and every time I start a new novel. How can I do the exact same thing, tell the same quality of story once more — but this time, entirely differently, with a freshness and originality, but still deliver a story my readers will love and expect? With every book, I am amazed at how many readers respond to my characters and stories — and I welcome this challenge — but, it is not easy to do!
My next book, Winter Solstice, will be coming out this October, and I hope my readers will love this one as my others.
What are you working on next?
I am super excited about my next project. It will be a slight departure from what I have been doing, in that this book will be set not on Nantucket… but on St. John, my other favorite beach destination. It will be the first title in what will ultimately be a trilogy. The protagonist is a woman who moves to St. John and becomes a private eye. I love her, and I’m excited to watch where this adventure takes her.
There will be a definite “resort season” reggae vibe to it. I love to weave in place as almost an actual character in my novels. For this upcoming trilogy, I’ll be trading in lobster and sandy dune beaches for crystal clear Caribbean waters, reggae music, and all of the fun that goes along with that. I cannot wait to introduce this world to my fans.
And, finally, tell us…
- favorite beach (and, yes, you can say Nantucket!): Ram Pasture, Nantucket
- favorite summer read: Vacationers, by Emma Straub
- favorite song on your playlist: Good Grief, Bastille
- favorite recurring daydream: Get to #1 on the NY Times Bestseller list
- favorite travel destination that you haven’t already visited: The Maldives
- prints or solids, when you are choosing your bikini: prints
- toes in the sand or cute wedges: toes in the sand
- lobster roll or haute cuisine: lobster roll
- Harper or Tabitha: Team Fish! (Fish is the soulful, amazing, loyal 4-legged pal from The Identicals)
- … and, we have to know, do you really write your books on pen and paper on the beach and not on a computer?: It’s true! Legal pads and pens.
This has been a dream come true, interviewing you and learning more about you. There is a reason your fans love you so… And, for all of you out there who have not yet read The Identicals, buy it today, throw it in your favorite Helen Jon tote, head to your favorite beach, and thank us later!