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12 Quick Questions for Elin Hilderbrand

Prolific author shares what’s next on the horizon after her Nantucket series

Elin Hilderbrand

Nina Subin

Author Elin Hilderbrand, whose 28 novels — mainly set on Nantucket, the tiny island off Cape Cod, Massachusetts — have sold more than 10 million copies, is planning her next act. The six TV adaptations of her books that are in development, including The Hotel Nantucket, are just the beginning of what’s to come for the 53-year-old mother of three teenagers, who never had any other plan than to be a writer.

Is it true there will be only two more Nantucket books?

I’m giving it all up. I’m actually surprised more people don’t do this. I'm writing my best stuff, but I will have written 30 books when I retire, and Nantucket is 4 miles wide and 13 miles long. I’ve sort of come to the natural end of my material. I don’t want to repeat myself. I don’t want the quality to decline. At this point [interview was mid-July], The Hotel Nantucket has been number one on The New York Times Best Sellers list for four weeks — number one. That kind of success begets enormous pressure, because how do you write a book that is yet better than the one that you just finished?

That is always my challenge. I like to say my job is to do exactly the same thing differently every year, and it’s hard. So I’m going to control it by just doing two more books on the business plan that I’m on now.

The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hilderbrand book cover

Courtesy: Little, Brown and Company

So we haven’t read the last from Elin Hilderbrand?

Will I write other books? Yes, but I will write them on my own schedule. My daughter and I want to write a novel about boarding school. I have things that I want to do, but it won't be the one Nantucket book per summer, the way it has been for 20 years.

 

Do you sell the books to the studios and then move on?

I will be executive-producing on [the TV adaptations of my books]. Hollywood is such a difficult nut to crack. I have a bunch of things that will be ready to go in the next 12 months. Hopefully, we can get them on the air. My interest is really in just making sure Nantucket isn’t compromised. Nantucket is a very special place, and people feel passionately about it. The last thing I want to do is ruin it, to have it misrepresented on television. That’s not going to happen.

 

Will you continue to use your platform to be an advocate for other writers’ books?

I have a book group through [the] Literati [book club app], and it’s been really fun. On my Instragam, I promote other people’s books all the time. So I really am keen. Every writer is a reader first, and that's definitely true of me. Reading is my first love, and so when I think about retiring, I think about doing things that I enjoy, and one of them would be reading. I am so grateful for people like Oprah and Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Jessica Parker, but those people aren't writers. I think it would be fun and good to have a book influencer that’s a writer. It will be different and something I think is lacking.

 

You went from New Yorker to Nantucket resident in a New York minute. Truth?

I was living in New York City. This was almost 30 years ago. I was teaching, and I came here for the summer and I just fell in love with it. Manhattan can be a little bit soul-shredding. I was commuting out of the city, teaching in Dobbs Ferry. I just said to myself, I want to ride my bike to work. I want to be in a place that’s a little bit easier than Manhattan. So I moved to Nantucket.

 

Living year-round at the beach, what’s always in your beach bag?

I work at the beach — I write all my novels longhand — so today, for example, I will have my notebooks. I always bring a novel, because I’m always reading. I have Meg Mitchell Moore’s novel Vacationland. I always have my suntan lotion. I always have my lunch and various pens. I will stay as long as I can.

 

Is there swimming?

Yes. Swim; take a nap; then work, work, work.

 

What’s the first book that you read and loved?

Probably it was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I would have been 8 or 9. My mom got it for me for my birthday. I loved it so much. Then shortly after that, I think I read Little Women — just classics, classics, classics.

 

Are you a beach-read reader yourself?

I’m reading a beach book right now — like I said, I’m reading Vacationland. In general, I read literary novels. I just read Emma Straub’s novel This Time Tomorrow, which I really liked. The best book I read this year is Notes on an Execution, which feels really off-brand but was so, so good. It's about a serial killer, and he’s on death row and it’s his last day before he’s executed, and his back story is told through the points of view of three women: his mother, his wife’s sister and the detective who catches him.

 

Does the beach-read label bother you?

Does it bother me? It does not, because I know my books serve a purpose. I hear from so many women who are in the chemo chair, who are caring for an elderly parent; maybe they are caring for children with disabilities. They have hard lives or they are going through something challenging or difficult, and reading my books helps them escape. That is the gift of a beach book. It’s escapism; it takes you away.

 

If you could have happy hour with three of your favorite writers, who would you invite?

If we’re talking living or dead, it would definitely be J.D. Salinger, Toni Morrison, and who else do I really love? I love Anna Quindlen.

 

Many people, after surviving cancer, say they feel changed. Agreed?

I think I'm different. I have really cut out the white noise in the last eight years, really pared down the kind of things that get my attention. It is very important to me that I'm not wasting my time. I don’t worry about what other people think. I worry about my work, and when I say work, I don't even necessarily mean the promotion or the publicity but the actual work of writing. So The Hotel Nantucket is out in the world; it’s doing well. I'm so excited, but I’m always most concerned about the book I'm presently writing, my kids and my friends and my community.


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