Q+A Celebrity Connection: Queen of the Beach Read – Elin Hilderbrand
A few bookish questions with author Elin Hilderbrand leading up to her HIGHLY anticipated October release.
Story by Denise Friday
Elin Hilderbrand, dubbed “Queen of the Beach Read” by New York magazine and the author of more than 25 novels, spoke with LOCAL Life about her passions, her South Carolina connections and the possibility of a book tour stop on Hilton Head Island. Hilderbrand references the island in her best seller, “Summer of ’69,” so we were curious to learn more about what inspires a fellow Islander (she lives on Nantucket).
Hilderbrand’s two most recent summer releases, “Summer of ’69” and “28 Summers,” both debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times Best Sellers list in 2019 and 2020. She is from Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Johns Hopkins University. She and her then husband moved to Nantucket in 1993 where they raised three children. In 2001, she added a winter series, and has since churned out two books a year, a blistering pace for a single mother of three teens. Her four-book “Winter Street” series is set on Nantucket, as are most of her books. Elin’s latest book will release in October. “Troubles in Paradise” is the third in the Paradise trilogy behind “Winter in Paradise” and “What Happens in Paradise,” set in the US Virgin Islands on St. John.
[LOCAL Life] When I first started reading your books (about 12 years ago – “The Love Season,” you don’t forget your first Hilderbrand!) three subtle traits emerged for me. You were a foodie, you had a fondness for twins, and you enjoyed fashion. Are these accurate attributes? [Elin Hilderbrand] Yes! I’m a foodie. I always say we have three chances at happiness each day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. I cook at home and I love to eat out. When I started writing my novel, “The Blue Bistro,” I did a ton of restaurant research, so much that I had enough for two books (cue, “The Love Season”). I’m a fraternal twin. I have a twin brother, Eric. Twins often appear in my novels and are featured in my novel “The Identicals,” which is a reimagining of “The Parent Trap.” I enjoy fashion. Love it! I’m unhealthily obsessed with my closet. In 2017, I started posting photos of my outfits in hopes that a designer label might pick me up. Still waiting for that to happen.
[LL] “28 Summers” is your 25th book. Did you think you would hit this milestone in 2000 when “The Beach Club” was first published? [EH] I had no sense of where my career might go when I started. I’m trying to decide if that’s good or bad. Let’s say it’s good. I think one of the reasons I’ve been successful is because the number one thing I’m concerned with at any given time is the book I’m presently working on. So, for example, now, even though “28 Summers” is doing so well, all things “28 Summers” take a backseat to the time and energy I’m putting into next summer’s book.
[LL] You have such a devoted fan base not just in New England but across the country. How do you choose where you will go on your book tours? Do you think the Hilton Head area may be in a future visit? [EH] I have built my fan base year by year, summer by summer, book by book. Had I known (see above) that I was going to write so many books, I might have been more strategic with how I toured. Honestly, I didn’t figure out touring until 2019! I had little kids through a lot of my career, so going away for two weeks wasn’t viable. (My sons played Little League, travel baseball, etc.). Now that everyone is a little older, I can do a two-week, cross-country tour – and now, I have an audience. I am trying to hit different places each time I head out. As some people probably know, my eldest son is a rising junior at the University of South Carolina, so I am spending more and more time in South Carolina – I would hope Hilton Head will be in my near future. I’ve never been!
[LL] Your oldest child, Maxx, is your student at USC. Has this opened your world to South Carolina? What has surprised you most about the area? [EH] My experiences in South Carolina have always been magical. The first time I visited as an adult was in 2011 when I did an event with Litchfield Books. I had dinner at Wahoo’s Fish House in Murrells Inlet, met some awesome locals and had a blast! I have visited Charleston on 3-4 separate occasions and what’s not to love about Charleston? The first time I went to Columbia was in the fall of 2017 when I took Maxx to look at USC (and Clemson). I was thrilled when Maxx chose USC (and USC chose Maxx), and I have been back to Cola numerous times to visit him. I’m a big fan of Pearlz Oyster Bar and running the trail along the river. There’s a scene in my novel “28 Summers” where my main character drops her son off at USC, and I cry every time I read it. (This made the book a big hit with the moms on the USC Parent Facebook page!)
[LL] You dedicated “28 Summers” to the late, great Dorothea Benton Frank. Her death in 2019 was a tragic loss to the Lowcountry literary world and her readers. Could you talk about how her death affected you and what your friendship was like? [EH] Writing by its nature is a solitary activity and it took me a long time to become friends with other writers. I met Dottie at the Post & Courier’s annual spring luncheon in Charleston and it was love at first sight. I mean, I adored her. She would come up to Nantucket periodically, and I would drop everything to meet her and hang out. Her death was swift and sudden and unexpected, and I was completely blindsided. It was a profound loss for me, and I’m just doing what I can to keep her light shining.
[LL] This past June marked your 6-year anniversary of your double mastectomy from breast cancer. Do you have advice for women who are facing this difficult obstacle in their life right now? [EH] I used to think that cancer takes something away – and it does. But what I came to realize is that cancer also gives something back: a community. The grace and strength I witnessed in women far sicker than I gave me great comfort and inspiration. I never once felt I was fighting alone. My advice is to embrace the community, listen to your doctors, and take your antibiotics (very important!) I’m also fond of saying that gratitude is the miracle drug.
[LL] I love that “gratitude” is the miracle drug. Your fans are also interested in books that move and inspire you. Could you list a few books that you have read in the past year that you think are just amazing? [EH] I fancy myself a bit of an amateur book influencer. I almost always read women novelists, and I’ve been trying this year to add more women writers of color. My number one recommendation this year so far is “Luster” by Raven Leilani. Oh, how I loved this book. It’s about a 20-something Black woman who enters an online relationship with a white dude in the suburbs who is in an open marriage. It starts here and becomes something very deep and rich, a journey of self-discovery. It reminded me of “The Catcher in the Rye,” if that book were written by a young Black woman. That book came out August 4. My favorite book from last summer was called “The Most Fun We Ever Had” by Claire Lombardo. It’s about a long-married couple with four grown daughters who should be enjoying a peaceful period in their life, but everything gets turned upside down when one of the daughters introduces the family to the son she gave up for adoption 15 years earlier. It’s brilliant in its sentences and in its narrative drive. I love a book where you’re swept along in the plot but stop to admire the intelligence of the writing. My Instagram account (@elinhilderbrand) is filled with other book suggestions. It’s organic – I only post about books I’ve read and loved myself.”
Erin Hilderbrand’s Paradise Series
Winter in Paradise
Irene Steele’s life is idyllic until it is rocked by a late-night phone call that brings news of her husband’s sudden death. Even in the midst of her crippling grief, Irene cannot get one question out of her head: why was his body found on St. John, a tropical Caribbean paradise far removed from their suburban life?
What Happens in Paradise
Irene and her sons are back on St. John, determined to learn the truth about the mysterious life — and death — of a man they thought they knew. Along the way, they’re about to learn some surprising truths about their own lives, and their futures.
Troubles in Paradise
As a storm gathers strength in the Atlantic, surprises are in store for the Steeles. At last all will be revealed about the secrets and lies that brought Irene and her sons to St. John — and the truth that transformed them all.