For Nantucket-based author Elin Hilderbrand, life’s a beach. With 20 novels under her belt and her latest hitting shelves on June 19, Hilderbrand’s tomes have become a staple in every bookworm’s beach bag. We caught up with the best-selling author ahead of her appearance at the seventh annual Nantucket Book Festival on June 15-17 to chat about writing longhand, her love for the island and her latest novel, The Perfect Couple—Hilderbrand’s first murder mystery.
How did you get into writing? I was in second grade and at the end of the year my teacher gave every child in the class an award and mine was the top author award. As soon as she said it, I thought, “Yes, I am an author!” In college, I majored in writing seminars at Johns Hopkins University. I asked one of my professors, “How do you go about becoming a writer? What should I do?” And he said, “You have to go out in the world and live.” So I moved to New York City and then I got a job up in Westchester County. I had a summer off and had grown up spending summers down the Cape, so I thought I would try out Nantucket. I got a room in a house and absolutely fell in love with it and ended up leaving New York and moving to Nantucket in 1994. In the offseason, I decided to travel. I went all over Southeast Asia, New Zealand, Australia. I climbed to Mount Everest base camp and then the second year, I went to South America, the Galapagos and Costa Rica. Feeling like I had sufficiently lived, I applied to the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But when I got to Iowa I was miserable. I missed home, I missed Nantucket and I missed the water. To make myself feel better, I started writing a novel that was set on Nantucket.
Do you normally map out a story ahead of time or dive right in? I dive right in. With my latest book, I didn’t know who did it until I was about two-thirds of the way through. I never know what’s going to happen until it’s happening and I’m writing it. A lot of times, I go in with this vague idea of how I want the book to end, but it’s hardly ever plot points. It’s more like I want a type of outcome, but the specifics are all figured out in the course of the writing. It’s an adventure for me.
What does a typical day of writing look like for you? I write longhand in notebooks, so I always take them with me and I’m always doing work. On a perfect day, I’ll write from 11 to 6, and in that seven hours I’ll get three hours of composing done. That’s what I aim for, but I give myself plenty of leeway because we get distracted, we procrastinate. So I give myself seven hours to get three hours of extremely concentrated, focused work done.
How does the island influence your work?
The island is in every single page. It’s the biggest inspiration in my life—I have such a profound attachment to it. It’s not only the physical aesthetic of Nantucket that I love—which I do—but I also love the community and the relationships that I have with the other people that live here because a lot of times it forms the human drama that is portrayed in my books.
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