Hilderbrand’s Winter Storms, an Intimate Experience
An exclusive AUTHORLINK interview with Elin Hilderbrand
Columnist Anna Roins
by Elin Hilderbrand
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From New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand, ‘Queen of the Beach Read’ takes her readers in a new direction with her Winter Street Trilogy. It’s set during the Christmas holidays on her beloved homeland of Nantucket, the charming and unique island 48 km south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
An instant national best seller, Winter Storms (Little, Brown and Company, 4 October 2016) continues the heart-warming story of the Quinns as they run a failing inn on the island.
AUTHORLINK: Ms Hilderbrand, thank you for your sharing your time with us today to discuss the third book in your Winter Street series, Winter Storms. You have been dubbed the ‘Queen of the Beach Read’, yet this series has been set during Christmas. What made you decide to write these winter stories?
HILDERBRAND: Back in the summer of 2013, my publisher called to say they’d had a Christmas book fall of their list and they asked if I could write a Christmas book in four weeks. At that time, I was in the middle of writing THE MATCHMAKER, which is a sad, engrossing novel and I didn’t want to lose momentum, so I said no. However, the idea of a Christmas novel took seed in my mind and I dreamt up the Quinn family.
|“Once that series reaches its conclusion, I want to do something different.”|
AUTHORLINK: Your books are set on your home island of Nantucket, off the coast of Massachusetts. You love it there because of its simple, wholesome lifestyle. There are no shopping malls or traffic lights. It has cobblestoned streets, Quaker meetinghouses and pristine beaches. You also like to alternate locations within the novels and have featured Australia, Vietnam and Morocco in a few. We understand one other place that has inspired you to set a novel is Saint John of the Virgin Islands. What makes this place also special to you? Do you think you might ever change the original setting of Nantucket in your novels to another town or country one day? Or is it simply a matter of writing about what you love?
HILDERBRAND: I’m presently writing the “fourth book of the trilogy” WINTER SOLSTICE. Once that series reaches its conclusion, I want to do something different. I want to write a different kind of beach book, a tropically-inspired trilogy set in the United States Virgin Islands. These books will come out in the cold weather months, in time for people’s escape vacations. I myself go to St John for five weeks each winter as a writing retreat. I rent a small villa and do nothing but write on the beach. I love St John for the same reasons I love Nantucket. It’s small, removed, hard to get to, and much of the island is preserved so visitors can enjoy the natural beauty. It has beautiful beaches, great restaurants and a warm, welcoming community.
AUTHORLINK: It sounds wonderful. The language you use in your novels has an ‘everyday’ feel to it, like your listening to your best-friend give you the latest over coffee (or champagne!). This makes reading your books an intimate and unique experience. In Winter Storm, we continue to learn about the Quinn family and identify equally with their struggles, as well as their triumphs. Do you think this is part of the secret of your success?
HILDERBRAND: Oh absolutely. If you, the reader, don’t relate to the characters, you won’t care about them. I always give my characters plenty of flaws so that they become sympathetic. I feel like I specialize in characters who made egregious mistakes but who are lovable nonetheless.
AUTHORLINK: Yes, you do. In continuation of the above, you once said that you do not strive to write “anything that needs to be decoded or will take a lot of brain power but something that is better than your average fluffy beach read and is more serious, with more complicated characters.” Do you feel you have achieved this in all your books? Is there another genre you would like to try?
HILDERBRAND: Not another genre. I feel like the measures I’m taking in expanding my season (to winter) and in the future my location (to the Caribbean) will be growth enough. I want to excel across the board. The difficulty in my job lies in providing exactly what my readers expect each time, only completely differently each time.
|“I won’t lie: I struggled with my first five novels at St Martin’s. The books weren’t championed there . . .”|
AUTHORLINK: How important is it to be compatible with your publishing house, in your opinion? You were a solid midlist author with five St. Martin’s titles behind you when your current publisher, Little, Brown and Company, an imprint of Hatchette, took you on in 2007. Suddenly, your first four novels that hadn’t sold very well skyrocketed retrospectively. They refreshed your book covers and arranged summer-only release dates. Looking back over at your career, is there anything you might have done differently?
HILDERBRAND: I won’t lie: I struggled with my first five novels at St Martin’s. The books weren’t championed there, but I was too new to the business to realize that. When I moved to Hachette, my entire life changed. They took me on with a goal: to bring Elin Hilderbrand to the world. I think even Hachette is surprised how amazingly well we’ve done. And now, my first five novels sell as well as any of the others. I’ve even written a sequel chapter to my third novel, SUMMER PEOPLE, and it has been re-released.
AUTHORLINK: That’s brilliant. Reagan Arthur is the editor of your books and the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Little, Brown and Company. She has worked with Kate Atkinson, Tina Fey, George Pelecanos and Ian Rankin to name a few. She said your books have a “great aspirational quality” paired with a “really smart” sense of story. How difficult is it for you to edit your work after her input? Have you ever disagreed? Can you give us an example?
HILDERBRAND: Never disagreed. Reagan is always right. I only take input from Reagan, her assistants, and my agents. That’s it. The edits she suggests are hard to describe but one good example is this: When I turned in my novel BEAUTIFUL DAY, there were no excerpts from the notebook in it. Reagan said, “Well, first of all, you have to include excerpts from the notebook.” And I didn’t want to because that entailed, essentially, writing a book within the book. But because Reagan is always right, I did it and it made that novel what it is.
|“I do let the novels unfold along the way without too much planning.”|
AUTHORLINK: Great. We understand you do not map out your novels. How soon into your first draft can you tell your plot is developing the way it should? Have you ever written yourself into a corner?
HILDERBRAND: Oh sure. There are plenty of times when I get halfway through a scene and think, This is not the direction I want to go. So I scrap it and start over. But yes, I do let the novels unfold along the way without too much planning. I try to let the characters tell me what happens next. That sounds flaky. What I mean is I try not to over-plot.
AUTHORLINK: A few years ago, you were diagnosed with breast cancer and endured a double mastectomy followed by a life-threatening infection at the reconstruction stage. The demographic for this disease and your readers are one in the same: women aged primarily between 25 and 65. During your treatment, your daughter came up with the phrase “Mama Strong”, which has now become part of your website, #MamaStrong. Women who have breast cancer, or love someone who has breast cancer, can tell their story on your site. Your publisher then sends copies of your book to their treatment centre, which is a generous and inclusive gesture. Did sharing your experience help you heal and get you through this difficult time? Do you feel you will write about a character that has breast cancer one day in one of your future novels? Or is too soon?
HILDERBRAND: I was diagnosed with breast cancer three weeks before the release of my novel THE MATCHMAKER, which bizarrely had a main character who was diagnosed with cancer out of the blue. The coincidence and the timing were too much to ignore, so I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post disclosing news of my diagnosis. And I am so glad I did. I respect people who want to battle alone with only close loved ones. But sharing my diagnosis and my treatment was the greatest thing I think I’ve ever done for myself. I have heard from SO many women – women who have been through it and women who are, now, going through it. In 2016, I gave four breast cancer awareness talks. I went through it, it was awful but guess what? I survived. And now I’m better than ever. I may write about it down the road. I probably will. But I don’t over-plot, so I’m not sure when.
AUTHORLINK: You’re an inspiration. Now for a light-hearted question; given the choice of any two people in the world, whom would you want as dinner guests and why, and what would you serve?
HILDERBRAND: I would invite Bruce Springsteen and Tim Winton. Bruce needs no introduction and no explanation: He’s the Boss and I’ve been a huge fan since I was a teenager. Funny story (I never tell this)…I got asked on my first car date at the beginning of tenth grade. I was thrilled – but I had already committed to babysit. The dad I was babysitting for was going to see Bruce at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. I was hoping the dad would get home in a timely manner so I could go on my car date later. But, alas, Bruce played for four hours that night and I had to postpone the car date to the following night. That should have made me dislike Bruce Springsteen but instead, weirdly, it bonded me to him. He became a part of my growing up that night and he’s still a part of it now. Tim Winton is a western Australian writer whom no one in America has ever heard of, but he is my favourite writer of all time. Here’s a gift: go buy THE RIDERS or DIRT MUSIC. You’ll thank me.
|“ I don’t over-plot so I don’t yet know exactly what will happen!“|
AUTHORLINK: We’re sure. Thank you for that. Finally, we understand you’re working on your fourth Winter Street book, Winter Solstice, which is also a sequel to The Rumour (Little, Brown and Company, 16 June 2015). Can you tell us a bit about it?
HILDERBRAND: It’s a double sequel, yes. We’ll continue with the Quinn family and also find out what is happening with Fast Eddie, Grace and the twins from THE RUMOR. There will be intermingling. There will be holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I’m in the midst of writing it now so I can’t say much more than that. I don’t over-plot so I don’t yet know exactly what will happen!
AUTHORLINK: Terrific! We’re looking forward to it. Ms Hilderbrand, it was such a pleasure to talk to you. We wish you all the very best for your health, the happiness of your family and the continued success of your wonderful books.
HILDERBRAND: Thank you! Pleasure has been all mine.
|About the Author:|
Elin Hilderbrand is the New York Times bestselling author of seventeen novels including WINTER STREET and HERE’S TO US. All of her novels take place on the beautiful island of Nantucket.
Her eighteenth and most recent novel, WINTER STORMS, is the latest instalment in the Winter Street series. Elin is the mother of three children and is a two-year breast cancer survivor.
|About Anna Roins:|
Anna Roins is a lawyer, previously of the Australian Government Solicitor, as well as a freelance journalist who writes about social and community issues and has edited dissertations, websites, and books.
She has continued her studies in creative literature with The University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London.
Anna is currently writing her first novel and is a regular contributor to AUTHORLINK assigned to conduct interviews with best-selling authors.
Categorised in: Interviews
This post was written by Anna Roins