FACES OF CAPE COD – Elin Hilderbrand, Author

Photo by Nina Subin

Year-round Nantucket resident and New York Times best-selling author Elin Hilderbrand is also the mother of three, a cancer survivor, an exercise fanatic, a healthy eater, a bike rider, a scribbler and a dreamer. She uses the sandy dunes, beaches and pathways of Nantucket as a playground for inspiration, as well as a backdrop for her best-selling, beach-read novels.

What’s a beach-read novel? It’s a book you can easily carry with you and delve into at the beach, or the lake, or while lying in a hammock in your yard, or reclining on a comfy deck chair. They are the types of books you can hardly bring yourself to put down once you’re into them. And Hilderberand is the Queen of the beach reads.

“Growing up, my family rented a house off 6A in Brewster,” she said. “We enjoyed idyllic summers – long beach days, and nights of fried clams, mini golf, ice cream, star-gazing and going to bed with sand in the sheets.” But, such a picturesque childhood couldn’t last forever.

“The November after my 16th summer, my father was killed in a plane crash and, the following summer, I had to get a job. I worked in a factory that made Halloween costumes,” she said. “As I spent eight hours a day folding ‘Rambo’ headbands, and bemoaning my reversal of fortune, I swore that no matter what I did with my life, I would find a way to spend every summer at the beach.”

Hildrebrand went to the John’s Hopkins University where she majored in creative writing, before moving to New York, where she stayed for three years. “First I was working in publishing because I thought that was how one became a writer (wrong), and then I became certified to teach. I taught one year in the NYC public schools, then got a better job in Westchester County. I had the summer off in between.”

Remembering her vow, she decided to spend the summer on Nantucket. “I fell in love with the island immediately. I did return to teach in Westchester, but it was only one year before I moved to Nantucket permanently.” She has now lived there for around 25 years.

“After two summers on Nantucket and winters spent traveling, I attended graduate school at the Iowa writers’ workshop,” she said. “I hated Iowa and I missed Nantucket. They offered therapy at the university and I would go and cry – until I realized my best therapy would be writing a novel set in Nantucket.” From these circumstances, her first novel, “The Beach Club,” was written.

“My first novel, ‘The Beach Club,’ was published in 2000,” she said. “My twenty-second novel, ‘Winter in Paradise,’ will be released in October.” Not too shabby at all.

Hilderbrand said she used to get excited about writerly milestones, such as hitting the NYT best seller list or appearing on national television. But now she gains satisfaction when she realizes that she’s providing people with comfort or joy.

“I have women message me to say they have just started chemotherapy and they brought my novel with them and it provided an escape. When someone is choosing your book as a comfort on their most difficult day, that’s when the job feels the most worthwhile,” she said.

She begins each day by jogging on Nantucket’s bike paths and then goes straight to her barre class (these are ballet-inspired fitness classes). “During the day I go to the beach or write by my pool. I love to cook; I’m a devoted foodie. And I’m an avid reader. But the exercise, the love of Nantucket’s physical beauty, the cooking and the reading are all just extensions of my job – which ultimately is to depict the Nantucket lifestyle for my readers.”

About Ann Luongo

Ann Luongo has been writing for Cape Cod and South Shore publications for over 15 years.

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