During the summer in Bethany Beach, DE, it's not uncommon to see long lines at the boardwalk, usually for an ice cream cone that will melt too fast or a bucket of salty French fries.
Even a local waiter was stunned by the 400-person line at Bethany Beach Books on one evening in the middle of June. But for author Elin Hilderbrand, that is just a typical stop for her on one of her book tours. So, after a four-hour signing for her latest novel, The Hotel Nantucket, she had one thing on her mind: Finding a lobster roll.
Dubbed the queen of the beach read, it felt fitting that I ended up talking with a perfectly tanned Hilderbrand over the summer staple, complete with a side of fries—with mayo, of course. In fact, it felt like a scene pulled right from one of her books, two women sharing stories and wisdom over greasy food at an oceanfront restaurant.
Full disclosure: Our interview was initially supposed to be about a day in the life for the New York Times-best-selling author while she is on one of her stacked book tours. And it felt like kismet that she was making her 10th consecutive appearance in Bethany Beach, where my family owns a home.
Called "The Quiet Resort" among the Delaware beaches, I've spent a lot of time in the small beach town since the pandemic relocated me from my sunlight apartment in Los Angeles to my childhood bedroom on Long Island. It has become my escape and my adventure, which has culminated in arguably my deepest phase of self-reflection, about what I want to do with my life and where I want to do it. And that's what a majority of my two hour-talk with Hilderbrand was unexpectedly about.
Yes, reader, one of the world's most beloved authors inadvertently became my life coach for the evening, as the current that is pulling me toward a quieter, simpler life by the beach is the same tide that made Hilderbrand permanently move from New York City to Nantucket in 1994 after falling in love with the island the previous summer.
"You get there and it just feels different," Hilderbrand, 52, told me when I asked what it specifically was about the 4-mile wide, 2-mile long strip off Cape Cod that made her never want to leave. "You pull into the harbor and it just feels special. There' are no chain stores, there are no street lights, everything is aesthetically beautiful. It's like something out of a storybook, honestly."
As she described it, I felt a twinge of jealousy and a touch of wistfulness in my stomach, knowing that at the ripe old age of 24, Hilderbrand was able to leave behind the promise of a big city for a smaller life, no pandemic-induced existential crisis required. At 33 years old, my feelings about where I should live flip more than a steak on a hot grill. One day, I miss my life in L.A. so much it hurts. The next, I am deliriously happy taking photos of a sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean at 5:30 a.m.
"What was that transition like, going from New York, a place where if you stop moving for a second you feel like you are going to get left behind, to that slower pace of life?" I selfishly asked. "Part of me feels like if I don't go back to L.A. I am giving up on something. What if that is the most interesting thing about me, that I spent a decade there?"
Her answer was painfully simple: "I knew I wanted to be there."
My response: "But how?"
So, this kind of word vomit is not usually how interviews operate and as I was spilling my guts, my inner voice was telling me to stop talking about my tri-life crisis and ask this very busy, very accomplished woman about her career.
Yet Hilderbrand began inquiring about my life, asking how I ended up falling in love with a small beach town in Delaware, how did I make so many friends there, my goals for my career. "What do you really want to do?" she pressed, genuinely interested in hearing me work through that, one mayo-covered French fry at a time.
And later, when we somehow started talking about my love life, Hilderbrand put on her glasses to properly assess my suitor—"So cute," she said approvingly—before telling me to have my "hot girl summer."
But, as it turned out, I was not the only woman sitting at the table at a crossroads in her life.
Last year, Hilderbrand announced she would be retiring from writing her Nantucket-based novels come 2024. The Nantucket Hotel, which came out on June 14, is her 25th book set in her beloved hometown and, with two books left in her contract, she is ready to say goodbye to it on paper.
"I've done a lot of things," Hilderbrand explained. "To keep coming up with new different ideas that are going to make a better propulsive read is just hard."
Given that she does 40 speaking engagements a year, she is well aware that her devoted fans are less than thrilled with her decision.
"Everyone is freaking out," she said. "I want to say to them, 'I am doing this for you guys, because I want the books to be quality and I want you to love them and I know if I keep going I am going to fail at some point.'"
And she is ready for the next adventure off-island, on her own terms.
"I can do whatever I want," Hilderbrand said. "I may actually write another Nantucket book, but I don't have to do it on a contract. It will be so much better for me if I want to take a year off, if I want to do something different, write a city book or a different place."
In fact, she's already booked a trip to a new literary setting, teaming up with her 16-year-old daughter Shelby to co-write a novel based on her experience at the teen's "very fancy" boarding school.
"The stories I could tell you!" she said with delight. "I talk to her six times a day and there's so much drama. I said, 'We are writing a novel about boarding school.' So she is going to do the point of views of the students and I am going to do the teachers and parents."
In addition to the project with her youngest, Hilderbrand also revealed several of her books—including The Hotel Nantucket, Summer of '69, The Matchmaker—have been optioned by film studios to be adapted for television, while one just got the greenlight to be made into a six-part miniseries.
Longtime readers have waited more than 20 years to see one of her novels make the transition from page to screen, and Hilderbrand predicted the wait will be worth it.
"Once one thing gets made and they see Nantucket on the screen and people freak out about it, which they will," she said. "things will go more quickly."
Despite my oversharing, Hilderbrand resisted telling me which book is the one that will begin filming next March, though she did later divulge the loose storyline for a thriller she wants to write about a missing woman, once she figures out how to tell that tale.
"I don't know how," the author who's sold 10 million books and counting said.
Because not everyone has the answers to everything.
The Hotel Nantucket is available wherever you buy books.