Elin, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with The South Shore Moms. Tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up outside of Philadelphia but my family would spend the month of July in Brewster, Mass on the Cape. Those summers were the happiest times of my life. It was my father, my stepmother and their blended family of five children. We rented a cottage on a sandy lane that led to the sound and we had all of these summer traditions — outdoor showers, beach days, grilling out, miniature golf, soft-serve ice cream, falling asleep with sand in the sheets. Then, when I was sixteen, my father was killed in a plane crash and those summers came to an end. I spent my seventeenth summer working in a factory that made Halloween costumes. It was 1986 and I spent 8 hours a day folding Rambo headbands. I made a promise to myself that somehow I would find a way back to the beach. When I graduated from college (Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore) I moved to New York City. I taught 8th grade English — first in the NYC public schools, and then I got a better job teaching in Westchester county (fun fact: the actor Max Greenfield of NEW GIRL was my student that year!). I had the summer between those two years off so I headed back up to the Cape and Islands, specifically Nantucket, where I had rented a room in a house for the summer. And I fell so in love with it that as soon as that second school year was over, I moved to Nantucket permanently. That was in 1994.
Wow, what an incredible story. I’m sorry to hear about your father. I love how you found your happy place at such a young age and made it your mission to get back there. Tell me about your kids.
I have three children. Maxx, 20, is a sophomore at the University of South Carolina. Dawson, 18, is a junior at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, NH. And Shelby, 14, is in eighth grade at the public school on Nantucket.
What is your favorite moment as a mom to date?
All three of my kids are incredible athletes. My best memory was with my oldest, Maxx. When he was 11, he was invited to play on the 12-year old baseball all-star team. After his first or second practice, he was visibly upset when I went to pick him up. When I asked what was wrong, he said “Joey said I didn’t belong on this team because I’m not good enough.” The following year, Maxx was a 12-year old on the 12-year old all star team. The team went to Cooperstown for a week-long tournament and in their final game, Maxx hit three home runs in a row, the last of which was a grand slam. And Joey was there to witness it. It was a moment of such ridiculous poetic justice, I can’t believe it’s real. But yes, it happened.
Ha, Go Maxx! Incredible. What would you say is the toughest part about being a mom?
Everything is tough! But I had a couple of wham-doozy years in there. When the kids were 13, 11 and 7, my husband and I got divorced and I moved out. And then the following year, when the kids were 14, 12 and 8, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I look back, I think: How on earth did we make it through all that? But now, it’s 5+ years later, my ex-husband and I are great friends and I’m healthy. I will also say that traveling when the kids were younger was very difficult. There’s a saying about working moms: When you’re at work, you feel like you should be with the kids. When you’re with the kids, you feel like you should be at work. That is my life.
Wham-Doozy. That’s a good way to put it. What is the best advice you have ever received as a mom?
There is no such thing as a “good” mother. There is only such a thing as a “good enough” mother. And I’m confident that most of us are good enough.
What is the best advice you would like to give to a young mom or a new mom reading this?
Have something of your own: a career, an interest, hobby, purpose. Otherwise it’s just too easy to get subsumed into the house and the kids and losing yourself.
So true. How did you decide to become an author?
In second grade at the end of the year, my teacher gave everyone in our class an award. And my award was the Top Author award. I said to myself, “Yes, I am an author.” Age seven.
Wow. Amazing! What do you love most about writing?
I love bringing Nantucket specifically and summertime in general to people who maybe don’t have a chance to experience summer the way that I do.
I love creating characters and getting to know them. And then pragmatically, I love the freedom that writing novels affords me. I don’t have a boss and I don’t have to report to an office.
What is the toughest part about being a writer?
Everything is tough! When I was at the Iowa Writers Workshop, John Irving came to speak. He said, “If you can do something other than write, do something else.” Writing, much like parenting, means you succeed and fail every day.
It must be such a journey. What was it like becoming a successful writer?
When I graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1991, I went to my writing professor, Madison Smartt Bell, and asked him what to do next if I wanted to be a writer. He said, “Go out in the world and live.” I moved to New York City, worked in publishing for nine months, hated it, then realized what I needed was a job that would give me blocks of time to write. I taught English, first in the NYC public schools, and then in Dobbs Ferry (suburbs). The summer between the two school years, I sublet my apartment and rented a room in a house on Nantucket. The house I lived in was a complete hovel. Now, when I drive my kids past it, they don’t believe I used to live there. Despite this, that summer was revelatory. I fell madly in love with Nantucket and I decided that I wanted to go back to live permanently. That happened the following summer, 1994. I traveled the globe in the off season, backpacking through Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South and Central America. Then, feeling like I had sufficiently “lived,” I applied to graduate school. I attended the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, which is the best writing program in the country — but, guess what, it’s in Iowa. I was miserable. I missed everything about Nantucket and was so depressed that I used to go to therapy every week (it was free for students) and cry. Eventually, I decided I could create my own therapy — and I started writing a novel set on Nantucket. That novel was THE BEACH CLUB. In my final Iowa workshop, my professor invited his agent to the class. The agent asked which one of us lived on Nantucket. I raised my hand and he asked for me to stay after class. (I didn’t want to — my U-Haul was parked in front of my apartment and ready to go!). But thank goodness I did, because that agent, Michael Carlisle took me on as a client (he had grown up spending summer on Nantucket) and he has been my agent for 20 years.
I want to say that just getting my first book, The Beach Club, published did not a successful career make. This happens VERY rarely — let’s say a book like Crawdads, which is a success right out of the blocks. I didn’t have a “break out” book until I switched publishers in 2006. My first five novels sold modestly and I used to cry out of frustration because I didn’t feel like my publisher was promoting them properly (they weren’t). When I wrote Barefoot, my agent suggested we switch publishers and I ended up at Little, Brown. They turned the next 19 books into NYT best sellers, building my career book by book, summer by summer, year by year. This past summer, my novel SUMMER OF ’69 debuted at #1 on the NYTBSL. Dream come true.
◇ ncredible. I love your books, and love knowing so much more about your background now. Tell us about your new book coming out in 2020.
My 2020 novel is called 28 Summers
. It’s based on the play “Same Time Next Year.” A couple gets together every summer on Nantucket for 28 summers. The twist is that the man in the couple is married to a woman who is running for President. Should be very timely for summer 2020! It’s out June 16th.
Can’t wait to read it. Do you have a favorite passage or quote from one of your books?
There’s a passage in my novel BAREFOOT where my main character, Vicki, thinks she’s dying and she tells her sister, Brenda, all the things Brenda will need to do for her kids once Vicki is dead. And then she says, “No one else can do this. To do this, there is only you.” It’s a poignant mom moment and also a poignant sister moment.
Do you have a favorite book?
I will have to add those to my list of books to read during quarantine. Tell us, who inspires you?
I’m inspired by women who succeed on their own merit. Diane von Furstenberg, Lady Gaga, Christine Lagarde, Ann Patchett, Margaret Atwood.
How do you balance being an author and a mother?
Now that I’ve been at it twenty years, I can say that I have eliminated a lot of things in my life that aren’t writing or parenting. Those are my two foci and everything else takes a backseat — the committees and the charities and the friend drama and all the stuff that created white noise in my twenties and thirties, I’ve gotten rid of. It’s liberating.