Author Interview: Hillary Yablon

Meet Hillary Yablon and read more about her and her debut novel, Sylvia’s Second Act (March 2024 – PENGUIN GROUP VIKING – Pamela Dorman Books). 
SYLVIA’S SECOND ACT – Her husband’s cheating on her. She hates Boca. Sylvia is mad and she isn’t going to take it anymore. She’s moving back north, to the city of her dreams—with her best friend, Evie, in tow. Think a screwball comedy featuring a sophisticated Thelma and Louise with martinis in hand . . .

“Yablon’s debut is mostly gentle screwball comedy, with a bit of gravitas. . . A little sex, a lotta laughs in the city.” Kirkus

“[A] delightful debut. . . It’s impossible not to cheer for the strong heroine at the center of Yablon’s savvy story.” —Publishers Weekly

“A satisfying reminder that it’s never too late to start over.” —Booklist

“A first-rate novel of second chances that will have you laughing right from the start. Sylvia will show you that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself, especially if you have a good friend by your side and a cosmopolitan in hand.” —Steven Rowley, New York Times bestselling author of The Celebrants

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Thank you, Hillary, for being here on Henlit Central and sharing what inspired you to write this novel. We all need a second act!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your published book (s).
I was born in Chicago and raised in Highland Park, IL. I attended college at Princeton University and majored in English with a focus in Creative Writing, poetry. I earned my Master’s at John Hopkin University’s The Writing Seminars program for poetry. I also hold a Master’s degree in literature from Boston University. I started writing and publishing poetry in my early 20’s.

I then moved to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting. I signed up for evening classes at UCLA Extension’s screenwriting program. I had an amazing teacher, Michael Weiss, and wrote my first screenplay. This screenplay won a contest and I had the privilege of working with some incredible people as the project developed.

When I sat down to write my next screenplay, I realized that the idea I had – a woman who decides to leave her retirement community and start a new life – was coming to me as a novel. Because I now had a toddler son, I signed up for online courses at UCLA Extension’s fiction writing program because I had never written a novel. I loved taking these classes and wrote the first half of my novel this way over the course of three years, during which a lot of life and death happened. My second son was born and both my parents ultimately passed away.

And then COVID began. But in May 2020, UCLA wrote to me that my manuscript had won the Allegra Johnson Award, which is a writing award for working manuscripts completed through the program. Winning this award gave me fuel and inspiration and I wrote the second half of the novel in six months.

I found so much courage and excitement when writing Sylvia. I also found this to be a cathartic experience. My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in her early 60’s, just as my brother and I were off to college. And instead of enjoying her “next act” with my father and doing the things they dreamed of such as traveling, volunteering, and teaching, they spent the next chapter dealing with doctor’s appointments, broken bones, and surgeries. I wasn’t conscious that I was writing a “different” ending to my mother’s life in writing this book but I certainly can see the psychology after the fact.

Tell us about the genre you like to write, and how is it similar / different from other women fiction genres?
I love to write humorous “book club” fiction because it is my favorite thing to read. I love a novel that makes me laugh. I think my novel stands apart because my hero is an older woman but I do not believe I wrote her as an “older woman”. I wrote her as a woman. And so often, in fiction, women at a certain age are portrayed almost as caricatures. And I wanted both Sylvia and Evie to be women who have life experience but are not cliches. They are people.

What are some of the biggest challenges hen lit authors face today?
I’m not sure. I wonder if people don’t always take it seriously or if men are turned off by it? But I’m not sure that is even a fair statement. Maybe I’ll have more to add after this book comes out but I defer to the authors who have more experience than me on this.

Given the ongoing popularity of chick lit, where do you see hen lit ten years from now?
I hope it’s widely regarded in the way I see it now – fun, entertaining, thought-provoking stories that highlight the human experience.

When did it dawn on you that you wanted to be a writer?
I have wanted to be a writer since I was six years old.

Do you have a day job other than being a writer?
I’ve had plenty of other jobs over the years but currently I do not have a different job aside from being a writer. (I have a non-paying job as a mother.)

What are some things that inspire you to write?
Situations that are both funny and true are things that I like to write about. A moment or a thought or a situation will come to me. It might seem so absurd but the funnier it is, the truer it usually is. That is what excites me to write. In terms of themes, I love to write about people reinventing themselves in order to discover that the person they are searching for is who they have been all along.

What is your typical writing routine like?
I love to write in the morning after my kids go to school.

What kind of message do your book (s) convey to readers?
I hope the message is something like, “It’s never too late.” Or, “If not now, then when?” Or even “Go for it.”

Does your book (s) incorporate certain aspects of your own life (and / or that of others)?
Being a woman, being a mother, being a daughter, being a wife…all of it comes from somewhere, I am sure. My mother loved fashion and that is part of this book. I love fashion as well but you might never know it because as much as I love beautiful clothes, I tend to wear T-shirts like a uniform.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
So many! I love all the authors of Hen lit. I also love contemporary fiction, literary fiction, and thrillers.

Any advice you’d like to give for aspiring writers at this stage in life?
Write. Writers write. And finish. Do not finish an outline and think you have written a book. Get to the end of the book. Just get there. Any way you can, the feeling will give you the confidence to edit, revise, and that other stuff you get to do once you get the first layer down.

Thank you, Hillary! I love love love reading and now writing humorous ‘book club’ fiction too!

Hillary Yablon lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young sons. She is a graduate of Princeton University and earned her MA in poetry from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. This, her debut novel, received the Allegra Johnson Prize at UCLA.

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