The Stories Behind Authors Night's Top Writers

By Carrie Doyle | August 11, 2016 | People Feature

From pop culture to couture… Hamptons offers an inside look at four of this summer’s hottest authors who will be under the tents at this weekend’s Authors Night, signing copies of their best-selling books.

Ally Hilfiger
Bite Me: How Lyme Disease Stole My Childhood, Made Me Crazy and Almost Killed Me

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Designer Tommy Hilfiger’s daughter Ally recounts her emotional and physical battle against illness in her honest and poignant memoir, Bite Me: How Lyme Disease Stole My Childhood, Made Me Crazy and Almost Killed Me. Heartbreaking and heartwarming, Hilfiger’s prose is ultimately helpful and hopeful.

What prompted you to write this book?
I had been sick for so long and had no idea why I was experiencing so many physical symptoms. We finally figured out that it was Lyme disease after dealing with it for 23 years. I thought, My story really has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Now that I have perspective, I think the reason I got sick was to help people and spread awareness. And maybe my incredibly crazy story will benefit others and help to find a cure and hopefully save other people.

Before you were diagnosed with Lyme disease, what did they think you had? Many of the doctors around me were brushing it off or said I might have rheumatoid arthritis, and no one gave me a real solution. A lot of years I shut my mouth, but in retrospect, maybe if I had spoken up more it would have been a better idea. My parents did everything they could, but it was really the doctors who were not helping diagnose me. Finally Dr. Ellyn Shander, the psychiatrist at Silver Hill Hospital, put the pieces together.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on awareness and education around this book, and hopefully we can continue to share the book with people in different ways. I’m a very creative person, I have a lot on my horizon, and that was one of the things that motivated me to get healthy. I’ve always worked, since I was 11 years old, and I’m excited to see what my next thing will be. Right now I’m working with the Global Lyme Alliance and Project Lyme. They have made a lot of progress, and it’s very encouraging.

What is your plan for your upcoming visit to the Hamptons?
I love the Hamptons. It’s really charming and beautiful. Growing up, we went to Bridgehampton. For Authors Night weekend, I plan to visit some friends, go to the beach, and wear lots of tick spray!

Michael Gross
Focus: The Secret, Sexy, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers

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Best-selling author Michael Gross is back with another provocative nonfiction book that is already making waves. This time he’s turning his lens on fashion photographers in a dishy new book, Focus: The Secret, Sexy, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers. Fans of his previous work will not be disappointed.

What gave you the idea for this book?
Twenty-one years ago, I published a big best seller called Model, and ever since then my wife has been telling me I need to write a sequel. I said there is no sequel because how do you match characters like Eileen Ford and John Casablancas? And I didn’t want to write the same book, just set in a different time. But then I thought, What if you did Model but you turned the camera around? And suddenly I was writing.

How is the photography world different from the fashion world?
The golden years have ended. Film is over. Fashion magazines are facing an existential crisis. Fashion has become this big-brand, big-money thing rather than a haven for quirky individualists. Celebrity has overtaken everything. Digital has changed the medium, and now it is a different métier than it was 10 years ago. I didn’t realize until I was writing Focus that, unlike many of my books, this story had an end. Fashion photography of the 21st century is not yet definable.

How did you decide which photographers to include?
The first thing I considered when starting this book was, Who should it open with? Who is the fashion photographer of the moment? I made lists; I called magazine editors and gallerists and people from fashion brands and photographers I knew and asked them, “Who matters now?” There were lots of names, but only one name jumped out of the pack: Terry Richardson. (This was just before all the scandals about Terry burst into view again.) Terry is sui generis and the most interesting photographer working now.

Are you looking forward to Authors Night?
I’ve never done Authors Night, and I’m so excited. I have looked at it quite enviously for a number of years, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a book so perfectly timed.

William Norwich
My Mrs. Brown

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Noted author and editor William Norwich has dazzled with his second novel, My Mrs. Brown, an elegant morsel reminiscent of Edith Wharton’s novellas. This book is certain to be tucked into fancy beach bags all over the East End this summer.

This is your second novel, your first having been published 18 years ago. What inspired you to write this one?
I’m always writing fiction. I completed a novel I didn’t like, and I vowed I was going to be done. Then, about nine years ago, I read Mrs. Arris Goes to Paris, by Paul Gallico. It was published in 1958, and it stirred my imagination. It’s about a charwoman in London who after all the darkness of WWII, the Blitz, and having had nothing, no silk and no flowers—she is cleaning and she sees a chiffon floral evening dress that she becomes completely besotted with. I thought, Who would that woman in the US be now? What would the dress be? So it began as an intellectual challenge, but then Mrs. Brown started to come through as a character.

What fashion items inspire women today?
Given the propaganda of the red carpet and the pressure on people to look a certain way, the height of style that seems to trickle down is an evening dress. Not everyone can live on Meadow Lane and afford an evening dress, so I thought a lot about what would be equally empowering: Would it be for a cleaning woman to own an exquisitely tailored suit and go to a board meeting?

How did you pick Oscar de la Renta as the designer of the dress Mrs. Brown would covet?
It was important for me that it be an American designer. In Europe, it would be Chanel. But all of these people like Laura Bush and Mrs. Kennedy and Brooke Astor and all these ladies and philanthropists and working women all owned an Oscar de la Renta black suit, and that’s how I decided that he would be the designer of choice.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything

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Pop culture expert, journalist, and author Jennifer Keishin Armstrong reminds us just why Seinfeld was America’s favorite sitcom in her new book, Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything. This in-depth behind-the-scenes journey into everything Seinfeld will answer every question you ever had about the show.

It’s been 18 years since Seinfeld ended its run. Why did you decide to write about it now?
There are not many shows that are quite as influential in our modern landscape as Seinfeld. It continues to have a really huge influence on what we see on TV and it lives on. If you count syndication, it’s never been off the air since 1989.

Why do you think it was so popular?
They did a lot of innovative things, one of which was to elevate the art of television with the idea that TV could be sophisticated. They stripped their comedy down where it’s not about feelings and relationships; it’s just about comedy and being funny.

Is it surprising that it was so huge?
The fact that the four characters were unlikable people is the part that is the most surprising, and that’s why networks didn’t think it would work at first. The main characters don’t care if you like them, they’re not trying to be likable, and this precipitated the rise of the antihero, and ushered in the era of the Sopranos, Mad Men, et al.

What’s your favorite episode?
I love a lot of Elaine stuff; I love the sponge-worthy episode because it’s so full of Elaine and very feminist. The Chinese restaurant one is great because that’s the first episode where they started to get really weird and avant-garde; there is basically no plot. After that one, they really got their groove.

Authors Night takes place Saturday, August 13, at East Hampton Library, 4 Maidstone Lane, East Hampton. A series of intimate dinner parties for ticketed guests will be held later that evening at private residences throughout the Hamptons. Visit authorsnight.org for more information and tickets.

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