Actress and author Hilarie Burton Morgan is releasing her second book, Grimoire Girl, on October 3, 2023.
A grimoire is typically known as a spell book or a textbook of magic. Hilarie describes it as, “a book of life-saving knowledge.” Her spin on the book is a collection of memoir essays, stories from childhood, magical practices, and so much more. “This book is a reminder that we all already have the tools we need to create a magical existence,” she says.
Hilarie shares that Grimoire Girl deals with some “heavy stuff,” including themes of death and grief. Throughout the trajectory of her career, both in the roles that she’s played as an actress and in the books that she’s written, death has been a theme.
“I think there is a constant struggle of how to make sense of it, how to not be afraid of it, and how to honor life so that death doesn’t have the weight that perhaps it could,” she says. Grimoire Girl serves as a candid analysis of how she personally has dealt with death and tragedy in her own life.
“I think gaining a sense of self and understanding of what I want my own legacy to be has really helped me navigate the losses of people that I loved dearly. So if being frank about that is helpful for other people, then I think that’s worth talking about.”
The narrative of her story
When asked if it was difficult to dig deep and share these feelings on paper, Hilarie laughed: “I made my publisher nuts!”
She originally pitched the concept for Grimoire Girl without the element of tragedy. When she sat down to write, there was a “rapid succession of loss” in her life and she struggled to fit that into the narrative of the story.
“How can I write about legacy, how can I write about finding the joy and the magic in life when I’m in deep grief?” she asks. “Fortunately, a number of friends, places, traditions, and habits came to my rescue, so this grimoire became the book of memories and knowledge that kept me going when things became really overwhelming.”
Looking outward and cultivating a sense of self
Hilarie finds it important for her to be look inward and share these stories now. Her manager talked her into joining social media shortly before she wrote Rural Diaries (her first book, published in 2020), and while she found it to be a great tool for cultivating community, she noticed that there was a lot of looking outward and comparison going on as well.
“There are a lot of pretty pictures and curated information out there, and it can feel really bad to see everyone having this wonderful time, a prettier life than you, nicer trips, etc., so looking inward, finding the magic in yourself, and finding the things that you can’t necessarily post a picture of on the Internet are important practices because those qualities are undeniable,” she says. “You can’t take a picture of the thing that fortifies you when you wake up in the morning. I want to help people cultivate that sense of self so that it isn’t necessarily as overwhelming to see see other people’s beautiful things – it’s more of a celebration.”
Partnering with Oblong
Hilarie partnered with Oblong Books, based out of Millerton and Rhinebeck, NY, for the pre-sale of Grimoire Girl. She has a deep connection and relationship with Oblong Books dating back to when she first moved to the Hudson Valley.
“Obviously, when I moved here, they were my hangout. I didn’t know how to do anything at the farm that we bought,” she laughs. “So Oblong Books became my go-to. They’re good at hearing your questions and understanding what you really need.”
Hilarie and Oblong Books offered signed copies of Rural Diaries, and she estimates that they sold around 8,000 books that way. With Grimoire Girl, she did another pre-order of signed books that sold out “almost immediately.”
“I love that people in Australia and Japan order books from Oblong! I love that we were able to collaborate on that. I think it’s so important to protect local small businesses. I love that moving forward we just know it’s a team sport.”
Going on tour
With Grimoire Girl, Hilarie gets to do the book tour that she didn’t get to do with Rural Diaries. She says that each city is going to consist of different readings and different hosts, and that she’s working really hard to curate each individual experience.
“I’m intimidated by this book tour, if I can be frank,” Hilarie laughs. She goes on to explain that while she’s been performing her entire adult life, it’s always “been easy” because someone else has written the script, the copy, or the cue cards.
“When you’re performing your own words and your own ideas, there’s a level of insecurity where you hope that people are going to react well in real time, but you don’t know. All the pressure is on you; there’s nobody else you can blame it on!” Hilarie explains. “It’s exciting to be this far into my career and still be intimidated by things. That’s a good feeling.”
The cities that Hilarie chose for the first leg of the book tour aren’t a coincidence: “It was important for this first push that we go to places that I have a deep connection with,” she says.
Making the rounds
The first stop is on October 4 at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble in New York City, which is significant given that Hilarie says that Tribeca was the first “home of my choice.” She started coming to New York City at age 12 for auditions and immediately fell in love with the city. The guest for the Tribeca stop will be actress and Hilarie’s close friend Danneel Ackles.
Next, the Grimoire Girl book tour comes home to the Hudson Valley and makes a stop at The Bardavon Theater in Poughkeepsie, NY, on October 8. “I get to do the book stop I didn’t get to do with the first book, so we’ll probably mix in a little Rural Diaries energy to honor our beautiful community,” she says.
On October 12, she heads over to the Brookline Booksmith at Arts at the Armory in Boston, MA, to have a conversation with author Alice Hoffman, who is the author of Practical Magic and many, many other novels. Hilarie and her family hid out in Boston during the pandemic because her husband, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, had been filming a movie there. She says that she and Alice Hoffman were supposed to meet for a coffee date during that time but never got the chance because of the pandemic.
“She’s become a really big influence in my life and is who I look to when I think about what I want out of my career going forward,” Hilarie says in reference to Hoffman. “This book stop in Boston is four or five years overdue.”
Finally, on October 14, Hilarie is going back to her alma mater, Park View High School, in Sterling, VA. Hilarie shares that the high school is slated to be torn down in the next few years to make way for a new building. “That’s great. We want that for the kids of Park View, but it will be sad to see the old building go down. So for my friends and me to be able to have this last hurrah in the auditorium where I started doing theater at eight years old, is thrilling,” she says.
Coming home to the Hudson Valley
Given that the concept of home is one of the major themes in Grimoire Girl, Hilarie says that it was only natural to go to all of the places that are home to her in one way or another. “It feels very organic to go to the places that built me.”
Speaking of home, Hilarie and her family feel very lucky to have been welcomed into Rhinebeck and the Hudson Valley. “The community has been wonderful to us. They’re so cool up here and so inclusive. They very easily could’ve been like ‘you’re interlopers, we don’t want you here,’ but instead we got great advice about where to send our son to preschool,” she says. “When we were looking for friends in town, all of the shop owners were lovely. Everyone’s been very inclusive.”
Hilarie and her husband both grew up in small towns, so they’ve always had an appreciation for quintessential small-town communities. She shares that both of their hometowns had big businesses move in that essentially destroyed the small town vibe they had come to love. “My town was 9,000 people when I was a kid. AOL moved in when I was a junior in high school, and now a quarter million people live there. It’s unrecognizable,” she says.
Part of what drew the Burton Morgan clan to the Hudson Valley in the first place was the reminder of home, pre-big business of course. “When we came to this area, it reminded us of the places that we were fortunate enough to grow up in. It was preserved in a way that we wanted to contribute to. We wanted to make sure it’s preserved for our kids, so that there would be a warm and fuzzy place for not just our kids to come home to, but everyone else’s kids too,” she says. “That takes community effort. It takes supporting the mom and pop businesses and the public schools, so it’s an honor to be able to maintain that.”
And support the community they do. Aside from owning and running Samuel’s Sweet Shop in the Village of Rhinebeck, the Burton Morgan have previously partnered with Astor Services to renovate its facilities, they’ve made masks and raised money for businesses during the pandemic, and they’ve bolstered local community events like Sinterklaas.
“Samuel’s Sweet Shop was very important for us to preserve,” she says. “We didn’t want it to turn into a chain restaurant or a franchise. We wanted it to stay specific to Rhinebeck.”
Hilarie shares that even when it came to her books, she sourced local photographers for the cover photoshoots. “For the cover of Grimoire Girl, I didn’t want to go to Manhattan to do a photoshoot. I used Beacon Tintype. I love that guy!”
For Hilarie, the ability to utilize local resources and bolster the Hudson Valley in any way she can is paramount. “Any opportunity we get to profile local resources, that’s what we want to do. We want to continually feed the people who make this place beautiful.” •
Grimoire Girl comes out on October 3, 2023. Tickets to the book tour are available for purchase at harpercollins.com/pages/grimoire-girl.