Three Questions for Author Hillary Fogelson

The three-time melanoma survivor, mother and author of “Pale Girl Speaks: A Year Uncovered” tells us about her Pale Girl campaign, writing her book, and raising her daughters as sunscreen ambassadors.

When did you first decide you wanted to write a book about your experiences with skin cancer?
A couple of months after I had surgery, I started journaling. It was just a way for me to vent. I thought I would turn it into a play or a one-woman show, but as I wrote it felt more like a book. For a year I kept writing. This was when I was 25, 26. Then I put it away. I felt like I had written the whole thing except for the last chapter. I wrote it for myself. I put it away in my office closet. 10 years after my diagnosis, I took it out again. Not a lot of progress had been made in education about melanoma, especially for young people. This was the end of 2010. I thought ‘I want to finish it.’ I woke up one morning and I knew the end. I couldn’t have written the end 12 years ago.

The book has an unconventional format, more a screenplay then a regular book. What inspired you to write it in that way?
It came out of being an actor and writing plays. I like dialogue for the feeling it gives you of being there. When you read dialogue, you put yourself there and add details as you go. I was nervous about the format. No one really writes a book that way, but we found a publisher who was excited about it and how it allowed you to be in the moment and embrace the eccentricity.

How are you trying to change people’s thinking about being safe in the sun?
I learned from having young girls. I want to keep sun protection simple and practical. I try to find the easiest, fastest, best ways for parents to protect their kids and themselves. There are zinc-based products for kids, but it’s like applying tooth paste. Start routines really young. It’s like you wear your seatbelt in the car, you wear sunscreen when you go out. My daughters, who are six and eight, have given over to it. They’re like my mini ambassadors. On play dates and at school events, if their friends aren’t putting on sunscreen or a kid comes to school with a sunburn, they decide that they need to have a talk. I want to keep increasing awareness. I want to look back in 10 years and think that I made even a small difference in the way that people think about sunscreen.