Author: Jackie Cangro

Author, workshop leader, animal lover, and connoisseur of red velvet cake trying to live more deliberately.

Author Interview: Jill Santopolo, The Light We Lost

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo is one of the novels I was most looking forward to reading this year. It did not disappoint! Weeks after finishing, I am still thinking about the main characters, Gabe and Lucy, and the larger implications of “following your passion.”


The Light We Lost, by Jill SantopoloMe Before You
meets One Day in this devastatingly romantic debut novel about the enduring power of first love with a shocking, unforgettable ending. A Love Story for a new generation.

He was the first person to inspire her, to move her, to truly understand her. Was he meant to be the last?

Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.

I reached out to Jill and she so kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her novel and the writing life. What a thrill to have her here today!


JC: What was your starting point for The Light We Lost? Did you come to this story with the main character, Lucy, in mind? Was it one particular scene? How did you build from there?

JS: The starting point for The Light We Lost was actually an emotional one. I’d just gone through a terrible break-up—the sort that turns your entire life and your entire future upside down—and I was trying to figure out a way to handle all of those emotions. The way I ended up doing it was writing vignettes about another woman who was going through a different break-up than I was. Lucy’s story is not my story, but the emotions she experiences—the anger, the sorrow, the hurt, the betrayal, the love, the hope, the regret—all of those were feelings I was experiencing and that’s where this book started.

JC: Certainly one important theme of the book is light—from carrying a torch to illuminating secrets. For me, another important theme emerged—the choice between trailblazing one’s passion and following a more traditional path. Lucy and Gabe determine that it’s difficult to have two trailblazers in one relationship. They would sort of cancel each other out. Can you speak to this a bit? Was this your initial intention or did it develop while you were writing?

JS: I didn’t initially write the book with that point in mind, but I did know that I wanted Lucy’s career to be important to her, and I wanted her, in the end, not to compromise it for any of the men she was with. I think, especially living in New York City with so many ambitious, driven people, it’s easy to end up in a situation in which one person would have to compromise their career for the success of their partner’s, and I wanted to explore that—and what it means for women, particularly, to make these kinds of choices.

JC: I found Lucy’s emotions to be so rich—layered and complex. Sometimes she was managing conflicting emotions and trying to reconcile the gap between the two. This was made even more poignant because the story spans about fifteen years as we move from Lucy’s college days through marriage, parenthood, and career. Do you have any suggestions for writers about how to create a protagonist with this kind of far-reaching emotional depth? 

JS: Thank you for that! I’m so glad you felt connected to Lucy emotionally. I think the best way to write characters that feel emotionally deep and multi-layered is to create character who, themselves, seem three-dimensional and multi-layered on the page. I always say that when I know a character I’m writing well, I can predict what that character would do in any given situation—I know what makes that character tick, what motivates them, scares them, frustrates them, and what they need to be happy. Once you can do that, I think the emotions just fall into place.

JC: Expanding a bit on the question above, I loved how you were able to create well-rounded characters of the two important men in Lucy’s life—Gabe and Darren. Neither man is all or nothing. Both are supportive but also limiting for her in different ways. So many writers find it challenging to develop supporting characters with such nuance. Can you share how you developed these characters so they didn’t feel like cardboard cut-outs?

JS: I think in the same way that I got to know Lucy, I got to know both men, figuring out what was important to them and what motivated their decisions and actions. Once I did that, the characters started to feel real. And their relationships with Lucy started to feel real, too. I knew from the start that I didn’t want either of them to be perfect, and I wanted to leave room for readers to think about the complexities of love and relationships, not just in The Light We Lost, but in their own lives, too. In creating Darren and Gabe, I wanted to make sure that they each fulfilled a certain need that Lucy had, but that neither of them fulfilled all of her needs and desires.

JC: I’m always interested in learning how other writers protect their time. How do you carve out time to write with all of your other commitments?

JS: This is always the struggle, isn’t it. I’ve found two tricks that help me get writing done: One is literally scheduling writing time in my calendar like any other plan, and then not “canceling” it when something else comes along, and the other is giving myself word count targets each day or each week that I make myself hit, even if it means waking up early or staying up late or writing on the subway as I’m traveling somewhere else. I basically make myself accountable to myself and don’t want to let myself down.

The Light We Lost is available through Amazon, B&NIndieBound or your favorite bookstore near you!


Jill SantopoloJill Santopolo received a BA in English literature from Columbia University and an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’s the author of The Light We Lost, an epic love story that will be published in 29 languages in more than a hundred countries across the globe, as well as three children’s and young-adult series–The Sparkle Spa, The Alec Flint Mysteries, and the Follow Your Heart books–and works as the editorial director of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers group. An adjunct professor in The New School’s MFA program, Jill travels the world to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City. You can visit her online at www.jillsantopolo.com or follow her on Twitter @jillsantopolo. 


BEFORE YOU GO

  1. If you’ve ever wanted to take an online writing course but weren’t sure which cThe Loft Literary Centerourse was right for you, check out the Summer Sampler at The Loft Literary Center.

Over four weeks, you will get a taste of several online classes, hosted by different teachers (including yours truly!) in different genres. I’ll be teaching a three-day session on descriptive writing. The cost is only $80 (a steal, really), and the program starts June 5. Registration is open now. 

2. Some big changes are going to be happening around these parts, including a new look and more online writing courses. What is scariest for me is moving to a new URL. I’ll be packing up my WordPress.COM bags and heading over to WordPress.ORG. I’ve been here for over seven years! But it’s time to take the plunge. I want to keep you informed when the time comes, so I’ve started a newsletter. I’ll be sharing writing tips, discounts on future class offerings and updates on how the new site is going. I’d love it if you’d sign up. As a thank-you, I’m offering my short editing checklistThis is one of the checklists I use when editing fiction writing. Thanks so much for your support! 

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday Five

It’s been too long since I’ve shared a Friday Five! Here are some things that caught my interest recently.

1.Someday, a two-minute video from The Minimalists.

 

2. Georgia O’Keeffe.  The Brooklyn Museum has put together a wonderful exhibit on Georgia O’Keeffe’s life and work. It is excellently curated, focusing on the connection between creativity, her strong sense of self, and place. Her first exhibition took place at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927, so it feels appropriate that her work return here all these years later.

This photo of her was taken by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, in 1920. She was about 33. The placard states that Stieglitz preferred photographing her from a low vantage point “highlighting her audacity in dressing so that her gender was obscured or, one might say, appeared simultaneously male and female.”

The exhibit is open through July. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend it.

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3. My new BFF. Don’t ask me how I lucked out, but I attended a cooking demonstration hosted by Deb Perelman. Within minutes, Deb had me and forty other slightly crazed Smitten Kitchen fans laughing and clapping, feeling like we were old friends.

She seemed exactly like she does on her blog—charming and self-effacing and funny. When I got to speak to her one-on-one, I went all fan girl and told her that I made her pecan pie for Thanksgiving and the crust was delicious, all light and flaky, and browned perfectly, but I had a problem with the filling being too runny and what would she suggest to fix that, maybe a higher oven temperature or cutting back on the golden syrup and as long as I was on the subject, should I toast the pecans? It was that embarrassing. I took my sample slice of sour cream crumb cake and slinked off into the crowd.

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4. Move over cronut, there’s a new sweet in town. Cookie Do sells just what you think—scoops of unbaked cookie dough. After being told by two bouncers at the door wearing headsets (no joke) that the line started waaay back around the corner, I wasn’t sure I was going to wait. The website says that when they’ve sold out, they close up shop for the day. I chanced it, and just as I was about to give up hope, I made it in. I got two scoops—peanut butter snickerdoodle and chocolate dream. Why spend an hour in line for something you can buy in tubes at the grocery store? Well…okay, I don’t really have a good answer for that, except to say that it was heavenly… little gobs of butter and crunchy bits of sugar with chocolate and peanut buttery deliciousness.

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5.Zen Pencils. I’ve enjoyed Gav’s comics over at Zen Pencils for a few years now. He is an illustrator who creates “cartoon quotes from inspirational folks.” In honor of Dr. Jane Goodall’s 82nd birthday on April 3 and Earth Day on April 22, I’m sharing one of my favorite Zen Pencils comics “The Power of One.” Below is a partial clip, and this link will take you to the complete comic in its entirety. While you’re there, also check out Gav’s latest comic dedicated to Frida Kahlo. I never realized just how much physical pain she endured for most of her life.

189_goodall_01

 

Coming soon: an interview with author Jill Santopolo. Stay tuned! 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

Seven Books I Can’t Wait to Read

The stacks of books on my nightstand grow ever taller, but here are a few books I just can’t wait to read.

Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng.  Well, thank goodness for this. Celeste Ng’s new book will be out in September. It’s so far away, the cover image isn’t even ready yet, but what a gem to look forward to this fall. The book explores “the weight of long-held secrets, the nature of belonging, the ferocious pull of motherhood—and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.”

 

9780316154727_p0_v3_s192x300Theft by Finding, by David Sedaris. I’m a David Sedaris completist. Even if this turns out to be a list of food he ate, I will read it. And it will be hilarious. This collection will be out in May. Mark your calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

30107561Perfect Little World, by Kevin Wilson. In his new novel, Wilson introduces us to Isabelle Poole, a pregnant teen who agrees to raise her child in an experimental collective called The Infinite Family. I enjoyed Wilson’s quirky style and compassionate voice in his debut novel, The Family Fang.

 

 

 

 

30268062Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. It’s his debut novel, but George Saunders’s achievements in nonfiction are many. The story is about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the beginning of the Civil War. And, as if this doesn’t sound interesting enough, there are ghosts!

 

 

31941884The Light We Lost, by Jill Santopolo. The Light We Lost is described as One Day meets Me Before You with an unforgettable ending. I’m fortunate to have an advance reader’s copy of this novel, set to release in May.

 

 

 

 

32616120Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay. I can’t think of an American writer whose work is more relevant and more poignant right now. Difficult Women is a collection of short stories all centered around—you guessed it— “difficult” women.

 

 

 

 

29974618The Mothers, by Brit Bennett. A number of you have had great things to say about this novel: the lovely, lyrical prose, the way the story unfolds over the course of a decade, the implications of living with the decisions made by our younger selves. Really looking forward to this one.

 

 

If you’re wondering, like I am, how you’re going to get through the stack of books on your list, check out Nina Badzin’s six tips for How to Read More Books This Year.

What books are you looking forward to reading? I’m always looking for recommendations. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

Be Your Own Hero

If you’ve been a writer for more than five minutes, no doubt you’ve been introduced to Joseph Campbell’s work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (If not, consider this your introduction. You’re welcome.) Campbell combines psychology with mythology to uncover the connections between folk tales told in different cultures across human history.

Through his research, Campbell found a standard set of archetypes in myths told around the world. In short, stories unfold in similar ways, no matter where they originated, because humans find these story structures the most satisfying. Storytellers have used these techniques for millennia.

So we writers often follow the Hero’s Journey for our characters, but what about ourselves? From time to time, we find ourselves mired in doubt and fear; we second guess; we lose our way. It can be difficult to summon the courage to keep typing, and it is sooo much easier to settle down to a Gilmore Girls marathon on Netflix with a bowl of chips and guacamole. (I’m just guessing.)

32964445A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to attend a talk by author, editor, and coach Kendra Levin. She knows a thing or two about helping writers be confident and stay calm. In her new book, The Hero Is You, Kendra suggests that we can embark on the Hero’s Journey by placing ourselves as the hero of our own story. I’ve never thought about myself as the hero of my own story. Have you?

How can I apply this to my writing life? Heroes protect, serve, and sacrifice.

  • Protect: My time, my ideas.
  • Serve: The greater purpose, what I am trying to say to the world through my writing.
  • Sacrifice: Gilmore Girls may have to wait.

It helps to create a realistic framework for how heroes do this.

  • Goals:
    • Track your progress. For me, this could mean meeting a certain word count each day or simply ensuring I work on my writing projects daily.
    • Break your journey into manageable chunks. It’s daunting to look at my WIP and think about how many pages I have yet to write. Having a separate document for each chapter makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something.
    • Reward yourself for each milestone. Maybe I’ll watch the first episode of Gilmore Girls.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses:
    • Strength: I’m a morning person. Get up early, get words on the page.
    • Weakness: Oh, there is something called Gilmore Girls on Netflix?
  • Allies:
    • Find your tribe. Frodo had Samwise, Luke Skywalker had Han Solo, and Lorelai had Rory. I have a dedicated and intrepid writing group. (They are terrific, and I’m not just saying that in case they read this.)

 

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At the end of her talk, Kendra asked us two questions:

  1. What is one small step you can make in the next week to work toward your goal?
  2. What step could make the biggest impact?

I really didn’t do Kendra’s book justice in this small space. The Hero Is you: Sharpen Your Focus, Conquer Your Demons, and Become the Writer You Were Born to Be delves into the different archetypes of  the Hero’s Journey and how that relates to your writing journey. You’ll find lots of encouragement and camaraderie within the pages. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

 

Seventh Annual Great Books to Give…and Get

Books make great gifts. If you’ve got a long list of people to buy for this holiday season and no idea what to get them, here are a few suggestions from books I enjoyed this year.

 

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik BlackmanFor the curmudgeon in your life: A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Blackman. A charming book about a sourpuss who will win your heart! The author, Fredrik Blackman, has the ability to take serious subjects (death, suicide, OCD) and relate them in such a matter-of-fact way that they are not off-putting or used for shock value. Backman treats the issues and the characters with kindness. I was rooting for Ove from page one. A Man Called Ove redefines family and shows us the power of connection. I’m looking forward to reading other novels by Fredrik Blackman. Any suggestions on which one to pick up next?

 

The Gentleman, by Forrest LeoFor anyone who likes P.G. Wodehouse sprinkled with a little Noel Coward: The Gentleman, by Forrest Leo. Even if you’re not familiar with Wodehouse’s Jeeves books, just know that this one is a fun, hilarious farce. The basic premise: Lionel Savage, a poet and once-wealthy nobleman, finds himself short on cash and decides to marry Vivien Lancaster for her money. A few months into his marriage, he is disenchanted with Vivien and horrified to learn the poetry muse has left him…so he makes a deal with the devil. His ever-vigilant butler, Simmons, is there to help Lionel extricate himself from the steady stream of problems he creates.

 

 

Before the Fall, by Noah HawleyFor those who want a page-turner: Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley.  A small plane crashes off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard and only two survive: a down-on-his-luck painter and a boy, the son of a wealthy television network executive. Did the plane crash by chance? Or was there something more sinister at work? It’s difficult to say too much about the plot without giving away any surprises. The author did a solid job of dropping hints so that you are sure any number of characters could have been responsible for the plane crash. The story alternates between each character’s point of view so you can see how desperate each person is to hold onto the ideas he or she values most. Sometimes it was downright frustrating and agonizing to witness the lengths to which some characters were willing to twist a tragedy into their own personal gain. A great page-turner!

 

Lab Girl, by Hope JahrenFor those who love to dig in the dirt or read about people who do: Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren. After reading Lab Girl, I will never look at trees the same way again. Respected scientist Hope Jahren gave me a new appreciation of these silent but knowing inhabitants of our planet. She has dedicated her professional (and one could argue her personal) life to furthering our understanding of the flora that is crucial to life as we know it. But this book isn’t all about trees. It’s also about Jahren’s life as a scientist, which can be a difficult road for a woman leading her own lab. I liked the structure of this memoir—personal reflections interspersed with informative science. Jahren does a lovely job of putting words to her emotions as in this one memorable passage: “I navigated the confusing and unstable path of being what you are while knowing it’s more than people want to see.” While this memoir is ostensibly about the path to becoming a scientist, it’s really about finding your tribe (even if that is only one other person), perseverance, and following your curiosity—universal desires to which many of us can relate.

 

Atlas ObscuraFor those who have wanderlust in the weird: Atlas Obscura, by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, Dylan Thuras. “Inspiring equal parts wonder and wanderlust, Atlas Obscura celebrates over 600 of the strangest and most curious places in the world.” Yes, please! This book revels in the weird, the unexpected, the overlooked, the hidden, and the mysterious. From the dazzling glowworm caves in New Zealand to eccentric bone museums in Italy, every page expands your sense of how strange and marvelous the world really is.Just flipping through this book was a delight. The compelling descriptions! The illustrations! The photos! The charts! I’m using a lot of exclamation points because this book is that cool! I can’t think of a better gift for a creative person to be inspired.

 

Becoming Wise, by Krista TippettFor those who want a grounded and fiercely hopeful vision of humanity: Becoming Wise, by Krista Tippett. Krista Tippett is an accomplished conversationalist. She has interviewed the most extraordinary voices examining the great questions of meaning for our time, but her gift is knowing how to listen and expand the dialogue. From conversations with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to poet Naomi Shihab Nye to Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek, she aims to meet the world where it really is, and then to make it better.I came away from this book with a feeling of resilience and redemption, two words that seem to define her perspective. The book, like her podcast, is a master class in living in the 21st century. And if you haven’t yet listened to Krista Tippett’s podcast, “On Being,” do yourself a favor and go through the archives now.

 

Stories of Your Life, by Ted ChiangFor those who like character-driven science fiction: Stories of Your Life, by Ted Chiang. Disclaimer: I’m not an avid science fiction reader, but I loved this collection of short stories for the way Ted Chiang is able to use science to explore deeper questions about human nature. He asks the question every good writer (and perhaps scientist) asks: what if… What if men built a tower from earth to heaven—and broke through to heaven’s other side? What if we discovered that the fundamentals of mathematics were arbitrary and inconsistent? What if exposure to an alien language forever changed our perception of time? And as with any good story, the answers are never cut and dried. I was often left wondering about the phrase “perception is reality.”  One of the stories is the basis for the new movie “Arrival.”

 

Siracusa, by Delia EphronFor those who demand compelling, if not entirely likable characters: Siracusa, by Delia Ephron. Siracusa is the story of what happens to two couples on vacation in Italy. By the end of their short stay, events have occurred which will change their relationships forever—but maybe not in the way that you might expect.  Delia Ephron does a marvelous job in drawing well-rounded and believable characters. The four main characters (with each chapter alternating in first person among them) are crafted with precision. Their flaws and blind spots are apparent immediately. I feel I know them better than they know themselves. Have you ever felt conflicted about a novel even months after finishing it? I found it difficult to root for any of the  characters, mired as they were in their own shameless self-contemplation (and often self-congratulation). The very fact that I wanted to finish the book despite not finding any redeeming qualities in the characters is a testament to Delia Ephron’s skill as a writer. I’d be very interested to hear if you feel the same about Finn, Taylor, Lizzie, and Michael.

 

The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer AckermanFor the nature lover: The Genius of Birds, by Jennifer Ackerman. After reading this book, you’ll never use the term “bird brain” again—unless you’re using it as a compliment!  There’s the Clark’s nutcracker, a bird that can hide as many as 30,000 seeds over dozens of square miles and remember where it put them several months later, and the New Caledonian crow, the chimpanzee of the bird world, that makes its own tools. While some birds may not have traditional “book smarts,” they have “street smarts” in that they are able to negotiate complex social networks. They deceive and manipulate. They eavesdrop. They display a strong sense of fairness. They give gifts. They share. They summon witnesses to the death of a peer. All of these cool and interesting facts would have just floated by me if it were not for Jennifer Ackerman’s excellent storytelling abilities. She writes about avian intelligence in a clear, conversational style that kept me engaged to the last page.

 

Looking for more Great Books to Give and Get? Check out the previous lists: 20152014, 2013201220112010

What are some of your favorite books from 2016? Share in comments.