The Loft Literary Center

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

1. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. Sometimes you just find yourself in the right place at the right time. Take last weekend. David Sedaris was in Brooklyn to kick off his 20-city US book tour for Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls(Yes, that’s the name of the book.) The terrific indie bookstore, Powerhouse Arena, hosted. They closed the store to the general public to accommodate the reading. A conservative estimate had about 300 people on hand. (This compared to my most recent reading wherein exactly two people showed, one of which was bookstore staff.)

Sedaris is one of those rare authors who is just as dynamic in person as on the page. He is engaging and witty and totally comfortable in a crowd. And did I mention hilarious? He had the crowd laughing so hard at times I thought I was at a Louis C.K. show.

Afterward we waited on a long, snaking line to get our books signed. The line was so long, in fact, that if I had known at the outset I might have left the store. And that would have been a mistake. At this stage in his career (seven million copies of his books sold worldwide) he certainly doesn’t need to be slogging it out on a grueling tour. Someone in the audience pointed that out. Sedaris said, “I love it. It’s exactly what I always wanted to do.”  It was clear that much was true. He takes his time talking to each person, looking them in the eyes and peppering them with questions. It was also clear that he gets a lot of his material for future books from talking and listening to people.

No doubt this kind of meet and greet takes its toll on a person, mentally and physically. When I got to the front of the line and he mentioned his back was getting tired, I nodded in agreement, as if I knew something about signing books for three hours.

He said, “I left my back scratcher in my other bag. Would you scratch my back?”

I just stared.

“No, really. Would you scratch my back?”

I glanced at his publicist who gave me a nod as if to say, Yes, he’s serious. He does this sort of thing all the time. We can’t control him.

So I stepped up and gave his back a good scratch.

“A little to the right.”

Look for a mention of me in his next book. Until then, check out what he inscribed in my book.

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls

Have you ever talked with an author at a book signing? Do you have any celebrity sightings?

Here is a clip of him on Letterman a while back, extolling the virtues of the Stadium Pal.

 

2. FOMO. This week I received an invitation to a friend’s party and was distressed to realize that I was already committed to helping another friend  pick up some boxes she has in a storage unit.  I’d hate to miss this party. It’s going to be fun! Things will happen! Cool things! Things that are talked about for decades! What if I become The Blitz like that episode of How I Met Your Mother? Then my mind started whirring with ways I could do both. Maybe I could arrange to go to the storage earlier in the day. Maybe we could go another day. (And the sinister one…) Maybe I’ll tell her something came up. Something far more important. Of course. Does this happen to you? Please say yes. 

Not too long ago I read a blog post from Seth Godin about the fear of missing out (FOMO). He calls it a kind of “reverse schadenfreude of FOMO (the pain we may feel from others having good fortune).”

Somewhere, right this very moment, someone is having more fun than you.

Making more money than you.

Doing something more important, with better friends, and a happier ending, than you.

You’re missing out.

The only place joy can be found is right here and right now. Everyone who is selling you dissatisfaction is working for their own selfish ends.

Do you ever experience FOMO? 

 

3. Weekly photo challenge: Pattern. I don’t usually participate in the photo challenge because I don’t consider myself much of a photographer. But this week’s theme made me immediately think of this shot I took of the floor at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  Something about the colors and repeating diamonds intrigue me.

Victoria and Albert Museum

 

4. Back to Basics Creative Writing Class. From June 10 – August 11, I’m teaching a creative writing class through The Loft Literary Center. The class is online so you can log on to download lessons or post your work at your convenience, say at six o’clock in the morning while wearing your bunny slippers. (Hey, I’m not judging.) This will be the fourth time I’ve taught this class, and I can honestly say that the students and I have a great time. We discuss craft, read like writers and share our work in an encouraging environment.

Here’s a quick blurb from the catalog:

In this online class, you will learn the essential building blocks of creative writing (fiction or memoir). Each class is completely devoted to one element of story to help you hone your skills in that area. Through structured writing exercises and analyzing master works, we’ll examine the key components of good creative writing. Whether you need some fixes for common plot problems or want to brush up on dialogue, these targeted classes will give you all the strategies you need to succeed at the craft of writing. This class is perfect for beginners who want to look at the mechanics of writing prose.

If you’d like to find out more, click here.

The Loft

 

5. Happy Birthday, Reggie! I consider today his birthday, but of course I don’t know when it is. Not really. Today is the day I adopted him. (Happy Adopt-a-versary! doesn’t roll off the tongue.) Five years ago today, I walked into the NYC animal shelter in Harlem to sign for a mangy English Springer Spaniel who had been brought in as a stray from the streets of the Bronx. Animal control had no information other than that. His fur was so gnarled and matted, the shelter staff figured he’d been a stray for months. He stank to high heaven. I brought him to a groomer where it took three shampoos and a close shave to freshen him up.

Reggie

The shelter had red-flagged him which means that he had responded inappropriately to temperament tests, perhaps by growling or barking. Overcrowded shelter + A red flag = End of the line. Reggie had been in the shelter for three weeks and was scheduled to be euthanized. They were not showing him to potential adopters and had taken his photo off the website. I suppose someone reading this might think me bighearted or benevolent, saving a dog who was on death row, but really in all the important ways the exact opposite is true.

He has taught me more about how to be a good human being than many of my fellow human beings. In fact one of the most important lessons he has taught me is inherent in what I know about his past or lack thereof. (For more, check out My Guru Has Fur.) As much as we want answers to all of our questions, we don’t always get them. We always want to know why, how and wherefore. We want closure. Well, sometimes, that doesn’t happen. I’ll never know what kind of life he had before he ended up a stray, if he experienced some kind of trauma or simply got lost. I don’t even know with certainty how old he is. But what I do know is that none of that really matters anymore. He is a light in my life and brings me indescribable joy. And that is the greatest gift of all.

Have a great weekend, everyone!