Writing out of loss – Jill Santopolo

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By Jill Santopolo

Before I wrote The Light We Lost, I wrote books for children. Fourteen of them, to be exact, and I loved doing it.

I would get to visit schools and run writers workshops with grade schoolers. I would talk to them about what stories were important to them and why. And I would, in my own books, write about things I thought were important for the next generation to know about — being a good friend, helping others, working hard, accepting yourself for who you are.

I loved writing children’s books and never thought I’d do anything different. Until five years ago, when I went through a horrible breakup.

It was the sort of breakup that left me feeling like I’d walked into a mirror universe where nothing was as it should be, and I’d never be able to find my way to normal again. When that happened, the only way I’d found myself able to exist in the world was to write. And I started writing something that decidedly was not for children. I wrote vignettes about a woman named Lucy who was also going through a horrible breakup — and while my story and Lucy’s story are not the same, the feelings that she experiences, the hurt and anger and shock and betrayal and love and sorrow and hope and regret, all of those were feelings that I was grappling with at the time.

When I had about twenty-eight pages of vignettes, I met up with a writer friend of mine for a drink. I told her what I was doing, and she offered to take a look at what I’d written. I sent the pages off to her with a note asking her if she thought I was writing a novel and, if I was, should I keep going. Her response, after she read the pages, was that I was indeed writing a novel and that she thought I should keep going — her reason was that she, too, was experiencing the aftershocks of a breakup and that Lucy’s feelings were very similar to hers. She said that if I could capture that, I had to keep writing.

And so I did, and what has been incredible, now that copies of The Light We Lost are out in the world, is that my friend isn’t the only person who has told me that she’d felt the same way Lucy does at one point in her life. This book that was born of such an intimate, personal experience has connected with readers in a truly personal way. And it’s not just readers in the United States, where I live and where the book is mostly set. As of the time of this blog post, The Light We Lost has been licensed to be published by thirty-one different publishers in twenty-nine different languages in territories covering more than a hundred countries on six continents.

I never imagined when I wrote those first vignettes as a way to cope during such a sad time in my life that I would end up with a story that would be shared with readers across the globe.

I guess it shows that love and loss is truly universal.

Jill Santopolo received an MFA in fiction writing, is the author of three successful children’s and young-adult series, and works as the editorial director of Philomel Books. An adjunct professor in The New School’s MFA program, she travels the world to speak about writing and storytelling. The Light We Lost is out now.


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