“Write what you know,” is an old piece of advice to authors attributed to the legendary Mark Twain. Jill Santopolo, who grew up in Hewlett, has taken these words to heart when crafting her novels, 2017’s “The Light We Lost,” and “More Than Words,” which was released on Feb. 5.
Until she began to work on “The Light We Lost,” Santopolo had exclusively written children’s books, namely the “Sparkle Spa” and “An Alec Flint Mystery” series. However, after a particularly bad break up, one Santopolo described as, “the type where the whole world feels like it’s been smashed into pieces,” she said she began writing some vignettes about a woman who was also going through a break up. “It wasn’t my story but channeling my emotions into fiction was really helpful,” she said.
Those vignettes grew into “The Light We Lost,” which was a New York Times Best Seller, one of the books selected for actress Reese Witherspoon’s book club, translated into more than 35 languages and has been optioned to be a movie. In her new book “More Than Words,” Santopolo again uses her own life’s experiences and her emotions to shape the story, but this time they are of her father, John Santopolo, who died in 2015.
In the novel, protagonist Nina Gregory was raised by a single father, the owner of several New York City hotels. Gregory had expected to follow in his footsteps, but after her father’s death, Gregory uncovers some secrets that her father had been keeping from her and she begins to reevaluate her own life.
Santopolo said she never unearthed any secrets about her father after his death, however writing this story helped her mourn. “I was thinking about the way you handle grief when I was writing,” she said. “It helped me to think about grief … the idea of what we owe our families and what we owe to ourselves.”
Like Santopolo, Tara Singh Carlson worked at G.P. Putnam’s Sons Publishing, but they had never met until she received Santopolo’s first-novel submission and edited the book. “I felt like someone was telling me a story without any barrier between me and her voice,” Carlson said. “The emotions [in Santopolo’s writing] are autobiographical, even if the events themselves are not.”
Santopolo has been working with Miriam Altshuler, her agent since before she began “The Light We Lost.” Altshuler said that after her first book, Santopolo told her she wanted to tackle a slightly different theme in this novel. “What she wants to do is write about different kinds of love,” Altshuler said. “The idea of writing about her father and that kind of love and those expectations started developing from there.”
After “More Than Words,” is released Santopolo has a few meet-and-greet events at book stores across the county. On Feb. 6 was at McNally Jackson Independent Booksellers and at Book Culture on Feb. 12, both in Manhattan.
More information on Santopolo and her books, including links to purchase them, can be found at her website, jillsantopolo.com.