Best selling author talks about how tragedies inspired literary triumphs

Author Jill Santopolo.
Author Jill Santopolo.

TORRINGTON — The Hummingbird Café, located at 79 Main Street, held a book talk with New York Times best-selling author Jill Santopolo on Sunday, Feb. 9.
Santopolo’s latest fiction novel, “More Than Words,” was released last year.
At the talk, Santopolo spoke to the audience about how she became a writer and how she went from being a children’s book writer to writing adult fiction.
“I grew up loving books and loving storytelling,” Santopolo told the audience. “My mother is a retired elementary school teacher. When I was three-years-old, I wanted to write a book. I dictated the story to her and she wrote it down. She had access to a lamination machine and she laminated it. It was a story about a fat cat who sat on a mat.”
Over time she wrote a whole series of books for elementary school readers, including the “Alec Flint” mystery book series and “Sparkle Spa” series.
“I had so much fun writing books for children because when you write children’s books, they invite you into schools to talk to kids,” she said. I thought I would be writing children’s books all my life because it’s the most fun.”
Santopolo said that was until a tragedy happened in her life that influenced her work.
“Seven years ago, I had been in a relationship for three years with a person I thought I was going to marry and spend the rest of my life with,” Santopolo said.”The relationship exploded and it was a devastating experience for me. I didn’t know how to adjust to the world. I turned to writing because it was always what I used to process the emotions about how I was feeling.”
Santopolo said that she wrote fictional vignettes about a woman named Lucy as a way to process her feelings about her breakup.
“I was having a drink with a friend of mine who is also an author who read the vignettes and said ‘Listen, you are writing a novel for grownups,’” Santopolo said. “She told me ‘I think you should finish it because you manage to capture in these pages how devastated how I felt when I went through a horrible breakup.’”
The heartfelt vignettes eventually became Santopolo’s first book “The Light We Lost,” which came out in 2017.
The book eventually was translated into 36 different languages all over the world.
“The publishers who were interested in this book sent me these letters about how they could relate to the story, about how they could relate to lost love,” she said.”It amazed me that, no matter where people live or what language they spoke, the idea of first love and loss, and losing someone, seems to be something that just resonated with people no matter what part of the world they live.”
Two years later Santopolo wrote her second adult book “More Than Words.”
“The book is about a woman whose father passed away and, right after he dies, she goes through all these letters he wrote,” Santopolo said. “He has been keeping all these secrets from her all her entire life. The book is about how it impacts her relationship to him and how she thinks of herself, along with how she thinks about her relationship to the world.”
While the book was written around the same time Santopolo’s father died, she insists that both “The Light We Lost” and “More Than Words” are not autobiographical stories.
However, she said that both books were influenced by real-life events and incidents.
“When I used to give talks to kids in elementary school, I used to tell them that I thought of my brain like I blender,” she said. “Experiences that I had used to get thrown into my brain like strawberries, oranges, and bananas. Then my brain would all blend them to come up with a story. The stories have a flavor of all these different experiences.”
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