Jill Santopolo ’08 Releases MORE THAN WORDS

We are celebrating the release of VCFA grad Jill Santopolo’s new adult novel MORE THAN WORDS.

Nina Gregory has always been a good daughter, a good girlfriend. Raised by her father, owner of New York City’s glamorous Gregory Hotels, after her mother’s death, Nina was taught that family, reputation, and legacy are what matter most. And her boyfriend Tim, thoughtful, kind, and honest, not to mention her best friend since childhood, feels the same. But after Nina’s father passes away, she learns he may not have practiced what he preached.

As her world falls apart, Nina begins to question everything she thought she knew and to see the men in her life–her father, her boyfriend, and unexpectedly, her handsome and attentive boss, Rafael–in a new light. Soon Nina finds herself caught between the world she knows and loves, and a passion that could upend everything.

The Q & A

Welcome to Wild Things, Jill. More Than Words is a heartbreaking novel about grief, loss, love and self-discovery. Can you tell us what was the spark that ignited this book?

I write a lot about things that I’m experiencing emotionally, so the spark for More Than Words was my father’s death in 2015. That experience made me think a lot about what people leave behind both in their children and for their children, and about how children keep pieces of their parents alive in themselves. I also kept imagining the “what if” scenarios—what if I’d found out something about my father after he died that I didn’t want to know. That didn’t actually happen, but the plot for More Than Words came out of imaging what could have happened if it had.

More Than Words is an adult fiction. Is there a difference in your writing process when you are writing for adults as opposed to children or young adults?

I go about writing for children, young adults, and adults in pretty much the same way. Once I have a book idea, I start with the character and base the language, the specificities of the plot, the themes of the book, etc. on that character’s life experiences. So when a character is 11, I’m in one mind-frame, 16 is another, and 35 yet another. But while my books for different age audiences cover different parts of life, they’re all written from life, just life at different times along a person’s journey.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

I keep saying that I need to keep track of all things I google for a book…but I’d say one of the weirdest for this book was probably information about a mayor-elects security detail in New York City.

What’s your writing superpower?

My writing super power is my ability to focus. I’m pretty good at tuning out everything around me and concentrating on writing, which means I can write pretty much anywhere—and have! I’ve literally written on my laptop on a New York City subway, in the back of a loud university cafeteria, sitting at a gate in an airport, and while flying.

What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book? 

Since Nina Gregory and her father own luxury hotels in New York City, I wish could create travel-sized shampoo, condition, lotion, and soap that are More Than Words branded. (And it would be even cooler if I could actually find a hotel to put it in guests’ rooms.)

Tell us a bit about your experience at VCFA. How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

After attending VCFA, I got a lot more books published! I learned so much about how to craft a book, and also how to recognize and articulate the things that I knew as a reader but couldn’t translate into my own writing. Going to VCFA is one of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing career.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

My advisers were David Gifaldi, Sharon Darrow, Cynthia Leitich-Smith, and Marion Dane Bauer. They are all wonderful, amazing humans who each taught me tons about writing that I have carried with me to this day.

What would you say has been the lasting impact of your time at VCFA?

I think the lasting impact of my time at VCFA has been in the change in me as a writer, and also in the connections I’ve made with the VCFA writer community. I trade writing with some of them and try to support them whenever I can, the way I know they do for me. It’s so wonderful to have a group of people who understand and care deeply about everyone’s success.

Thanks for giving us some insights into your writing life and the impact of VCFA on your work. Best of luck, Jill, with More Than Words!

About the Author

Jill Santopolo is the author of the nationally and internationally bestselling novel The Light We Lost, which has been translated into more than 35 languages and has hit both the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. She is also the author of the Alec Flint Mysteries, the Sparkle Spa series, and the Follow Your Heart books. Jill holds a BA in English Literature from Columbia University, an MFA in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a certificate in Intellectual Property Law from NYU. She is the associate publisher of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, where she edits many critically-acclaimed, award-winning, and best-selling books. Jill has worked as a thesis advisor at The New School in their MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and was on the faculty of the Columbia Publishing Course. She was also formerly an adjunct professor at McDaniel College, where she helped develop the curriculum for their certificate program in Writing for Children. She lives in New York City.

Jill Santolopo graduated from VCFA in July 2008 with the Cliffhangers


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More Than Words is published by Putnam, February 5, 2019

This post was written by Amanda West Lewis.

Amanda West Lewis combines careers as a writer, theatre artist and calligrapher. Her eight books for children and youth range from non-fiction books to historical novels. September 17: A Novel was nominated for the Silver Birch Award, the Red Cedar Award, and the Violet Downey IODE Award. The Pact was listed as a 2017 USBBY Outstanding International book. Amanda has a particular interest in creating historically relevant stories for young people and is currently working on a new novel about youth activism in 1968. She is the founder of The Ottawa Children’s Theatre, a company dedicated to drama education for children aged 3 – 17. Amanda has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA and is a proud member of The Dead Post-Its.