Stephanie Wrobel always had an affinity for words. Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs in the United States, Wrobel was an eager reader as a child, then spent her early twenties as a copywriter before moving to London in 2014.
There, after years of dabbling in writing fiction, she was moved to try it full-time, and applied to a creative writing MFA that allowed her to tap into her gift — and birthed her gripping first novel The Recovery of Rose Gold, a disturbing tale of a mother-daughter relationship twisted by compulsion.
Below, Wrobel shines a light on her dream writing locale, her nutty first job and the mental health research wormhole that led to her debut novel.
Which writer do you most admire and why?
I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s free-spiritedness, her positivity, her zest for life. Her Instagram posts are a balm for the soul. She leaves me with a feeling that no matter what might happen to me down the road, I will be just fine. She makes me use phrases like ‘balm for the soul’!
What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside being an author?
When I was a kid, my grandparents gave my sisters and me a penny for every acorn we picked up. We each carried a big plastic bucket and raced around their yard, trying to beat one another to the punch.
Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times.
I’m not a big re-reader, but I have returned to Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle time and again. The book is creepy, whimsical, and thought-provoking — and one of the best studies on voice that has ever been written, in my humble opinion.
What the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Write coldly, meaning when you compose a disturbing or emotional scene, write about it in a concise, detached way. That matter-of-factness in the face of horror makes much more powerful impact.
What makes you most happy?
A soft breeze, when the words flow easily, and Italy. This has me dreaming of writing a novel in Italy — then I could combine all three!
What’s your biggest regret?
I wish I’d taken fiction writing seriously in my twenties. I was blogging and writing scripts and copy for work, but I wasn’t practicing fiction with any regularity. Consequently, I feel like I’m still in the early stages of my creative writing education; The Recovery of Rose Gold is the first novel I’ve finished. It’s nerve-racking to share work with the world when you know a year or two down the road it’s (hopefully) not going to reflect your current skill level.
What’s your ideal writing scenario?
I like to write for several hours at a time in my flat, sitting on my sofa, when the house is silent and there are no distractions. I’ve already planned the chapter I’m going to write, ideally as a bullet-pointed list of the major events taking place. A lot of authors say knowing what’s going to happen takes the fun out of writing for them. Not me! Knowing what’s going to happen allows me to concentrate on the sentences, to really nitpick the words. I’m not talented enough to focus on big and small picture stuff at the same time!
...and your ideal reading one?
I can read pretty much anywhere, but again, the ideal is on the sofa under a blanket in cosy clothes. (My sofa is huge and so comfy!)
What’s your favourite book you’ve read this year?
So many! But if I must narrow down to one, it has to be Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The book manages to be both profound and dishy. I love Reid’s thoughts on art, ambition, independence, power, and what it meant to be a woman at different times in history.
What inspired you to write your book?
I learned about Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) from my best friend, who is a school psychologist. The more research I did, the more fascinated I became. The perpetrators of MSBP are usually mothers, which is interesting in itself since the mother-child bond is supposed to be sacred. Perpetrators act out of a need for attention or love from authority figures within the medical community, a motivation both intriguing and heartbreaking. I wanted to get inside the head of one of these mothers, to try to understand whether she knows she’s lying or if she believes she’s doing what’s best for her child. Along came Patty Watts.
The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel is out now.