Stephanie Wrobel, MFA ’19
Graduate student Stephanie Wrobel is leaving Emerson College this spring with more than just an MFA in Creative Writing. She recently landed two-book deals from Penguin Random House in both the United States and the United Kingdom on the strength of her debut novel and MFA thesis, The Recovery of Rose Gold. She’s also signing with Simon & Schuster Canada, and has sold foreign rights in Germany, Italy, and Hungary.
For a first-time novelist to secure such huge deals is rare enough, said Writing, Literature and Publishing Associate Professor Mako Yoshikawa, Wrobel’s thesis advisor. But Wrobel began writing the book less than two years ago, didn’t major in writing (or even English) in college, and had taken hardly any writing workshops before coming to Emerson.
Yoshikawa called The Recovery of Rose Gold an “achievement.”
“It’s a page-turner … and it’s also very funny, one of those books in which you want to tap whoever’s sitting near you – so what if she’s a complete stranger – and read out a line,” Yoshikawa said. “But it’s also incredibly well written and emotionally complicated, and perhaps even more impressively, it rings psychologically true: We believe in these characters and what they plot and do and say.”
Wrobel, who is living in London, talked to Emerson Today over email about the book, the deal, and writing.
What is The Recovery of Rose Gold about?
The Recovery of Rose Gold is a suspense novel that tells the story of a young woman who, despite being poisoned by her mother for 18 years, makes a calculated decision to take her in after her prison sentence. The novel explores the aftermath of Munchausen syndrome by proxy and is told from both the mother’s and daughter’s points of view, in two timelines.
When did you learn you were getting a two-book deal? Was that expected? What was your reaction?
I knew that my agent, Madeleine Milburn, was pursuing two-book deals, but I had no idea whether this would come to fruition. I learned about the U.S., U.K. and Canada deals all at the same time on March 8, a day I will certainly never forget as long as I live. My reaction was total shock; I couldn’t believe this was happening to me, and honestly am still having a hard time wrapping my head around it! I’m beyond grateful for the publishing community’s response to my work, and am thrilled I get to write another novel.
How long have you been working on the novel? What was your inspiration?
Two years from initial idea to where I am now. I began working on the novel in February 2017, while enrolled in Emerson’s MFA program. By the end of 2017, I decided to throw out the entire 80,000-word draft I’d written (thanks to invaluable advice from Professor Rick Reiken) and start over, keeping only the two main characters, Patty and Rose Gold. I wrote the first 20,000 words of the second draft during spring semester 2018, and then wrote the rest of the novel that summer. I revised the novel with my thesis advisor and mentor, Professor Mako Yoshikawa, last summer and fall. In November 2018 I felt the manuscript was ready for agent querying and began sending it out. I accepted an offer of representation in December.
As for my inspiration, I first learned about Munchausen syndrome by proxy from my best friend, who is a school psychologist and has experience with the syndrome through her work with kids. The more research I did, the more fascinated I became. The perpetrators of MSBP are usually mothers — interesting in itself since women commit far fewer violent crimes than men. Perpetrators act out of a need for attention or love from authority figures within the medical community, a motivation I find both intriguing and heartbreaking.
Patty is the character who drew me into the story. I wanted to get inside her head and understand how people with MSBP are able to fool doctors, neighbors, and especially their own children. I love reading and writing unreliable narrators, and Patty fit the bill. Rose Gold came along out of necessity—I needed a character who would be honest with the reader. Only later did I realize this was Rose Gold’s story as much as, if not more than, Patty’s. And Rose Gold turned out not to be the paragon of virtue I thought she was.
Have you always wanted to write novels?
Yes, but I didn’t actively work toward a career as a novelist until I began applying to graduate schools for creative writing. Before that, I’d come up with a story idea, write a chapter or two, then give up. The structure and rigor of the MFA program made me take my writing career seriously for the first time. Before I started classes at Emerson, I set three goals for my time in the program—#1 was to start and finish my first novel.
Why did you choose Emerson for your MFA? In what ways has the College molded you as a writer?
I chose Emerson because, from the first time I stepped foot on campus, I knew there were faculty members invested in me—and my career. I met Mako during my campus tour, and I immediately wanted to work with her, confident she’d make me a better writer. I had no idea then how invested she would become in my novel and me, but it’s impossible to overstate the role she has played in my achievements. I would not have a book deal without her.
Rick also played a pivotal role in my development as a writer. He offered to read above and beyond what was required for workshop, gave me brilliant craft advice, and helped me navigate the publishing industry. Steve Yarbrough was my first workshop professor, and although the short stories I shared in his class were not good, he kept encouraging me. I had never taken a single creative writing course before Steve’s class and had no idea what I was doing; week after week, I soaked up as much of Steve’s wisdom as I possibly could.
These and other faculty members molded me as a writer—asking questions, helping me find answers, pushing me bit by bit. Without these professors and Emerson’s support, I wouldn’t have been able to maintain a single-minded focus on finishing this novel.
You’re based in London now. What are you doing over there (besides writing, obviously)?
I actually lived in London before enrolling at Emerson. My husband and I moved to London in 2014 so he could pursue his MBA at London Business School. Then we moved to Boston for my MFA. In May 2018 we moved back to London because of my husband’s job.
We absolutely love the city and are overjoyed to be back. I had been freelance copywriting for advertising agencies, but will now focus on my writing career.
Are you already at work on your second book?
Yes, I am! It’s the story of a guilt-stricken woman trying to pull her wayward sister out of a wellness center run by a mysterious millionaire, who uses controversial methods to eliminate her clients’ fears. The novel will be a psychological thriller told from three points of view: a cult leader, a cult member, and a concerned relative, all of whom will do what is necessary to get what they want.
It says in your web bio that you have a dog named Moose Barkwinkle. What kind of dog is he, and do you call him Moose for short, or do you address him by his full name?
He’s a Cockapoo, and yes, we just call him Moose. My husband and I gave him a last name solely to entertain ourselves. Moose is my writing partner and constantly sleeps on the job.
The Recovery of Rose Gold is due out in 2020.