Author Lori Nelson Spielman is a very dear in-real-life friend of mine. And believe it or not, we met because of this blog! Since then we’ve found that we have even more in common than writing and publishing (and that’s special in its own right). Lucky us!
BUT, if I didn’t also think her debut novel, THE LIFE LIST was awesome, I wouldn’t say so. I read an early copy of the book, handed to me by Lori herself the second we met at the beach in Michigan (first time, perfect weather—second time, snow in April). Right away, I was mesmerized by Lori’s writing, and the story itself. It takes the main character through twists and turns of a very real and unexpected life. The best kind, if you ask me. While it starts off seeming like the main character is about to lead a charmed life (and then there wouldn’t be a novel, would there?) the exact opposite is true. There are very heady issues in this book. Real problems for the characters, real emotions. Much is not what it seems. And I loved that about the book. I enjoy the twists that go my way and the ones that don’t. And I love an ending that leaves me hopeful.
And I’m hopeful that you’ll enjoy THE LIFE LIST as much as I did.
Please welcome my dear friend, Lori Nelson Spielman, to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Lori Nelson Spielman Advises Writers That Stepping Away Is As Important As Stepping It Up
Amy: Lori! This is so exciting for me to have you on Women’s Fiction Writers. Of course I wish we were sitting near the beach with wine and I was asking you these questions, but for now, the blog will have to suffice. (And it does make it easier to share with everyone else!)
Would you give us a quick overview of your debut novel, THE LIFE LIST?
Lori: First of all, thank you so much for hosting me on your blog, Amy. I’m a huge fan of Women’s Fiction Writers, and a huge fan of yours as well.
Okay, now on to the question. The Life List tells the story of a young woman who embarks on a year-long journey of self-discovery after her mother passes away and leaves her an inheritance with one big stipulation — in order to receive it she must complete the items on the “life list” of goals she made for herself when she was 14.
Amy: I found that THE LIFE LIST taps into not only the main character’s, Brett’s, childhood dreams and aspirations, but our own. What this says to me is that we probably know ourselves better than we think, and get caught up in life, and forget. What’s one thing you wish Brett would have done differently so that she didn’t lose track of so much that she had to rediscover? (If this question makes no sense, ignore it. I know what I mean but am not sure I conveyed it well!)
Lori: I know exactly what you mean, Amy! I think it boils down to confidence, or more accurately, Brett’s loss of confidence. As girls, we’re fearless. We imagine we can do anything, become anything, and most certainly deserve every good thing life has to offer. Somewhere along the road, many of us lose this youthful confidence. We begin to wonder whether we’re good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough to reach those lofty childhood dreams. Too often we settle for less than we deserve, whether it’s in our careers, our relationships, or our dreams. In short, Brett’s failure to believe in her own worth kept her from realizing her dreams, the same way it does for many of us women.
Amy: I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times. Well, make it a million and one. Do you have a Life List for the future now? I’m more of a day-at-a-time gal, and really don’t, but I certainly see the value in it.
Lori: I’m glad you used the term life list, Amy. People often refer to my book as being about someone’s bucket list, but I think there’s a real distinction between the two terms. To me, a life list as a blueprint of how you want to craft your life—things you determine are important on your way up, so to speak. Have a close family. Live on a lake. Have a fulfilling career. A bucket list, on the other hand, are those things you aspire to do on your way down, before you die, things that can be checked off in an instant. Skydive. Visit the Grand Canyon. Tour Machu Picchu. So, to answer your question, I do have a life list, though today it’s shorter and more specific—more like a bucket list. Does this mean I’m on my way down?! Yikes!
Amy: Oh! I love the distinction between a life list and a bucket list. I am always drawing lines between similar words and terms and picking them apart. This time you did it for me! (I can always count on you!) So, now onto some writing talk. When you’re writing do you outline, or just wing it (some would call that pantsing, or writing by the seat of your pants)?
Lori: I’m pantser with suspenders. I don’t just wing it, but I don’t have a detailed outline, either. When I get an idea for a story, I let it incubate for a few days. It usually bends and twists into something different than what I’d first imagined. I watch the story unfold visually, much like a film. I envision many of the scenes and I know the ending, but I don’t necessarily write a detailed outline. Instead, I write madly and badly—yes, I allow myself to write a horrible first draft. In places where I need to do research, I simply make two X’s and continue, knowing I’ll go back to it later and fill in those gaps. Lucky for me, I enjoy the rewriting stage, which is where the bulk of the work occurs.
Amy: I know you’re working on something new—you don’t have to share any details, but how is it coming along? Is the process different this time than when you wrote THE LIFE LIST?
Lori: Yes, you and I have talked about this. It feels completely different this time, knowing my agent and my editor will read it. They’re looking for a book very similar in tone to The Life List, and I feel an enormous amount of pressure, hoping to please them. I do have a story idea that we’re all excited about, and once life settles down a bit, I’m anxious to get started on it.
Amy: How would you define women’s fiction, and does the label bother you?
Lori: I define women’s fiction as stories that are written primarily for women. Perhaps the label should offend me, but it doesn’t. With The Life List, there’s no question my target audience is women. I’m happy to own that. I do, however, have a problem when other authors get slapped with the label simply because they are female, despite their novel’s cross-gender appeal.
Your question made me think of this story. My friend’s son, an avid hiker, read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. He found it “too emo”. Apparently, the parts of the book my girlfriend and I found most compelling—the emotional scenes—were the very ones he disliked. There’s no doubt we women share our feelings more than men, something a study at Stanford found creates more serotonin, resulting in a general feeling of well-being. The researcher went on to say spending time with girlfriends is just as important as going to the gym. So, to extrapolate a bit, I’ll hypothesize that reading women’s fiction just might add years to your life. How’s that for an endorsement?
Amy: Share your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction.
Lori: Of course I’d advise the standard–read and persevere, take classes and attend workshops. But I’m going to throw a curve ball here and suggest knowing when to give up is equally important. Please don’t misinterpret: I’m not suggesting anyone give up writing. I’m talking about setting aside that project that hasn’t garnered a single request for pages after a hundred queries, a piece of work that no longer feels fresh. My dear friend has spent five years querying agents to no avail, yet she refuses to start a new project. Like a woman convinced the man who broke her heart is The One, she’s left paralyzed by her devotion. I know as well as anyone, it’s excruciating to let go of a project you’ve poured your heart and soul into, but sometimes we must. If I hadn’t set aside the novel I’d written thirteen years ago and started another, and then another, I’d still be a frustrated aspiring writer, collecting rejection letters. As Kenny Rogers once sang, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em.”
A former speech pathologist and guidance counselor, Lori Nelson Spielman currently works as a homebound teacher for inner-city students. Her debut novel, THE LIFE LIST, has sold in 16 countries and Fox 2000 has purchased the film option. Lori and her husband live in Michigan.