Last year, I blogged about “The Life List”, a 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. Although apprehensive at the beginning, she takes on this challenge in a bewildering and comedic journey through her adolescent dreams which leaves her surprised to find the life, and the self, she’d lost along the way. My full blog can be found here.
“The Life List” was Lori Spielman’s debut book, and I am anxiously awaiting many more from her. Lori was kind enough to discuss her own life list and Brett’s journey with me, and today, I am happy to share our conversation. Enjoy!
What inspired you to write “The Life List”?
First, thank you so much for hosting me on your blog. I’m really happy to be here. Now, on to the questions…
One day while cleaning out a closet, I came across a little cedar box where I’d kept mementos over the years. Inside, I found my grandmother’s rosary, my first bankbook, a couple of silver dollars, and a piece of yellowed notebook paper. In my flowery adolescent cursive, I’d penciled “Lori’s List” across the top. Somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14, I’d created a list of 29 things I thought would make for a good life, along with a sidebar entitled Ways to Be, which included such pearls as Don’t talk about ANYBODY, Don’t be stuck-up, Say hi to everyone.
I studied the list, happy that I had, indeed, accomplished much of what my youthful heart had longed for. I’d learned to ski and sail. I was happily married, had a teaching job I loved, and had traveled to Europe. But there were also items on the list I hadn’t accomplished. I hadn’t designed my own house. I didn’t live on a lake. I didn’t have a horse or a dog. I’d even abandoned the one goal I was sure I’d accomplish: I had no children. I thought of what my life would be like, had I completed all of my goals. Do we settle as we age, or do our dreams evolve? A story started taking shape, and soon I was rushing home from work each day to write Another Sky, the story that would later be re-titled The Life List.
Did you use your own life list—Lori’s List—to create Brett’s list?
First, I’ll confess, many of my goals were superficial and downright embarrassing. I wanted to be popular and pretty. Have lots of clothes was actually on my life list, along with Be a cheerleader and Have lots of boyfriends. Needless to say, these goals weren’t included on Brett’s list! But yes, most of Brett’s goals were taken from my own life list. I wanted to get married, be a teacher, and have children. I wanted to have a nice house and a dog and a horse. Help people was also on my list. To create more tension and a dash of mystery to the story, I added Perform live, on a super big stage, Have a relationship with my dad, and Stay friends with Carrie Newsome forever.
Is there a character who shares any of your traits?
Oh, that’s a great question. I think there are parts of Brett and Shelley in me. It’s tempting to settle as we get older, and there was a time in my life that I did. Like Brett, my friends were getting married. Everyone was becoming a twosome, and I didn’t want to be alone. I found my “Herbert”, a man who should have been Mr. Perfect, all except for the lack of chemistry. Leaving that relationship was the most heart wrenching decision of my life.
Did you know how the book would end when you started writing it?
(Warning: Spoiler alert!) I did. I knew I wanted Brett to achieve her goals in unconventional ways. I also knew she’d end up with Garrett, who was actually the mysterious Burberry Man. Funny thing was, when I reached the end, I almost changed my mind. Brett had found true friendship in Carrie and Brad. She’d developed a relationship with her father and stepsister. She had her beautiful baby daughter and a job she loved. The feminist in me questioned whether she needed a man. And I loved the message this would send to young women: It’s possible to have a rich, full existence without a man in your life. But in the course of 30 minutes I nixed the idea. Single life is great for other women, but Brett was going to get Garrett.
How did your own life experience as a speech pathologist and guidance counselor impact the story?
Being a speech pathologist, I was able to write about Trevor’s articulation problem with confidence, but I think my role as a homebound teacher was most helpful. I’ve taught students in hospitals, in sketchy neighborhoods and subsidized housing projects, even homeless shelters. Those scenes, though fictionalized, were very true to life.
Of the challenges Brett faces, which is your favorite?
Another good question! Hmm…I’ll tell you, the stand-up comedy scene was the most challenging, and almost got cut. I had no idea how difficult it was to come up with one-liners on demand—even when they didn’t have to be funny. It definitely heightened my admiration for comedians. But to answer your question, I think having a baby was my favorite challenge. I’ve had readers tell me they were angry with Elizabeth for leaving Brett such a gargantuan, nearly impossible goal, given the timeline. But I always knew Brett wasn’t going to have her child in the traditional way, so the one-year deadline wouldn’t be a problem. Our foster care system is filled with children in need of a home. In the end, Brett had to fight for her baby, and found an unexpected ally in Miss Jean. I loved Sanquita, and sobbed writing her final scene.
Are you working on any future projects? If so, can you give a hint as to what?
I am, but it’s not so easy this time around! My agent and editor are looking for something with the same tone as The Life List, with both heart and humor. I’m feeling a lot of pressure, though it’s mostly self-inflicted. I want the next book to be a solid, stand-alone piece of work. I’ve landed on a premise that we’re all excited about, with themes of shame and forgiveness, friendship and redemption. Now I just have to write it!
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 (Bantam/Random House), has sold in 16 countries and Fox 2000 has purchased the film option. Lori and her husband live in Michigan. To learn more, please visit Lori’s website at http://www.Lorinelsonspielman.com.