Lori Nelson Spielman on SWEET FORGIVENESS, Perseverance, & a Giveaway!

SF cover 2 copy 2One of the most amazing things about joining the wild world of publishing is how much support I’ve received, especially from “been there, done that, have learned some stuff” authors who have kindly shared their time and wisdom. And international bestselling author Lori Nelson Spielman is at the top of that list — I’m convinced “author cheerleader” is her part-time job 🙂 Along with being a lovely person, Lori is also a fantastic writer. I whipped through her debut,THE LIFE LIST (translated into 29 languages and optioned for film), and was equally smitten with her sophomore work, SWEET FORGIVENESS. It was one of those books that made me laugh, cry, and kept me thinking long after I turned that last page. Here’s the blurb:

The Forgiveness Stones craze is sweeping the nation—instantly recognizable pouches of stones that come with a chain letter and two simple requests: to forgive, and then to seek forgiveness. But New Orleans’ favorite talk show host, Hannah Farr, isn’t biting. Intensely private and dating the city’s mayor, Hannah has kept her very own pouch of Forgiveness Stones hidden for two years—and her dark past concealed for nearly two decades. But when Fiona Knowles, creator of the Forgiveness Stones, appears on Hannah’s show, Hannah unwittingly reveals on air details of a decades-old falling out with her mother.
 
Spurned by her fans, doubted by her friends, and accused by her boyfriend of marring his political career, Hannah reluctantly embarks on a public journey of forgiveness. As events from her past become clearer, the truth she’s clung to since her teenage years has never felt murkier. Hannah must find the courage to right old wrongs, or risk losing her mother, and any glimmer of an authentic life, forever.

Here’s what Lori has to say about her mother as her first reader, her best job perks, and the twists and turns of her publication journey …

Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why that person?

My regular first reader is my mother. She’s an avid reader and she’s brutally honest. Before I was published, she once left me a voicemail saying, “I just finished reading your manuscript. I think it’s great. I think this one’s going to be published.” I kept the message for six months, and listened to it each time I received a rejection letter. And just last week my 78-year-old mom suggested I add a little “steam” to my books. Sheesh! My mother is telling me to write sex scenes? Something’s just not right about that!

Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.

I’m extremely superstitious. One of my many rites includes saying, “Rabbit, Rabbit” on the first day of the month, before I say anything else. It brings good luck for the month. I also keep a four-leaf clover in my planner.

DB: I am similarly superstitious, but only remember to say, “Rabbit, Rabbit” about 6 months of the year…I should set an alarm on my phone 🙂

If you were a drink (preferably alcoholic), what would you be and why?

I love this question! I’d probably be a plain ol’ draft beer. But what I’d like to be is a Ramos Fizz. It’s a classic New Orleans cocktail made with gin, cream, citrus juices, egg whites, and the magical and mysterious ingredient: orange flower water. It dates back to 1888, and although it’s a bit fussy and fairly time-consuming to make, the final product is a unique balance of sweet and tangy deliciousness. Who wouldn’t want to be that?

DB: Must try a Ramos Fizz!

Have you ever tried writing in a different genre? How did that turn out?

My first so-called book was what I called young adult. Looking back, it was ridiculously sappy. I pitched it as The Boxcar Children meets Danielle Steele. You guessed it—that one collected more rejections than a nice girl on spring break.

I once wrote a thriller screenplay, and I loved it. I got so engrossed in the writing while on vacation that I didn’t want to leave the hotel room. I remember going to lunch with my husband, and all I could think about were the storylines swirling through my head. Yeah, I know…my poor husband! I queried some agents in LA and, aside from one very bizarre phone call from an obviously drunk agent who wanted to talk about his recent break up, I received only rejections. For now I’ll stick to women’s fiction, though I’d love to try a mystery at some point.

What is the best perk of your job?

Hands down, it’s the feedback from readers saying the story touched them in some way. It’s an absolute thrill to hear from those who have read the book and felt sad, or laughed out loud, or inspired. A close second are the author and blogger friends I’ve made though the process. And the third biggest perk? Writing from home, in my office or at the kitchen table, with a hot mug of coffee and my kitty beside me, and a fire blazing in the fireplace. I never want to take these perks for granted, and I remind myself every day how lucky I am. (I told you I was superstitious!)

The road to publication is twisty at best–tell us about some of your twists.

The first women’s fiction manuscript I wrote was called LETTING GO FOR DEAR LIFE. My mother loved it, and so did I. One agent—I’ll call him Agent X—requested the full. Though he eventually passed, he wrote a glowing rejection letter and even recommended that I query his agent pal. His concern, he told me, was that the manuscript lacked surprises.

So, I gave myself a homework assignment. I would write another manuscript, just for me, using more twists and turns than a salsa dancer. This manuscript would be for my eyes only. I would never submit it. Instead, I’d write another novel. It would be this second manuscript that would be published.

For the next year I wrote the most convoluted tale you can imagine. It zigged when it should have zagged, yinned when it should have yanged. Finally, exhausted and weary, I reached the end and lifted my wine glass. A week later I opened a new word document entitled THE LIFE LIST.

For four months I wrote like a fiend. And all the while I wrote I thought of Agent X. He was going to love my clever, unpredictable new story.

I couldn’t wait to query Agent X when I finished…so I didn’t wait. I shot off an email query the very day I typed “The End” (yes, I actually type that!). I reminded Agent X that he had read and loved an earlier manuscript I’d written. He’d called me a talent.

The following day an email appeared in my inbox with the subject line: QUERY: THE LIFE LIST. Yes! I said a quick prayer of thanks and clicked on the email, ready to sign the contract.

Dear Author. Thank you for your recent query. Unfortunately, it’s not for me. Best wishes.

It was from Agent X’s assistant.

I was KA-RUSHED! When I finally dried my eyes, I decided I’d try again. Agent X’s assistant obviously didn’t realize that Agent X and I were destined to be together. I sent a new and slightly revised query letter the following week. Agents receive hundreds of queries each week. Surely he wouldn’t remember the first one.

The next day I received the exact same rejection letter. Damn that peaky assistant! I was no longer heartbroken, I was pissed. That whippersnapper assistant was keeping Agent X and me apart. There was only one solution: an old-fashioned snail mail query, sent directly to Agent X.

Two weeks later a letter arrived, this time directly from Agent X. Now, instead of an email, I had tangible proof, signed by Agent X himself, that I was nothing but a big loser and he wanted nothing to do with my novel—at least that was my interpretation.

It’s easy to feel defeated as a new writer, and I did. But I came back to life. I spent the next year polishing my manuscript until it was ready to send into the Agentsphere once again.

Five months later I had three offers of representation. And the old cliché proved true. Things really did work out for the best. My agent, Jenny Bent, has exceeded my every expectation.

DB: Thank you for sharing this, Lori. Perseverance is the calling card of any successful author, and we’re so glad you kept at it!

GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by Noon (EST) on Friday, July 3rd to win a copy of SWEET FORGIVENESS (U.S. & Canada)! Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!

About Lori:

Photo by MATTHEW DAE SMITH |

Lori Nelson Spielman’s debut novel, The Life List, became a #1 International bestseller. It has been translated into 29 languages, and Fox 2000 purchased the film option. Her second book, Sweet Forgiveness, released on June 2, 2015. She lives in Michigan with her husband and their very spoiled cat. Find Lori on Twitter and Facebook.

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Karma Brown is the author of COME AWAY WITH ME (MIRA/Harlequin, September 2015), an emotional story of one woman’s discovery that life is still worth living, even if it’s not the life you planned. Karma is also a National Magazine award-winning journalist, and lives outside Toronto, Canada, with her family and their mischievous labradoodle puppy, Fred.

This article has 18 Comments

  1. Amazing book! I loved it! I was lucky enough to get an early access ebook copy through First To Read. I’ve recommended it to friends and relatives. I bought a copy for both my mom and sister. Now, I need a hard copy for myself to add to my bookshelf 🙂 I follow via email and Facebook.

    1. Thank you so much, Claudia! I am so happy you were an early reader and enjoyed it. And how nice of you to buy copies for your mom and sister. I agree–you do need a hard copy on your bookshelf! Good luck to you! 🙂

  2. I love hearing your mom is your first reader, that is awesome! And it is always reassuring to read how successful authors (like you) have found what works for you to make your dream happen.
    I can’t wait to read this book, absolutely loved THE LIFE LIST!

    1. Thank you so much for you comment, Jill! I do feel lucky having my mom available to read my early drafts. It’s the best feeling when she says, “Get working on that book. I need to see what happens!”

      Good luck to you and best wishes on your writing pursuits. Perseverance–and a thick skin–are key. Don’t give up!

  3. Loved the Agent X story and I absolutely loved The Life List. I’d love to win the copy of Sweet Forgiveness as I haven’t read it yet. : (

  4. I love your writing Lori. My sister just finished The Life List upon my recommendation and loved it. Kudos on your perseverance!! My first rejection crushed me so much that I haven’t sent out another since!
    You are the first Michigan author whose writing I have loved. I hope there are more novels to come!

    1. Hi Michelle! I’m so happy you and your sister enjoyed The Life List. Thank you! Now, about that rejection…I wish I could sit you down and talk to you! Please don’t give up after your crushing rejection letter. Try to think of it as a rite of passage, something almost all writers have to go through. Please keep trying. The journey through Rejectionland hurts like hell, but it’s the only way to get to the finish line. You can do it, Michelle! I wish you the very best of luck, a thick skin, a friend to cry to, and, ultimately, a book deal!

      1. Thank you Lori. I wish that you could sit me down and talk to me too! For now I will have to let your book do the “talking”. Hoping to get to East Lansing when you are at Schulers.

        Oh, and I also forgot to mention that I follow DB on Facebook and Twitter too!

  5. Interesting. I’ve never heard of a Ramos Fizz or saying rabbit, rabbit before. I would love to read this book. I follow on Twitter.

    1. I’m filled with useless info! Thanks for chiming in, Kimberly, and for the Twitter follow! (And remember to say, “Rabbit rabbit,” tomorrow–it’s the first of the month! You’ll have great luck, just you wait and see!) xo

  6. I can’t remember when or where I first heard about this book — it was months ago though. It’s been on my TBR list on Goodreads since then! Sounds great, and I’m really drawn to that cover for some reason too. (Yes, I’m a judge-a-book-by-its-cover bad girl lol)

  7. What a delightful interview! And thank you for hosting this giveaway. Forgiveness is one tough cookie who sneaks you a raisin when you were hoping for chocolate. Can’t wait to read it!

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