Letting go

Lansing author releases follow-up to The Life List

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Lansing author Lori Nelson Spielman said when she saw a giant poster for her new book, “Sweet Forgiveness,” at a French subway stop, it was “unbelievable, sort of like pinching yourself.”

But it’s not a dream. Spielman’s overseas success has been phenomenal. Her first book, “The Life List,” has been translated into 28 languages and still charts on European best-seller lists. It is currently No. 3 in Germany.

The book is a clever look at the bucket list phenomenon. A 30ish woman is forced, by her mother’s last will and testament, to pursue the goals on a bucket list she wrote when she was 14.

The success of the first book gave her what authors often refer to as the “sophomore jitters,” said Spielman.

“I felt so good having the first book done, but I knew I wouldn’t feel like a writer until the second one was done,” she said. “The first one was serendipitous, so it was a lot of pressure. I asked myself, ‘Am I an imposter?’”

But the new book is finished, and “Sweet Forgiveness” gets its North American release in Lansing next week at Schuler Books in the Eastwood Towne Center. Spielman, 52, is definitely no imposter.

Her publisher wanted a clever vehicle or a “high concept,” like the bucket list, for her second book, said Spielman. She decided on twisting something she recalled from her days as a high school speech therapist and guidance counselor.

“I remembered girls passing out friendship bracelets,” she said. “Since I always liked stories of forgiveness. I decided to add that element.”

In the book, a national fad has people passing out what are called “forgiveness stones,” a scheme an author invented when she sent 35 letters to people in her life with a pouch containing two stones. In the letters, she makes a simple request: the recipient return one stone to the sender, showing forgiveness, and then add a second stone to the packet and send it to someone requesting that they also “forgive and seek forgiveness.”

Sounds simple, like one of those chain letter requests that are forwarded in morning emails, but the whole idea gets very complicated when a popular New Orleans’ TV morning show host, Hannah Farr, receives of one of the author’s letters and has her own personal monster inadvertently revealed on air.

Farr attempts to use the forgiveness stone fad in a pitch to land a new job in a bigger market, and that’s when everything goes south. Without giving away the whole plot, Farr’s 20-year estrangement from her mother is revealed on air, and it seems as if everyone in New Orleans now knows about the forgiveness Ford seeks.

One person of import who is surprised by the revelation is the mayor of New Orleans, who is dating Farr. Their relationship was quite hot until she told him about the possible job offer in Chicago. His reaction rattles Farr, who was looking toward a possible marriage.

The mayor is focused on protecting his public persona and wants to hear nothing about problems or situations that may tarnish it. When Farr makes the on-air the revelation, their relationship is shaken to the core.

Farr then returns to her childhood home of Harbour Cove, a lakeside city in northern Michigan, to forgive her mother — or may be to seek forgiveness herself. That’s where the core of the book’s plot is centered. Did Ford interpret the events of 20 years ago to her own liking? Where does the truth lie? Spielman has a way of creating these sticky moral dilemmas in her novels.

Spielman said in this book she wanted to choose a very public figure, so a broadcast journalist seemed like a good idea.

“But I didn’t know anything about that profession,” she said.

She looked locally for advice, seeking help from WLNS news anchors Sheri Jones and Jane Aldrich.

“They were great,” Spielman said.

She also used the resources of her niece Kelsey Kiefer, a recent Central Michigan University broadcasting graduate who also works at WLNS, to make sure she was presenting a realistic TV studio and that the technical language she used was accurate.

Some Southern relatives, including a brother-in-law who is a professional photographer in New Orleans, helped her get the Big Easy’s locales and milieu down accurately.

During the writing of the book, Spielman said that a bout with cancer and her own need to forgive helped clarify the novel in her head.

“I was pissed at my own body,” she said. “I had to forgive it and accept a different body.”

“Sweet Forgiveness”

Author talk and signing 7 p.m. Thursday, June 25 FREE Schuler Books, Eastwood Towne Center 2820 Towne Center Blvd., Lansing (517) 316-7495, schulerbooks.com

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