An EXCLUSIVE AUTHORLINK interview with Lori Nelson Spielman
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany (Paperback, Berkley, 17 November 2020/Large print edition, 28 April 2021)
A trio of second-born daughters sets out on a whirlwind journey through the lush Italian countryside to break the family curse that says they’ll never find love, by New York Times bestseller Lori Nelson Spielman, author of The Life List.
AUTHORLINK: Thank you for joining us today Ms. Nelson Spielman, or can we call you Lori? We loved reading The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany. A true pleasure. What inspired you to write this story?
“I wondered what would happen if someone knew, from a very young age, that they would never find love?”
NELSON SPIELMAN: Yes, please call me Lori! And thanks so much for hosting me on Authorlink. It’s an honor to chat with you. Okay, the inspiration for The Star-Crossed Sisters…
People often feel pressure to find ‘the one.’ I wondered what would happen if someone knew, from a very young age, that they would never find love? Might they actually live more fully, more authentically, without the pressure of finding love, like Emilia? Or might they be desperate to prove the prediction false, like Lucy? That became the premise of the Fontana family second-daughter curse.
Later, on a flight, I watched a documentary about Iris Apfel, a ninety-nine-year-old New York City icon. She was so completely adorable and full of life, I knew I wanted to create a character like her. That, of course, was the birth Aunt Poppy.
The novel’s secondary story, that of eighty-year-old Poppy and Rico, was inspired by my elderly German friend Dieter, who grew up during World War II and later escaped communist East Germany, leaving behind the love of his life.
AUTHORLINK: Oh wonderful. Yes, we love Iris Apfel. How has the pandemic affected the launch of your latest book? Have there been any silver linings?
NELSON SPIELMAN: Absolutely! The original release date was April of 2020, but we delayed until November because surely the pandemic would be over by then! Of course, we were still in the midst of Covid, but that fall, we learned that The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany was a November Book of the Month Club selection, and a week later, discovered it was a December Indie Next pick. I’m not sure these wonderful opportunities would have occurred with the April release, so yes, a fabulous silver lining. And though I missed the face-to-face interaction with my readers and booksellers, Zoom was very common by November and a fabulous way to connect with bookstores, bloggers, and readers far and wide.
AUTHORLINK: Bravo! You published your first novel in your late 40s, however, you had written three beforehand that are still sitting in the bottom of a drawer somewhere. How long did these first three books take to write? Had you tried to publish them? Would you revisit them and try to publish them now?
“I call them my writing assignments and, hopefully, they will forever be buried in that drawer!”
NELSON SPIELMAN: I call them my writing assignments and, hopefully, they will forever be buried in that drawer! Each took about a year to write, and despite the fact that they broke my heart by collecting only rejection letters, they were absolutely necessary in my evolution as a writer. I’m guessing every writer hopes that one day their early work might be resurrected. After I sold The Life List, my agent, Jenny Bent, asked if I had an idea for my next project. Not only did I have an idea, but I also had a complete manuscript, just waiting for her! I felt like the dream client. But Jenny never read that story. Not one sentence. It wasn’t a high concept novel (a term which, full-disclosure, I later had to Google!). And she was absolutely right. It lacked the freshness and pazazz a good novel should have.
AUTHORLINK: Hmm that’s interesting. You are mostly known for your international best-seller The Life List, published by Bantam Books/Random House in July 2013 and translated into 27 languages in 30 countries and optioned by Fox 2000. The seed for this novel was found in a little cedar box. One day several years ago, you opened an old keepsake box and tucked alongside your grandmother’s rosary and your first bankbook was a yellowed piece of notebook paper – ‘Lori’s List’.
Tell us about how this kernel of inspiration created a book that was different from the other unpublished three, and what, in your opinion, made it a best seller?
NELSON SPIELMAN: I had a feeling as I was writing, that this story was different than the others. The words flowed so easily—I actually thought my computer’s word count was wrong! It was a true joy to write. And I wish I knew the secret sauce. If I were to guess, I’d say its success was at least in part due to the universal themes of the novel: mother-daughter bonds, following your dreams, reclaiming your true self, never giving up, or settling for mediocrity. Whatever the reason, I am truly grateful.
AUTHORLINK: What were your fears in your journey to being a published author? Did you have any roadblocks? If so, tell us about them and how you overcome these obstacles?
” Ten years, three books, and hundreds of rejections later, I found my dream agent and she sold my novel.”
NELSON SPIELMAN: I am about the most thin-skinned person you could meet, so dealing with rejection never got easy. But I’m also a Taurus, so I’m fiercely persistent. For some reason, I just refused to give up. After oodles of rejections, I’d eventually set a project aside and tell myself, “Not this one.” And then I’d go on to write the next and the next. Ten years, three books, and hundreds of rejections later, I found my dream agent and she sold my novel. And even now, I’ll be midway through a draft that’s just not working, and I force myself to set it aside, saying, “Not this one.”
AUTHORLINK: That takes courage. How did you find your agent? Is she or he the same agent you had when you published your first book? Speaking of which, we understand you polished and re-wrote The Life List for a year, before spending a month querying agents. You were offered representation from Jenny Bent in August of 2011, after which you spent another six months revising and the book sold in March of 2012. Then, it took another 16 months for it to be published. Is that correct? How did it feel to have the published book in your hands after having started it in late 2009?
NELSON SPIELMAN: Wow! You’re good! Yes, this is all accurate. And yes, Jenny has been my one and only agent, and I hope to keep her for a lifetime. She’s incredible. For an author, having the finished book in hand—whether traditionally or indie published, hardback, or paperback—is a feeling like no other. It’s years and tears and hundreds of hours of labor, neatly bound into a beautiful package. That’s right—no matter the cover, we all think ours is beautiful—kind of like a newborn.
AUTHORLINK: Of course! Great analogy. We understand you started writing your first published novel The Life List in October of 2009 and finished the first draft in January 2010 – which was a record time for you. Is this because everything flowed so easily, compared to your first three attempts? Could you see an improvement in your writing and voice with each one of your books? How would you say you have improved creatively over the years?
NELSON SPIELMAN: It was record time for me, and I was working full time. The entire book, it seems, just unspooled. All I had to do was capture it on paper, with a voice I believe I found while taking a poetry class. Sadly, that magical experience has eluded me ever since! For me, it’s so much harder to write a book with the looming pressure of publication. I hope I’m a better writer now—I still attend writing conferences, read incessantly on the craft—but the real trick is to find a story that lights your fire, to discover characters you love, or love to hate. After all, you’re going to spend an entire year with them, so you better enjoy their company!
AUTHORLINK: I’m sure it would be a dream come true for you to see The Life List on the screen one day. And this dream is an inch closer to reality because Fox 2000 has purchased the film option – so wonderful. Any news on that? Or any other of your books?
“The entire film venture has been incredibly thrilling, and I still pinch myself.”
NELSON SPIELMAN: The entire film venture has been incredibly thrilling, and I still pinch myself. Netflix owns the film-rights now, with a super dynamic and talented producer attached, Liza Chasin. Adam Brooks has written a very funny and tender screenplay. Having said that, I try not to get my hopes up too much, because the film industry can be very precarious.
AUTHORLINK: Wow, Liza Chasin and Adam Brooks! What a pair. You’ve been a speech pathologist, a guidance counselor, and a teacher. When did you seriously start entertaining the idea of becoming an author? Had you joined a writing group around that time or does any writing courses?
NELSON SPIELMAN: I’ve always loved to write, but I grew up in a working-class family where practical professions, like teaching or nursing, were encouraged. My passion for writing was re-ignited when I was forty and working with a group of expelled students. I wrote short stories with moral dilemmas for them to read and discuss. They liked my stories and I loved writing them. That’s when I enrolled in my first writing class, joined a writer’s group, and starting devouring every article about the craft of writing I could get my hands on.
AUTHORLINK: What are you currently working on now? Can you tell us a bit about it?
NELSON SPIELMAN: Warning, I’m terrible at pitching! Okay, here goes: a woman travels to Santorini, Greece, secretly posing as her biological father’s caregiver to get a glimpse of the man she never knew, only to discover that blood isn’t always thicker than water.
AUTHORLINK: That sounds intriguing! Now we’d like to ask you some fun Proust-type questions to finish off
- Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Oh, my gosh! I know this is where I’m supposed to choose Jesus or the Dali Lama, but honestly, I adore Dolly Parton and would absolutely love to have dinner her. To me, she’s a national treasure and personifies genuine goodness with her warmth and wit, her incredible life story and mega-talent, and her kind and generous heart.
- If you could be famous for a something other than being an author, what would it be?
You know, I would have loved acting—not the beautiful female ingénue, of course, but maybe the sidekick?
- How would you describe your perfect day?
Perfect? Okay, I’m going for it! I’d wake to the sound of the ocean, my husband beside me. We’d walk the beach with our dog while sipping coffee. Upon returning to our seaside home, I’d find a message from Oprah, saying she loved my novel and wanted to promote it! (And of course, I’d end the day having drinks and dinner with Dolly! J)
AUTHORLINK: Ha ha, what great answers! It was our absolute pleasure chatting to you today Lori about The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany, as much as it was reading it at the beach! Thank you for your time today and we wish you every success for your future writing endeavors!
NELSON SPIELMAN: It was my absolute pleasure! I can’t thank you enough for your interest in my novels. All my best wishes to you!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lori Nelson Spielman is a New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author whose novels have hit #1 in six different countries. Formerly a homebound teacher in an inner-city school district, she holds master’s degrees in speech pathology and guidance counseling. She lives in Michigan with her husband.
You can find out more about Lori at https://www.facebook.com/lori.nelsonspielman, http://lorinelsonspielman.com/, and https://twitter.com/lnelsonspielman?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor