Lori Nelson Spielman is the author of the new novel Sweet Forgiveness, and also the novel The Life List. A former speech pathologist, guidance counselor, and homebound teacher, she lives in Michigan.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Sweet Forgiveness?
A: I love the pay-it-forward concept of passing along acts of kindness, and wondered what would happen if, instead of paying forward good deeds, we were paying forward apologies and forgiveness. What if there was a pouch of stones, and each recipient was expected to forgive, then pass a second stone and an apology on to someone else, and so forth?
The pouch of Forgiveness Stones is basically a chain letter of forgiveness in the form of two garden pebbles, with a pay-it-forward request to forgive. Stones are ancient and accessible. I love that they symbolize strength as well as rigidity. Stones are used to build bridges, but also to build walls—exactly what our apologies and grudges can do.
Q: Shame plays a big role in the novel. How do you think shame affects the dynamics between people, and what do you see as an approach toward alleviating long-standing issues of shame?
A: It takes such energy trying to hide our guilt, whether it’s our physical flaws or emotional imperfections. It’s impossible to be genuine when one is carrying secret shame.
In a perfect world, a heartfelt apology would be enough to alleviate shame. In reality, sometimes an apology simply isn’t enough, especially when someone has suffered a heinous breach of trust.
I’m certainly no expert and I don’t mean to get philosophical here, but maybe the best route is to learn from our mistakes and enter each day with a conscious desire to create joy. What we cannot fix in our past, perhaps we can compensate for in the present.
Q: Another theme in your writing is mother-daughter relationships. Why does that particularly interest you?
A: The motherly bond is something so intrinsic, so basic to us, as humans. And for women especially, our mother-daughter relationships can be complex and wrought with conflict.
A mother’s role is to nurture, but also to guide and, ultimately, to let go. It gets tricky when one of these roles is off-balance. Expectations and hopes can be crippling when the mother’s goals don’t match the daughter’s. And this makes good fodder for storytelling!
Q: The book also addresses the issue of certainty versus uncertainty in life. How did you choose that as one of the themes to explore?
A: I didn’t set out to address this theme. It became apparent as I was writing the novel that sometimes it’s not necessary, or even advisable, to know the truth. This is not easy for most of us, because we feel a need for vindication.
In the case of my character, the truth no longer served a purpose, other than proving that she was right. It was too late for justice or rehabilitation. And it would have crippled her newly rekindled relationship with her mother. Sometimes being right is a hollow victory, and defeats the very intention of creating peace.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on my third novel, again women’s fiction, a genre I love. This story explores themes of loss and family and friendship, and how the desire for success can take us off course, leading us away from our true desires rather than toward them.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Thank you for your thoughtful questions. It is a pleasure to be featured on your blog.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Lori Nelson Spielman, please click here.