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Brett Bohlinger has forgotten all about the list of life goals shed written as a na´ve teenager. In fact, at thirty-four, Brett seems to have it alla plum job at her familys multimillion-dollar company and a spacious loft with her irresistibly handsome boyfriend. But when her beloved mother, Elizabeth, passes away, Bretts world is turned upside down. Rather than simply naming her daughter the new CEO of Bohlinger Cosmetics, Elizabeths will comes with one big stipulation: Brett must fulfill the list of childhood dreams she made so long ago. Grief-stricken, Brett can barely make sense of her mothers decision. Some of her old hopes seem impossible. How can she possibly have a relationship with a father who died seven years ago? Other dreams (Be an awesome teacher!) would require her to reinvent her entire future. For each goal attempted, her mother has left behind a bittersweet letter, offering words of wisdom, warmth, andjust when Brett needs ittough love. As Brett struggles to complete her abandoned life list, one thing becomes clear: sometimes lifes sweetest gifts can be found in the most unexpected places.
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Inspiration for The Life List, by Lori Nelson Spielman
Like any author, I’m often asked how I came up with the idea for my novel. My answer comes easily. The seed for The Life List was found in an old cedar box.
It had been years since I’d last opened my miniature hope chest, a high school graduation gift. The scent of cedar greeted me, along with my first bankbook, my grandmother’s rosary, a couple of silver dollars, and a single sheet of notebook paper, folded into a neat little square.
Curious, I unfolded the yellowed paper. In flowery cursive, Lori’s List was penciled across the top. My abandoned life list.
I was wise enough to include the day and month, March 13th, but foolishly I’d omitted the year. Maybe I hadn’t planned to keep it. Maybe I didn’t realize how quickly memories fade, how years later, I’d barely remember the day that young girl sat on her blue flowered bedspread, contemplating her future. But judging from the goals, what had and hadn’t been accomplished, I was somewhere between 12 and 14 years old.
The crumpled piece of paper revealed a list of 29 things my adolescent mind imagined would make for a good life. I’d also added a sidebar called Ways to Be, which included such pearls as, Don’t talk about ANYONE. Laugh. Say “hi” to everyone.
I’d love to say that all my goals were altruistic and contemplative. In truth, many were embarrassingly self-indulgent and trivial. Have lots of clothes was actually on my life list. Seriously! Be a cheerleader was another lofty goal. (Did I actually think shaking pompoms would be a life changer?) Ah, but I did have Help people on my list. And Give my body to science was thoughtful, right? Never mind that I qualified it with a “maybe”.
Relationships were important to me. A scrawny girl with teeth too big and breasts too small, I was pretty much ignored by the opposite sex. So naturally, Be popular and Have boyfriends were at the top of my list, followed by longer-term goals of Have a good marriage, Have babies, Have a close family.
Even as a young girl, I loved to write and tell stories, yet being an author was not on my life list. In my middleclass neighborhood, in my middleclass town, I’d never met a single author. Authors lived in New York City, or in glass-walled houses overlooking the Pacific. Instead, I hoped to be a teacher, a profession that seemed accessible. And if not glamorous, then at least comfortable.
As I stood reading the list some thirty years later, it pleased me that I did, indeed, accomplish many of my goals. I had made the cheerleading squad (phew, right?). I had my share of boyfriends, though they arrived much later than that young girl once hoped, thank God. I’d graduated from college and learned to ski and traveled to Europe. I was a teacher, a profession I loved. I had a good marriage. I even had a cat. But I didn’t live on a lake. I hadn’t designed my own home. I didn’t have two kids, or a horse, or a dog.
As I read the list, I thought about how different my life would be if I’d fulfilled every goal my youthful heart longed for. In no time, my mind was racing. A story was taking shape. What if someone were forced to finish their life list—a list they thought they’d outgrown?
In the course of several days, my story evolved. First, I came up with riddles from a dying mother, offering her daughter cryptic clues to find her true self. But that was silly. Why the riddles? Why wouldn’t her mother just tell her daughter what she wanted her to accomplish? And it was crucial that the mother didn’t appear heavy-handed or controlling. The story could only work if it was clear that the mother’s intentions came from a loving heart. I also knew the story risked being predictable. I imagined readers rolling their eyes, sure that in the end, Brett would be married to the love of her life and have a baby and a dog and a horse. Her dreams couldn’t be accomplished easily, or in conventional ways the reader might expect. I wanted some goals to lead to others, in circuitous, serendipitous ways. Soon, pages for Another Sky were piling up, becoming the manuscript that would later be re-titled, The Life List.
So there you have it: the kernel for The Life List was my old life list—Lori’s List. Though I fell short of some goals, I believe my list served me well. It’s true, I won’t be waving my children off to college. But I will get to watch my novel set off for parts of the world I may never visit. My book will be introduced to new people, and hopefully entertain, and possibly provoke discussion. And maybe, just maybe, my story will inspire some other little girl, in some other small town, to set her own goals, to aspire to something that’s hers alone. And whether her ambitions are humble or grandiose, silly or pensive, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is, she dreams.About the Author:
Lori Nelson Spielman, a former speech pathologist and guidance counselor, currently works as a homebound teacher for inner-city students. She enjoys sailing, running, and reading, though writing is her passion. She lives in Michigan with her husband and a very spoiled cat.
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