An essay about depression, disappearance, and returning.Read More
I’m so excited to reveal my cover for my YA debut, THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF SISTERS (Scholastic, February 23 ’16) I love these two sisters and feel the cover captures their amazing connection (as well as their separate secret inner worlds,) and I can't help turning it upside down to look into each of their eyes. Here is the announcement from Publisher's Weekly:
Bestselling adult author Luanne Rice sold her YA debut, The Secret Language of Sisters, to Aimee Friedman at Scholastic. Andrea Cirillo at the Jane Rotrosen Agency brokered the world rights deal for Rice, noting that the book, scheduled for 2016, was pitched as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly meets If I Stay. In the novel a girl enters a coma-like state known as locked-in syndrome (a condition in which the victim is conscious but cannot move or speak) after getting into a car accident. The accident was ostensibly caused by the fact that she was texting with her sister while driving. The “locked-in” state allows the victim, Cirillo explained, to be aware of her surroundings as well as “the story of her sister, who blames herself for the accident.”
The PEN Ten is PEN America's weekly interview series curated by Lauren Cerand. This week Lauren talks with Luanne Rice, theNew York Timesbest-selling author of 31 novels, which have been translated into 24 languages, including The Lemon Orchard, Cloud Nine, and Dream Country.
When did being a writer begin to inform your sense of identity?
From as far back as I can remember. As a child I wrote poems about nature and stories about people with secrets. As a child I could look out my bedroom window and see the Children’s Home on top of the next hill. We went to school with kids who lived there. There was one boy I wanted us to adopt, but our family had our own sorrows, and my parents said it wasn’t possible. I remember crying that night, and instead of sleeping I wrote a story about a boy with freckles and a hole in his sweater.
Whose work would you like to steal without attribution or consequences?
The idea of stealing another's work is horrifying to me. Writing is the closest thing to sacred I know.
Where is your favorite place to write?
By a window with cats on my desk.
Have you ever been arrested? Care to discuss?
I’ve never been arrested, but as a teenager I was accused of vandalism. A state trooper came to my house late at night. It was frightening to be accused of something I hadn’t done, and to feel I wasn’t being believed.
Obsessions are influences—what are yours?
Coastal New England, factory towns, Chelsea prior to gentrification, sisters, fathers, love, immigration. I’ve gone to Ireland to stand on the docks and commune with the family ghosts. I have Mexican friends living undocumented in LA. One woman was trafficked, and she is traumatized and can’t go anywhere for help because she fears getting caught without papers, and she fears the coyote who imprisoned her will come after her or take revenge on her family.
What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever put into words?
In my first novel I wrote about growing up with an alcoholic father. I had been tempted to censor myself, but somehow I didn’t. I wound up being disowned by some members of his family, and at my first-ever reading—at the New Britain Public Library, in my home town—a friend of his stood up and said he was glad my father was dead so he didn’t have to read what I’d written.
What is the responsibility of the writer?
To tell a story.
While the notion of the public intellectual has fallen out of fashion, do you believe writers have a collective purpose?
Yes, I feel it strongly. At this year’s Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Literary Festival I sat on a panel with Luis Alberto Urrea and Cristina Henriquez. It was powerful for me—they have written wonderful books about immigration, and I felt honored to join my voice with theirs. Luis is a kind of spirit guide for me. I keep his book about death on the border, The Devil’s Highway, close to me, on my desk. Before writing The Lemon Orchard, I asked him if it was okay for me to write about illegal immigration because it’s not, literally, my story. I’d never worried like this before—I’ve always written from my heart and obsessions, written what I dreamed and felt. But in this case I was writing about people crossing the border, dying in the desert or living in fear, undocumented in Boyle Heights, and it was inspired by real families and actual events. I worried that this story wasn’t mine to write. But Luis told me that not only could I write it but that I must. I felt tremendously supported.
What book would you send to the leader of a government that imprisons writers?
Freedom in Exile by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Where is the line between observation and surveillance?
Observation is gentle, surveillance is brutal.
I was so honored to learn Connecticut College wanted a profile of me for CC Magazine. Amy Martin, the magazine's wonderful editor, made it all happen. Ben Parent, art director, and Bob Handleman, photographer, and Bob's assistant--and fine photographer in her own right--Lindsey Platek came over one August day and we had a great time on the photo shoot. Ben Parent is a real visionary, and Bob is a great artist, and they made my little cottage at Hubbard's Point look so magical. Not only that, Ben provided a great soundtrack, thanks to his band Rivergods. Here are some photos from that day...
Q. What inspired you to write this novel?
I wanted to write about the way a family can look great, “normal,” from the outside, when abuse is taking place behind closed doors. Also, write about how abuse, no matter who it’s directed at, affects the entire family.
Q. You recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about your own experiences in an abusive marriage. How did your marriage compare with Anne’s? How did you get away?
One difference is that I didn’t have children. I received the whole brunt, and although he didn’t hit me, the psychological and emotional toll was high. Like Anne, I kept the abuse secret. I became more and more isolated from my friends and family. There was a moment when I saw things clearly. I imagined what my mother would say if she was still alive, how she would help me get away from him. So I used that strength and got away myself.
Q. In that piece, you mentioned being angry with a friend for seeing through the veil of secrecy. What advice would you give to those—a friend or family member—who want to help a victim of abuse? Should they expect to be met with anger?
A hallmark of being in an abusive relationship is denial. That’s how you survive. He’s telling you it’s all your fault, if only you’d be nicer, more understanding, less suspicious, more patient, things would be better, and he wouldn’t have to get so mad. So you twist into a pretzel, trying to set things right. Part of you hates yourself for this behavior, and part of you is hoping that this time it will work. How you react to a friend’s concern depends on the day. If you’re beaten down and in a “had enough” mode, you might listen and even open up. But because life with an abuser is like a kaleidoscope, ever shifting, when the picture changes, so does your hope and ability to see straight. So as a friend or family member, I would say be honest but be prepared for a negative reaction—until she’s really ready to hear you. And even then, she might hear for that moment and then pull back and retrench and believe him when he tells her you’re putting ideas in her head, you’ve never liked him anyway, that she’s disloyal and can’t keep her mouth shut.
Q. How did you go about putting your life, and yourself, back together again?
I think the biggest part is learning to be kind to yourself, recognizing that you don’t have to put someone else’s needs first, starting to focus on taking care of yourself. So much energy was put into trying to placate the abuser, there were huge gaps in self–care. You have to relearn—or learn—how to nurture yourself to the point of reminding yourself that you’re hungry, tired, it’s time to eat, sleep.
I wrote novels, and I surrounded myself with people who loved me. People I’d driven away over time came back to me, and no one said, “I told you so.”
Also I attended a support group called Domestic Violence Valley Shore Services. It was led by two strong, wonderful women. We’d meet on Thursday night, and by sharing our stories and tears, we healed. A group of united, supportive women is never to be underestimated.
Q. Many of the characters find solace in nature. You also blog about nature and, specifically, birds. How would you describe your relationship to nature?
I think I have a character in another novel say, “Nature is in my nature.” It’s true, it’s in all of ours. My sister Maureen has always loved the poem “Lines Written a Few Miles Aabove Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth, and we often quote the line, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” From the youngest age I can remember I sought nature to soothe and inspire me. My father was a navigator during the war, so he’d take us on night walks and show us how to identify constellations and find our way home. My mother painted and taught us that the beach was not only for walks and fun, but, with her easel set up in the marsh, a deep and endless source of inspiration. I love getting lost in nature—not literally—but in the sense of forgetting everything but the feeling of wind in my hair and the call of a pine warbler high in the canopy of trees in Central Park’s Ramble.
Q. This is your thirtieth novel. How would you say your books have changed? How have changes in your life affected your writing?
My first novel was about sisters and family, and so is my thirtieth. I am more interested than ever in how families work—how we love each other, break up, stay together, lose each other, hold on through the worst storms. Life has taught me a lot in thirty years. Both my parents died after long illnesses. I’ve been married and divorced . . . .more than once. There’s been much love, heartbreak, and love again. A friend was murdered. There have been family estrangements. I stopped drinking. I experienced domestic violence and found strength I never knew I had. After living in New York City most of my adult life, I’ve begun spending most of my time in Southern California. I’ve been seeing the same wise, compassionate, wonderful therapist since before writing my first novel. That’s a lifetime. To have her support and perspective is invaluable in ways I can’t begin to calculate. I fly home to see her or we talk on the phone. She once remarked that my novels seem prescient; my characters would have wild experiences, and a year after publication, my life would echo theirs. It’s fascinating, the writer’s unconscious. My characters learned the lessons I needed to learn before I was actually ready. So in that way, my characters pave my way through life.
Q. What were some of the particular challenges that writing this novel presented?
This novel flowed from my fingertips. It’s full of emotion, the horror of losing a relationship with someone you love as much as yourself, and the tentative—then growing—joy of meeting a niece you never thought you’d get to know. Writing about birds and birding in Central Park gave me the chance to share one of my favorite parts of New York City. Many people don’t realize how wild the park is, one of the best places to observe migratory birds in the world.
Q. Would you argue that Anne should be held accountable for the actions that helped her escape from her husband?
I am very involved with the Domestic Violence Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center and am so proud of the work done by Professor Deborah Epstein and her students do on behalf of abused families. Anne’s actions will obviously provoke debate, but I imagine Clare immediately contacting an attorney such as Deborah or one of the Georgetown grads, finding a strong advocate who’ll fight for Anne.
Q. What do you hope readers will take away from Little Night? Did writing it teach you anything unexpected?
I hope readers will enjoy reading about the complications and secrets of a family. Love isn’t always straightforward. I also hope that a reader might recognize herself or someone she loves and find a way to start talking about what’s going on, the first step in getting help.
Love between two people from different worlds, united by the knowledge of how it feels to lose a daughter.
(Photo by Adrian Kinloch)
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Summer was the closest we came to pure joy when we were young. Freedom from school, being set loose on the beach, with adventures so plentiful we didn’t even have to go looking for them. We had a group of close “summer friends” who we’d see every year from June till September, and we’d be together from first light till we were too exhausted to do anymore.Read More
I’m writing this in a beach house with doors open to the sea, listening to the waves and feeling the salt air. A pod of pilot whales swam by a little while ago; I watched their glossy black backs lift just before then sounded, and felt strong love for them and all creatures in our beautiful oceansRead More
What could be more disturbing than a mother who leaves her daughters? She's not sick, there's no deep dark secret, she doesn't have amnesia. One day she just walks out. To those who've read Geometry of Sisters, you'll be familiar with Pell Davis. When she and her sister Lucy are abandoned by their mother as children, their world is turned upside down. They have the world's best dad, and for a while he holds the children together. But when he dies, Pell has to grow up almost overnight. She doesn't pity herself, she doesn't look back. She strives for excellence in everything she does, she cares for Lucy with the ferocity of a mother lion. They attend boarding school in Newport, Rhode Island, and even after Pell finds a new friend on the football team, she has a single-minded plan: to find her mother.
Lyra Davis's whereabouts are no secret—she lives in a romantic villa on Italy's Isle of Capri. But Pell has to travel there to ask the question: why? Why did you leave? How could you have?
In a wild, rocky landscape surrounded by the deep blue sea, Pell will learn the truth about her mother. Nothing about the visit is easy, and Pell is forced to stay true to herself, to keep believing in love and goodness, to try to bring her own gifts to her mother. She's tested in ways we've all been: should we stay the course or give up when it becomes impossible? Be loyal or decide to do something unexpected? And most of all, can we forgive the worst?
I hope you enjoy The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners. I'd love to know what mothers and daughters, friends and fellow readers would have to say about Lyra's choice, and what Pell has to do to proceed in her own life.
The following interview appeared on Book Page in 1999. Luanne talks about her book, Cloud Nine. Luanne Rice describes Cloud Nine as a book that demanded to be written. Like Susan, Luanne's experience of caring for her own dying mother affected her profoundly, and for two years she was unable to write. Her mother "was the constant, encouraging figure in my life," notes Rice. She attended the same small public school as her mother, and credits her teachers with reinforcing her mother's support of her writing. "The years of her treatment and decline were so terrible and compelling," Rice says. "The whole thing affected me really deeply, and I stopped writing. I stopped being able to think like a novelist, I couldn't make the emotional connections I've been so blessed to be able to make."