Luanne Rice, author of 29 novels, shares some of the methods that have made her such a successful writer.
New York Times bestselling author, Luanne Rice, tells of her chance encounter with a Shark.
Written on a random flight, who knows when, on one book tour or another. up in the sky
by Luanne Rice
when i fly, i go up in the sky.
it's true, and i'm up here now.
all around me is blue, except for long cloud highways leading to and from canada and other places. below me, there is haze. through it i can see rivers, ponds, towns, hills, roads. i am in a dream.
in the dream i join a parade of people, strangers, pulling suitcases on wheels, bumping along the jetway and over the narrow space between it and the jet door, and onto this large conveyance. it is a jet plane. i almost never dream of parades. and as a waking hermit, i rarely, well, never, march in them--but that's not even the strange part. the surreal part of this dream is taking off from the ground, going up into the sky, in a flying machine. this is not my natural element.
i did not always feel this way.
when i was young, i was as one with the sky. i flew with abandon. i'd go flying with my cousin--a true beach boy with whom i used to go crabbing at the rocky end of the half-moon beach known as hubbard's point, an experience about which i wrote my very first published story. his name is tom. when tom was 16, even before he could drive, he got his pilot's license. he wanted to get as many flight hours as possible, and i was right there beside him. we flew everywhere. we buzzed his teacher's house in harwinton. we flew home from the airstrip near waitsfield, vermont in a snowstorm.
we used to charter an old seaplane. he would land in the boats-only area right by the crabbing rocks at the end of the beach, to pick me up. i'd swim out to the plane and climb onto the pontoon and into the cockpit. my seat would be soaked with salt water. he'd turn us out to sea, and we'd bounce over the waves. the plane was so old that when he took off and banked right, the passenger door would flap open and i'd be looking straight down at long island sound.
fearless children we were.
then there were the paris years. i lived in paris with my first husband. his name was also tom. we were young and in love. with each other, with everything. every day i would walk along the seine for hours, trying to memorize the exercises my tutor, madame piochelle, had given me. "allo, allo, ici george, qui est la?" "c'est moi, jean!" "vien jouer avec moi?" "oui, j'arrive." "a tout a l'heure." "a tout a l'heure." i would also shop at the marches, especially rue cler, for our dinner. once i bought a whole rabbit. i don't remember how i cooked it, but i do know that i have bad dreams about it now. tom loved my cooking, and i loved doing it for him. to me, that was the essence of love.
once on the terrace of chez francois, near the pont de l'alma, i met bono. actually he said his name was paul , I didn’t figure out he was bono until a bit later. this was just before joshua tree. we started talking--about love, being irish, being american, being writers, and love again. what else was there but love? nothing.
during that time, my mother developed a brain tumor. i flew home a lot, to see her. that was the first time i remember feeling skeptical of flying. would the plane get airborne? would it actually land? maybe i was really afraid of something else, like losing her. i'm not sure. but the way i got myself through those feelings was to think of my father, who had been in the air force.
his name was tom, too.
world war ll, he was stationed at a base at north pickenham on the wash, north of london. he was only 23. he trained for a year in colorado springs. before that, he'd never been in a plane. he grew so close to his crew--as close as brothers. he was navigator-bombardier. once in england, flying missions over france and germany, he stood out and was promoted to the lead plane in the eighth air force. he refused to leave his old crew--his new crew had to literally carry him and his possessions to their nissan hut. the very next mission, his old crew was shot down over helgoland.
that's not the part that inspired me, exactly. although writing it, i see that it sort of did. somehow my father kept going. i can only imagine his grief. he flew on d-day, over normandy. his was the first plane over dresden, shot down on his way home. he was irish-catholic. i think of him, a beloved and sheltered boy from a close hartford family, thrown into war. he had a very sensitive soul.
promoted to the lead plane in the 8th air force, he was the very first plane over Dresden. on his way back from that dreadful bomb run he was shot down. other planes, his friends, went down in flames all around him. he parachuted out, crash-landed in a tree in occupied france and broke his back. he was rescued by a family with three daughters; they hid him in their barn. after he got home and married my mother, they had three daughters. my sister rosemary also has three daughters.
during my paris flying years, i would quell doubt and fear by thinking of all the times my father flew without getting shot down. over 25 missions. back and forth over the english channel, during tempests of all kinds. wild winds blew, making the plane shake. they would lose altitude, but just keep going. i imagined his old bomber, strafed with shrapnel, taking off and landing again and again.
there i was on the concorde--who was i to worry? i was really just a spoiled traveler. anyway, my mother wound up coming to paris to have her chemo at the american hospital. i didn't fly as much after that. although tom took me to venice for my 30th birthday. we stayed in a sweet hotel behind la fenice.
i heard placido domingo singing in the courtyard.
one night tom and i took a water taxi to the lido. i had to put my feet in the sand and feel the salt of a brand new, to me, sea. i thought of thomas mann. there are times when i'm an existential beach girl. but i guess if you're reading this, you know that by now.
the next time i felt tense about flying was many years later.
through life, life, life.
many beaches later. mistakes, mysteries, flights and passions later.
okay, here's the story. i was on book tour in summer, 2001. trans-canada, from fredericton to vancouver. at the time, i was in the midst of a tragic, unbecoming, and completely abusive non-love situation. my third marriage. snares had risen from the depths, wrapped themselves around my ankles. that made it hard to fly. how can you rise--above the earth, above anything--if you are tethered from below?
my itinerary took me amazing places. halifax, toronto, calgary, banff, lake louise. being so far away and so often up in the air let me see my life with some persective.
look down through the clouds and see what is.
that book tour saved my life. it showed me my strength, and that I didn’t have to stay with him. kick him out, reclaim myself. surround myself with real love—not twisted, psycho control masquerading as a marriage. I was out of there.
thank you, sky, for holding me aloft.
thank you, plane, for taking me away.
thank you, my own strong heart, for never giving up.
i know i can fly because guess what? i’m doing it right now.
still, it's a dream.
First published in Good Housekeeping Magazine’s Blessings column. Later reprinted in the book Blessings: Reflections on Gratitude, Love, and What Makes us Happy. God Moves in a Mysterious Way
by Luanne Rice
I’m the oldest of three sisters, something that defines me as much as my name. “You’ll have many friends,” our mother used to tell me. “But you’ll only have two sisters.” I knew she said that to them, too. She didn’t want us to take each other for granted, but she was an only child and didn’t understand: life without them would be like life without air, water, or blood—things I wouldn’t last long without.
When we were young, my sisters and I shared a room. Sometimes after they fell asleep, I’d walk around the room touching the bedposts. Talisman, prayer, or just craziness, I’m not sure. I shared that room with them for eighteen years, until I went to college. My first nights away, I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t hear them breathing.
That doesn’t mean I was a perfect oldest sister. I raided their sweater drawers. My middle sister got a beautiful fair-isle sweater—sky blue with white and pale green around the neckline—for her sixteenth birthday—but I wore it without asking whenever I could. Also, I flirted with my youngest sister’s boyfriend, danced with him too long at a winter dance one time.
We were all two years apart in age, walked each other to and from school. The day I got my license, I taught them to drive. We could make each other laugh with one word or glance. When I saw my mother trying to balance the checkbook, fretting about making the mortgage payments, I vowed to protect my sisters from them; I remember feeling the weight on my shoulders, knowing that I wanted them to stay happy and innocent. I wanted our complicated family to be simple and predictable, so my sisters wouldn’t have to worry about anything.
Was that where it all started? Arrogance on my part, to think that they couldn’t handle life as it was, that I had to run interference for them? Or was I just a not-good-enough older sister, a bad example, selfish in sweaters and selfish in life?
As adults, I moved to a city, they stayed by the sea. I have cats and a career, they have beautiful children. They got married and built lives; I got married and divorced. Three times. I felt like the family embarrassment and failure.
When I look back now, I can’t even define the precise moment that we stopped speaking to each other. I know that it happened after our mother died, when we no longer had the glue of her long, terrible illness to hold us together.
At first we stopped getting together as often. The time between calls grew longer and longer. After a while, the calls stopped, and I remember a moment when it dawned on me—maybe the worst moment in my life—that they had decided to cut themselves off from me and my untoward life. Looking back now, I realize that my life was difficult for them to deal with, and they had to step back. And because I didn’t know how to stop them, I let them.
The silence was so terrible, even now it hurts to remember. Being alone is one thing—but after having grown up with such closeness, it was almost unbearable. I began to have holidays with friends—people I love a lot. But every Thanksgiving morning I’d feel bereft, wanting my sisters instead.
One day I couldn’t take it any more. Literally. I was in a rocky, abusive marriage—my last. It pushed me over the edge. An early winter night in 2002, I jumped into Long Island Sound with my computer. I ended up at McLean Hospital, frozen inside and out, swimming in grief.
I called my sisters.
They came to me. Not in their cars, not up the highway, but straight back into my life. They let me know they loved me. It took a little time, but we saw each other. We talked. They know me better than anyone. Our history is in our hearts, in our skin. Maybe that’s why our time apart was so excruciating—I felt I had been ripped in half. Coming back together has been the greatest blessing I can imagine, and it has shown me that with sisters, love means never having to say “I was a jerk.” It means forgiveness and never having to touch the bedpost to ensure that we’ll always have each other.