Emelina, Orion, Ivy, and Patrick

Summer’s over, and grief is complicated. Some days I’ll sit at my desk and think I feel Tim curling up on the back of my chair, behind my neck. I reach back to touch him, but he’s not there. No one will every replace him, but now we have kittens. I’d like to introduce you to three new members of the family: Orion, Ivy, and Patrick.

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Music from THE LEMON ORCHARD

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While writing THE LEMON ORCHARD I listened to music that inspired me.  These are songs of love, travel, connection, family, and crossing borders.  Because the music meant so much to me and the characters I was creating, I wove the songs into the novel.  They are songs of America, Mexico, and Ireland, by artists I have loved forever and others that were new to me.

I was introduced to some of the music by the man who inspired the character of Roberto.  He comes from a small town outside Puebla, Mexico, and now he lives in East LA. The story between Roberto and Julia is passionate, and the music is the soundtrack to their love.

Because I wanted you to hear the songs, I put them together in a Spotify playlist.  My own musical taste goes like this: if the song makes me feel something, goes into my heart, I'm there.  I react to music with emotion--it makes me feel, remember, ache.  Because this playlist says a lot about the novel, and because I wanted it to express my family's Irish roots and "Roberto's" Mexican roots, and because I wanted to include songs about immigration--ones I might not have heard before--I asked my friends Mark Lonergan and Becky Murray for suggestions.

Music and friendship are deeply linked.  I've included two songs by my friend Garland Jeffreys.  Becky and Mark both gave me excellent ideas--Mark, also my guitar teacher, introduced me to Tim O'Brien's music a while back--we went to see him perform at NYC's The Cutting Room back when it was in Chelsea and owned by Chris Noth.  I think it's still owned by Chris Noth. Becky and her husband Ed suggested songs by Lady Gaga and Billy Walker.  Those artists are on the playlist along with Bruce Springsteen, Lila Downs, Ry Cooder, Los Tigres Del Norte, Tom Morello, Alison Moorer, Juan Gabriel, The Chieftains, Lola Beltrán, Luis Miguel, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and others.

Thanks to Winnie De Moya of Viking Penguin for posting my Spotify playlist to my Pinterest The Lemon Orchard board.

Maya, we love you...

IMG_3752For so long we were four.  As someone who knows us well has said, I was the fourth cat.  I think that is true.  When you spend so much time with beings, and  you are together most of the time, your species merge.  I do know that I learned to speak their language. Cats are kindreds in the sense you never have to be your "best" (whatever that is) with them, and they meet  you where you are on any given day, in any given mood.  That has been true of my girls.  They have sat on my desk through book after book, giving me love, being the best friends and companions.

maya3Maya died on April 5.  I called her Mae Mae for a long time, but when we moved to California she wanted to be called Maya and so that's what we called her.  She was the sweetest, most loving kitty.  I think back to when she was a kitten, those white whiskers and her bright green eyes, and the way she wanted to play and play.

Sickness never took the play out of her.  She loved to take walks--back home in New York we would walk down the hallway of our apartment building, nothing much to see, but just being together as we strolled from one end of the hall to the other.  She had the cutest habit of stopping, looking up to make sure I was following, taking a few more steps, glancing up again, continuing on.  maya

 

 

 

maya walkIn California I'd sometimes take her outside.  I'm a believer in indoor kitties--too many dangers out in the world, and I am the biggest worrier around.  I'd be afraid of coyotes, cars, hawks...but by the time we reached Malibu she had a diagnosis of lymphoma--the same disease that took Maggie and, decades ago, each of my parents--and I knew she didn't have long.

So one day when she stood at the screen door smelling the jasmine and salt scented air, I opened it up and let her out.  I followed close by, never let her more than a few feet away.  I had done the same for Maggie when, a year ago, she began to die.

maya blueMaya, like Maggie, loved those hours in the garden.  We would sit together on the blue thing, and I can only imagine how good the warm sun felt on her black fur.  Her hair had started falling out in patches--she wasn't having chemo so it couldn't have been from that, but she seemed to love the breeze and the fresh air.  Heading back into the house she would stop on the stone path, glance back just the way she did in our Chelsea hallway walks, make sure I was right there, and keep going toward the house. 

She died in my arms just past noon on April 5.

Each cat has her own story.  Maggie was born on a sprawling farm of red barns and mountain laurel-covered hillsides in Old Lyme CT.  Her mother was killed by foxes when Maggie was just days old, and this tiny kitten was taken into a stone wall and fed by a squirrel mother for just a few days--enough to keep her alive.  A friend with super powers captured tiny Maggie--she was swift as a bird--and I fed her on a bottle, and she thought I was her mother, and we became each other's family.

hello maggieMaggie was a wild kitty and I was a wild woman.  This is true.  My mother's life was ending, her long illness concluding, and my way of raging against the dying of the light was to behave as recklessly as possible.

maggie among sweatersMaggie was tiny and fast as a shooting star.  She would hide in the most unlikely places.  Once she disappeared so totally I thought she was gone forever, but then she jumped down the stone chimney into the fireplace and shook the soot off her fur--she had been hiding on the smoke shelf.  Often I would climb into bed and find her under the covers--flattened and invisible to everyone but me.

mae mae copyMaya--"Mae Mae"--came into our lives when Maggie was one.  She was also a rescue cat.  I got her from Dr. Kathy Clarke, a vet in Old Lyme.  Maya was the daughter of a brave cat named Cruella for her black and white streaks.  One night when someone left the d00rs open, Cruella patrolled the kennels to keep the dogs at bay, away from her kittens.  One of her kittens was Maya, and she inherited her mother's ferocity.

maisie bookMaisie joined us a few years later.  Also a rescue cat, the only survivor of a family who died of diptheria, Maisie is skittish and fears losing everyone and everything.  She needs special attention.  Traveling upsets her--to put it so mildly.  All three were born in Old Lyme CT, raised in New York City, and traveled with me to California when, after lifetimes on the east coast and with little warning to anyone including myself, we just picked up and moved west.

I haven't written about Maya's death--or Maggie's--until now because what is there to say except that they were the dearest girls and I loved them and to say I miss them is the understatement of my lifetime?  They are together in the garden now.  Maisie and I are alone, and we are trying.  It is not easy.  For so long we were four, and now we were two.  We feel the loss.  Yes, we do.

Right now Maisie and I are forming a new relationship.  Because she was the third, the baby, she has never been the only kitty--the favorite kitty.  And for the first time in her life she is both.

maisie on ol's birthday

The Lemon Orchard

In the five years since Julia last visited her aunt and uncle’s home in Malibu, her life has been turned upside down by her daughter’s death. She expects to find nothing more than peace and solitude as she house-sits with only her dog, Bonnie, for company. But she finds herself drawn to the handsome man who oversees the lemon orchard. Roberto expertly tends the trees, using the money to support his extended Mexican family. What connection could these two people share? 

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The old Blue Moon

BLUE MOON is now available as an e-book.  This gives me the chance to remember writing the novel, to be filled with all the emotions of the time.  The words "Blue Moon," as well as referring to the celestial phenomenon of two full moons during the same calendar month, is also the name of the old blood-and-booze soaked honky tonk section of Newport, Rhode Island.  My grandmother first told me about it--she was a "good girl," but as a young woman she and her boyfriend (who became my grandfather) were known to visit the Blue Moon district to meet their friends, cause some mischief, and dance up a storm.

I started writing the novel late one fall, when the weather had turned cold and storms had started down from Labrador, while driving in my car one day, I heard a radio report of a local fishing boat missing.  The Coast Guard search began, continued over Thanksgiving, and was about to be called off when flares were sighted.   Suddenly there was hope...but then the rumors began, that the flares had been set off by other fishing boats, doing anything they could to keep the search going.

That kind of love and loyalty hit me hard.  I decided to write about a family fishing business in Mount Hope (aka Newport) Rhode Island.  The  Keating clan owned a fleet of boats, then sold the catch at Lobsterville, their wharfside restaurant.   There are three generations of Keatings, all with their own loves, hardships, secrets, and joys.    I love that family still, and feel as if they're my own.

I  hope you'll download BLUE MOON and meet the Keatings.  Billy and Cass, married 10 years and with 3 kids, were known as "the batteries" --their attraction to each other  was so strong--and  I think I've gotten more reader mail about a certain scene in Billy's truck in a grocery store parking lot than for many other books combined--but who says married couples can't have fun too?

Sheila, the matriarch, is still in love with her husband, in spite of the fact he's been dead for years now, and she never stops dreaming of another dance at the old Blue Moon with him.

My kind of love.

if it's the june full moon, it must be love

tomorrow night aboard merci the o's will sail to napatree

where on the silver sands they'll see

a sight as ancient as the sea.

for at high tide, every june,

on nights approaching the full moon,

horseshoe crabs crawl up the dune,

mate, then swim away post-swoon.

 

 

Excerpt from THE SILVER BOAT (and Reading Group Guide for Book Clubs)

To celebrate spring, I’m sharing a sneak peek at the first few pages of my new novel, The Silver Boat. Since it comes out on April 5, it seems only fitting. Happy spring, everyone!

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Music of the Spheres

I am hearing the Music of the Spheres this week before Christmas.  On Tuesday there was a full moon, full lunar eclipse, and Winter Solstice, all at once.  How could such events, especially during the holidays, fail to turn each of us into a mystic? Musica universalis--Pythagoras said "There is geometry in the humming of the strings.  There is music in the spacing of the spheres."  It's a harmonic philosophy regarding celestial bodies, space among the sun, moon, and planets.

Maybe it's because my mother told us that if we were very still and quiet on Christmas Eve, we could hear angels singing--the only night of the year that was possible.  Of course that was a bold attempt to settle us down, wild with excitement for Christmas morning, but even as young children we felt the deeper meaning.

Everyone feels the holidays in their own way.  For me Christmas is inseparable from my mother; after a very long illness, when she was constantly dying, the time finally came.  Her final death started in mid-December.  The doctor and a priest charged me with telling her what was happening.  I remember sitting by my mother's bed at the nursing home, informing her that she was going to die.

She got really mad at me, and refused to speak to me for a week.  I'd go see her, and she'd turn her head to the wall.  I found a small tree and decorated it with lights and our family ornaments, irridescent balls decorated with twinkling snow, dating back to my grandmother's turn-of-the-century childhood.  I brought her Scottish Terrier, Gelsey, to visit her.  I introduced her to my new tiger kitten, Maggie.

No response.

Then, finally, one night I was sitting by her bed in the dark, with only the tree lights illuminating her small room.  I looked over at her, and saw her staring at me--intensely, as if she was trying to memorize me.  Her mouth moved--I read her lips: "I love you."

"I love you, too, Mom."

I held her hand, and we looked at each other for a long time.  She slipped in and out, but talked to me when she could.  The cold shoulder was forgotten.  Having fought so hard for so long, she really didn't want to let go.  It was a case of "blame the messenger," but that's okay.  I understand, and am all the more grateful for our last few days together.  She died soon afterwards, on January 2, 1995.

Music of the spheres.

Love the planet, love the moon, love the sky, love each other, love what is and not what you would have it to be, love music, love the beasts, love yourself.  Peace on earth.  Or as Peter Lehner of NRDC says, Peace With the Earth.

I have quoted this section from Shakespeare many times, on this site and in essays I have written--it speaks to me for so many reasons.  Today, I'm hearing the "heavenly music" line...

From the Tempest, Act V, Scene I:

I have bedimm'd The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds, And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder Have I given fire and rifted Jove's stout oak With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck'd up The pine and cedar: graves at my command Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth By my so potent art. But this rough magic I here abjure, and, when I have required Some heavenly music, which even now I do, To work mine end upon their senses that This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff, Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, And deeper than did ever plummet sound I'll drown my book.

Solemn music

What Matters Most

Picking up where Sandcastles lets off, this a story about two people who've loved each other forever but live their lives apart.  "Writing the novel, I tried to capture that feeling of complete longing for something you can never have yet, at the same time, carry in your heart at all times." –Luanne

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Advice To Young Writers

Luanne Rice, author of 29 novels, shares some of the methods that have made her such a successful writer.

Try to remember the kind of September

September is the most beautiful, still so full of summer, warm sands, salt water holding onto August heat.  The humidity drops, the sky is clear.  Bright blue, high clouds or no clouds.  Achingly gorgeous sunsets, topaz, violet, and maroon. Sometimes hurricanes come in September.  We'd ride them out at the beach, leaning into the wind.  Waves would rise to cliff-height and crash down, seething white over the sand, across the boardwalk, into the boat basin.  And then the weather would clear, and we'd clean up the branches and leaves and broken windows.  My house was built in 1938, survived the famous hurricane that devastated our area, and all storms since.

Early September brought conflict, i.e. school.  It required a complete alteration of mind and mood, a radical revision of self, to go from the beach's freedom to school's schedules.  We learned a lot in both places.  But to this day I know I was one person at the beach and another once school began.

Yesterday a friend and I walked through the city.  We headed downtown from 23rd St.  The day was hot.  Tenth Avenue reflected the heat.  We were on our way to a meeting.  Business, like school, starts up after Labor Day.  I wore loafers and real pants, not jeans.  My teeshirt wasn't torn or gigantic or from Surfrider.  It looked vaguely legit.  I sat around a big table with bright, creative people who talked about exciting things.   I had a coffee.  My friend brought amazing cookies.  We all partook as we discussed.   I particularly enjoyed the carrot cake cookie.  It felt good to be part of a whole--the way I always wanted school to feel.  My desk, the cats notwithstanding, can feel lonely.

Have I mentioned I was a September baby?  I, and other September children with whom I've spoken, always feel renewed this time of year.  One dearest friend and I have birthdays separated by just a few days and for many years have managed to celebrate them together.  She lives in LA and I live in New York but that never seems to matter.

On September will go.  Soon I'll be heading east on the way to my niece's wedding.  By dusk I'll be swimming in the Sound.  I'll have a massively festive reunion with whomever we're lucky enough to see.  The cottage is inhabited by ghosts, no joke, and we'll be glad for their company.  One early morning I hope to walk the beach, through the marsh, up the hidden path.

The air will be warm but not as warm.  I'll smell the leaves changing.  The air will be spicy with rose hips and young grapes.  The bay will flash silver with bait.  I'll swim as often as there's time.  My thoughts are already deeply with my niece, for whose wedding we'll be gathering.  It's the main thing.  Sometimes, with such a big, important event on the horizon, this one in particular because it's so dear, so incredibly tender, it's hard to imagine bothering with all the minutia of the days leading up.

But life being life, there's a lot to do before getting to that moment.  It's a moving meditation, the way of September.  Ineffable beauty.  Deep dreams and memories.  Things to do.  Including swimming.  Attempting to fathom the unfathomable.  Attending a wedding.  Celebrating Molly and Alex.  And to quote my sister Maureen who was quoting someone else, "love, love, love."

Try to remember. Thank you, Jerry Orbach.

Luanne Rice's Shark Video

New York Times bestselling author, Luanne Rice, tells of her chance encounter with a Shark.

Wedding Chronicles, Part I

Oh love.  I woke up thinking of it.  Maybe I'd dreamed...  No, I know.  I'm thinking of love because my niece is getting married next week. She is radiant and beautiful, a scientist who left the lab with her betrothed to make a better frozen yogurt in Northampton.  Go Berry is delicious and causes cravings.  This is a brilliant young woman.  Not least of all, Molly is known for having debunked the 5-second rule.  I mention it here only because if an aunt with a blog can't promote her niece's frozen yogurt, who can?

Alex, her fiance, is also a scientist.  They met at Connecticut College.  They love the sea, the ocean, the littoral zone, marine life, diving, swimming, many other things, and especially each other.  Their kindness is touching beyond words.  They once drove miles out of their way when the snow was lovely, dark, and deep, to give me a hug just because I needed one.

Molly goes through life with such courage and grace.  I'm late to her life.  I didn't know her well as a little girl, but we've been making up for lost time.  My sister Maureen and I are watching her and Alex plan their wedding, proud to be her  aunts.

I'm writing this because Love is amazing.  It is fierce when it has to be.  It forgives.  It finds people who believe, really believe in it, and takes them into its fold.  This has happened with Molly and Alex. There's sorrow here, yes, there is.  There are people we love and miss--every day, but especially now.

The wild gift, beyond the casting off, has come in the form of a great coming-together.  Families getting to know each other.  The joy of having Alex in our lives.  Molly and her cousin Mia have gotten close.  Today as Mia heads off to grad school (I feel another niece blog coming,) Molly and Alex will be driving her to Vermont, helping her move in.  They're together today and will be again next week; Mia will be one of Molly's bridesmaids.

Twigg will be at the wedding, wouldn't miss it for anything.  The Loggias love Molly and will attend.  I know my mother and Mim, ghosts for many years now, will be there.  And so much family in spirit--I love you, we love you, you know that.  We'll celebrate at the edge of the sea together.  Be there!

Portrait of the Writer as a Young Chelsea Girl

Portrait of the Writer as a Young Chelsea Girl by Luanne Rice

When I first moved to New York City, I lived on Tenth Avenue just north of Fourteenth Street, over a speakeasy that used to be frequented by the Irish mob.  My mentor, a writer at The New Yorker, had helped me find a room in an SRO.  He’d told me that all writers had to live in New York, preferably in squalor, and since I had basically no money but many dreams, I was on board with that.  Chelsea was the Wild West then—gunshots were a common way to be awakened at two in the morning.  I got so I would dial “911” in my sleep.

My mentor suggested I live as stable a life as possible, writing all the time and not falling into the temptations of drink, parties, and a messy love life.  Soon I married, and moved to an actual apartment in the same neighborhood.  My then-husband was a young lawyer.  We had no money, but big dreams.  I published my first short stories and wrote my first novel in New York—Angels All Over Town.

Throughout this time, the Empire Diner was my café.  I went there for coffee every morning, and until it closed last spring, continued to do so over the last twenty-plus years.  Back then Paulina Porizkova and Elle Macpherson were roommates, and I would see them at the next table.  There were lots of clubs in the neighborhood, and half the diner would be filled with people just waking up, half with people on their way home.

But the part of Chelsea I’ve always loved best has been the seminary block.  West 20th St. between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.  Built on land owned by Clement Clark Moore (author of “A Visit From St. Nicholas,”) it seems very alive with ghosts.  I’ve always felt them there, and I wrote about them in Silver Bells.

Back when I first lived here, West 20th St. was home to two of my favorite writers—Ann Beattie and Laurie Colwin.  It was like a literary mecca for me—to walk down the street on the off-chance of seeing them.  Which I often did…

In spite of his admonition to not become distracted by the literary life, my mentor used to take me to lunch at the Algonquin, where we would sit one banquette away from Mr. Shawn, and to the theater, and opening night parties, and literary soirees.  Once I sat at a table with him, Norman Mailer, John Updike, William Styron, and George Plimpton.  Then I came home to write and try not to feel daunted.

I’ve been a writer my whole life, and I still live in Chelsea.  What a solitary time it was when I first lived here—my husband worked all the time, and I hardly ever saw him.  I just wrote.  My friends were artists, writers, and musicians.  Eventually I did fall prey to all I'd been warned against, and certain things fell apart, and others seemed to come together.   My husband and I divorced.  Hearts were broken and broken again.  I became a wild child, which was inconvenient because by then I was in my thirties.  Chelsea saw me through.

Galleries took over, and the streets became not so gritty.  New places opened.  I found an apartment with two views: a sliver of the Hudson River to the west, and the historic district of Chelsea to the east.  Directly across the street is an old warehouse that sports billboards advertising self-storage with messages such as the one I'm looking at right now: "Material Possessions Won't Make You Happy or Maybe They Will."  Most days I have lunch or at least coffee at the Half King, a café owned by Sebastian Junger and Scott Anderson.  There is a sidewalk terrace, back garden, and black leather couches under slanting ceilings.  On Monday nights there is a wonderful reading series.

After a more recent divorce than the first one, I went into Dan’s Chelsea Guitars and bought an acoustic guitar.  I began to take lessons from Mark Lonergan, a great guitarist who lives in the building next to the Hotel Chelsea.  He’s taught me a lot, but I don’t practice enough.  Even so, I write songs and have formed a band with two women from the neighborhood.  They’re both really good: Dianne plays bass, and Ali plays keyboards.  We’re all in the arts and do so much work from home, we call ourselves “House Arrest.”

Chelsea has been home for so long, it hurts to see the major changes occurring.  Fancy new buildings going up.  Where are all the young writers, musicians, artists, actors supposed to live if all the cheap apartments get torn down so “luxury high-rises” can go up in their place?

It confuses me, but I have faith in young writers.  I found my own inspiring patch of squalor here in New York City, and I trust that they will, too.  They’ll find their way to a Chelsea all their own.