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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Lucille and Charles

When my mother came to Paris for her chemotherapy, it was her very first time on a plane.   The trip was full of meaning.  Lucille Arrigan Rice, my mother, was one of the greatest readers ever to live.  She had been born and raised in New England and never traveled beyond Washington DC to the south, Quebec City to the north, and New York City to the west.  Her reading had taken her everywhere in the world so perhaps she hadn't felt the need to visit places other than through literature.  The cost was also an issue; it wasn't so uncommon for teachers, typewriter men, and their children, to think flying was only for the Air Force and rich people.

I was living in Paris and couldn't bear not being with her during her treatment for a brain tumor, so I arranged for her to have chemo at the American Hospital in Neuilly.  She loved Paris immediately; she'd felt a bond with the city since, when pregnant with my youngest sister, she'd spent labor reading Paul Gallico's Mrs. 'Arris goes to Paris, and eventually the baby grew up to marry a Frenchman (here is the baby and her husband, Maureen and Olivier Onorato, in Arcachon, France, where they lived their first year of marriage many moons ago.)  (Photo by Amelia Onorato,)  Anyway, the Gallico book is a magical reference tool in our family, so my sister's marriage, and now my mother's visit to Paris, all seemed quite blessed and cosmic, but that is another story.

My mother was enchanted by Paris but wanted to go to England.  Her grandmother, Gertrude Gibson Harwood Beaudry, was English, so we'd grown up with teatime, silver spoons commemorating Queen Elizabeth's coronation, and a habit i shared with my sisters of practicing English accents while walking on the golf course, pretending it  was the Yorkshire Moors.  I also invented an imaginary English family, wherein my father was the fabulously dashing Max Gardiner, I had nine brothers and no sisters, and my own bay thoroughbred, on whom I rode hunt seat jolly well.  But that too is another story.

Flying across the Channel, my mother was moved to remember my father's service during WWll, how his squadron had given air support to the troops landing on Normandy beaches on D-Day.  During our London stay we would visit places my father had stayed on leave from the base at North Pickenham, including a Catholic church hit by a buzz-bomb while my father was at Mass.

Upon landing in England, my mother's smile grew huge, as if she had finally come home.  We took a taxi to the Basil Street Hotel, where we had a tiny suite and our own butler.  My mother tired easily, so she had to drink bouillon in bed and sleep a while before we could set out to see London.

I had planned an itinerary that I thought she would enjoy, but it went out the window as soon as she woke up.  "I want to go straight to Doughty Street," she said.  "What's there?" I asked.  She looked disappointed in both herself and me, as if she'd failed me in my education and I'd failed myself by not enquiring further.  "Charles Dickens' house," she said.

We went straightaway.  Dickens had lived in the Georgian terraced house at 48 Doughty Street for two years: he and Catherine moved in right after their marriage in April 1837.  Home to the Dickenses and the three eldest of their ten children, two of their daughters were born there.  The family moved to larger houses as Dickens became more successful, but none of those other residences survive.

The interior was Victorian, and we wandered--my mother blissfully--through the morning room, drawing room, and brilliantly scholarly library.  The house contains the most comprehensive collection of all things Dickens, including first editions and a painting, Dicken's Dream, by R. W. Buss, the artist who'd illustrated The Pickwick Papers.

I was overjoyed to see early editions of Dombey and Son, a novel my sisters and I loved for its own merit but also because in Franny and Zooey by J.D Salinger, it was the novel Zooey was reading at the kitchen table when Jesus appeared and asked him for a small glass of ginger ale.  A small glass, mind you.

My mother adored Dickens.  Not just as the literary giant he was, but also, simply as an avid reader, because he wrote such engaging, addictive stories.  My mother said, "He wrote such cliffhangers.  The books would be published in serials, and readers would be waiting at the loading dock to pick up the next installment."  It thrilled her to know that he had written The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and part of Barnaby Rudge while in residence there.

After reluctantly leaving as the house/museum closed for the day, we went to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, which was both charming and incredibly touristy, because a woman in the museum had told my mother that Dickens had frequented the pub.  My mother couldn't eat, she was too sick, but she leaned back and soaked in the atmosphere, imagining Dickens at the next table--perhaps writing, perhaps thinking of his latest chapter.

Our next stop, the following day, would be at Samuel Johnson's house, as she was quite obsessed with Dr. Johnson and was, back in Connecticut, caring for a stray tiger cat she'd named Boswell after the diarist and author of The Life of Samuel Johnson.  But today, in this post, I savor that memory of my mother and our visit with Charles Dickens.  It is, after all, Dickens' birthday...  Lucille would be the first to bake him a cake.

Look up

There is so much to love and find beautiful right now, while memories tug into the past, thoughts of Christmases gone by.  I find this time of year bittersweet. I think of my mother, father, and Mim, old friends, a sister who's said goodbye.  I remember the house we grew up in, on Lincoln Street in New Britain, Connecticut.

We'd decorate the tree, wrap a lauren garland  around the banister, place another over the mantle,  and drape one over the front door.  Mim would decorate the wreath, hang it on the door.  We'd bake Christmas cookies.  One year we made clay angels, and our favorite was the one that looked like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family.

Even then, at a young age, there was longing for more connection, especially with my father.  If you've read my novel Firefly Beach, you know the story of my pregnant mother, three-year old sister, and my five year old self being held hostage one night, by the man with a gun.  It happened at Christmas, and had to do with my complicated father, so that experience is in my holiday memory bank as well.

Isn't it strange the way we sometimes miss sad or painful things?  Maybe it's the desire to go back and make them turn out right.  My father would be magically happier, the man with the gun wouldn't have come, the cold and dark would stay outside while in our little cape cod house our family would be cozy, drawn together, safe and sound.  That's the visions-of-sugarplums version.

In reality there were many visions-of-sugarplum moments.  My mother would read to us from The Cricket on the Hearth and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden; A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.

One summer we found an enormous starfish, and began to use it as the star atop our tree.  When my father was home he'd place the star; I'd always have a lump in my throat when he did that.  On Christmas Eve my mother would tell us to listen for the angels singing, it was the one time in the year that we could hear them, and we always would, just before drifting off to sleep.

Later, after my father died, we moved to the beach year-round.  We kept the old traditions but found new ones.  We heated with a coal stove, so there was an old-fashioned ritual to stoking the fire.  We'd tie red ribbons around all the candlestick holders, and light the night by candlelight.

On Christmas morning, nearly every year, we'd look out at Long Island Sound and see sea smoke: a low mysterious cloud just over the water's surface, like smoke above a cauldron, a phenomenon caused when arctic air moves over warmer salt water.

Sometimes we'd see ships passing down the sound, some with lighted Christmas trees tied to their masts--magical to look far out and see that, tiny bright spots sailing along the horizon--and we'd wonder where they were going, how the crew felt to be away from their families.

At night we'd go outside.  Maybe it would be snowing, or the stars would be blazing, and one year a comet streaked through the sky--celestial wonder.  The moment brought us close to heaven, and I'd think of my father, I think we all did, and sent him love while also wondering why he couldn't have been happier here on earth, and Mim would stand in the kitchen door calling us back inside, weren't we freezing, it was making her cold just to look at us.  We'd laugh and go in.

So many gone, but strong love still here.  My little sister and I have each other.  Her husband and daughter, and our niece and her husband, and two friends so dear they're nothing less than family to us.  We've been creating our own traditions over the last years. We've invited to the table our ghosts and lost loves, so they can be at the celebration too.  We carry them with us.

Maybe the lesson, if there has to be a lesson, is that nothing is ever all one way.  The holidays seem to promise universal goodness, happiness, togetherness.  That isn't always the way, and because of our heightened hopes, the disappointment can be all the greater.

There's beauty in every life, every single day.  Sometimes it takes effort and focus to find it.  To find that starfish, taking that beach walk we had to look down.  Even when your heart is aching for who's not here, you look around and find who is.  There's someone who loves you.  There's a cat who wants to sit on your lap.  There are bright stars in the cold, dark sky.  Position the starfish at the top of the tree.   All will be well.

Look up.

[Image at top of page: The Meteor of 1860 by Frederic Church.]

Only

"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer."  ~ From "Howard's End" by E. M. Forster       Many years ago, when I first started submitting short stories to magazines and journals, Daniel Curley, the editor of Ascent, sent me the above quote.  I was young, and was positive I knew exactly what it meant: the necessity and desire, both in real life and fiction, of making close ties.  It seemed so obvious to me, such a clear life's path, that I tucked it away more as a motto than as guidance and admonition.

It was easy to do.  My mother and Mim, the grandmother who lived with us, were still alive.  I was in love, and couldn't imagine ever parting from him.  Both sisters and I were so close we had our own language and, I swear, saw the world through the exact same lens, through each other's eyes.  Childhood friendships were intact.

Life was sheltered and insular.  My sisters and I had the same first grade teacher, Miss Convey, as our mother.  Every summer our family went to the beach, a Brigadoon set apart from the world by a train trestle, staying in the cottage our grandparents had built.  We played with the children of people our parents had grown up with.  Those connections comprised our world.

I moved out and on.  And on and on.  Long story, but don't we all have long stories?  Even so, I still go to that family cottage, and I'm still friends with the girl I walked to school with, the boy I learned to swim with.

Now I find the Forster quote more philosophical, and I see a shadow behind it.  There's loss in life--people you thought would be with you forever go another way and disappear.  People break up, move away, get hurt.  It's easier to pile on emotional armor than to keep an open heart.  Only connect!  Maybe not...

Yet writing this makes me feel very connected to friends and family and people I've never met.  All the readers who visit my site, tell me they love my books, share their own connections with my stories and the characters who populate them.  How lucky am I?

Still, there are people long lost to me.  I think about them and wonder where they've gone.  Sometimes I dream about them.  Sometimes I regret their leaving or my leaving or things we said or things we didn't say.  Some of them were very close to me at one time; others might have no idea the role they played in my life.

Here's one of those: Billy K.  We went to Vance School together.  He lived in the Children's Home, a large brick building on a distant hill, that I could see from my bedroom window.  We were friends because we both had freckles.  I'd stare up at the Children's Home and wonder why he was there.  Had his parents died?  Had he been taken from them?  I asked my parents if we could adopt him, and they said we couldn't.  He had a sweater with a hole in its sleeve, and I'd see the hole getting bigger and wonder why someone didn't mend it for him.

Maybe he's out there.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if he read this and knew it was about him?  The internet makes connecting not only possible but ubiquitous.  People from the past find each other.  It's nice to make contact, take a trip down memory lane, catch up on life's happenings.  But I feel "Only Connect!" is more than internet-deep.  It's true love, real love, enduring friendship, and the hard work involved in holding on, holding tight.

Still, I would love to know about Billy, a boy I haven't seen since fifth or sixth grade, to hear how his life has been.

Advice To Young Writers

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

Deep Blue Sea for Beginners: Out Now

This week the paperback edition of The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners is on sale.  I'm thinking of the title, of what "deep blue" means. The ocean, of course.  But there are other types of deep.  Deep love, deep understanding, deep non-understanding, the unfathomability of our own hearts.  The novel is particularly interested in fractured families.  A mother and her two daughters have spent years apart.  How do people become estranged?   What are the consequences of a single choice or series of choices?  How far can you move apart from someone, and once you've done that, can you come back?

These thoughts are on my mind now. I'm writing this from my own private deep blue location.   It's not sad, it's not bad, it's just a spot I came to reflect.  Miles from the sea, I'm in a rambling old place surrounded by New England woods.  There aren't many street or house lights, so when I look up at night I see constellations in the dark blue sky.   I'm surrounded by nature.  Thick trees, the leaves starting to turn.  A scarlet sugar maple stands  outside my window.

I loved writing The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners.   The characters feel real to me, all their hiding places and defenses, all their brokenness and goodness and desire to connect.  People can be apart so long it feels like forever.  But if you break through and find forgiveness, life can start over.  It's the same old life, of course, but there's an element of the brand new.   Love and forgiveness, or maybe it's forgiveness and love.  They go together.  I'm just not sure of the order.

It probably doesn't matter.

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.

Maura Fogarty

Maura was such a dear friend.  She was an amazing singer-songwriter, and I was always touched and honored when she would come to my apartment and play music with me.  We shared being Irish Catholic, living in New York, having sisters, seeing the dark behind the light.  I wrote a song, You’re the Sea, and Maura sang on the recording.

One summer morning Maura and I went to the Irish Hunger Memorial in lower Manhattan.  There was a slight drizzle, and the fog rolling up the Hudson obscured the tallest buildings, enhancing the feeling we’d stepped out of time, out of New York.  We walked through the ruins of a stone cottage, up the winding path through a field to the hilltop.

“Feels like Ireland,” she said.

“Because of the weather?” I asked.

She nodded.  “And because every stone, every plant on the memorial comes from the different counties, all thirty two of them.”

She carried a certain knowledge, a bone-deep connection with that memorial.  It symbolized suffering, and striving, and Maura’s love of Ireland.  Maura had a heart unlike anyone I’ve ever known.  She felt other people’s pain right through her skin, and it came out in her songs.  She found a great songwriting partner, John Bertsche, and to hear her describe their sessions, there was something mystical at work.

Maura’s music broke your heart.  She sang with such deep emotion—every song.  And it was real, as if she was truly reliving the experience about which she sang.  She loved fiercely, starting with her family.  She spoke of her mother so often, with great devotion.  I remember when she played “Our Lady of Fatima” for me, telling me she’d written it for her mother.

She loved her sisters, and her cousins, her dearest friends, her writing partner.  All of that love poured into her music, yet there was often a sense of loss, or melancholy, an unspoken understanding that nothing, not even the strongest love could last forever.  She grasped the truth of impermanence.  Some songwriters compose around it, but Maura faced it head-on.  Perhaps it was her father’s death that taught her, or perhaps it was just that Maura was an old soul.

A mutual friend says Maura had the voice of an angel.  She did, but not your every-day-pious white-winged Seraphim.  Her voice broke with emotion.  She was an angel of the Bronx.  I think of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’s Grievous Angel.  For Maura and her work with John, it was more like Heartstruck Angel, Devastated Angel, take your pick.  Her voice was like no other, and her inspiration was earthbound.   She and John wove together songs of the here and now: love, loss, betrayal, and—with into the sun—hope.

We lost her too soon.

Random wonderful thing

A great beach friend from childhood and, in some ways, even before--our parents had been friends when they were young, and our grandparents before that--posted on my facebook page today.  We were reminiscing about Helen Hubbard--a neighbor who lived on the Point, and for whom my fictional beach town "Hubbard's Point" is named. Betty reminded me of how we used to crouch under Helen's window to listen to her practice.  Helen was an opera singer and voice teacher, and when she sang it was beach music--as much a natural sound as seagulls and wind blowing through the pine needles.  Once or twice a summer she would give recitals and invite grownups from the Point.  That didn't stop us kids from sitting outside and enjoying the performance.

Betty and her sisters and brother and my sisters and I were across-the-road neighbors, and pretty much inseparable from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  We loved summer and each other.  The beach was OURS.  As I wrote back to her, we swam and laughed all day.  Mim, my grandmother, and her great-aunt Florence would hang out together too, tell old stories, go for swims in their skirted bathing suits and white bathing caps.

When Betty's family visited Ireland--often--they would come home with Irish linens, wall-hangings, and tea towels.  My cottage is still filled with the many gifts they brought us.

Her family had a party every Labor Day.  Such a bittersweet gathering!  The weather would still be summery, but fall and school and--especially-leaving the beach--were in the air.  We'd walk down the steep steps from their cottage to glacial rock ledge sloping into Long Island Sound.  Black-eyed Susans, bright pink sweet peas, and lavender flowered spearmint grew at the top of the rocks.  A picnic table would be set with plates of sandwiches, platters of sliced honeydew and musk-melon, and--the piece de resistance--Aunt Florence's soda bread and blueberry buckle.

We'd make that party last as long as possible, because as soon as it was over it was time to pack the station wagon and head up to New Britain for the school year.

As Betty says, our memories are a treasure in themselves.  She is so right.  Just connecting with her today makes me remember everything, and smile, and feel so happy.  I wish I had a picture of us all as children--if I did, no doubt our hair would be wet, someone would be adorned with seaweed, there'd be sunglasses, flip-flops, and a few Good Humors in the picture.  And we'd be doing our best and not succeeding to keep from laughing.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

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.

The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners

A legendary island steeped in the mystery and wisdom of centuries… A runaway heiress learning to trust life, and love…

A mother and daughter, separated for years, searching for a way to face the future together… Luanne tells a powerful story of love, family, and friendship through the lives of two women who reunite at a place where dreams begin.

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