Booklist Review of THE LEMON ORCHARD

The Lemon Orchard

The Lemon Orchard.

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Rice, Luanne (Author) Jul 2013. 304 p. Viking/Pamela Dorman, hardcover, $27.95. (9780670025275).

Trust Rice (Little Night, 2012), known for fiction that explores the power of family, to find the humanity in illegal immigration, a topic too often relegated to rhetoric and statistics. The story centers on Julia and Roberto, both of whom have suffered the loss of a daughter. Julia’s was killed in a car accident. Roberto’s little girl went missing as the pair crossed into the U.S. from Mexico—a trek through punishing desert that Rice depicts with visceral, heartbreaking brutality. The pair meet at the Malibu home of Julia’s aunt and uncle, where Julia is housesitting and Roberto oversees the titular orchard. An unlikely friendship forms between the two, a bond born out of shared grief, which eventually grows into a tender romance. Though Rice acknowledges the cultural chasm between her lovers, she also imbues her characters with uncommon kindness and understanding. Initially weighed down with exposition, Rice’s novel picks up steam as Julia takes up the search for Roberto’s daughter. An unexpected plot turn will leave readers begging for a sequel.

— Patty Wetli



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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

Memorial Day 2013

R-03-Simon-03I received this message earlier today:

Hi Luanne, I just read your Veterans Day. It was very nicely done. My father, Lt John E Drilling, replaced your father as the Bombardier in the Simon Crew. He survived the crash near Rostock, Germany on August 25, 1944. My brother and I are going to Rostock on August 25, 2013 to attend a special memorial service for Lt Simon, Lt Dzanaj,Lt Barkell, and Sgt Saint.  Jim Drilling

I was so moved to receive the note, all the more so because it arrived on Memorial Day weekend.  Although I've never met Jim Drilling, we are members of the same "Band of Cousins."  Our fathers served in World War II--flying with the Simon Crew at different times.  My father trained in the States with these men.  With John Simon as pilot, they trained in B-24 Liberators, then shipped overseas to North Pickenham, England, and flew many missions together.492bgb24-harrington air_liberator47 Northpickenham-31jan46

My father and these men had gone through so much from the very beginning, and when he was transferred to a different lead crew, he refused to leave them until his new crew forcibly carried his belongings to their Nissan hut on the air base.

R-03-Simon-02 R-03-Simon-02aOn one of the next missions Lt. John Simon and his crew were shot down.  My father went through life believing all his friends had been lost.  The story is more complicated than that.  Rolland Swank, a researcher who works mainly through the U.S. Army Air Forces website, recently contacted me.  He has been working with  Lutz Müller, a teacher in Rostock Germany, to help Mr. Müller and his students uncover information about this and other WWII crashes.  Rolland gave me this information:

When the 492nd BG was broken up, the Simon crew went to the 446th Bomb Group.  They were a lead crew with two new members, John Drilling the new bombardier and Frederick Colligan the radar operator.
The Simon crew flew perhaps two missions with the 446th.  The last mission was to Rostock on August 25, 1944.  The 446th lost two planes on this mission. The first plane was lost over the North Sea on the way to the target.  All crew members of that plane are still MIA.  The Simon plane, however, flew all the way to the target.  Exactly when they left the formation is still not clear, but they left the formation with two engines smoking either just before the target or at the target.  Once the Simon plane left the formation, they flew north to the Baltic Sea with the intent of flying to Sweden.  At some point perhaps just as they started across the Baltic, they turned back and flew right along the coast just west of Rostock.   You will see some maps on the Drive where we have tried to figure out their exact route.  
The plane flew west then south as the crew bailed out until only the pilot and copilot, Simon and Dzanaj, were left in the plane.  At that point the plane was virtually uncontrollable.  We believe Dzanaj then bailed out and Simon went down with the plane and was found in the wreckage.  Barkell, the navigator had drifted just offshore after he bailed out, and we have located a witness who saw him shot in the water by some locals who rowed out from shore in a boat.  His body came ashore many days later and was buried at Warnemunde.
Two other crewmen were shot by local Nazis and their  bodies where buried in a sandpit.  Later members of a local church at Steffenshagen dug up the bodies and reburied them as unknowns in the church cemetery.   We believe those two were Garnett Saint, the nose gunner, and John Dzanaj, the copilot.  
After the war, four bodies were recovered from the area.    Simon is still listed MIA and we suspect his body could not be identified.  One of the hopes of our investigation is to figure out what happened to Simon.
R-03-Simon-01 R-03-Simon-01a
Memorial Day 2013: I am thinking of my father, who survived a different crash with a different crew, and who came home at the end of the war but still died too young--age 57, in 1978.  And I am thinking of the men he flew with and those he did not, and all the men and women who have died serving our country.  Sending love to all of them, and to Jim Drilling and his dad Lt. John E. Drilling, Ernie Haar and his family (including my Facebook friend Cris Haar Payne); Ed Alexander and his family; the late Lt. Charles Arnett and his family Anna, Paul, David, and others; the beloved Norma and late Lt. Bill Beasley; all the 492nd; and the Band of Cousins including Brian Mahoney, Pat Byrne, and everyone I've met and haven't yet met.  
Thanks also to my sister Maureen Rice Onorato and our cousin Thomas Brielmann, for his constant encouragement and following our father's B-24 story so closely.
[the photo at top of page shows Lt. John Simon pinning a medal on my father, Lt. Thomas F. Rice.  Going down the page, photos of B-24 Liberators, the air base at North Pickenham, and the Simon Crew with notes penned on the back. So painful to know John Simon died soon after this photo was taken.  Love to him and his family.]



Happy Mother's Day!

with mom at the old saybrook train stationI miss my mom.  I think of her every day.  There are so many things I want to talk to her about.  She had a unique sense of humor and I'll catch myself laughing at sights or phrases or stories that I know she'd so enjoy.  So much of what I love in life came from her: gardening, swimming in the ocean, cooking, poems, English literature, art.  I didn't inherit her talent for drawing and painting (although both my sisters did,) but I do have her love of art galleries and museums.  So often I'll see an exhibit and think of her, and wish she were there to see the artist's work with me. She loved the beach, and I'm sure that's one reason I'm happiest with bare feet, walking along the tide line.  We would spend summer days building sandcastles, finding shells and sea glass, swimming to the raft, crabbing at the end of the beach.  Often she would sketch while my sisters and I played and swam; frequently we'd all be reading, covered with sunscreen, lost in our books.

When I grew up and moved to New York City, I'd take Amtrak to Old Saybrook CT nearly every weekend.  My mother would meet the train, no matter what time it was; Sundays came too soon, and I'd never want to leave.  The photo above (taken in 1988 or so) shows us at the train station, waiting for the train back to NY.  I read her expression and know she wasn't ready for me to leave.  The picture brings back that moment and many emotions.

She died way too young, after a long illness.  After her death I was filled with memories of nurses and hospitals and the great sadness of losing her slowly.  But time has passed, and you know what?  I rarely think of her illness anymore.  The gift of time has been that I remember my mother being young and healthy, painting nearly every day, writing every night.  I remember watching Julia Child on Saturday afternoons, then cooking dinner together--sitting around the table at Hubbard's Point, enjoying the meal with my sister and her family, laughing and talking and feeling that it would last forever, that our family would go on forever.

I wrote about her in an essay called "Midnight Typing."  It appears in the collection What My Mother Gave Me, edited by Elizabeth Benedict.  Please comment below for the chance to win a copy of the book as well as a canvas tote bag printed with the cover of The Lemon Orchard.  I'd love to know about your mother, hear your stories and memories.

[UPDATE 5/12: Congratulations to Leela FitzGerald, our Mother's Day winner!]

A Place to Call Home

homeWhere is it for you?  In The Lemon Orchard Julia drives cross-country from Old Lyme CT to Malibu CA.  She's lived her whole life on the east coast, but something inside is driving her to find a new place, make sense of life's events, hold tight to her some treasured ideas and let go of others.  She might not know it at first, but she's looking for a new home. Do you live in the same home town where you grew up?  Have you moved half a world away?  Do you love to visit the places you spent your childhood summers or have you explored new territories?

I've done both.  I love the Old Lyme beach cottage my grandparents built, and I've also left the familiar behind to search out new places.  It's not that one is better than the other; it's more a matter of listening to that inner voice and following where it leads.  Home is where the cats are, a place to sit quietly to think and write and read, a comfy chair in the shade.

What is the place that you call home?

[UPDATE May 7: Congratulations Rachel Hartwig on winning this week's drawing!]

A Tale of Two Bonnies


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In The Lemon Orchard, Julia drives cross-country with Bonnie Blue--the family dog, a thirteen-year old Blue Merle Collie that had belonged to her daughter Jenny. They left Old Lyme CT and drove all the way to Malibu CA--from the Atlantic to the Pacific--to housesit Julia's uncle's villa in a lemon orchard in the Santa Monica Mountains. I loved imagining that road trip because I know what good companionship and comfort animal friends can be. Bonnie, the collie in the novel, was inspired by a real-life Blue Merle collie that I knew when I was young. She lived with the family across the street; I babysat for the children and hung out at their house almost every day. Bonnie was a sweet, beautiful dog. Her coat was lovely--long and flowing, marked with shades of gray and blue. She ran through the fields with us, tromped through deep snow when we'd hike to to skating pond and sledding hill, slept at my feet after the kids went to sleep, rested her chin on her paws and gazed up with such soulful eyes, I could almost read the love she had for that family. So, two Bonnies--one that lives in my heart and memory, another that lives on the pages of The Lemon Orchard--soothing Julia, connecting her with her daughter Jenny. Or maybe they are one and the same... Please comment below to be entered in our weekly drawing. Good luck!

[April 30: Congratulations to Alicia Mylott for winning this week's drawing!]

Love to you, Boston

450px-OldSouthChurchBoston Boston belongs to school kids everywhere. When we were young, at R. J. Vance Elementary in New Britain, Connecticut, we could count on two annual field trips: one to the Boston Freedom Trail, the other to the Boston Museum of Science. At the museum we saw chicks hatching in incubators, fuzzy new life, and Foucault’s Pendulum, proving that the earth is not stationary but in constant rotation. The Freedom Trail took us from Boston Common past historic sites including—this sticks in my mind—the Granary Burying Ground with Mother Goose’s grave. Although I’ve never lived in Boston, yesterday’s bombing felt personal. I think it did to everyone. The Boston Marathon is one of the world’s great sporting events. I can picture the finish line and feel the emotions of joy, exhilaration, exhaustion—people cheering their loved ones on, eight-year old Martin Richard of Dorchester waiting, watching for his dad to run past. The cruelest bomb, if there is such a thing, placed in a location of celebration and victory, is designed for maximum injury, destruction, and trauma. News cameras showed slashed bodies and pools of blood. Graphic, visceral images I can’t get out of my mind. And that place: that familiar stretch of Boylston Street, so near the Boston Public Library, where I spent hours researching and writing a never-published first book that I walked across the Common to hand-deliver to a publisher on Park Street. 951 Boylston Street once housed the Institute of Contemporary Art, where one literary evening I saw Tobias Wolff introduce Mary Robison, and she stood at the podium reading new work and drinking a beer, and the moment is emblazoned in my memory--a great and raucous gathering to celebrate a new collection of short stories. My parents spent their wedding night at the Copley Plaza Hotel—many parents did, many friends did. My niece won a poetry prize at Regis College, and we held a celebratory dinner at a restaurant on Boylston Street. Our family sat around a big table with friends and young poets, and afterwards, in cold spring snow, we walked outside, right past the spot where yesterday the bombs went off. There are moments in life you’ll always remember: where were you when you heard? Equally there are places in life that will gain new meaning after a tragedy—we were right there, we walked down that very street. This is human, a drawing together, touching the spot where others suffered, connecting through our hearts. Right now I’m in California. The sky is bright blue. The breeze blows off the Pacific, not the Atlantic. But my heart is in New England. I can see the spring trees just starting to bud, can imagine sunlight reflecting on the McKim Building of the Boston Public Library. I can picture the yellow and red sandstone campanile of New Old South Church—shown so prominently in the news photos—towering over Boylston Street. A good friend works at Massachusetts General Hospital, helping trauma victims, and I know that and other hospitals are flooded with those needing help. I’m far away, but I’m also right there, my heart and thoughts. So many of us are. Love to you, Boston.

This Week's Drawing

The Lemon Orchard Welcome friends!! Please comment on this thread the chance to win an ARC of The Lemon Orchard as well as a special tote bag. We will notify the winner on Monday April 22. Good luck! Love, Luanne

[UPDATE 4/22: Congratulations to Belinda Daniels Guy our latest giveaway winner! We hope she enjoys her advance copy THE LEMON ORCHARD as well as a tote bag featuring the novel's cover.]

To write

photoTo write you have to like being alone. Ideas have to flow in and out like air through cracks in the cabin wall. Physical space isn't important; the flow can happen in a tiny room. What counts is internal space. The voices you hear belong to your characters. I clear my life, days and weeks and months at a time, and I lie about it. It embarrasses me to need so much solitude. So I write this today with a sense of coming clean. I'm a terrible one for canceling. I make plans because I love the people I make them with. But sometimes even a single appointment can worry me, or shift my focus to that day, that moment on the calendar, and I wind up saying I'm sorry, I won't be able to. This might be extreme. Some writers might need groups or gatherings or just plain old daily contact more than I do. I need solitude. When I wake up in the morning I get to my writing without speaking a word. Talking before work shifts my focus away. It's not that what I'm writing is important, or beautiful, or noteworthy--it's just what I do. The words are important to me, maybe no one else. I tell stories because if I didn't I would stop breathing.

One can never be alone enough to write -- Susan Sontag

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day -- Ernest Hemingway, 1954 Nobel Prize acceptance speech

The computer makes writing both easier and harder. It makes revision easier but it's a portal to the Internet which is a distraction. The internet has pluses and minuses. When I first discovered it I was distracted by it all the time. Email, constant contact--both wonderful and destructive, like the best addictions. Facebook provides the sense of a social life; Pinterest seems to me to be intuitive and wordless communication, a way to say who you are, or at least who you are at the moment of pinning a picture or poem; Twitter is immediate like speed or sugar; a comic artist introduced me to Tumblr, and I think I like the feeling of it. But let's face it, the Internet is hell on writing. My father, who sold and repaired Olympia typewriters, gave me an Olympia SM 9 when I was in school. I'm glad they still make ribbons for it. I've stocked up in case they stop. I think the sound of the keys comforts me; I know the cats like it. They sit close, as if the typewriter is a hearth. Most of the time I still write on my computer and sometimes on those nights I dream I am typing. Either way the stories get told. Life is writing and writing is life.