By Jeryl Brunner
Luanne Rice has been writing for as long as she can remember. “My mother was an English teacher and my father sold typewriters so maybe it was destiny,” shares The New York Times bestselling author.
As a child she felt a pull to write poems about nature or places that connected her to her family. She penned “long epics” about subjects that tugged at her. After a family trip to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, she was inspired to write a long poem. She found a poem inside her after learning that her father had been shot down during World War II.
Her first professional piece was a poem about Hartford’s Constitution Plaza during Christmastime which was published in The Hartford Courant. “I seem to fall into a spell, while I am standing there. And as I watch the fairy lights, magic fills the air,” she wrote.
Rice was just 11-years-old.
“I still remember my father being so proud when he opened the Sunday paper and saw it,” says Rice. “We hadn’t known it was going to run.” Rice eventually went to Connecticut College but left school to be a writer. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” says Rice who, years later, was awarded an honorary degree by Connecticut College.
Today, Rice is the author of thirty-five novels. Her books have been translated into 25 languages. She works in a variety of genres and also writes young adult books. Several of her works have been adapted television, like Crazy In Love, Blue Moon, Follow the Stars Home, Silver Bells and Beach Girls.
On February 1 Rice will debut her 36th novel, The Shadow Box from Thomas & Mercer. This riveting page turner centers around Claire Beaudry Chase, a successful artist who finds inspiration, peace and strength from her coastal surroundings where she lives in a Connecticut seaside town. Her husband, Griffin Chase, is a powerful and wealthy state’s attorney for Easterly County and is a candidate in the gubernatorial election.
While their life seems idyllic from the outside, it is anything but that. Although Claire has great friends, a career she adores, success and the ability to support herself, Griffin is an abusive bully. He has wrecked Claire’s self-esteem, made her doubt herself and distanced her from her friends. “The novel is about what happens behind closed doors of an outwardly perfect marriage, and where the slow drip of emotional abuse can lead,” says Rice.
Rice, who is a domestic violence survivor, hopes the story will help others see their strength, especially those who have experienced psychological abuse. “I never thought it would happen to me, but it did,” she says. “I used to think that domestic violence was real only if a person was physically abused, if there were bruises and broken bones. I learned that psychological abuse is as bad, in some ways even worse, because it attacks the very core of who a person is.”
As Rice explains, society and the courts have been slow to give as much merit to psychological abuse. “It comes down to power and control. The abusive partner manipulates and isolates, finds way to make even the strongest person doubt herself, lose her self-esteem and constantly try to keep the peace,” says Rice. As she shares, she spent a relatively short marriage walking on eggshells. “I got away,” she says. “And I want other women to know they can too.”
Jeryl Brunner: Your characters and places you write about are so vivid and real. What inspires you to set your work in seaside towns inspired by Old Lyme Connecticut.
Luanne Rice: My grandparents on both sides built cottages at a beach here on Long Island Sound in the thirties. It’s where my parents met, and my sisters and I grew up spending summers here. I loved everything about it—swimming out to the big rock, searching the tide line for sea glass, movies on the beach, the feelings of closeness with our friends. The town of Old Lyme is known for the art colony, the birth of American Impressionism. The combination of art, the sea, and deep friendships and family memories make this a place I have always returned to in my life and writing.
Brunner: How would you like The Shadow Box to help women see their power? And what would you like to tell women who have been victims of domestic violence?
Rice: Trust yourself. If it feels wrong, it is. Abusers have a talent for making you think it’s your fault. It’s not. I spent a long time trying to figure out the formula to make things okay, as if there was a magical way to make him happier, nicer, less angry. There wasn’t. I began to see the truth when I reminded myself of who I really was. I thought of the people I loved and who loved me. I thought about how hard I had worked to become a writer, to support myself. I went to a domestic violence clinic. That took a lot of courage because until I walked through the door and spoke to the two amazing women running it, I still thought maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe I was exaggerating things, because after all he had never hit me.
But as my story spilled out, and they listened so kindly, I began to howl, sounds I didn’t know I could make. Yes, let me tell you now, it WAS so bad. That all happened a long time ago, but I continue to share my story to help others. If you or someone you know are being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7933 or visit thehotline.org. In my area of Southeastern Connecticut, Safe Futures does an amazing job of providing support and a safe place. Director Kathryn Verano says that domestic violence has increased substantially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Contact them 24/7 at 860-701-6001 or at safefuturesct.org.
Brunner: Cynthia McFadden inspired the character of Spencer Graham Fenwick in The Shadow Box. Without giving much away, Spencer makes Claire feel heard. Why did Cynthia inspire Spencer?
Rice: Cynthia is brilliant and incredibly strong. A fearless journalist, she exposes suffering and injustice while celebrating the indomitable and incredibly resilient human spirit. Last year she and her NBC news team won numerous awards for her heartbreaking report on how children, some as young as three, are exploited in the Madagascar mica mining industry. Here’s a link to Cynthia’s project.
Brunner: How did the experience of writing the book change you?
Rice: I loved writing about Claire, a wonderful artist who uses nature and memory as her inspirations. She collects sea glass and pebbles and periwinkle shells on her beach walks, owl pellets and acorns and bits of lichen on her hikes through the woods, and incorporates them into shadow boxes. Writing the novel, I took the same walks Claire would have, and I picked up treasures along the way.
Shortly after I finished writing The Shadow Box, Jennifer Farber Dulos went missing in Connecticut. Although she has never been found, at least as of now, she is presumed dead, and her husband Fotis Dulos was charged with her murder. Court documents show that Jennifer repeated expressed fear to a family court judge. “I am afraid of my husband,” Jennifer wrote. “I know that filing for divorce, and filing this motion will enrage him. I know that he will retaliate by trying to harm me in some way. He has the attitude that he must always win at all costs.”
That sounded very familiar to me. both in my personal life and in the life of Claire, the character I had created. Jennifer’s case has touched many people, and it has renewed my desire to help others escape abusive relationships.
Brunner: What was some of the best writing guidance you have received?
Rice: Write every day. Don’t worry about what people will think. Just write.