October 2011 Profile: Luanne Rice
Profession: LUANNE RICE is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-nine novels, most recently The Silver Boat. The author of Beach Girls, Crazy in Love and Cloud Nine, Rice’s books often center on love, family, nature and the sea, and have been translated into twenty-four languages. Several have been adapted for television. She has contributed a theatrical piece to the new off Broadway play Motherhood Out Loud. Rice is a passionate environmentalist and is involved with Georgetown University Law Center’s Domestic Violence Clinic. Born in New Britain, Connecticut, Rice divides her time between New York City and Old Lyme, Connecticut in the house where she spent all her childhood summers.
Q: Why led you to become a stepmom later in life? Did you always want to become a mother?
A: Becoming a stepmom was a great, unexpected gift. At thirty-five, I married Cordelia’s father. I didn’t have children of my own. As the oldest of three sisters in a Byzantine Irish Catholic family, I felt maternal from an early age. Maybe that’s true of all oldest sisters. Our mother, a talented writer, had “given up” writing to become a mother. Yet our lullaby, every night, was the sound of her typewriter. Published often before motherhood, her work never once saw print after we came along. I believed in love so strong, I felt I’d have to give all I had and more to become a mother. This instinct came into wild conflict with another: I was born a fiction writer. That’s a calling, not a profession. It overtakes me every day—like the Sirocco, or scarlet fever. I feared that if I had children, I’d be both a bad mother and a bad writer. Two months before she killed herself, Sylvia Plath wrote in a letter to her mother these lines about the poems that would become her book, Ariel:
“These new poems of mine have one thing in common, they are all written at about four in the morning—that still blue, almost eternal hour before the baby’s cry, before the glassy music of the milkman, settling his bottles.”
Plath’s words spoke to me of stolen writing time, my mother’s late-night writing, and my own doubts and desires about balancing writing and children.
Q: What do you most love about your work? What is most challenging about it? What does your step daughter think of your work?
A: My writing lets me use my imagination, live other lives, and make (some) sense of the mysteries of love. My characters are wiser than I am, and through them I (sometimes) understand where I’ve been, mistakes I’ve made, and where I hope to go. Cordelia writes, and I’m amazed by her courage and insights.
Q: What do you see as the upsides and challenges of becoming a 35+ stepmom?
I jumped in without any doubts at all. They came later. I was really naïve about my place in this family I had just entered. I figured we’d all just love each other. But of course there were lines in place, extreme loyalties, long-standing ways of doing things. Holidays…can you imagine entering a family with years of holiday traditions? My husband’s divorce was recent. My mother gave me excellent advice: “you’re the stepmother, not the mother.” It wasn’t always easy.
Q: What has parenthood taught you? What about parenthood most excites you?
A: Parenthood has taught me that love is even bigger than I’d grown up believing. It changes you so completely you might well be another species entirely. You would die of love, without question. You’ve signed on for life, for whatever comes along, including wild surprises, never-before-heard-of secrets, the best laughs, and—okay, inevitably—a degree of heartbreak. You make decisions based on what’s best for all of you, not just you, and you’d have it no other way. When she asks to you ride the roller coaster, you hesitate only for a moment. This is the new way of your world…
Q: What do you most want to teach your step daughter? What influence, if any, has your own mother had in your life and in your parenting?
A: I would like my stepdaughter to trust herself, trust her voice, use it, have opinions, express them, know her own strength, be curious about everything, play whenever possible, and don’t take guff. My mother influenced me to write, and to encourage young people in my life to find and use their own gifts, so I’d remind Cordelia to use her many gifts.
Q: Where do or did you turn for support as a mom?
A: I turned to my youngest sister, Maureen, who had already become a mother. Watching Maureen with her daughter was a cosmic full-circle experience—I saw echoes of our mother in action, and our grandmother (who lived with us) as well. One of the ways my sister helped me most was through laughter. Finding what’s funny in what seems impossible is always the best. Support is excellent and necessary.
Q: What words of wisdom would you most like to share with others contemplating becoming a mom later in life?
A: Words of wisdom scare me. But I’d say listen to yourself, trust what you know, and be open to learning something brand new.
Q: When you became a stepmom, did your own mother or mother figure share any particular sentiments or advice that really resonated? Or do you recall anything from your own upbringing that really stuck with you that you’d like to pass on to your children or other moms?
A: I remembered this just the other day. My mother used to tell that, as a young child, 4 or 5, I had a favorite saying: “It’s all for the best.” I’m not sure where that came from, but I think it’s true: It’s all for the best… I’m sure that saying somehow came from my mother and grandmother.