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Interview: November 12, 2004

November 12, 2004 Co-Founder Carol Fitzgerald interviews Luanne Rice, author of SILVER BELLS. Rice talks about the inspiration behind her holiday book, the profound influence that her high school history teacher had on her, and the importance of "looking up" in everyday life. She also discusses her future plans, which includes the publication of two novels in the summer of 2005. What prompted you to write a holiday book?

Luanne Rice: I grew up in a family where the holidays = love. My mother was especially influential in this. No matter what was going on in our lives, no matter what difficulties there were, she made the holidays a magical time in our house. They were, and still are, a time to focus on what's important in life, and connect with each other.

BRC: Your high school history teacher had a profound influence on you when you were growing up. Can you share with our readers what she did?

LR: Miss Laurette Laramie met the students where we lived and breathed, helped us understand that the world is filled with people with experiences far from our own. By getting us to imagine other lives, she opened our minds and introduced us to compassion. She would have us read The New York Times Neediest Cases stories, published around Christmas every year…and encourage us to help people less fortunate than we were. She also reminded us to laugh on a daily basis. She's a great teacher and, now, friend.

BRC: New York is a city that has so many wonderful buildings and architectural elements. You clearly have an appreciation of both. Did you study art or architecture?

LR: I grew up in New Britain, CT, the "hardware capital of the world," in the Connecticut River Valley. Downtown, where my father had his typewriter shop, was surrounded by lots of factories and smokestacks. Industrial and crazily beautiful --- especially when the setting sun would hit the bricks and turn them rose-colored. Our city hall was designed by Stanford White; we had a gorgeous library, an amazing post office with wide granite steps and massive columns, a romantic band shell in Walnut Hill Park, and a tall World War I monument with a reflecting pool that honored all the dead soldiers that made my heart clutch to think of them. I grew up thinking of buildings as symbolic of what went on inside them, and monuments as reminders of our own shared humanity.

Later, I studied history of art at Connecticut College. My literary mentor, Brendan Gill, became the architecture critic at The New Yorker. He would take me on architectural excursions --- to study the Brooklyn Bridge, to ascend to the Clocktower Gallery in lower Manhattan, to ramble up to Belvedere Castle in Central Park, to admire the galleon windows of the New York Yacht Club on West 44th Street, and many other strange, odd, elegant, playful, and utilitarian structures in the city.

BRC: Your idea of "looking up" makes one think how much we miss by looking straight ahead. Tell us more about what inspired you to write about this.

LR: "Look Up" is meant to be taken both literally and spiritually…

We can become so focused on where we've just been and where we're going, we forget to notice where we actually are. I think it's important to stop and take note. New York is filled with skyscrapers, steeples, gargoyles, angels, historical plaques, and window boxes. Birds nest in stoplights. Owls inhabit Central Park. A wild turkey lives in the Battery. Last night I went up on my rooftop and watched the total lunar eclipse, with the Empire State Building illuminated red and gold as a backdrop.

Expect the unexpected, look for treasures in the sky, seek what lies beyond the easily seen.

BRC: Folks selling trees come and go in just a six-week period over the holidays. They bring the country to the city. What inspired you to include a tree farmer in your story? Have you spent any time in Nova Scotia visiting tree farms?

LR: I love Nova Scotia and have spent time on hillsides overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I went there because I love whales and wanted to watch them, but I became intrigued by one particular Christmas tree farm. I noticed a lot of bald eagles there --- from a distance, their white heads looked like golf balls in the thick green branches. The farmer told me that he sold his trees in Manhattan, and my imagination did the rest.

BRC: You are sharing a message with people this holiday season about taking the time to reflect and enjoy the world around them. What would you like people to take away from SILVER BELLS?

LR: Open your heart, have hope, believe in love, and LOOK UP.

BRC: Can you share some of your holiday traditions with readers?

LR: My holiday traditions include being with people I love, eating good food, looking up at the night sky and feeling the mystery of life, listening for the angels just before I fall asleep on Christmas Eve (something my mother always told me to do…)

BRC: Both Catherine and Christy have to contend with memories that threaten to overwhelm them. What role do you think memory should play in our lives?

LR: We don't want to forget the people we've loved who have died or gone away, yet we want to be happy and enjoy our lives. Sometimes the holidays make the struggle more intense --- everything reminds us of times gone by. I think it's important to remember, yet not get swamped by sadness. Find joy in the spirit of the season: try to be generous and keep an open heart. Sing loudly, and expect miracles.

BRC: Your two sets of father-and-son characters are remarkably different, yet they also share similarities. Could you comment on this?

LR: The Rheinbecks are wealthy Manhattan captains of industry, and the Byrneses are tree farmers from Nova Scotia. Here's a case where money doesn't matter: sons rebelling, fathers wondering where they went wrong. In both cases I imagined the fathers wishing they could go back, start over, make things right this time --- so their relationships with their sons could be better. That comes from my own life --- wishing I could redo certain situations, unhurt certain people, make everything come out right this time…

BRC: What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it?

LR: I'm working on a duet of novels, to be published next summer: SUMMER'S CHILD and SUMMER OF ROSES. SUMMER'S CHILD begins with a question, and SUMMER OF ROSES ends with an answer. In between, there is love, separation, mystery, a broken heart, a secret society of fabulous women, rose gardens, ice fields, bright yellow boots, a white whale, and a secret.

Thank you!