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Luanne Rice discusses family, loss, and 'The Lemon Orchard'

Luanne Rice and the cover of The Lemon Orchard
Luanne Rice and the cover of The Lemon OrchardThe Lemon Orchard: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 27, 2014); author photo by Adrian Kinloch. Used with permission

Luanne Rice is the author of thirty-one novels, including several New York Times bestsellers, such as “Cloud Nine.” Her books have been made into movies and miniseries and adapted to the stage. The latest release from Rice, “The Lemon Orchard,” was reprinted in May 2014.

For this interview, Rice said her reasons for writing the book were, “Love, family, moving from one place to another, and leaving the old world behind in search of the new.” She feels that immigration is at the core of the human story. “We are in a humanitarian crisis—not just at the border, but all through our country. It makes me want to look back, see where my family comes from, realize what we have in common with the people coming today.”

Rice said that the idea for “The Lemon Orchard” came to her after she moved to Southern California. “Like Julia, the main character, I moved to Malibu after a lifetime on the East coast. My house looked out on a canyon where the Santa Monica Mountains meet the Pacific, and I was completely captivated by the landscape and wanted to use it as a setting for a novel. I had one lemon tree, and from that single tree an imaginary lemon orchard grew.

“I met a man like Roberto—an undocumented Mexican worker. He came to work at my house. I would give him coffee and ask him about his life, and I found myself eager to hear more each day, I was riveted to his story of leaving his home near Puebla, crossing the border through the desert, nearly dying along the way. He had come here for a better life. He remains close to his family in Mexico, and longs to see them. He has a beautiful heart, and he inspired the character of Roberto.”

Rice describes her childhood as one in which words and art were important elements. She said,”My mother was an English teacher and my father was a typewriter man.” Her mother, however, was more than just an English teacher, and her father may have helped determine the path his daughter would choose later in life.

“My mother painted and wrote,” Rice said. “She always had a painting in progress on an easel in the kitchen, so our house always smelled like oil paint. At night she wrote after she’d put my sisters and me to bed, and the sound of her typing was our lullaby. My father gave me an old Olympia portable when I was in fourth grade. Our ancestors came from Ireland. Our family stories of immigration helped me understand more about my characters in The Lemon Orchard.”

The subject of family dynamics fascinates Rice. She’s been through the ups and downs for family life, even endured abuse herself. So, what keeps her writing about the difficult subject of family and loss?

Rice said, “Anyone with a heart, with a family, has experienced loss. No one escapes unscathed. Every story of separation is different, but I think we all understand that basic, wrenching emotion that comes from saying goodbye, not knowing if we’ll see that person again—or perhaps knowing that we won’t. I went to Cork, Ireland, and stood on the dock some of my ancestors had left from. I felt their ghosts gather round me, and I cried to imagine what it must have felt like—leaving that beautiful land and those beloved people, knowing it was forever.”

More information

Learn more about Luanne Rice and her novels on her website at luannerice.net.