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Bestselling Author Luanne Rice Shares The Inspiration Behind Her 36th Novel, 'The Shadow Box'

Jeryl Brunner

On February 1, Luanne Rice, a New York Times bestselling author debuts har 36th novel, “The Shadow Box.” This thriller is a page turner from page one.

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Luanne Rice at Sachuest Point, Rhode Island (Courtesy Lunne Rice)

The book begins with Claire Beaudry Chase, a successful artist who has been brutally attacked and left for dead. Using her will and determination she struggles to survive and find out who tried to kill her.

Claire is a successful artist living in a coastal town on the shores of the Long Island Sound who creates shadow boxes. As one character describes them in the novel, “What she did couldn’t exactly be called paintings, collages, or sculptures, but it had aspects of each. She made shadow boxes, drift- wood frames filled with objects from nature, especially the beach.”

On the outside, it seems that Claire’s life is as perfect as it could be. She is married to Griffin Chase a powerful man about to run for governor. She has great friends, success in a career she loves, and the ability to support herself. In spite of all that, her husband has broken down her self-esteem, made her doubt herself, 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.

Luanne Rice shared more about The Shadow Box and her life as a writer.

Jeryl Brunner: What inspired you to become a writer?

Luanne Rice: My mother was an English teacher and my father sold typewriters, so maybe it was destiny. I’ve written for as long as I can remember. As a child I wrote poems—mostly about nature or sentimental places connected to my family. One, about Constitution Plaza in Hartford, was published in the Hartford Courant. It was my first time being published. A family visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier inspired a long poem. My father being shot down in World War II inspired another. When I was fourteen I wrote a story about crabbing with my cousin, and it was published in American Girl magazine. I went to Connecticut College but dropped out to write. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

Jeryl Brunner: Why is the topic of domestic violence so important to you?

Luanne Rice: I never thought it would happen to me, but it did. 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. Unfortunately society and the courts have been slow to understand that that is the case. 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, constantly try to keep the peace. I spent that relatively short marriage walking on eggshells. I got away, and I want other women to know they can too.

Jeryl Brunner: How would you like “The Shadow Box” to help women see their power? And what would you like to say to them?

Luanne 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’d 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 safefuturesct.org.


Jeryl Brunner: What was it like for you to write “The Shadow Box”?

Luanne 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, right here in Connecticut. Although she has never been found (at least as of now, at the time I write this) 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


Jeryl Brunner: Cynthia McFadden, who is a Senior Investigative and Legal correspondent on NBC News, inspired the character Spencer Graham Fenwick, who, without giving much away, gives Claire so much. Why did Cynthia inspire that character?

Luanne 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. Also, I knew that Claire needed someone like Cynthia on her side. We all do!

Jeryl Brunner: Your characters and places you write about are so vivid and real. What inspires you to set your work in a locale 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.

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Luanne Rice (Photo by Kristina Loggia)

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'The Shadow Box' (Thomas & Mercer) debuts February 1

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New York based journalist who has written for Forbes, Parade, InStyle, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and The Wall Street Journal. Author of the book "My City, My New York, Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places" and podcaster, ("When Lightning Strikes"). I cover the arts, theater, entertainment, food, travel and people who are motivated by their joy and passion.

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