Some rely on Swiss watches or calendars to accurately record the passing of time. Others point to the world of physics and theories such as Ludwig Boltzmann's concept of entropy.
Perhaps a more enjoyable way to measure time, though, is to anticipate a new novel by bestselling Old Lyme native Luanne Rice. Indeed, today marks the publication of Rice's "Little Night," and it's particularly special because it's the author's 30th novel. Yes - as in a "three" followed by a "zero."
Over the years, Rice's novels have been translated into 24 languages and several have been made into films. Her previous book, "Silver Boat," is now out in paperback, and "How We Started," two new stories that introduce central characters from "Little Night," is also available exclusively as an eSpecial from her publisher, Pamela Dorman Books/Viking.
While loyal fans know Rice explores the nuances of the family dynamic in stories that walk the tightrope between commercial literary fiction and sophisticated romance, "Little Night" takes on a new and emotionally tense subject - that of domestic abuse.
The book starts when Clare Burke attempts to protect her sister, Anne, from an abusive husband - and ends up serving two years in prison for assault. Devastatingly, Anne lies to protect her husband during court testimony. Nearly two decades later, the sisters remain estranged.
When Anne's daughter, Grit, shows up on Clare's Manhattan doorstep, though, having herself been disowned by her mother, and suffering from the cruelties of her father, the aunt and niece begin to forge a relationship that evolves through painful self-examination and earned trust.
It's a topic that's both raw and delicate - not easy for any writer to tackle - but Rice does so with her usual sense of graceful, evocative narrative and nuanced character development. Poignantly enough, Rice herself was a victim of domestic abuse.
On the phone from Venice Beach, where she splits her time with an apartment in New York City, Rice thoughtfully talks about her own experiences and how they helped shape "Little Night."
"First of all, you learn that there are many kinds of abuse that don't include physical violence, so sometimes you don't even realize it's happening to you," she says. "For years, you hear, over and over, 'If you were less demanding' or 'If you made better dinners,' and eventually it takes a toll. Or I'd ask an innocent question that would just result in this horrible anger.
"You start to believe it and put the blame on yourself. If I did these things it WOULD be better. It's very hard to recognize, and it's even harder to leave a relationship like that when you finally do understand."
Rice describes the emotional toll and cycle of an abusive domestic relationship. There's a steady build-up of anger and tension that ultimately explodes - followed by a cool-down and a "honeymoon" period where the victim incorrectly convinces her- or himself that it's over or will be better.
"The honeymoon part of the cycle is the most dangerous," Rice says, "because you want to believe it's going to be good again. Deep down, you know it's not, but the hope that maybe it's over means the cycles can go on for a very long time."
Rice experienced abuse while living in New London early in her writing career, and credits the help and friendship of the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut and Susan Caruso for making a huge difference.
"Susan Caruso and her colleagues saved my life, and I say that in all honesty," Rice says. "I don't even remember why I went there, but over the course of weekly meetings, month after month, they saved me. It was like having a stroke and learning to walk again. I miss Susan so much."
Caruso, who not only ran the center's Westbrook branch but served, at various times, as a member of the board of directors and as a volunteer peer advocate, passed away in 2010. But the center is still providing its valuable services.
For her part, Rice continues to see a therapist, has contributed a piece about domestic violence for the Huffington Post, discusses it in public and private Facebook messages, and has even posted video interviews on her luannerice.net website.
Naturally, the process of writing "Little Night" was a healing process. "I wanted to write about the way a family can appear 'normal' from the outside," she says. "But, from the inside, it's not normal at all. The victim is in denial, but the entire family is ultimately affected by the abuse."
Rice also continues to write with evocative force about the sorcery of nature. The character Clare, for example, is an ardent birder and nature blogger whose pastoral purview is the under appreciated bounty that is Central Park - which is something Rice discovered after living in Manhattan for years.
"Growing up in that little beach cottage in Old Lyme, I feel very connected to nature," she says. "I felt most like my true self when I had my feet in the mud of the marsh at low tide, watching the egrets and the blue hens. It was a very prominent and enduring connection to nature, and when I moved to New York, I was very fortunate to have a mentor who showed me how to explore Central Park. People are very surprised to learn Central Park is a very wild place, and I've taken a lot of comfort in that."
As for the occasion of her 30th novel in the context of a landmark achievement, Rice is grateful on a variety of levels.
"I guess we got to this point because I need to write every day to make sense of my life," she laughs. "I literally have to do this. And it adds up. Of course, it's wonderful to have readers and publishers who believe in you. That's certainly gratifying, but I'm compelled to write in any case."