Daily Archives: May 29, 2009

Author Judith Ryan Hendricks: TLC Book Tour

judihendricks lawsofharmony

The Laws of Harmony by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Harper Paperbacks; 1 edition – February 10, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0061687365
496 pages

I recently read The Laws of Harmony – the latest novel by Judi Ryan Hendricks – and loved it (read my review). Hendricks has a way of drawing her reader into the story, of making them feel like they know the characters. I asked Hendricks if she would write a guest post for Caribousmom and she readily agreed. When I read this post it resonated with me as a writer and as a reader…I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Of Bread and Books

by Judith Ryan Hendricks

Bread, as any baker will testify, is a process—slow, arduous, messy, unpredictable.  The French, of course, have a saying about it:  To be a boulanger, they say, you must be big, strong and dumb—big to carry sacks of flour, strong to knead the dough, and dumb to work so hard.

As with most French sayings, there’s a germ of truth at its heart.  You don’t make bread because you want to get rich.  You don’t make bread for prestige or fame or even respect—although those things may come collaterally.  But the real and only reason you make bread is because you have to.  You make bread because you can’t not make it.

By changing a few words here and there, you can say the same about writing.  Writers don’t have to be big or strong, I suppose, although it helps if you can carry a six-pound manuscript in one hand and heft your computer bag into the overhead bins on airplanes with the other.

But you could definitely make a case for being dumb.  Why else would you sit alone in a small office all day, everyday for four years—missing dentist appointments, letting your mother leave messages on voice mail, forgetting to eat lunch, ignoring the dog while she nibbles the Tibetan rug?  Why else would you subject your book to the slings and arrows of hostile reviewers, drag yourself around the country to signings where you sometimes find yourself reading to the bookstore staff and a couple of transients who just came for the refreshments?

Why?  See above.  The only reason you write is because you have to.  You write because you can’t not write.

My career as a novelist began in a bakery.  Appropriately so, I’ve decided, because the longer I go at both baking and writing, the more similarities I see between them.

Bread is basically the fusion of four of the earth’s most elemental ingredients—flour, water, yeast, salt.  In the kneading there’s an exchange of energy between baker and bread—and you learn to know by touch the exact moment when the dough comes alive.

A book also has some pretty basic ingredients—character, setting, plot.  You manipulate them, work them together until they fuse and the story takes on a life of its own.  And you know when that happens, too.

To bake bread is to understand that yeast is a living entity, and it may or may not always do what you expect or want it to do.  If you persist at the craft long enough, you learn to let go of your expectations, forget about the outcome and let the bread direct you.

Likewise, there comes a time in the writing process—usually just when you think you know exactly where the story should go next—that you find yourself writing something—and suddenly the character seems to be glaring at you off the page.  You can almost hear a voice saying, That’s ridiculous.  I’d never do that.

You learn very quickly that the process works best if you let your characters take you by the hand and lead you into the story.  This is where the messy part comes in, and sometimes you end up in a game of dominoes.  Changing one thing, and finding that it alters everything down the line.  Or having to backtrack to rearrange all the events leading up to it.

Creation—whether of bread, or of a book—is an imperfect, spontaneous, organic and on-going process.  We aren’t the originators and we don’t have ultimate control, but sometimes we’re lucky enough to be present.  We’re able to tap into the process, to assist at the birth.

And that’s enough.

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To read more about Judi Hendricks and her work, visit the author’s website.

Read Judi Hendricks’ blog: The Kitchen Table

Visit other blogs touring this book and read their reviews.

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The Laws of Harmony – Book Review

lawsofharmony People are forever asking me what it was like to grow up in a commune, and it’s a question that has no easy answer. Northern New Mexico was Commune Central in those days, and each of the twenty-odd settlements had its own vision, its own quirky dynamics, its own culture. And, of course, no two children ever grow up in the same family, so if you asked both me and my brother, Hart, what it was like, you’d get two completely different perspectives. I think he was pretty happy. – from The Laws of Harmony, page 2 –

Judith Ryan Hendricks’ fourth novel, The Laws of Harmony, opens in New Mexico and is narrated by Sunny Cooper – a 32 year old woman whose life is suddenly wrenched out from under her. When detectives arrive at Sunny’s door to inform her that her fiance Michael has been killed in a fiery car crash, Sunny’s grief is quickly replaced by confusion and then anger when she discovers Michael was keeping secrets from her.

There was an aura about him – daring, adventurous, carefree, almost joyful – but with a darkness just under the surface. Like you could scratch him with a fingernail and find something you might not really want to see. – from The Laws of Harmony, page 68 –

The tragedy opens a floodgate of memories from Sunny’s childhood growing up in a commune – the drugs, sex and rock n’ roll; her close relationship with a brother who has since disappeared from her life; the sister she lost to a freak accident; and the strained connection she still has with her mother. On an impulse, Sunny sells nearly all her possessions and quits her job, heading west to a new future in the tiny town of Harmony on San Miguel Island south of Vancouver Island off the Washington coast.

I’ve entered a different world, and my heart suddenly lifts. It seems I’ve finally slipped the gravitational pull of New Mexico, and the past is dropping away behind me like a spent booster rocket. – from The Laws of Harmony, page 146 –

The Laws of Harmony is a novel about personal growth, the impact of the past on our future, and the delicate connections we make with other people. Sunny’s journey is not just a physical  one from New Mexico to Harmony. Her memories do not simply stop the moment she leaves the desert and arrives on the fog enshrouded island of San Miguel. Sunny’s journey from despair to hope and her gradual understanding that she cannot walk through life alone is what drives the narrative…and it is a compelling and satisfying story.

Hendricks is a capable and talented writer whose prose is filled with warmth, humor and a deep understanding of what it means to be human. Half way through the novel, I found myself immersed in Sunny’s world, comforted by the rich descriptions of food, and not wanting the novel to end. Although there is a bit of a mystery in the book, it is not the mystery which kept me turning the pages. Hendricks’ ability to create character is her strength, and it is the characters who engaged me.

The best novels are those which leave the reader with a more acute awareness of what motivates a character – and a better understanding of  how a character’s life might parallel our own. The Laws of Harmony does both those things. The writing is accessible and honest. Judith Ryan Hendricks has written a novel which women especially will love. If you are looking for a comfortable and gratifying summer read, look no further.

Highly recommended.

4hStars

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