Thursday, March 11, 2010

* The Much Anticipated Interview With Judith Ryan Hendricks! *

Following is a question and answer session with Judith Ryan Hendricks, author of four fabulous books, all of which are favorites of mine.  Besides being an amazing writer, Judith is such a warm and generous woman. She donated an autographed, first editon copy of "Bread Alone" for my contest last month. Kathy Matthews was the very excited winner. Thank you Judith for everything!  *Note: After reading the congratulatory comments, I realized I didn't word this correctly. I did not compose these questions! Judith was kind enough to share the questions from a previous library interview. She gave new, up-to-date answers, though. I'm sorry for the confusion. I didn't deliberately try to deceive anyone!

1. While your first novel, Bread Alone, stands on its own as a story, it also has at its heart, the world of food, preparation, sustenance and eating. What made you add this element to the novel? What function does food play in your writing?

Food serves multiple functions in my stories. First of all, it’s a touchstone for my characters, which is how I feel about food in my own life. So many of my memories seem to be linked to a particular meal or dish or food experience. I guess that’s why I can never remember where I put my sunglasses, but I have perfect recall about the carrot cake I shared with my mom in a little cafĂ© in LaConner, WA twenty years ago. Second, food is a metaphor for love, for sharing, in many cases for work, and even for life itself. Since I love to cook and eat, alone as well as with friends and family, it’s inconceivable to me that I might write a story that doesn’t include food in some way.

2. Your female characters possess a certain “edginess.” They’ve been cheated on, given up for adoption, left pregnant, work long hours and multiple jobs for low pay, they have been divorced, yet none of them seem bitter and they remain vulnerable to love. Is that a deliberate choice you make to characterize? Do your narrators echo your own worldview? Do you think it’s possible for a writer to distance herself from her main character, or do the boundaries blur?

Bitterness is an interesting trait—destructive and closed, which doesn’t make for much reader sympathy. However, characters like Avery James in Isabel’s Daughter and Sunny Cooper in The Laws of Harmony take on bitterness as a protective coloration. In reality they’re not so much bitter as wary. On the other hand, it’s often more interesting when a character acts differently than her true self.

I have to distance myself from my main character because in the service of the story they have to make a lot of choices that I wouldn’t make. However, I feel strongly that every one of my characters shares at least one of my traits. I love the way Milan Kundera (Unbearable Lightness of Being) says it: “The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities.”

3. What steps take place between your first full draft, your rewrite and the published book?

Well…after I finish the first draft I take my husband out to dinner to celebrate. In the middle of dinner, I say…we’ve got to go home; I just thought of something I left out of chapter 2 that could change the entire outcome of the story. Next I give the manuscript to one of my good writer friends and she reads it and says. I really love this. I say, but what? She says, But nothing. I really love it. I say, what should I change? She says Nothing. I really love it. I go over the pages three more times trying to figure out what she’s not telling me. Then I send it to my agent, who tells me what my writer friend would not. I rewrite the novel and send it back to my agent. She calls me and says, I think C---really likes it. She’ll let us know when she gets back from the holidays.

I sweat out Christmas and New Year’s, going over the ms three more times. After the holidays the editor calls. She says, I love this book. I say, Thanks. That’s great. She says, I just need you to change the ending so that the boyfriend doesn’t die. We discuss certain changes. I make some, but not all. It goes to the copy editor. I proof read the galleys. They send me cover art. I hate it. I call my editor. She makes them re-do the cover art so it doesn’t look like the character is fifteen years old and about to commit suicide. In order to maintain my sanity I start on the next book. And suddenly one day a package arrives in the mail…my Advance Reader Copy! I’m so happy I take my husband out to dinner to celebrate. During dessert I say, oh, God, why did I make that change in Chapter 2?

4. How has moving to New Mexico affected your writing?

The only real difference between writing here and writing in L.A. is that I seem to have more time. Santa Fe is so compact I can be anywhere in town within 15 minutes. Also life is a bit simpler. I don’t expend as much energy just on the details of daily life.

5. In The Laws of Harmony, your story begins about the sudden loss of love when Sunny’s boyfriend is killed, but the story ends up being about a different kind of love altogether. How do you see this book by comparison to your earlier work? Are you changing territory, widening your narratives? Or does each book suggest its own particular context and story while you write it?

Yes to all of the above. Each book definitely has its own trajectory and each one changes you. You are not the same person at the end as you were when you started. The story in The Laws of Harmony went its own way at the end—not at all what I originally planned—and it also changed me as a writer, definitely broadened my perspective. It was like once I finished, I sat back in my chair and said, Well. Where did that come from? I don’t think I look at stories in quite the same way any more.

6. Are you superstitious when writing a book? Do you keep the story close to your chest while you’re generating, or do you feel free to talk about it?

I absolutely believe that it’s best not to talk too much about what I’m working on. First of all everything changes during the course of the writing and you could be talking about a storyline that ends up on the cutting room floor. Also, I think if you talk about something while you’re in the process of creating it, then a lot of the creativity just dissipates, and the story’s energy gets spent on talking about it instead of writing it.

7. How has publishing four novels changed your life?

Now when I meet someone at a party and they ask what I do, I have something to tell them.

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” -- Ashley Smith


  1. What a wonderful interview! I have been waiting for this ever since you said it was in the works.

    Judith is such a great author. Her writing is beautiful.

  2. Great job, Becky. Enjoyed reading it! Thanks for sharing. Sincerely, Susan

  3. Terrific interview. What an interesting peek into the writing process!

    And I do agree about food being integral to our lives. That's the first question asked 8:00 a.m. every morning at work: "Where are we going for lunch?"

  4. Becky, great job! I loved reading your interview with Judith, especially as I am in the middle of reading Bread Alone. What a great idea for your blog, too.

    One thing that I notice about this book is that I am not racing through it, I have been busy and am reading it a little at a time. Then I think about Wyn all day long, wondering what is going to happen next. I picture how her little house looks since she painted and decorated it. I wonder about what Linda has to go through at home.

    It is really, really good. It has been a long time since I have read a book like this.

    Thanks again,


  5. Really enjoyed this interview. Am even more convinced that I'll enjoy her books! Thanks!

  6. Hi Becky,
    Thanks for asking such insightful interview questions.
    Hi Judith,
    Thank you for your generous and thoughtful answers.
    Donna Volkenannt

  7. Thanks for sharing. I'll be sure to check out one of her books.

  8. Thanks so much to you, Becky and to everyone who has commented on the interview. The questions actually came from a really fun program that I did with my friend, novelist Jo-Ann Mapson at a local library. The format was the two of us interviewing each other, asking all the questions we always wished interviewers would ask. When I showed them to Becky she thought her blog friends would enjoy them too. I delighted that you have!

  9. First, I must say another huge thank-you to Judi for her participation in my contest and for her kind comments below. Thanks, Judi!

  10. Oops! I should've said "Judi's comments above"....not below!

  11. Thanks, Janel. Glad you liked it! And I'm happy to know you've already read Judith's books!

  12. Hi Pat! Thanks! And, true! What's for lunch, what's for dinner, what's for dessert?! :)

  13. Hi Kathy! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts about the book! It makes me want to read it again! It's been a long time. Next you'll have to read the sequel, "The Baker's Apprentice" !!

  14. Hi Tammy! Thanks and yes, I'm sure you'll love Judith's books. I have a couple right here, waiting for you to borrow!

  15. Hi Donna! Thanks so much! As you've read by now, I didn't come up with those wonderful questions! But, hey, I could have, after maybe a month to think about it! :)

  16. Hi Lisa! Thanks for stopping by, and I know you'll love Judith's books!

  17. I enjoyed reading this interview, Becky. I liked getting an insiders peek at how a book is published. Thanks for sharing this!

  18. Thanks, Daisy! I'm glad you enjoyed it.


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