How appropriate for Darien Gee aka Mia King (Good Things, Sweet Life, Table Manners) to write the novel, Friendship Bread, with her given name. For the truth is — as Darien’s guest post, The Book That Inspired a Novel, — explains this story is a personal gift, literally growing out of an Amish Friendship Bread starter kit from her daughter.
And, like the division of the starter kits, the novel took on a life of its own. Darien recalls: “As I was finishing the last piece [of the bread], I saw a woman in my mind who was reluctantly holding up a bag of the starter, regarding it with a frown. I didn’t know where she had gotten the starter but one thing was clear—she was enveloped in sadness, stuck in the day-to-day motions that mimicked life when in fact she hadn’t felt alive in years. I knew right then that I wanted to find out more, and I started writing that night.”
As the main character of Julia appeared to tell her story so, too, did all the other characters/residents of small town Avalon. In fact, when the author began writing, she didn’t know the cause of her character’s sadness. But as the story unfolded Darien realized that Julia and her sister were estranged, and that her son’s death was the reason why. Her reaction? “I felt a shock and sadness as if I were hearing the news from a friend—I experienced a kind of disbelief, a how-could-this-happen sort of response. I did think about my kids during this time, but as a writer I had to keep writing and follow the story to the end because I wanted to know if Julia would be okay.”
The author discovered more secrets and answers that evolved into the Friendship Bread synopsis:
An anonymous gift sends a woman on a journey she never could have anticipated.
One afternoon, Julia Evarts and her five-year-old daughter, Gracie, arrive home to find an unexpected gift on the front porch: a homemade loaf of Amish Friendship Bread and a simple note: I hope you enjoy it. Also included are a bag of starter, instructions on how to make the bread herself, and a request to share it with others.
Still reeling from a personal tragedy that left her estranged from the sister who was once her best friend, Julia remains at a loss as to how to move on with her life. She’d just as soon toss the anonymous gift, but to make Gracie happy, she agrees to bake the bread.
When Julia meets two newcomers to the small town of Avalon, Illinois, she sparks a connection by offering them her extra bread starter. Widow Madeline Davis is laboring to keep her tea salon afloat while Hannah Wang de Brisay, a famed concert cellist, is at a crossroads, her career and marriage having come to an abrupt end. In the warm kitchen of Madeline’s tea salon, the three women forge a friendship that will change their lives forever.
In no time, everyone in Avalon is baking Amish Friendship Bread. But even as the town unites for a benevolent cause and Julia becomes ever closer to her new friends, she realizes the profound necessity of confronting the painful past she shares with her sister.
About life and loss, friendship and community, food and family, Friendship Bread tells the uplifting story of what endures when even the unthinkable happens.
Perhaps it’s been noticed that many of the winter/spring books presented here during the past months have centered on family and friends. With that in mind, Friendship Bread might be considered the literary equivalent of a welcome mat, telling the tales of an entire town. For Darien Gee (even when writing as Mia King) has the remarkable talent to transport readers into whatever world she’s created — in this novel, it’s Avalon, Illinois. The details describing the residents, their homes, streets, and landmarks are not intrusive yet combine to convey a strong sense of community. And the sharing of Friendship Bread bag starter kits only creates a stronger bond.
Populated by a multigenerational cast of characters who must cope with a range of sadness and problems, Avalon is refreshing in its sprit of hope. Hope that comes alive by the introduction of bread. Simple? Yes, except most major challenges are resolved by simple solutions. And, in truth, the novel’s message is that a single act’s ripple effect can make anything possible.
In this age of technology each one of us can choose to become connected. Cyberspace isn’t friendly Avalon, Illinois but it can promote the desire and power to reach out to share. A perfect, current example is being able to donate to the Read Cross for Japan Relief. After all bread comes in forms.
And that’s the beauty and truth of Darien Gee’s novel. Through her writing, the author took a bag of ingredients, squeezed it, added more individuals to the mix then turned it all into an enormously positive phenomenon. Warmth, genuine caring, and the fact that people need people transcends fiction, spilling out and into the Friendship Bread Kitchen. How does Darien feel about both her creations?
“We’re having fun in the Kitchen sharing Amish Friendship Bread recipes and community, and the Kitchen has taken a life of its own that includes the book but is not only about the book. I hadn’t expected it to go one way or another — I just thought it would be a fun thing to do and (like the starter) it kept growing. Amish Friendship Bread has changed my life in ways both big and small, and I know I’m not alone in saying that. I think Julia sums it up best when she tries the bread for the first time:
“’It hits the spot, as unexpected kindness often does.’”
For deliciously honest, comfort food for thought, Friendship Bread is a reading treat available tomorrow at local bookstores and online retailers. Enjoy, savor, and be sure to share it by gifting a copy to a friend!
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Darien Gee’s Friendship Bread in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.