The Laws of Harmony began with an old clipping from the Taos, NM News. The headline was “Accident Claims Child’s Life at Party.” It was June 21, 1979—the last summer solstice party at New Buffalo Commune in Arroyo Hondo, NM. There were hundreds of people, dancing, eating, drinking, and of course using recreational drugs. Just as the sun was going down, about 8:15 p.m., two children, a five-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl who had been playing on the roof of one of the buildings, fell together through the glass skylight onto the stone floor below. The girl was only scratched and bruised, but the boy suffered two deep puncture wounds in the chest from shards of glass, and died within minutes.
The image haunted me. A party. Everyone having a good time, admiring the sunset, and suddenly there’s a moment that changes the lives of everyone present. The death of a child. I began to do that thing that writers do…What if the children had been siblings? Where were the parents? What happened to the family after the tragedy? With these questions, I began to write. I met my protagonist, Sunny Cooper and she began to tell me her story.
All writers know that a finished first draft is not the end of the process, it’s just the beginning. In working through succeeding drafts, I discovered that the death of Sunny Cooper’s younger sister becomes her defining moment, the prism through which she views the world forever after, the wedge driven between her and her mother.
As an adult, Sunny suffers another loss, one that sends her on a journey from her native New Mexico to an island in the Pacific Northwest, running from the past and towards a future which is, at first glimpse, unimaginable to her.
This journey also serves as a framework for contemplating a subject that has always fascinated me—how the present is shaped by the past. In Sunny’s case, her flight from her history only serves to anchor her more firmly in it until she realizes that the only way out is through the heart of the beast.
And ironically, it’s an unexpected legacy of the past that enables her to shake off the shadows of memory and step into a new life.