Louise Penny in the House!
I had the pleasure to hear Louise Penny speak last night at Shenendehowa High School West in conjunction with the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library. The event was sponsored by the Friends of that library, and it was a packed audience. I enjoyed the evening with my mom, who is an avid fan, my sister, and other friends.Louise Penny is the best-selling and award-winning author of the Inspector Gamache series based in her home town in Quebec. She was funny, authentic, sincere, and the type of person you'd love to visit and drink tea with at the local cafe.She talked about her beginning days of being a published author and how for the first four years of her book tours, no one showed up. When one person did, she was horrified, because as she said, "You're only humiliated if one person shows up!" She kept on with grace and humility and now fills schools and theaters from 800-2,000 people.Penny understood the power of words. As a child she was filled with fear of everything, especially spiders. Halfway through reading Charlotte's Web, she realized she loved Charlotte and that she was a spider. Her fear of spiders dissipated, and she knew she wanted to be a writer. She understood the power of words and how they can heal.However, she then developed another fear--writing and the fear of failure. How horrible to be afraid to do what she knew she was put on this earth to do. She suffered five years of writer's block.She explained that as a journalist, she saw the best and worst of people. It informed much of what she wrote about in her books. She saw the rage that people were capable of. She remembered the horrible, but also witnessed what people are capable of--the good and the evil.Everything changed when she and her husband moved to the town that inspired Three Pines in her series. She met amazingly creative people and they took her in. She realized that she got to define herself. She decided if she was a writer. Penny learned that writing is a process. You try and fail until you get better. The fact that you are still getting out of bed is magnificent. Her worry about other's approval or disapproval and how it affected her decisions, prevented her from writing. According to Penny, "Failing wouldn't kill her, but not doing it would."She didn't want to regret not doing what she always wanted when she came to the end of her life. So she changed gears. She wrote a book that she would read. For her and no one else. If no one wanted to read it, then that would be OK.The locations of Three Pines in her series is inspired by where she lives--the bakery, cafe, general store as well as the characters who are based on her friends.Penny's books were rejected many times until she found her agent at a party that she didn't want to go to. When you write the book that the world needs to read, the universe lines up to get it out to readers. Now her books have been printed in 23 languages, and she's an award-winning author.Her books are about choices, duality, having such despair, but also that hint of hope. I had written a post about A Fatal Grace and how a character couldn't support the loss any longer and how she changed her life. Penny has this ability to see deep into what makes people act the way they do. Her words make a difference.She observes human nature and has the gift to put it into words.A wonderful bit of advice she gave was from her therapist. Your critic can't write that first draft. It has to be the courageous, confident, and grateful you that writes this draft. Have the freedom to write what matters to you. Don't worry about pacing and structure yet. Write the broad strokes of the plot. The first draft is "soft, smelly, and vague."Then the critic can edit the third or fourth draft. Her latest book was 145,000 and she reduced it down to about 100,000 and an average novel is 90,000 words. Take away what doesn't fit. She is taking notes for the next book when she is about halfway through the current.She knows how the book will start, who died, who killed them and why, but then the rest is a vague idea. Penny doesn't know where the characters are going, but she has an idea of how they will change. They have structure, but not so much that there isn't room for inspiration.Louise Penny is a natural writer and speaker. She stood at the podium and spoke with such confidence. She met you like an old friend. I think we might take a road trip for some croissants!For more writing tips, her newsletter, and a list of her books, visit her website at www.louisepenny.comHer books are at your local library, and you can get them locally at The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library!