You wouldn’t expect bestselling, award-winning author Louise Penny to be, in her words, “wracked with fear” each time she sends a draft out to be read. “Every book I write,” she tells Show Daily, “even when it gets to the fifth draft and I am ready to show it to another human being, be it my editor or my agent, I don’t know if it’s any good, and I’m terrified. I send it out and I think, ‘Uh oh, this is a piece of crap—what have I just done?’” She then mentions an inspirational poster that she owns. “It says, ‘Noli Timere’ which were the last words of Seamus Heaney, the poet. I have it in front of my writing desk because it means a lot to me. Noli timere means, ‘Be not afraid.’” Clearly she overcomes her fears again and again, with the 12th book in her popular Armand Gamache series, A Great Reckoning (Minotaur), coming out at the end of August.
When Penny first started writing about Gamache and the quaint Canadian town of Three Pines, she didn’t think about story arcs that run through several books, but as the series progressed, that changed. “It became clear that there was a path that the characters were going to be taking that needed to be seeded in earlier [books], so I began to formulate where they were going. But I struggle with that balance of planning things out, and not planning too much so that I strangle it and then there’s no room for inspiration.”
A veteran of Book Expo, Penny is honored to be speaking at this morning’s Adult Author Breakfast for the first time. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to be among book lovers,” she says. “Obviously, a writer starts as a reader, and everybody in that room is as passionate a reader as I am, many probably more so. Reading saved my life, as it did I suspect for most of the people in that room.” She adds, “to be up there with Sebastian Junger and Colson Whitehead, both of whom I adore—as long I don’t pee or faint!” She plans to talk about how she became a writer and what inspired her to write about her particular set of characters. “I find it endlessly fascinating to write a main character who is in fact kind,” Penny tells Show Daily, “because in my mind and in my own experience, in the choices I’ve made when provoked, it takes absolutely no courage to be nasty—it’s a lot harder to be kind.”
Penny will kindly be signing galleys of her latest book after the Adult Author Breakfast, at 10 a.m. in the ABA Lounge, and later this morning, at 11:30 a.m., at the Macmillan booth (1958).
This article appeared in the May 12, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.