Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday's Reflection: Gifts from a Favorite Author, Louise Penny

You never know when you will receive a gift and who will extend that gift. 

This past weekend a friend and I went to hear one of our favorite authors speak. On a gorgeous afternoon in Labor Day weekend while the majority of Minnesotans were at the State Fair or "at the lake," we went to a library and stood in line for an hour before the first come first served doors opened and then waited another 45 minutes until the beginning of the talk. Whom were we waiting for? A movie star? Rock star? Sport star? Nope. A literary star, a book star, and her cheering fans couldn't have been more delighted when she appeared. 

Louise Penny http://www.louisepenny.com is the author of the bestselling Inspector Gamache books, including the brand new one, her tenth, A Long Way Home.  When I finished the ninth book, I cried, for it seemed unclear if there would be a tenth book, and I knew I would miss the company of all the characters in her books, which are set in a mythical small village outside of Montreal, Three Pines. Penny's genre is crime fiction, but her books inspired by poetry, often Margaret Atwood's poems, and also by art are sensual books about love and friendship and intimacy and the nature of goodness in the world. 

Over the years I have been to many book signings and talks by authors, and I always learn something, whether it is about their creative process or more about the content of their books. Sometimes I am disappointed by the person who may be remote and unenthusiastic about being adored or are less articulate than what they have written. Writers are people, too, after all. However, reading and books are such a deep and significant treasure and pleasure in my life, and seeing and hearing someone who has added  to that dimension of my life is a bonus and often an inspiration. 

Louise Penny is as much a gift to her readers as her books are. She is funny and warm and attractive and smart and gracious. For example, nearly 250 people stood in line after her talk to have her sign a book. She shook each person's hand and offered to have her picture taken with each fan. I thanked her for being so gracious, and she responded that signing books and meeting her readers is her "reward." I added that this is her "harvest time" as well, and she thanked me for those words. She thanked me for MY words. See what I mean about receiving a gift?

First Gift
Her talk was full of gifts as well. (Listen to the full talk at http://clubbook.org ) She spoke of fear and overcoming fear. 
As a child she was full of fears, afraid of everything, but she found "solace in stories." When she was eight years old, she was reading Charlotte's Web and about halfway through the book, she realized Charlotte is a spider, and Penny was very afraid of spiders. That fear was lifted, however, when she realized how much she loved Charlotte. From that point on she wanted to be a writer, for she understood the healing power of books.

Not all fears dissolved, however, for when she made the decision to leave her work as a journalist and radio broadcaster in order to write a great novel, she discovered she was afraid of failure. What if she couldn't write? So she didn't. Fortunately, she met a group of very creative women who were producing art in various forms, not all good, and in fact, some of it was quite horrendous, she said, but they were doing it, and their failures didn't kill them. After five years of not writing anything, she finally started writing Still Life, the first book in what has become an amazingly successful crime series. 

The gift: You can survive failure. I can survive failure. I need to remember what I so often ask others, What's The Worst That Can Happen? Most of the time the "worst" is not so bad. Even after living into my 60's, I don't always remember that, and as I begin a big writing project, I need this gift. Is this a gift you need?

Second Gift
Penny wrote her first book and sent it to publisher after publisher after publisher without any positive results. She also submitted it to a contest for unpublished books and was shortlisted for that award. She went to the award dinner hoping to meet the agents she had learned were the top agents in the United Kingdom for crime fiction. Two out of the three were there, but one was not interested in her at all, and the other was drunk. However, she and her husband were invited to a cocktail party which was a fundraiser for an organization supporting women in Afghanistan, and at that party she met the third agent, whom she discovered had a post-it note on her computer with Penny's name on it! She has been her agent ever since. Penny calls this The Amalgamation of Small Things. I think of it as One Thing Leads to Another.

One thing doesn't necessarily lead to another, however, without active engagement. Penny did not want to go to that cocktail party, but her husband pushed, and they went. She had done her homework. She had entered the contest. She had written the book and followed her dream, not waiting for fulfillment, but working for what she wanted. And it happened.  

Think about your own life and how small steps, events, meetings, or thoughts have led you to something unexpected, but just where you hoped to be. When have you experienced The Amalgamation of Small Things in your life?

Third Gift
Penny admitted she started writing hoping to impress others--all the people in her life, as well as critics and potential readers. Eventually, she realized she needed to write for herself. She created a main character she would enjoy getting to know and having in her life. She understood that the writing, the creating itself, had to be enjoyment enough. At that point she really discovered herself as a writer.

I understand. Writing this blog brings me great pleasure, and if it didn't, I would stop writing it. Yes, I am delighted you read it and that what I write resonates with you, and yes, I would like more of "you," but that doesn't drive me. I write to discover and to clarify my feelings and thoughts, and writing is a way for me to be more present to my own life and the life around me. That doesn't mean I don't aim to do my best, to become a better writer, and to be aware of my audience, however. It all works together, and I am grateful for Penny's reminder.

I think at this stage of life we have a chance to really live the idea of doing what gives you pleasure and brings you meaning. Writing does that for me, but in order for that to be true, I must continue to grow and stretch. I need to find ways to use my gifts to connect with others and to live fully in this time and place. What brings you pleasure right now and how does that allow you to grow and to connect?

What a good day it had been --- with so many gifts.

An Invitation
What gifts have you received lately and what have those gifts inspired you to do or become? How have you energized someone else with your gift of life and wisdom? I would love to know. 


  1. Teresa and I have just discovered this terrific series and are inter-library loaning from her first book.

  2. Enjoy! Bruce and I both finished #10 this weekend and now we have to wait once again.


All respectful and relevant comments are welcome. Potential spam and offensive comments will be deleted