Event recap: Louise Penny at The Book Stall

The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL

Louise Penny is my new author-crush. What a pleasure to meet her when I’m in the middle of reading her back-list! I’ve finished four of the now seven books in her Chief Inspector Gamache series. Some folks refer to the books as The Three Pines Series.

The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL hosted Louise Penny on Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 7pm. People where filling up seats shortly after 6pm and by the time Louise started talking it was a standing room only crowd. My friend Ruth and I drove up to Winnetka, a northern suburb of Chicago, from our stomping grounds in the western suburbs of Chicago. It’s about 35-40 miles away and we left before rush-hour traffic was in full-swing. Our friend Linda was unable to attend the event and Louise personalized the copy we purchased for Linda with appropriate sentiments. A fourth friend, Missy in Iowa, drove with a group of her friends to see Louise in Omaha, Nebraska the night before and had a great time.

I’m mentioning these friends because it was Ruth who first read Penny and word spread from her to Missy, to Linda, to me. Now I’m telling everyone about Louise Penny. This word of mouth is what authors and publishers strive for. It’s the magic that can eventually grow best-selling authors.

How did Ruth come to read Louise Penny? Once upon a time we four friends all worked in the same bookstore. One day when Ruth was helping a customer or shelving books, the title STILL LIFE caught her eye. Still Life was Penny’s first novel. Ruth likes to read books about art and artists, and so Still Life was a must read for her. She bought the book and the rest is herstory.

So, anyway, Ruth and I had a great time on Thursday evening. First of all, The Book Stall is a wonderful bookshop. The people who work there were friendly and helpful. As Ruth said, just stepping into the place made you feel good, relaxed and at ease. Ruth and I browsed for a bit, put our books on hold, and then grabbed a bite to eat. When we got back to the store we purchased our books (I also picked up a copy of Karl Marlante’s What It Is Like to Go to War, which I’ve been awaiting), grabbed some coffee from the Caribou next door (some genius broke the wall between the coffee shop and book shop. If I lived closer I’d be a squatter), and then took our seats. We chatted with some of the other Penny fans sitting around us. It seems most people stumble onto Penny’s books or they are forced upon them by well-meaning friends and relatives.

Penny in action. Photo by John Thomas Bychowski

I have no idea if the event started on time; suddenly Louise Penny was there and after a brief introduction started talking. She’s one of those writers that I could listen to for hours. She’s genuine and funny and doesn’t shy away from pain. She talked about how absolutely amazing it is to have her first showing on the New York Times best-seller printed list (A Trick of the Light landed at #4 on the hardcover fiction list). She also talked about her path to becoming a writer, from the time she was eight until now, and how she’s trying to help other new writers get published by starting a Canadian award for unpublished manuscripts. A similar award played a major role in her own break-through into print: Penny had been on the short list for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award. She didn’t win that award. She came in second place, but it opened a few doors and she landed an agent. Penny was prepared. Hard work and a little bit of luck. There are no over-night successes, at least not ones that last for more than 15-minutes.

Penny answered about a dozen questions from the audience before it was time to move on to the book signing portion of the event. It seemed like everyone who attended took the time to meet Penny and get their books signed. Penny took her time with each fan, but the line moved along nicely. Really, I don’t think anyone would have minded if the line had moved slower. We all chatted and enjoyed the company. It turns out that the author escort and person who took our picture below is a former Borders employee (as are Ruth, Missy, Linda, and myself. Well, technically I still work at Borders but the closing date for my store is next week and it really hasn’t felt like Borders/a bookstore for weeks now). Another Borders connection this evening is that John Thomas Bychowski, who took the picture above, is the cousin of a guy that I used to work with at Borders. I only found that out through messaging John on Facebook later that night after he posted pictures of the event. It is a small world.

Me, Louise, and Ruth!

A Trick of the Light is book seven in the series and Penny has recently finished the manuscript for book eight. She has book nine in her head and is thinking about book ten. So, Penny fans, rest assured that there is more Gamache and Three Pines to come!

Check out Louise Penny on Facebook–she’s posting while on book tour.

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