Event Recap: Louise Penny at Anderson’s Bookshop

What a treat to see Louise Penny two years in a row! Last year she was at The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL (read that recap here) and on Tuesday evening she was hosted by Anderson’s Bookshop of Naperville, IL. Last year’s event drew about 40 people and as Louise’s reputation is quickly growing Anderson’s wisely held the event offsite on North Central College’s campus. There were about 130 people in attendance last night which was perfect for the space at Meiley-Swallow Hall.

I’ve been to many author events in my day and Louise Penny’s are among the best. She’s personable, warmly professional, funny (as in humorous), and so genuine. Click here to go to her events schedule and see if she’s coming to a bookstore near you. Don’t miss her if she is. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read her yet, because if you haven’t, you’ll want to after listening to her talk.

Posing with our new books.

After an early dinner in downtown Naperville with my friends Ruth and Cayt we walked the two blocks to Meiley-Swallow Hall. The event started at 7pm and we arrived right at 6pm when the doors opened. We didn’t plan it that way (really) it just turned out that way.

We picked up our pre-paid books and tickets and were sitting in the foyer when who walks in but Louise Penny. She seemed to be alone, that is, without an author escort. After meeting and talking with the booksellers from Anderson’s, Louise turned her attention to the 5 or 6 early birds who were there. She introduced herself, shook hands, and individually thanked each of us for coming to the event.

In walks Louise!

When Ruth and I told her we saw her last year at The Book Stall she said, conspiratorially, that we’d be hearing some the same things tonight. We replied that we were looking forward to it and were actually hoping this would be an annual event, her coming to the Chicago area for a book release event. She’s on board with that.

Some highlights from her talk:
Louise started her talk by telling us she was trying to do this two week book tour with only a carry-on bag that is filled mostly with Gummy Bears and licorice. We were lucky, she joked, to be the first stop on the tour. And then she had everyone on the left and right side of the thrust stage squish over to center stage to get a group picture. I think a lot of people thought she was joking at first. She was not.

Louise on stage. She had everyone laughing within seconds.

After the picture was taken Louise talked about how she became a writer and eventually a published author. She shared some details that were repeats from last year, but they’re the sort of thing one enjoys hearing repeated. Indeed, book lovers and aspiring writers want to hear such things repeated.

One bit was how she came to want to write by way of reading Charlotte’s Web. As a child she had not just a fear of spiders, but a full-blown phobia. In addition to being a fearful and lonely child, Louise suspects she may also have been slow because, she says, she didn’t figure out Charlotte was a spider until half-way through the story. With that realization she saw that the written word could do great things as her fear of spiders completely left.

Fast forward to the adult Louise who spent 20 years interviewing people for the CBC. Over these two decades she heard people talk about the extremes of human experience and saw people at their best and their worst. A great experience for a future writer.

Upon leaving the CBC Penny decided to write a book and made the mistake of telling everyone her intention. The book didn’t happen right away–instead much TV watching ensued–but her husband, who was the one to remind her that she wanted to write in the first place, offered his support and never looked back. And Penny made a brief aside about how subtle lack of support can be. Looking back, Penny says, she can now see that three things needed to happen before she was ready to write:

Such laughter and joy. We could have listened to her talk for hours.

1. She moved from the city to the country, which is what she personally needed.
2. She met a group of creative woman who invited her into their monthly support group, a place where they could talk about how their creative work was going. Over the course of a year Louise saw these women have spectacular successes as well as painful failures. She saw the good and the bad, and realized that the judgement of others didn’t kill these woman; it was creating that mattered.
3. She came to understand that she had been writing the wrong book for the wrong reasons and realized she wanted to write a book for the joy of telling a story and so created a cast of characters that she personally enjoyed.

While it might be tough to get published, Penny reminded us of the distinction between being disappointed (i.e., not getting published) and regret (not creating, not writing, not trying).

A quick group shot.

When Penny launched into talking specifically about The Beautiful Mystery she pointed out that it is the first Chief Inspector Gamache novel to be set completely outside of Three Pines. Other novels in the series have had action outside of Three Pines, but there’s always been a return or flashbacks to the town. Not this time.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this one “feels” with that in mind. Before opening up the event to questions from the audience, Penny did two short readings from the new novel.

Stay tuned for details on the Q&A portion of the evening.

~The End~


  1. Great recap, Chris!!! 🙂 Like reliving our evening, which will be wonderful to do whenever I can use a little Louisespiration! 😉 Happy you posted this!

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