Sunday, August 24, 2014

Louise Penny and Brome Lake Books, A Rare Partnership

Yesterday Dave and I drove eagerly north, across the border into Canada, for the pre-release book party for Louise Penny's new Armand Gamache investigation, A LONG WAY HOME. I'll write about the book later -- today I'll share some of the event instead, hosted in Louise Penny's home neighborhood by Danny McAuley and Lucy Hoblyn of Brome Lake Books.

There can't be many partnerships of author and local bookshop as close as the one that Louise and Danny and Lucy share. Louise tucks bits of description of the shop into her Three Pines books; Danny and Lucy provide a special section of their shop in honor of this author, complete with a pair of comfortable reading chairs and an inscribed book table, as well as the cozy wall decor shown here.

And the respect and intelligent understanding between Louise Penny and Danny McAuley was especially evident in yesterday's on-stage conversation, where Danny asked the questions and Louise provided thoughtful responses that kept us riveted. Here are some examples:

[Danny recalled listening on the radio on the day when Louise announced her departure from a 20-year career at CBC, the Canadian national radio broadcasting firm.] Louise, smiling: "I don't think it's a complete coincidence that I spent 20 years at CBC and went on to write about murder. I also think the more screwed up you are, the better writer you are -- again, the CBC came in handy." She then turned serious and spoke of the "amazing acts of forgiveness" that she also witnessed in that job.

[Danny probed her time and efforts with research.] "A lot of it is good luck, I have to say, or grace." But it also involves following chains of interesting information. For example, the mention of the "Balm in Gilead" in Penny's new book was originally based on her visceral reaction to a long prayer expressed by a father in Marilynne Robinson's literary novel Gilead. But then she heard the hymn "There Is a Balm in Gilead" chanted, and it moved her in a new way. "I heard it when I needed to hear it, and I made note of it." The results are in the pages.

[Danny noted the use of a Canadian artist's work for the book jacket and asked about her connections to art and her research in that area.] Penny immediately confessed that her own upbringing focused on books, not art -- which instead comes into her life through her husband Michael, who is both an artist and a well-educated art appreciator. She watches her husband look at art, and listens hard to how he speaks of what he sees. "And that's what I write about -- I write about the emotions that art invokes, not about art itself."

[Likewise, Penny borrows her cooking expertise through both book research and the people around her.] "I don't cook -- at all, as Michael will tell you -- but I love eating, and I love food." So she writes with cookbooks around her, as well as poetry. "I want the books to be sensuous."

[What about the wonderful way in which significant bits of earlier books in her series come up in later titles and turn out to be related to the underlying plot?] "There are bits in Still Life [the first Armand Gamache investigation] and others that don't come to fruition until much later." But it isn't always because Penny planned it that way -- she also goes back to earlier books looking for details that she notes with "Oh, I could use this!"

[Danny's pursuit of what lies under this newest book led to Louise's reflections:] "The Long Way Home is really inspired initially by Homer's The Odyssey." She went back to re-read it, contemplating "the hero's journey" in it, as well as in her own high school love for Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In the newest book, Clara the artist persuades Gamache to help her try to find her missing husband Peter, and, says Penny, "the search for Peter is most of all the search for ourselves."

Many thanks to Danny, Lucy, and their team, as well as author Louise Penny, for an amazing afternoon. (Looking for a signed copy of the new book? Watch our ABE listings (link in right-hand column); Dave will be adding some this evening, and more on Monday and Tuesday, with the book's official release on August 26. Or, of course, you could treat yourself to a trip to Canada to visit Brome Lake Books -- where, Danny admits, lost wanderers sometimes arrive, looking for Penny's fictional town of Three Pines. They are pretty close together!)

1 comment:

Nameless Wonder said...

Thank you for this. Loved the way it was written, appreciated the bookstore relationship point of view, the author point of view and your role.