Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Louise Penny Visits Jungle Reds

RHYS: Today I'm delighted to bring as my guest to Jungle Red Writers a writer I admire and a friend I cherish, Louise Penny. Louise burst onto the mystery scene only a two or three years ago with her mysteries set in small town Quebec. She won the debut Dagger in UK and the Dilys, Anthony and Macavity in the States. She has won the Agatha two years in a row. Her books have become instant bestsellers. Louise and I were together over the weekend at the Bloody Words conference in Ottawa, Canada and had a few minutes to chat.
So welcome Louise. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. You made an instant impact on the mystery scene with a series that is neither sensational nor violent, but instead portrays the gentle and safe world of rural Canada. How do you explain your success?

LOUISE: You're right, Rhys. My books are about decency and kindness. I wanted to create a village that felt like home, where weary readers could escape from a world not always kind, not always as caring and gentle as we'd like. John Milton wrote that sometimes we have to sift through evil to find good. That's what the books do. They find, at their core, good.

RHYS: Your hero, Inspector Gamache, is a far cry from the angst-ridden heroes of hardboiled novels. He is decent human being, at peace with himself. Where did he come from?

LOUISE: I think you've hit it bang on. A decent hero, with integrety and goodness and a secure environment. Peace. Internal and external. I know that's what I long for. And when I read I don't want to go to a place worse than my real world. I want to escape. Three Pines and Gamache gives people that.
But this isn't a fairy tale. The reason I think I can conjure Three Pines so convincingly - and Armand Gamache - is because I know both exist. Goodness exists. Decency, love, friendship exist. This is, in fact, a lovely world we live in. There's reason for hope.
In creating CI Gamache I made a very selfish decision. I wanted someone I wouldn't tire of in a year or two. He needed to have qualities not just quirks. And the only way I felt I could be assured of enjoying his company was to make him someone I would marry. So I make him a happy man, at peace with himself and his world. A man who loves and is loved. I had to make him French because it was unlikely an Anglo would hold that rank in the Surete, and I wanted to firmly establish the French face and voice of Quebec.

RHYS: He is French Canadian and you are not. How did you manage to get into the mind-set of a French-speaking man?

LOUISE: I'm not sure how well I've captured the mind of a francophone man. I pretty much just wrote my husband Michael - and made him French.

RHYS: So what is next for Gamache and Three Pines?

LOUISE: Well, the fifth Gamache book is coming out in October. It's called The Brutal Telling.

RHYS: What little tidbit can you share with us--something that people might not know about you? What are your dreams and your fears?

LOUISE: Well, you might not know that I'm a saint! Though I'd have hoped you could tell without my having to actually say anything, Rhys! I sent 50 dollars to the Universal Life Church back in the mid-80's and they declared me a saint. My miracle is getting published.
I have two great fears - heights and losing Michael.
Not perhaps surprisingly the things I love most are solid ground, and Michael.
My childhood fantasy was for my real mother - the Queen - to come and get me from my suburban hell. Apparently if she had I'd have met my sister Rhys, also raised by commoners! (comment by Rhys--Louise and I discovered during an interview once that we had both had childhood fantasies about being royal. Obviously sisters separated at birth!)
I think perhaps the only other thing that informs my life is astonishment and gratitude. How lucky I am!
Thank you for this, Rhys!

RHYS: We thank YOU, Louise. We hope that Gamache will continue to provide us with that safe haven for many years to come.


  1. Welcome, Louise! I look forward to reading your books. My sister lived in several small towns in Quebec for many years (Gentilly, St. Hyacinthe, and Chateau Richer) and now lives in Hudson (which I find very strange - all the signs in French and everybody speaking English!). I'm sure she'll enjoy your writing, too.


  2. (I probably should have said that we are Californians in origin and I am now a Massachusettsian.)

  3. What a lovely interview (and a lovely Golden!). I look forward to reading these.

  4. These sound like wonderful books. I look forward to reading them!

  5. As I have told Ms. Penny elsewhere, I love these books and if I could move to Three Pines today, I would do it. The people there (her characters) are complex and very human, but are capable of being true friends and companions. If only some of them didn't end up dead! Ah, but then there wouldn't be a reason to write these wonderful mysteries. I have read the first three and I will be starting the 4th in the series this week. The new book can not arrive soon enough for me. Thank you again, Saint Louise, for your fine work. Thanks to Rhys for this interview.

    Marjorie from Connecticut

  6. Saint Louise. Why does this not surprise us?!

    a lovely interview, and I cannot WAIT till the next book!

    You have created, I think, just what so many of us want, crave and need - more gentleness tempered with humor in our everyday lives.

    Thank you.


  7. Great interview--and, of course, golden retriever. Louise Penny is also interviewed today by David Cole on Mystery Fanfare. http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com. What a coincidence. Must be because she's such a wonderful writer and great person!

  8. Welcome Louise,

    We met that afternoon in the Connecticut Library but I had NO IDEA you were a saint.

    I wouldn't have sworn at traffic on the way back to NYC if I'd known.

    I'm afraid of heights, too. Apparently its the only phobia that's hardwired. Darn!

  9. Hi Louise, thanks for stopping by Jungle Red. I've enjoyed your books and look forward to more. You describe an excellent way to develop a main character--we writers all hope we'll have a long run with our protagonists so very smart to think that out ahead:). it is unusual to run across a detective who lacks angst!

  10. Hey Louise!

    How do you manage it? (Besides the sainthood, of course.) I know your wonderful and also-saintly husband is beyond supportive--but are you ever bewildered by it all?

    But, like Marjorie, add me to your fans --as you already know--your books are so wry, too...so funny and witty, along with being lovely mysteries.

    Wait--did Louise take the Jungle Red quiz?

    Hi Janet! Over to Mystery Fanfare to read more!

  11. Great to see you here, Louise -- Had to laugh at your (and Rhys's) fantasy that the Queen was your mother. When I was in Australia I was impressed by how beloved Queen Elizabeth is, how much respect she's earned. Because from where I grew up in Southern California we all thought she was hilariously dowdy. My fantasy royal mother would have been Princess Grace.

  12. Look! Another set of mysteries for me to read! I'm going to put MLB on my income tax as a dependent. ;) They sound so hmm--can something be relaxing and exciting at the same time? Blush. I mean, books be that? Looking forward to it. And I missed the quiz, too.

  13. Hi, Hank. We crossed paths at B'con '08 because of Sherlock Holmes and Laurie King.

    Anyway, you are so right about Louise's wit. I know the exact moment that I fell in love with her writing. It was a line in "Still Life" having to do with zucchini and locked doors. Zap! It was the lightning bolt of literary love hitting me hard. May I never recover!

    --Marjorie from Connecticut

  14. Hi Louise,
    See...I knew you were a saint. You were so wonderful and generous to share the stage with Jan and me at the New Canaan Library event that I found myself vowing be as gracious if I were ever in the same position.

  15. Hi all,

    Sorry it has taken me a while to get back, but we were moving! And thank God Jan swore like a sailor on that perilous drive back to NYC because those words came in handy this week. Merde.

    Love all your comments, though I am deeply hurt my sainthood wasn't immediately obvious.

    What a fabulous site, and I have to say I am so moved by the comments - and by how lovely Jan, Hank,Rosemary are. I am such a FAN of their books. Indeed I was all set to endorse Hank's latest brilliant book, but cound't quite get it in on time.

    And Rhys...I was just on a conference call and spent most of it singing her praises...as a writer, and as a genuinely kind, strong, funny and lovely friend.

    Saint Louise - among the Goddesses.

  16. Dear Edith,

    Wanted to say hello, and such fun to meet someone familiar with the peculiarities of Quebec! Thanks for being so supportive.

  17. Dear Susannah,

    Love the puppy! (They're always puppies to me). What's her/his name?

  18. DEar Joanne,

    Thanks! I hope you enjoy them too!

  19. Dear Marjorie,

    Well, girl, you get around! What delight to find you here too. Isn't this just a wonderful site?! And you're always so supportive. Can't tell you how I appreciate that.

  20. Dear Janet,

    Thank you for your lovely comments. Cannot begin to tell you how much that means. And your ears must have been burning in early June when just about every crime writer in Canada was talking about how wonderful you are...and how much of an agenda-setter your site is.

    Very exciting. See you at Bouchercon. And thank you for the interview. Isn't David great?

  21. Dear Kaye,

    Yes, Saint Louise, if you don't mind. Though, since we're friends, you can call me Saint Lou. And you're quite right, I created Three Pines and Gamache because I too yearn for contentment, for belonging, for peace.

  22. Dear Roberta,

    Thank you...I have to say that Gamache is a joy to write. I continue to love his company - though he certainly has his flaws...a touch of hubris perhaps. A certainty he's right, and everyone has good in them. Its his blind-spot. And something quite dreadful can approach, out of blind-spots.

  23. Dear Hallie,

    How terrific to hear from you especially since I devour your books and adore them! So looking forward to seeing you in Indianapolis!

  24. Dear Ddusty,

    Yes, I think gummy bears are both relaxing and exciting. Though removing them is neither of those things.