Left Coast Crime conference, Pt I: the amazing Louise Penny

How the light gets in: Louise Penny interviewed at Left Coast Crime 2014 by Andrew Martin, her publisher at Minotaur

by CJ Verburg

I never go to writers’ conferences.  In my (mumble mumble) years of experience, “I never” usually means “but I will very soon, surprise!” Thus, when I heard that Louise Penny, Ann Cleeves, Deborah Crombie, Cara Black, and 800 mystery writers and fans, including several remarkable authors I’d “met” on LinkedIn’s Crime Fiction group, would be at Left Coast Crime 2014 in Monterey, I realized I was overdue for a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and nearby historical sights.

The first I heard of Louise Penny was just a few months ago.  It wasn’t the rave reviews that made me pick up her first Inspector Gamache mystery, but the title of her latest book:  How the Light Gets In.  Any writer with the perspicacity to choose one of Leonard Cohen’s finest lines for a book title has already piqued my curiosity and won my tentative respect.  (Confession: my next Cory Goodwin mystery has the working title “Another Number for the Road.”)  My first happy discovery when I started turning Penny’s pages was the little Canadian town of Three Pines, a setting remarkably similar to the village of Quansett in my Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod mysteries.  A kindred spirit for sure!  By the time I finished her second book, I was a confirmed fan.

Stepping in for Deborah Crombie, who wasn’t feeling well (“because of what I put in her food”), Louise Penny interviews Cara Black on Saturday afternoon.

Louise Penny in person is beautiful, funny, articulate, diffident, brazen, charming, flirtatious, and unpredictable.  Interviewed on Friday afternoon by her editor at Minotaur, Andy Wilson, she talked frankly about how she came to mystery writing, and why it took her four decades to tackle what’s now her vocation.  She always wanted to write.  She was terrified she’d screw it up.  She became a journalist so that she could try it without risking massive failure.  Eventually her husband goosed her into taking the big leap with those three magic words:  “I’ll support you.”

Penny confided that she gave the name of Nichol to Gamache’s awkward, brash, irritating, foot-in-mouth young assistant–a very real character, whom she clearly understood from the heart–as a play on her own name.

Asked about her most recent book, which has won so many kudos and superlatives it’s almost embarrassing, Penny quoted the full chorus of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem.”  These are lines I get a chill just quoting; perhaps they ring a bell for every artist as they do for me:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

One last piece of good news: Penny’s next book is finished and in the publishing pipeline.

Laissez les bon temps rouler! Mardi Gras discount!

LBB-2014-AReby Charisse Howard

If you can’t make it to Carnival in New Orleans, sail back in time two hundred years and celebrate with Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer!  Climb aboard a Louisiana bayou pirate ship for a night of spicy romance at the illicit 1814 Mardi Gras on the bayou island of Grand Terre, for a special now-through-Tuesday price of just $1!

On Smashwords, click here and use the code SU94C (not case-sensitive);
On AllRomanceEbooks (ARe): just click here.
Vite!  Vite!  The coupon expires at dawn on Wednesday.

With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the puritanical Americans banned the rowdy French celebration of Mardi Gras.  While Napoleon fought to conquer Great Britain and continental Europe, the newly United States launched the War of 1812 to snatch Canada from the distracted Brits–and to stop Britain from snatching sailors off American ships.  le-corsaire-noirOnce again, as they had 200 years before, the Louisiana bayous became pirate territory.  Jean and Pierre Laffite and their comrades ran an Amazon-sized smuggling network, buying and selling and capturing goods from French, British, Spanish, and American ships alike.

By 1814, Andrew Jackson, who didn’t know that the War of 1812 had ended in stalemate, was on his way to fight the Battle of New Orleans. redcoats1 It wasn’t a wasted clash:  Jackson’s victory would tip the scale in the peace negotiations.  But that Spring, the only Americans who could celebrate the great French tradition of Mardi Gras were the buccaneers of Barataria Bay.  Join the fun for a night of hot romance and revelry with Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer–half price from now until dawn on Wednesday, March 5.