Author Peng Shepard: “THE BOOK OF M”


TED SIMONS: PENG SHEPHERD IS A WRITER AND DAUGHTER OF FORMER EARLY PHOENIX TV ANCHOR, LIN SUE COONEY. SHE'S OUT WITH HER FIRST NOVEL, IT’S A FUTURISTIC STORY. IT INVOLVES THE LOST OF SHADOWS , THE LOST OF MEMORIES AND LOST OF SORROWS. SHEPHERD’S NOVEL IS TITLED "THE BOOK OF M." IT WAS RELEASED EARLIER THIS MONTH, AND IT'S GETTING GREAT REVIEWS. WE SPOKE WITH HER ABOUT HER DEBUT NOVEL. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US ON ARIZONA HORIZON. CONGRATULATIONS ON THIS BOOK. WHENEVER -- IT'S YOUR FIRST TIME AUTHOR HERE. WHENEVER WE HAVE FIRST TIME AUTHORS YOU JUST SEE THE BOOK SITTING THERE IN BOOK STORES, WHAT DO YOU THINK?

PENG SHEPHERD: IT -- IT JUST -- WELL, IT DOESN'T FEEL REAL YET. I HAVE TO SAY. I -- I STILL FEEL LIKE AT ANY MOMENT, I'M GOING TO WAKE UP, AS I PICK IT UP,AND IT'S NOT GOING TO BE REAL. IT'S REALLY WONDERFUL.

TED SIMONS: IT HAS TO BE. THIS IS A STORY SET IN THE NEAR FUTURE. AND IT SAYS IT TAKES A LONG TIME TO WRITE THE FIRST NOVEL. HAVE YOU BEEN THINKING ABOUT THIS -- IT IS VERY IMAGINATIVE. IN A FUTURE THAT IS VERY DIFFERENT THAN WHERE WE LIVE NOW. HAD YOU BEEN THINKING ABOUT THIS?

PENG SHEPHERD: I ALWAYS NEW -- I ENJOYED READING AND REALLY LIKE WRITING THINGS THAT ARE FANTASTIC OR WEIRD OR SOMETHING IS A LITTLE OFF. I HAD BEEN THINKING OF WRITING SOMETHING LIKE THAT FOR A REALLY LONG TIME

TED SIMONS: AS FAR AS THE CHALLENGES, THOUGH, OF WRITING ABOUT THE FUTURE, IT HAS GOT TO BE DIFFICULT. YOU HAVE GOT TO WATCH EVERYTHING YOU WRITE, DON'T YOU? . BECAUSE YOU CAN’T GO BACK AND MAKE A MISTAKE LATER ON

PENG SHEPHERD: YES, IT'S VERY TRUE. BUT WHEN YOU ADD MAGIC IN, A LOT MORE BECOMES POSSIBLE. I HAD A LITTLE BIT OF FREEDOM THERE.

TED SIMONS: `THERE IS SOME MAGIC HERE. AND IT'S BASED IN THE NEAR FUTURE. THERE IS ALL SORTS OF STUFF GOING ON IN THE WORLD. WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THIS AS A DYSTOPIAN MODEL?

PENG SHEPHERD: YES. I WOULD. IT'S -- I DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH OF A SYNOPSIS YOU WANT ME TO GIVE --

TED SIMONS: WHATEVER YOU ARE COMFORTABLE WITH.

PENG SHEPHERD: IT IS IN THE NEAR FUTURE LIKE YOU SAID, AND THE STORY CENTERS AROUND A MYSTERIOUS PHENOMENON THAT IS CAUSING PEOPLE'S SHADOWS TO DISAPPEAR ALL OVER THE WORLD, AND IF YOU LOSE YOUR SHADOW, YOU GAIN A STRANGE NEW FORM OF MAGIC, THAT AT THE SAME TIME YOU START TO LOSE YOUR MEMORY, AND THAT KIND OF PLUNGES THE WORLD INTO AN APOCALYPTIC SITUATION, WHERE YOU HAVE THESE PEOPLE THAT ARE VERY POWERFUL, BUT CAN'T REMEMBER WHO THEY ARE, OR WHO THEY LOVE OR WHAT MATTERS TO THEM.

TED SIMONS: THAT WOULD SEEM TO PLUNGE THE AUTHOR INTO ALL SORTS OF CHALLENGES, BECAUSE YOUR CHARACTERS CAN'T REMEMBER. YOU CAN REMEMBER, THE READER CAN REMEMBER, BUT YOU HAVE TO MAKE THAT SURE YOU FOLLOW -- WAS IT DIFFICULT -- DID YOU HAVE TO OUTLINE THINGS?

PENG SHEPHERD: I DID. FOR THE CHARACTERS THAT WERE LOSING MEMORIES, I HAD TO BE VERY CAREFUL TO REMEMBER MYSELF WHAT THEY COULDN'T REMEMBER. THERE WERE TIMES WHERE MY EDITOR AND I WOULD BE LIKE, OH, SHE DOESN’T REMEMBER THAT ANYMORE, WE CANT SAY THAT NOW.
TED SIMONS: AGAIN, I LOVE THE CREATIVE PROCESS. WHERE DOES THAT COME FROM? WHEN YOU WERE A KID DID SHADOWS FASCINATE YOU?

PENG SHEPHERD: OH, THEY DID. WHEN YOU ARE A KID, THEY ARE SO FUN. AND YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW SHADOWS WORK, YOU THINK MAYBE IF YOU CAN JUST BE A LITTLE BIT FASTER OR A LITTLE BIT TRICKIER, MAYBE YOU CAN OUTSMART THEM. NOW I KNOW HOW SHADOWS WORK AND THAT’LL NEVER HAPPEN, BUT THAT SENSE OF KIND OF FUN STAYS WITH YOU.

TED SIMONS: YEAH, AND IN A NOVEL YOU CAN MAKE SHADOWS DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.

PENG SHEPHERD: I CAN. [ LAUGHTER ]

TED SIMONS: I NOTICED THE MEMORY ASPECT. THAT STRIKES MUCH CLOSER TO HOME AND I'M SURE WILL FOR A LOT OF READERS BECAUSE OF AGING AND DEMENTIA AND ALZHEIMER'S AND SUCH. DID YOU RECOGNIZE THAT AS YOU WERE WRITING THIS?

PENG SHEPHERD: I DID. NOT AT FIRST, AND THE FURTHER I GOT INTO IT, ESPECIALLY UPON REVISION, READING THE WHOLE THING FIT TOGETHER, I REALLY -- I DID SEE THE PARALLELS.

TED SIMONS: YEAH. AS FAR AS PLOTTING THE NOVEL, DID YOU HAVE EVERYTHING FIGURED OUT, OR DID YOU --

PENG SHEPHERD: OH, NO.

TED SIMONS: DID YOU JUST START AND SEE WHERE -- IS IT CHARACTER-DRIVEN OR PLOT-DRIVEN? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT DOING THIS?

PENG SHEPHERD: I THINK IT WAS PROBABLY CHARACTER-DRIVEN AT FIRST, BUT I DIDN'T GET GOING UNTIL I HAD THE PLOT. PLOT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO ME. BUT I MOSTLY DIDN'T HAVE AN OUTLINE. I KNEW WHERE IT ENDED BUT I HAD NO IDEA WHAT HAPPENED IN THE MIDDLE.

TED SIMONS: INTERESTING. SO DID THE CHARACTERS JUST RUN OFF AND DO ALL SORTS OF THINGS YOU WEREN’T PREPARED FOR. HOW DID YOU HANDLE THAT?

PENG SHEPHERD: I JUST WENT WITH IT. AND IT MOSTLY WORKED, IT’S REALLY --THAT'S ONE OF THE BEST THINGS WHEN WRITING WHEN YOU FIND SOMETHING THAT FEELS RIGHT AND YOU GO WITH IT.

TED SIMONS: BUT THE SURPRISES WERE KIND OF MINOR. THE MAJOR SURPRISE AT THE END THAT STAYED THE SAME, CORRECT?

PENG SHEPHERD: NO.

TED SIMONS: IT DIDN'T STAY THE SAME?

PENG SHEPHERD: THAT CHARACTER THAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT, HE WAS THE HARDEST ONE TO WRITE. AND HE WENT THROUGH SO MANY ITERATIONS AND IT WASN'T UNTIL JUST WEEKS BEFORE WE SOLD THE BOOK THAT WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT HAPPENED, EVERYTHING CRYSTALIZED, AND I KNEW I HAD TO WRITE ALL OF THAT AGAIN VERY QUICKLY.

TED SIMONS: I WAS GONNA SAY. WHEN YOU PRESENTED THE BOOK TO PUBLISHERS, OR TOLD PEOPLE ABOUT IT, WHAT DID YOU SAY? I'M WRITING A BOOK ABOUT THE FUTURE WHERE SHADOWS DISAPPEAR AND MEMORIES GO WITH IT?

PENG SHEPHERD: BASICALLY. WE PITCHED IT AS A POST APOCALYPTIC LOVE STORY.

TED SIMONS: YES. HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE THOUGH THAT YOU GET PAST OTHER DYSTOPIAN AND POST APOCALYPTIC STORIES. THERE ARE A LOT OF THEM OUT THERE.

PENG SHEPHERD: THERE ARE. I WAS WORRIED ABOUT THAT. WHEN IT WAS OUT ON SUBMISSION THAT THE MARKET MIGHT BE SATURATED, BUT MINE HAS A LITTLE BIT MORE MAGIC THAN I THINK A LOT OF THEM DO, AND I THINK THAT'S THE -- HOPEFULLY THE UNIQUE THING ABOUT IT. THAT SETS IT APART.

TED SIMONS: YEAH, IT'S INTERESTING, AND IT'S NOT EXPLAINED NECESSARILY, THE MAGIC IS JUST MATTER OF FACT. IT'S THERE. KIND OF LIKE THE LATIN AMERICAN MAGIC REALISM

PENG SHEPHERD: YEAH. MAGIC REALISM.

TED SIMONS: GREW UP IN PHOENIX?

PENG SHEPHERD: I DID.

TED SIMONS: DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO BE A WRITER?

PENG SHEPHERD: I DID.

TED SIMONS: DID YOU REALLY?

PENG SHEPHERD: YES. WHEN I WAS FIVE I TRIED TO WRITE MY OWN BOOKS. AND MY MOM ACTUALLY TOOK IT TO HER WORK, LAMINATED IT, HANDED IT BACK TO ME, AND I THOUGHT I WAS PUBLISHED.

TED SIMONS: THAT'S VERY NICE.

PENG SHEPHERD: IT WAS VERY SAD WHEN I FIGURED OUT I WASN'T. [ LAUGHTER ]

TED SIMONS: WHEN DID YOU REALIZE? A LOT OF PEOPLE THINK THEY ARE GOING TO WRITE THE GREAT AMERICAN WRITER. GOOD LORD, I KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT THINK THAT. MAYBE EVEN ME. BUT THE FACT IS VERY FEW PEOPLE BECOME --

PENG SHEPHERD: IT'S TOUGH.

TED SIMONS: WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WERE GOOD AT THIS?

PENG SHEPHERD: OH, WHEN DID I KNOW? I THINK IT'S REALLY HARD -- SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE I STILL DON'T KNOW. BUT I CAN SAY THAT WHEN I STARTED WRITING THIS BOOK, IT FELT DIFFERENT FROM A LOT OF THE OTHER ATTEMPTS I HAD MADE WITH OTHER STORIES, AND THE FURTHER AND FURTHER I GOT, IT REALLY FELT LIKE MAYBE I HAVE SOMETHING HERE.

TED SIMONS: THE LITTLE CRITIC WASN'T TOO LOUD.

PENG SHEPHERD: NOT WITH THIS ONE. I ALSO WROTE MANY HOURS A DAY. IT WAS SUCH A FAST PROCESS, AND I WAS SO DEEP INTO IT, I THINK I COULDN'T HEAR.

TED SIMONS: AND YOU HAVE LIVED ALL OVER THE WORLD, CORRECT?

PENG SHEPHERD: IN A FEW PLACES.

TED SIMONS: TALK ABOUT THAT. WAS IT A CAREER MOVE? EDUCATION?

PENG SHEPHERD: IT WAS BOTH. SOME WAS EDUCATION. STUDIED ABROAD IN CHINA, AND I LATER MOVED BACK THERE. IT WAS PARTIALLY JOB RELATED -- ACTUALLY IT WAS ALL JOB RELATED. I LIVED IN LONDON TOO FOR A JOB AND TRANSFERREED ME THERE. AND I WAS ALSO IN WASHINGTON, D.C., SORT OF WHERE YOU ARE FROM.

TED SIMONS: THAT IS SOMETHING THAT THIS BOOK IS BASED LITERALLY IN NEIGHBORHOODS I'M AWARE OF. NORTHERN VIRGINIA. BUT THE PLACES YOU HAVE BEEN AND SEEN, DID THEY HELP SHAPE THE BOOK?

PENG SHEPHERD: I THINK SO. BECAUSE SINCE I SORT OF END THE WORLD IN THE STORY, I HAD TO -- I WASN'T CONSTRAINED BY -- YOU KNOW, CITIES THAT STILL LOOKED LIKE CITIES. WE RECOGNIZED THEM, AND I COULD DO ANYTHING I WANTED. I DO THINK WHEN YOU TRAVEL AND GET IN UNFAMILIAR ENVIRONMENTS AND YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING HAPPENING AROUND YOU, BUT IT'S WONDERFUL AND MYSTERIOUS, AND THAT PLAYED INTO THE WAY I CREATED NEW PLACES.

TED SIMONS: FAVORITE AUTHORS? PEOPLE THAT SHAPED YOUR WRITING?

PENG SHEPHERD: URSALA K LE GUIN IS MY FAVORITE. MY HERO. I'M ALSO A REALLY BIG FAN OF EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL, THAT WROTE "STATION 11." WHICH IS ANOTHER POST-APOCOLYPTIC STORY AND A LOT OF BIG ONES LIKE STEPHEN KING, CHINA MIEVILLE, WHO WRITES NEW WEIRD STUFF.

TED SIMONS: DO YOU THINK YOUR NEXT BOOK -- AND ARE YOU READY FOR THAT NEXT BOOK? THE SECOND ONE CAN BE PRETTY TOUGH.

PENG SHEPHERD: I'M TRYING RIGHT NOW, AND IT IS PRETTY TOUGH.

TED SIMONS: IS IT GOING TO BE MORE FUTURISTIC AND FANTASTIC.

PENG SHEPHERD: I THINK SO. I'M TRYING NOT TO END THE WORLD.

TED SIMONS: YOU CAN ONLY DO THAT SO MANY TIMES.

PENG SHEPHERD: YES. BUT I ENJOY THE STRANGE STUFF.

TED SIMONS: THIS WOULD SEEM LIKE IT WOULD HAVE INTEREST FROM HOLLYWOOD.

PENG SHEPHERD: OH, I HOPE.

TED SIMONS: ARE YOU HEARING ANYTHING?

PENG SHEPHERD: THERE HAVE BEEN A FEW RUMBLES, BECAUSE IT IS VERY UNIQUE. SO I THINK THEY MIGHT BE WAITING FOR IT TO COME OUT AND HOPEFULLY IT DOES WELL, AND THAT MIGHT ENCOURAGE THEM.

TED SIMONS: FOR PEOPLE WHO SAY I'M STILL NOT SURE WHAT THIS IS ABOUT. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT?

PENG SHEPHERD: IT'S ABOUT -- WELL, WHEN I WAS WRITING IT, BECAUSE SO MANY PEOPLE LOSE THEIR SHADOWS AND START LOSING THEIR MEMORIES, AND IT MADE ME REFLECT ON WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO ME, WHAT MAKES ME WHO I AM? AND KIND OF HOW FAR WOULD I GO TO PROTECT ALL OF THAT? AND I THINK THAT'S SOMETHING WE DON'T THINK ABOUT EVERY DAY, BECAUSE WE'RE SO BUSY, BUT IT MIGHT -- IT HOPEFULLY MIGHT REMIND PEOPLE TO THINK ABOUT IT MORE.

TED SIMONS: WELL, "THE BOOK OF M," CONGRATULATIONS AGAIN ON THIS. IT'S A GREAT READ. VERY WELL DONE.

PENG SHEPHERD: THANK YOU.

TED SIMONS: GOOD LUCK ON THAT SECOND NOVEL. GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE.

PENG SHEPHERD: THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

TED SIMONS: YOU CAN HEAR MORE FROM PENG SHEPHERD ON ARIZONA PBS'S "BOOKS & COMPANY" THIS FRIDAY NIGHT AT 7:30.

Peng Shepard, the daughter of former Phoenix TV anchor Lin Sue Cooney, is out with her first novel, which is based on an actual natural phenomenon. It’s called Zero Shadow Day, where people’s own shadows are not visible to them because they are directly underneath them in certain parts of the world twice a year. “THE BOOK OF M” tells the story of a group of ordinary people who risk everything to save their loved ones as their shadows, and memories, disappear. Those whose shadows disappear also gain a strange new power. Shepard, a Phoenix native, will discuss her new novel.

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In this segment:

Peng Shepard, author, "The Book of M"

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