Debuts Her First Novel
By Fiona Clarke
Above: Peng Shepherd’s first novel, The Book of M, was released yesterday.
Just two days ago, hometown gal Peng Shepherd was overwhelmed with mixed emotions. “My first novel comes out tomorrow (on June 5),” she said, “and I’m a mess of nerves and joy. If you love post-apocalyptics, magic, myths and dangerous journeys, it would mean everything to me if you’d pick up a copy. I poured my heart into this story, and can’t wait to share it with you!”
She need not have worried. Her sci-fi fiction debut, The Book of M, has already received glowing praise from critics; “ gripping and multi-faceted,” ”engaging and refreshing,” ”a brilliant story,” “compelling,” “a thought-provoking and beautiful novel” and an impassioned “you must buy this book! ”
Shepherd, born and raised in Phoenix, is the daughter of retired Cannel 12 anchor, Lin Sue Cooney. As a youngster she rode horses and trained in classical ballet. “My mother instilled her love of books in me at an early age,” she recalls. “ As a career journalist she was busy but always found time to read to me and my brother every night.”
Exhibiting writing talent at an early age, Shepherd’s mother was supportive and encouraging. “When I was five,” shares the novelist, “ I tried to write my own book. My mom took the pages to work and had them laminated and bound with a spiral spine. I thought it was published. I started a new novel every day as a kid. My mom used to keep them in big binders. They’re all boxed up at her house now.”
Peng Shepherd graduated from North High School and at age 20 received her Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University. She then went on to complete an M.A. in International Studies and Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
Entering the private sector, Shepherd worked for several years in the security industry in both London and Washington D.C. where she helped provide protective services to companies operating in hostile environments and war zones. As part of her job, she completed a short term deployment to Iraq.
Returning to academia, Shepherd then attended New York University’s Creative Writing M.F.A. Program on a full scholarship, where she studied under Jonathan Safran Foer, David Lipsky, Darin Strauss and Emily Barton.
Her fiction has appeared in Litro Magazine, Liars’ League, .Cent Magazine, broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and published in the Weird Lies anthology, which won the Saboteur Best Anthology Award in 2014. Earlier this year, the Elizabeth George Foundation awarded her a major grant based on an early draft of her novel, and she was also a finalist for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s The Margins 2016 Fellowship.
A seasoned-traveler, Shepherd and has lived in Beijing, London, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York.
I had been thinking I wanted to write about shadows for some time. They have so much symbolism,” Shepherd said. “They are powerful, mysterious and cross-cultural. As a kid, I played games with my own shadow, and I tried to outsmart it. It made me feel a little bit magical, and that feeling always stuck with me.”
During research, she learned about something called Zero Shadow Day, a scientific phenomenon that occurs in India each year – a spectacle when shadows of all beings case to exist for a moment in time. “That sparked the idea for the whole story – it was so fascinating,” Shepherd continues.
Set in a dangerous near-future world, The Book of M tells the story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. As characters lose their shadows, memories also fade. The book reveals the power memories have on the heart and on the world.
Meet The Author
Peng Shepherd will discuss her debut novel at Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale on Friday, June 8 at 7 p.m. The Book of M will be available for purchase. A book-signing will follow the talk. : :