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Louise Penny rediscovers joy of writing after death of husband, her inspiration

Crime fiction writing star Louise Penny.

Crime fiction writing star Louise Penny. | Robert Deutsch / USA Today

Over the past decade, Louise Penny has become one of the biggest names in crime fiction.

She’s found a sweet spot with her Chief Inspector Gamache series, which mixes the intimacy of small-town life (in fictional Three Pines, Quebec) with the horror of murder. In the latest, “Kingdom of the Blind,” 14th in the series, Gamache continues to battle Quebec’s opioid crisis despite his suspension from the police force. Meanwhile, he’s named an executor of the will of a woman he never knew.

Some highlight from an interview on Facebook:

Question: You’ve really built an audience since “Still Life,” the first book in the Gamache series, was released in 2005. What did it take to get there?

Answer: [It’s] just a grind. I think I’ve been very lucky with my publisher, Minotaur Books, who took [on] this middle-aged woman writing a crime novel [set in] the middle of nowhere, Quebec… [The books are] also somewhat unusual. On the surface, they appear to be fairly conventional and traditional, but that is, intentionally, just the most superficial reading.

There’s a lot more happening underneath…They’re not really about murder. They’re about duality, the public face and the inner turmoil. The gap between what we’re saying and what we’re really thinking, between the pretty village setting and the violation that happens with these crimes.

Q: You tell a lovely story in the afterword about believing you were never going to write another Gamache book after your husband Michael [Whitehead, a doctor] died two years ago. He was really the inspiration for the character of Gamache.

A: Michael developed dementia… Not only was he Gamache in many ways for me, he was so supportive of the books: No Michael, no books.

And to lose Michael, I was afraid I was going to lose my attachment to Gamache and to all the characters in the books.

You lose the desire to write. You lose all the joy. I was going to take a year off at least after Michael died. I found myself, after about six months, sitting at the laptop with a café au lait and a croissant wanting to write. And not wanting to write because I had to — the publishers were great, they said take as much time as you want — but with a joy I hadn’t felt in a long time.

What I discovered was, far from losing Michael, Michael became immortal. I can visit him any time.

Louise Penny with her husband Michael Whitehead, who died in 2016.

Louise Penny with her husband Michael Whitehead, who died in 2016. | Courtesy of Louise Penny

Q: Some readers seem to be coming away with the impression from the ending of “Kingdom of the Blind” this may be the final Gamache book. Are there going to be more?

A: There are, absolutely! I don’t have any desire to kill off Gamache or stop writing them.

Q: Are you a disciplined writer who writes every day at a certain time?

A: Very disciplined. I’m generally at the laptop at 7. I’m very goal-oriented. So I have to set a word count for myself. A thousand words a day. Minimum. Seven days a week.

Read more at USA Today.