Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on speculative fiction author Peng Shepherd. Peng Shepherd is the nationally bestselling author of The Cartographers, The Book of M, and The Future Library.
Her second novel, The Cartographers, was a USA Today bestseller, a national Independent Bookstores bestseller, and was named a Best Book of March by The Washington Post, as well as a Pick of the Month by Good Morning America, Amazon, Apple, Real Simple, Buzzfeed, Bustle, and Goodreads, and was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition.
Her first novel, The Book of M, won the 2019 Neukom Institute for Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction, and was chosen as a Best Book of the Year by Amazon, Elle, Refinery29, and The Verge, a Best Book of the Summer by the Today Show and NPR On Point, and has been optioned for television.
A graduate of New York University’s MFA program, Peng is the recipient of a 2020 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
She was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet, and has lived in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, London, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York, and Mexico City.
When not writing, she can be found planning her next trip or haunting local bookstores.
My first question to you, Peng, is where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
You can find my books, The Cartographers and The Book of M, in Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester of course, but also at any other bookstore and online!
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
I’m easiest to find on Twitter and Instagram @pengshepherd! I also have a website: www.pengshepherd.com.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from The Cartographers?
I write speculative fiction. I love stories that start out seeming familiar, with details drawn from our very recognizable reality, and then slowly start to creep sideways. That sense of grounding makes the fantastical elements feel that much more possible to me, and I think to readers, too.
For example, in my first novel, The Book of M, people’s shadows start disappearing all over the world. It sounds impossible, but there’s actually a real-life precedent for this. Every year in India on a day called Zero Shadow Day, if you’re outside at exactly the right time, your shadow will actually disappear for a few minutes. That’s how I started my book. The first people to lose their shadows are people who are outside on that very day, just like in real life. Only in the story, after a few minutes, their shadows don’t come back—and then things get weird.
With my second novel, The Cartographers, I wanted to do the same thing. Cartography is such a specialized scholarly discipline, full of science and art, and one of my biggest goals was to invite readers into a world they might not know much about, and hopefully offer them a sense of wonder and adventure and mystery—magic, essentially—about maps and mapmaking. To achieve that, I wanted The Cartographers to feel as grounded and realistic as possible, and for the settings and maps in the story to come from history. You can look up almost every location and every map mentioned in the book and find pictures of them in a library or museum archive, because they exist. The closer I could tie the story to reality, the more possible the strangeness can feel when Nell, the heroine, starts to realize the secret that the map she’s discovered in her late father’s things might be much bigger and more dangerous than she first suspected.
What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?
I write at my desk with my laptop plugged into a gigantic monitor, so that I can see four or five pages of whatever I’m working on at once. The more of my draft I can see, the more it helps me feel like I can see the “big picture” of what I’m working on. I also have a notebook, a pile of scratch paper, and some Post It pads for brainstorming and notetaking, and always a glass of water or mug of coffee or tea. Also, my cat has to be napping across the keyboard or knocking pencils off the edge, or generally making some sort of mischief. That’s crucial.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I’m about halfway through the first draft of my third novel, so I hope to have more good news on that project very soon! If The Book of M was a post-apocalyptic story, and The Cartographers was a mystery, it feels like this new book is shaping up to be a sci-fi thriller.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Peng! And good luck with The Cartographers!