INtroducing . . . Robert Penner and Sylvia Petter
By Penelope Jensen
Every issue, IN presents INside Authors, a look at authors from around the world who have significantly caught our attention and deserve a little space and recognition. Their writing genres vary, their styles, backgrounds and individual stories on how they achieved attention unique, and their attitude towards our industry is quite often amusing and always enlightening. Our hope is to provide a glimpse, a snapshot, an overview of some of the finest writers of our time making waves both tidal and ripple. The following two authors are this month's choices, based on the heat rising from their respective corners of the world.
Robert Penner, Fiction and Science
Background INfo: I currently practice as a gastroenterologist in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. I studied biochemistry in Calgary, and subsequently did my medical training at the University of Alberta. There, I completed residency in internal medicine and subspecialty fellowship in gastroenterology. Finally, I did a research project on Crohn’s disease, which earned me a Master of Science in experimental medicine.
I have always enjoyed writing and took many opportunities to do professional writing during my medical training. It was during my internal medicine residency that I was struck by the coping mechanisms used by physicians to deal with death and illness. This motivated me to write my first novel, Old Soldiers.
INfluences: I have traditionally enjoyed reading science fiction, and was motivated by a piece by Dan Simmons, who wrote a preface to a series of stories regarding the process of discovering one’s underlying ability to write. I am often inspired by veterans of World War II that I meet professionally; they have many stories to tell, and the world can benefit from someone willing to create a forum for them.
Advice: As someone who has published a lot of scientific work, I was struck by how hostile the world can be to an undiscovered writer of fiction. You hardly stand a chance if no one will even read a piece of your work. With scientific work, you might get turned down, but at least it is on the basis of someone critiquing the manuscript; with fiction, the manuscript might go straight into the waste bin. An aspiring writer needs to be ready for extensive rejection, and should not count on financial returns in any foreseeable future. Only untiring persistence can lead to eventual success.
Internet Presence: To date I have not established a website, but I am doing this interview!
The Future: The benefit of a day job that is fairly successful and the blessing of two children born in the last two years means that I am presently thinking about my next project without doing much writing. When the time materializes, I hope to have a second novel flowing quickly. My next book is on the subject of a Canadian surgeon involved in the allied advance through Italy during World War II.
Old Soldiers, Bewrite Books, 2006
Background INfo: I'm an Australian now based in Vienna, Austria, where I was born in 1949. I grew up in Sydney and after graduation came to Vienna where I studied translation. I got my first job as a typist in Helsinki. That job took me to Geneva, Switzerland where I stayed for 30 years and lived over the border in France. I came to writing late – at 44. I was on a career track with a UN telecoms agency, but one day I stumbled on a writing magazine in London and tried my hand at a story for a competition. I didn't know how the story would end and when it did, I sent it off. It got nowhere, but I got the prize of being hooked on writing. I found a local group in Geneva and went online to a forum on Compuserve. I knew nothing, so these were good places to start. I took early retirement last year and now I can write full time.
Advice: The more you write, the better you get, even though sometimes you wouldn't believe it when those rejections come in. But rejections are an important part of the process: apart from making you look at your work again, which you should just in case it can be improved, they also make you look around for other places where your work might fit. Finding a fit is important, especially when you're coming out of nowhere. So I'd say, write and keep writing, love the process, and then get the work out there. Get used to rejections – they make you strong, make you better. It's not a rejection of you as a person; it's telling you that your work could be better or that it's just landed at the wrong time or in the wrong place. On a more practical note, keep paper and pen handy so that you can jot things down wherever you are, even on the loo. Ideas, dreams, impressions can disappear so quickly if you don't catch them. Do attend to the craft of writing and honour that craft. Go to conferences and workshops, do exercises. Cribbing from a comment by Margaret Atwood, brain surgeons weren't born in a day either. Solicit feedback, but not from those who love you. Go for the ruthless sort on your work. In your heart of hearts, you know when it's good, now set about fixing the rest. Let your work sleep a little and go back to it with new eyes. Revise. Revise. Revise. Love the process. And don't forget to read, read, read. Internet Presence: I have a website, which I set up in 2000 and a blog I set up last year. I believe the web is for sharing and so I don't look at these places as marketing tools per se. They've somehow become part of my writing persona. I've always worked on the Internet, even in the pre-web days. Back then I was isolated and hungry and many of my writing mates from that time have remained friends over the years. Today, a website or a blog is useful for writers and also helps linking with likeminded people, which is good for networking. I'm a member of Bookarazzi, a group of bloggers with book deals and appreciate the support I get there. People who aren't writers don't often understand the highs and lows this writing madness can bring. The Internet is extremely important for me on practical terms since most of what I submit is by email. The back and forth of the editing process for my latest book, Back Burning, was done electronically between Australia and Austria.
The Future: My second collection of stories, Back Burning, won the Best Fiction prize at IP Picks 2007 and is being released in November in Australia through Interactive Publications (IP). I'm finalizing my Creative Writing Ph.D. thesis at UNSW in Sydney, of which one part is a novel, Ambergris. From February to June 2008, I'll be attending events in Europe to talk, teach and give readings. After that, I want to go back to my first novel, Tillandsia, and revise it again. Then I want to write more stories and continue work I've just started on adapting some of my stories for short films. A whole new ball game.
Back Burning, Interactive Publications (IP), Australia, 2007
The Past Present, IUMIX Ltd, UK, 2001 (out of print)
"Widow's Peak" in Valentine’s Day: Stories Of Revenge, ed. Alice Thomas Ellis, Duckworth, London, 2000
Penelope Jensen considers herself a citizen of the world, aligning herself at this moment with the purposes of IN, where you'll find her writing articles and interviewing authors, among other things. You can reach Penny at: PenJen@inorbit.com.