Talk about a can’t-put-it-down debut thriller!
I had no idea, whatsoever, what this book was about when I first go it, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that Peng Shepherd’s The Book of M is special. It’s really good. Like, really good.
Think of Joe Hill’s The Fireman, but better. Shepherd’s book novel has all the good elements of Hill’s book and none of the bad. The universe she created is stunning. The way she describes things and sets the scene is incredible. Expect vivid, stimulating descriptions that puts you shoulder-to-shoulder with Ory and Max, the co-leads of this twisty thriller where people around the globe start losing their shadows, and then their memories.
Though her book just came out yesterday (Tuesday, June 5th), the very talented debut author was kind enough to take the time to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked her about everything from how her personality is similar to her characters to what her next book is about. Read the full Q&A below, then make sure to order your copy of The Book of M, now available wherever books are sold.
TRBS: I absolutely loved The Book of M! How did you come up with the story idea, and how long did it take you to write this book?
Shepherd: Thank you! The Book of M was an idea that had been bouncing around in my head for years, but I didn’t know how to approach it until only recently. I really wanted to write a story that had something to do with shadows, because shadows are so eerie and mysterious, but I didn’t have much more than that. I finally turned to research and started collecting art, folktales, and other tidbits about shadows from as many cultures as I could find, and that’s when I came across a real-life phenomenon called “Zero Shadow Day.” It turns out, every year on a certain day in India, everyone’s shadows actually do disappear—for just a few minutes. As soon as I discovered that, I started writing with a fury, and the novel poured out of me. I finished the first draft in nine months, revised for six more, and then the book went out on submission.
TRBS: One of the things that makes this story so great is the vast universe you’ve created for Ory and Max to wander around in. What’s it like to create your own universe, and is it more fun or challenging to actually sit down at a keyboard and bring your fictional world to life?
Shepherd: It was definitely both fun and challenging, but I think mostly fun. You really can do anything you want to do in an invented universe, which is very thrilling, and I think in some ways just a little easier than writing a story set within a recognizable reality or place. When you do that, you have rules you have to follow and facts you might not be able to change, or you might start to lose readers familiar with those things and places. Building an environment from the ground up is only limited by your imagination and dedication.
TRBS: How much of Max (and even Ory) is based on you? What characteristics and traits do you share with your main characters, and how are you different. . . besides the fact that you (hopefully!) haven’t lost your shadow.
Shepherd: Not one bit, actually! Both Ory and Max feel like such separate, unique people from me. They arrived fully formed, and when I started writing them it really felt more like I was meeting them than like I was creating them. There are probably little dashes of myself or my friends and family in some of the minor characters, but as for the main cast, they were really not inspired by anyone from my life at all. They’re completely themselves.
TRBS: This story, the way you’ve written by putting so much into the visual detail, reads like it’s tailor-made for the big screen. Do you have anything to report on the potential movie front, and who would be your dream casting choices to play Ory and Max?
Shepherd: There have been some rumbles, but nothing official yet (fingers crossed, though!). As for dream casting, that’s a tough question! There are so many great choices. I’m a big fan of both John Cho and Steven Yeun’s work and think either of them would make an excellent Ory. For Max, Zoe Saldana and Sonequa Martin-Green have acted in some amazing sci-fi movies and TV series lately and would do an awesome job of bringing Max’s fierce determination to life.
TRBS: Lastly, now that The Book of M is hitting bookstores, what’s next for you?
Shepherd: I’m in the very early stages of the first draft of my second novel. It’s too soon to say exactly where it’s going yet, but there definitely will be more strangeness and mystery.
Peng Shepherd was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet. She earned her M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, and has lived in Beijing, London, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York. The Book of M is her first novel. You can sign up for her official newsletter here, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.